Jeff Grayson, Intrawest Chief Information Officer, explains how to make business thrive through focusing on the customer experience.
By Charlene Oldham
Intrawest Chief Information Officer Jeff Grayson was snowboarding at the company’s Steamboat Ski and Resort while his wife took a private lesson and the couple’s two children were in ski school sessions. After their active morning, the family wanted to find the best, least crowded restaurant on the mountain to reconnect and relax over lunch when Grayson realized he had no idea how to evaluate their options.
“Aside from knowing which restaurants were most crowded, I didn’t even know what all the restaurants were on the mountain,” he said.
Another Intrawest executive had suggested some sort of mobile restaurant app at one of the company’s collaborative meetings. This first-hand experience at Steamboat helped the Grayson understand how they might execute the idea once he was off the mountain and back in the office at the Denver-based mountain resort and adventure firm, which he joined in 2012.
“The opportunities you see for technology when you experience the brand the way a customer does are very important,” Grayson said. “Just going deep into the technology, I don’t think would have gotten me there.”
Focus on Communication and Collaboration
The experience exemplifies Grayson’s approach to being a CIO in that it allowed him to collaborate with other company executives on a technology-based innovation that could improve guests’ experiences, and possibly, the company’s bottom line.
“First and foremost, it’s really business strategy and not just technology strategy,” he said of his team’s targets. “Our team goals start with the company’s goals, and I spend a lot of time with the CEO aligning those.”
Other teams within the company also set strategy based on Intrawest’s overarching goals. For Grayson, that top-level communication is crucial to ensure the technology team isn’t simply reacting to requests and responding to emergencies. It also helps avoid the frustration that comes with working on a technical project only to see everything change after the next executive meeting.
“Even if you’re an agile shop, it’s important to have a roadmap in the direction you’re going, and it’s important to be thinking 12, 24, 36 months out to varying degrees of specificity and precision to make sure your team is not reactive, but proactive,” he said.
Mapping a Clear Course for Guests, Employees
Visiting Intrawest’s resorts with his family, which includes a 3-year-old and a five-year-old, gave Grayson a clear route to understanding the customer experience. From there, he reflects on how technology can make that roadmap a little easier to follow for the average guest, who may spend several hours after arriving at a resort renting equipment, arranging for lift tickets and scheduling classes before making it to the mountain.
“Thinking about the guest and the guest experience is kind of the starting point,” he said. “A lot of those things can be set up ahead of time from the comfort of your own home. And when you show up at the resort, everything is good to go for you—you get straight up on the hill and it’s enjoyable and easy.”
The first day is even easier if it’s facilitated by employees who understand customers’ needs and know how to use technology to meet them. Every cash register on company property and every computer at each resort’s registration desk is part of the information technology infrastructure that can impact a guest’s – and an employee’s – mood and morning.
“We’ve really got two customers in a lot of ways. We have 10,000 people working for Intrawest and, for each one of those people, their experience with technology needs to be pleasant and enjoyable,” he said. “And my team needs to be very supportive of them.”
To boost that level of support, Grayson spent time visiting the resorts and talking to front-line employees about ways technology could make their jobs easier or enhance guests’ vacations. On those visits, he heard consistent feedback that gave him ideas on how to streamline transactions and helped make the technology team more responsive to both Intrawest employees and the customers they serve.
“You have to assume the person you are talking to is right, even if they are saying the wrong thing,” he said of the way employees and customers sometimes communicate technology problems in layman’s terms. “You have to assume the person is right and almost be a detective and try to understand really empathetically what they are going through.”
Sweating the Details
Improving the tech troubleshooting process can be as simple as giving people the name, number and email address of the information technology specialist working on their issue. Such direct contact often leads to faster, more effective solutions, said Grayson. He learned a deep appreciation of clear communication and attention to detail in his time as vice president and CIO of Equinox, the high-end fitness club company where CEO, Harvey Spevak, has “an insatiable drive to always improve the member experience.”
Whether it’s picking the perfect mosaic tile for the club locker rooms, stocking the showers with Kiehl’s products, or ensuring clubs are impeccably clean, no detail was too small to consider.
“I think the Equinox brand is what it is because of attention to detail,” said Grayson.
Grayson aims to implement the same approach in his own career at Intrawest, whether it means counting the clicks it takes a customer to complete a typical transaction online or meticulously proofreading every email. “Every email that goes to a customer needs to be sweated,” he said. “The details aren’t something extra. They are the core of what you are doing.”
Charlene Oldham is a Saint Louis-based teacher and writer.
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