Integrated Marketing

Bronx Zoo SNAFU

My wife and I have been members of the Wildlife Conservation Society (The Bronx Zoo) for years. This year, rather than renew online, by phone, or by mail, we opted to renew in person. The mailer with our special renewal offer listed multiple ways to renew. We decided to renew on the Family Premium plan, an upsell from our normal Family Membership. Among other things, the plan offers 4 free parking passes, each worth $12.

This Saturday, renewal form in hand, we went to the Zoo. At the cashier booth at the entrance gate, we handed them the renewal form and my credit card and asked for the Family Premium Plan. I was told that I would have to do that up at the entrance gate, that this was the parking cashier, and that I would have to pay $12.

“Will they reimburse me for parking when I buy my membership?”, I asked.


I won’t bore you with the rest of the conversation, which involved me trying every way I could to get out of paying the $12 that, had I renewed any of the other ways, would have been handled by a Parking Coupon. It turns out, the parking has nothing to do with the Zoo. And the parking cashier said this was a continual problem, a known issue, and that’s just the way it was.

We paid. We parked. We went to buy our Family Premium Membership at the ticket booth. There, in sequence, the preparer who hands you the clipboard with the form to fill out and then the membership specialist behind the counter (my term, I didn’t ask for an actual title), both repeated basically the same story. They were sorry, but the parking was separate, it’s not our fault, we hate that this is what happens all the time, and we won’t reimburse you for it.

I did get promised that he would notify his bosses that the direct mail memberhip renewal form, which he pointed out also was done by others, not zoo memberhip, failed to tell people that by choosing to renew in person, they’d pay $12 more for the privilege.

To add insult to injury, when we asked the membership specialist where we should go to rent a stroller, he pointed us inside the gate to a kiosk with a group of strollers next to it. But when we went inside the gate to that exact kiosk, we were told that we had to rent the stroller at the ticket booth, and that we would get the stroller 10 yards further up the parking lot driveway.

So outside the gate we went, back in line to the ticket counter, to rent a stroller. Then, ticket in hand, we went up the road that connects one parking lot to another, to a couple of guys standing around a batch of strollers. They gave me a beautiful example of a well-used Bronx Zoo plastic stroller, one with two matching numbered id tags. The stroller guy told me that, when I went to the first exhibit at which I’d have to check my stroller, give the attendant both of these id tags. Somebody had forgotten to take them off at a previous check in.

So, what does this have to do with integrated marketing? Well, to me, the consumer, the Zoo is the Zoo. It’s not the parking lot franchise, it’s not the direct marketing agency and fulfillment subcontractor. And even if I have no right to expect that all of those entities could work together to deliver a premium experience, I could certainly expect that fellow employees who worked all day and all year together a mere 15 feet away from each other, within speaking distance, would know what each did and how each interfaced with the customer.

In other words, hardly integrated. More like another example of segregated marketing.

As a long term, valuable customer to the Zoo, one who has increased his purchase level over time, who buys Camel Rides and souvenirs and overpriced bottles of water, one who might actually pay for one of the pricey overnight events this year now that his daughter is old enough, wouldn’t it have made sense to reimburse me for the parking?

If there’s nobody in charge of customer experience, then situations like the one described are common. If there were somebody who has an integrated view of every customer touchpoint, and the power to act to improve those experiences, could you imagine him allowing a situation like this to occur, continually, repeatedly, with his best customers, renewals?

Can someone please explain to me how one of New York’s top tourist attractions, a worldwide leader in the care and treatment of virtually every species of animal could fail so miserably at the care and treatment of the one species that pays for (justifies) its very existence?