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Reevaluating Digital Experience: Connecting in the Time of the Pandemic

Nomah Zia, Director, Digital Engagement, Landry's
Nomah Zia, Director, Digital Engagement, Landry's

Nomah Zia, Director, Digital Engagement, Landry's

Major Challenges and Trends affecting the Digital Experience landscape

COVID-19 is driving massive change in the adoption of technologies across our daily lives.  Some of these changes/trends are here to stay. As Landry’s adapts to the “new normal” , our leaders are responding to this fundamental paradigm shift by setting a vision for digital disruption that is giving birth to entirely new business models that transform the overall customer experience.

The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, but Landry’s was ahead of the game.  In 2019, my role was created to form and direct a digital engagement center of excellence that focuses on developing a customer centric digital strategy and roadmap to match our exceptional hospitality experience in our brick and mortar brands.  In the words of Landry’s CEO, Tilman Fertitta, “Hospitality matters, no matter the business,” or, said another way in our current situation, no matter the business environment.  Landry’s got innovative and determined the right mix of technologies to reimagine our experience through online portals and websites for delivery and take out services. Touchless payment methods and curbside services are offered by several of our dining brands.  Our entertainment business offers virtual tours of the aquariums to keep younger audiences engaged.

Landry’s leverages strong partnerships with leading companies to create innovative solutions. For example, we partnered with an energy company to offer their customers discounted meals through a number of joint digital campaigns. Our leadership knew that many of loyal and potential new customers were out of work but still needed to put food on the table while looking for new jobs—and we embraced our responsibility as an essential industry. Through this partnership, we were able to access a huge database of customers and put together programs to serve those communities that needed help.

 Use of technology and data to bring ease and sophistication into a typical day, that is the new trend 

Looking into the future, our organization has specific initiatives to build a robust digital ecosystem that will allow us to be innovative and agile.  The primary objective is a “hyper-focus” on our customers’ needs in order to create an enhanced “personalized” digital experience for them and to become a source of value creation for the organization.

Strategies for Evaluating Solution Providers

There are thousands of marketing technologies available.  Most of these technologies do a good job serving their audiences, but for me the most important consideration is that a solution provider has empathy and a clear understanding of customer pain points. The goal is to find a partner who has a thorough understanding of our strategy, who has technologies and processes that can enable our strategies, and effective support that helps us take full advantage of its tools.

The second aspect is transparency which is important in building the right partnership.  I have experience adopting the suites of mega-technologies requiring significant investment that in the end did not align with marketing and customer acquisition strategies. To prevent this from happening at Landry’s, I establish a partnership with the solution providers that mandates transparency and a focus on the deliverables needed to achieve the goals and challenges we are trying to address. Another aspect of these relationships is creativity and curiosity to nurture the organization’s digital culture. As the leader of this effort, it is imperative for me to create and nurture a culture that enables our teams to be creative and to be supportive of their ideas.  Having partners who can facilitate that culture and help our teams get away from a traditional matrix structure and feel empowered to makes decisions based on agile principlesis one of the keys to success.

What's Next?

At Landry’s we live by the saying, “we bring our customers in-the-moment experiences, we are a company that offers a multitude of experiences through dining, hospitality, entertainment and gaming and sports.”Now we’re working to leverage this mantra through AI, machine learning, and the Internet-of-Things (IOT) to personalize and optimize our customer’s experiences.

We are focused on how we can make our brand experiences immersive and sophisticated through these new technologies.  The COVID event has proven how technologies and digital operating platforms enabled us to connect, consume and converse even when we were confined within our own walls. Online services such as Amazon and ZOOM became even more valuable for everyone.  We think this will be “the new norm.”  As we expand and scale our initiatives for the future, we will focus on leveraging our data for revenue growth and greater productivity. Our data tells us that customers want safer choices whether that is a simplified and secure payment structure or no longer needing to handle a paper menu. We can now deliver digital menus through APIs and are working on a contactless payment system for safer transactions. We are starting to “think digital first” and use technology and data to bring ease and sophistication into our customer’s typical day.

Piece of Advice

Data driven initiatives have provided a significant boost to the development of our organization's roadmap by indicating patterns of customer needs and forecasting product demands. Making the right decisions through constant testing and learning will give us confidence in moving forward and will encourage a “curiosity through data”.  My advice is if the goal is to improve the customer experience, think data first. If we understand customer feedback and behavior patterns we will be able apply them in many new situations to spur even more innovation and growth. Secondly, a disruptive project prerequisite is - be fearless and open to learning from both your successes and failures. As a mentor, I encourage all to be curious, to be fearless, and to believe in what you can accomplish.  Hold this as your mantra, and digital technology will support your belief in yourself. You will learn. You will improve. You will be amazing!

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