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Live From Money20/20: For Mall of America, Subway, Great Ideas Sometimes Hiding in Plain Sight

$html.esc($author.firstName) Bells By Karen Bells on October 29, 2015

It’s always great to search for the next popular taste, but sometimes the recipe that will really hit the spot was right there in your pantry all along.

So it was for casual restaurant chain Subway. Ken Moy, director of global payments and emerging commerce, said the company is constantly exploring new paths in customer engagement, loyalty, payments and operations. Yet, it was overlooking a valuable force for change that was right under its nose.

“Historically, we’ve tried to dissuade our franchisees from being creative,” Moy told an audience at the Money20/20 financial technology conference this week in Las Vegas. “We've made it very difficult for them to experiment.”

But 100% of Subway’s 44,000 stores worldwide are franchisee-owned, meaning a lot of ideas on how to improve the customer experience and, ultimately, sales, were being overlooked.

“It’s where the locally relevant ideas will come from,” Moy said.

That doesn’t mean Subway never embraced ideas from franchisees – issuing smart receipts and communicating with customers via text are two examples – but these days the company is actively encouraging franchisee problem-solving and working to harvest great ideas for wider use.

The theme was echoed by the other panelists joining Moy to discuss technology and innovation in retail: Corporate efforts to deepen the customer journey through data analytics, omnichannel marketing and technology are critical, but there are equally valuable pathways that can be overlooked.

For Mall of America, that included simply having an intranet where managers from the hundreds of businesses at the Minnesota-based ultra-retail mecca can bounce ideas off each other and share best practices, said Jill Renslow, senior vice president of marketing and development. With more than 500 retailers as well as entertainment offerings such as an aquarium and amusement park under one 5.5 million-square-foot brand, it’s critical to tap every source to create a better customer experience, she said.

The complex has also gotten great results from an enhanced service portal it created a couple years ago, bringing together all security, guest services and social media into a single voice to shoppers. And, as obvious as it sounds, Renslow stressed creating brainstorming teams that involve all generations from among the staff. Too often, companies leave strategy and customer engagement decisions to teams of senior managers all of the same experience level and demographic.

Data and technology will continue to be crucial, but Subway and Mall of America also plan to stay open to great input that comes from other areas.

“We have to learn how to say, ‘Of course, it’s for the customer versus, ‘No, we don’t do it that way,’ ” said Moy.

After all, that’s a basic ingredient in creating a new customer experience.