Timezone and AMF Bowling expand IBM Watson in digital transformation strike

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Timezone and AMF Bowling expand IBM Watson in digital transformation strike
Credit: TEEG

TEEG charts six-year digital journey.

Homer Simpson can take a bow.

TEEG - better known as the owner of Timezone and Zone Bowling (formerly AMF Bowling) - is heading into a new phase of a long-running digital transformation focusing on customer experience analytics.

Outgoing group global head of digital Ross Hoier laid out the company’s digital journey and its likely next steps at the recent IBM THINK 2019 conference in San Francisco.

Likely is the operative word in the context as Hoier, who has overseen the transformation for six years, has stepped down to take up a newly-created head of digital role at ASX real estate firm McGrath.

TEEG - which stands for The Entertainment and Education Group - is a conglomerate of family entertainment centres in seven countries.

These include the Timezone game arcades and the old AMF Bowling business, which it bought from Dreamworld owner Ardent Leisure in late 2017. Hoier came into TEEG through that acquisition, retaining his digital overseer role.

“We’re a venue where customers come to bowl or play games, but it’s really occasion-based, such as for school holidays, work team events, or to just have fun with friends and family,” Hoier said.

The company has been on a long journey to try to engage with its customers in a more personalised way.

Hoier said when he started out on the AMF Bowling side, only one percent of transactions were performed online.

“A big ambition for me was to take that to 50 percent,” he said. “We didn’t quite get there, but we went from [taking] two percent of revenue from online to 27 percent, which is a huge transformational shift.”

For Hoier, in addition to driving up online revenue, the company’s efforts were about better using data to personalise the way it interacted with customers.

Prior to the transformation, online as a channel for engagement didn’t really exist.

“It’s been a big education piece because customers in Australia are used to either walking into these types of venues or picking up the phone, so a real behavioural shift was needed,” he said.

The company saw data as critical to personalising marketing efforts to customers.

“A big thing for this business is people say, ‘I love bowling’ or ‘I love playing laser tag’, and then the next question is, ‘Well when did you last come?’ ‘Oh, five years ago’,” Hoier said.

“A big thing for us is to stay top of mind and implement some nurture and engagement marketing strategies.

“It’s about delivering the right message at the right time. You really need something compelling to get them back.”

The company overhauled its booking engine, integrated it with a Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM system, and started using IBM’s Watson Campaign Automation “to engage and nurture those customers, but on a more personalised basis”.

Watson Campaign Automation uses technology that IBM bought from Silverpop back in 2014.

“We didn’t want to be just marketing to customers with broad brush communications. Instead, if we knew they came for a kid’s birthday party, that they always come back in school holidays or they came for a work team building event, then we could start to push them down the path [to return],” Hoier said.

TEEG was also able to contextualise why players visited its arcades, for example, by digitising the paper tickets that games used to spit out that could be redeemed for prizes. For a number of years now, it has used a “debit style card” instead.

“The type of data we can get from that is what type of games you play, how long you spend in a store,  and also data around frequency of visits and the occasion or reason they’re coming,” Hoier said.

Though Hoier has now exited TEEG, he said there is more digital transformation to come.

He said that TEEG had recently signed on to buy IBM’s Watson Customer Experience Analytics (CXA) service, which is used to understand customer behaviour and what makes digital channels successful. The service integrates IBM technology that was formerly branded as Tealeaf.

He also saw further opportunities for TEEG - and the family entertainment sector generally - around gamification and mobile.

“One thing I don’t feel has been cracked in the bowling space is gamification around your bowling scores,” he said.

“Deeper personalisation in a business like TEEG could be achieved around scoring.”

Hoier said that augmented reality and virtual reality held promise to more closely link physical and digital channels.

He also said that TEEG had some mobile ambitions that were yet to be realised due to competing priorities.

“We had ambitions of launching a mobile app so you could enhance the in-venue experience - order food from the [bowling] lanes, or select what song you want to play on the digital jukebox, together with the gamification to help us push customers back into the venue,” he said.

“It was just a challenge to sell it internally versus continuing to focus on data and CRM.”

Ry Crozier is attending IBM THINK 2019 in San Francisco as a guest of IBM.

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