4 Valuable Guest Service Lessons From Outside the Casino Industry

Occasionally, good advice bears repeating.  I was reminded of that recently when a friend shared an article that draws from basketball to offer valuable lessons for those in advertising and public relations. 

I encourage casino executives to look outside the gaming industry for ideas that could help them do their jobs better.  This article is a perfect example.  From my point of view, it has as much to do with casino guest service as it does with advertising and PR.  So here we go again.  Great service lessons from beyond the borders of gaming.

The article was written for Advertising Age in the heat of March Madness by Tom Denari, president of Young & Laramore in Indianapolis.  Denari focused on Norman Dale, the basketball coach played by Gene Hackman in the movie “Hoosiers.”  Dale led an improbable Indiana high school team to the state championship.

Denari made a number of major points in his article.  His first one:  work on the boring stuff, like defense and ball handling, first.  Denari wrote that when Dale arrived at the school to begin his new coaching job “he worked his players tirelessly on the basics of the game to ensure their fundamentals were sound.”  Denari said that a new ad campaign or new ad agency won’t fix a brand if the company’s fundamentals aren’t there in the first place. 

Stellar customer service is a fundamental of each and every casino guest’s gaming experience.  A casino cannot make the most its brand without good service.  Along the same lines, I believe casinos should deliver the promise of their advertising and some of them don’t.  Many ads feature young, attractive players having the time of their lives in glitzy casinos.  That doesn’t always match what you see when you walk onto the casino floor.  Denari made a telling comment in his article:  “Too often, we forget that brands are more about the consumer’s experience with a product than the ad campaign that tries to sell it.”  If you want guests to return to play, get the fundamentals right and give them a great experience.  They won’t all be young and good looking, but if they’re happy, you’ve done your job. 

Another major point from Denari:  sit the player that doesn’t follow the game plan.  In “Hoosiers,” coach Dale pulled star player Rade Butcher out of a game even though he was sinking one shot after another.  Denari wrote that Dale pulled Rade because he “wanted to play fast and loose, ignoring his coach’s game plan of passing five times before shooting … his coach knew that instilling discipline and sacrificing short-term gains would lead to team success later.”  And there you have it – great guest service is a team effort.  It requires team success.  One casino employee with great service skills can’t and certainly shouldn’t try to do it all.  Every employee on the casino floor must pull together and follow the property’s customer service plan.  Employees that can’t or won’t provide good service should be benched by finding them more suitable employment at the casino.

Don’t listen to the chatter at the barbershop, Denari suggested.  Coach Dale knew his unconventional approach wouldn’t be popular, so he ignored his critics at the barbershop.  “When you’re looking to do something bold and unconventional, the toughest audience is often those inside your company that are used to doing things a certain way,” Denari wrote.  “Conventional wisdom can be a powerful force that often holds brands back.  Resist this inertia and stay the course, even when others are questioning the direction.  Just know that anything at odds with the status quo will attract attention – and doubters.  But, also remember that it’s the best way to break through and compete effectively.” 

If you have an idea that you think will improve your casino’s service, ignore the naysayers and run it up the chain of command.  Suggesting that your property put its employees through customer service training will likely bring out the bean counters who say the casino doesn’t have the money for such nonsense.  For some managers, it’s status quo to view employee training as an expense.  In fact, it’s an investment that helps casinos compete and that often goes against conventional wisdom.

Here’s my favorite suggestion from Denari:  give your fans something to root for.  Coach Dale’s high school was in the fictional town of Hickory, and Hickory strongly identified with the school’s basketball games “because the basketball team defined the self-esteem of the town,” Denari wrote.  He went on to say that “a brand is an emotional relationship between people and products.  People want to be a part of brands that they feel reflect who they are … Once customers become a part of your brand, they want it to succeed just as much as you do.  They become fans.  They root for your brand.  And then you win.” 

For the past five years, I have been telling casinos that they need to offer the kind of gaming experience that turns guests into advocates.  Guest advocates enjoy their favorite casino so much that – of their own free will – they tell friends, colleagues and family members about it.  They encourage these people to give the casino a try and those who do just might also become advocates.  Then these new advocates pass along free word-of-mouth advertising.  It becomes a cycle.  Advocates are the ultimate fans and it all starts with outstanding customer service.

Denari’s article did not appear in a casino trade magazine or Web site, but it was worth reading.  It’s unrealistic for gaming to think it can come up with all the ideas it needs to improve operations and compete in the world of entertainment.  There is much for casino executives to learn from other industries.  All they have to do is look for the wisdom.

To read other articles by Martin Baird, go to www.casinocustomerservice.com/post.htm

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.

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