Customer Intelligence Meets The Cultural Institution - InformationWeek

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Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Customer Intelligence Meets The Cultural Institution

Cincinnati Zoo taps analytics to improve attendance, increase guest spending, streamline operations and anticipate the impact of weather and seasonality.

Sports franchises, museums, amusement parks and other entertainment and cultural institutions have lot in common. They all try to maximize customer loyalty while coping with variables including seasonality, weather, and waxing and waning interest in their core product.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens is no different. With some 1.2 million visitors per year, it's the number-one attraction in the city and one of the top zoos in the nation as rated by the Zagat Survey. But until last year, it wasn't making the most of its reputation. In fact, it lacked some basic insight into its day-to-day operations.

As part of a sweeping point-of-sale (POS) overhaul and analytics implementation launched in 2010, the zoo has improved operations planning while scoring promising increases in revenue and visitation. Next up will be the March 1 launch of a first-of-its-kind loyalty program that will greatly expand insight into customer behavior.

The first problem Cincinnati Zoo tackled is a common one: too many silos of information. Membership, ticketing and admissions, food service, and retail sales were all handled on different systems. In fact, the 16 food service locations across the 75-acre campus were running on disconnected cash registers -- essentially a non-system that made it difficult to track revenue and sales by product.

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The zoo's first decision, made last spring, was to consolidate all activities onto POS software from Gateway Ticketing Systems, which was deemed the most modern and broadly capable system among those already in use at the zoo. One system now tracks all revenue-generating transactions across 51 POS locations across the campus.

To make better use of all this information, zoo officials knew they would have to delve into business intelligence and analytics -- technology that was previously lacking unless you count Excel spreadsheets. IBM Cognos got the nod as the BI and analytics platform, and a supporting data warehouse went live last July.

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