Does Your Casino Suffer from DBKR — Death By 1,000 rants?

Pardon the Disruption, but Your Casino Has Been ‘Yelped’

By Martin R. Baird

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame is an intelligent guy.  But I don’t think he ever dreamed of some of the consequences of his actions.  He was a socially awkward teen-ager who wanted to get back at his girlfriend and the end result – Facebook –  became an amazing force.

Facebook was just the beginning and now the consequences of social media are having a profound impact on the gaming industry.  Twenty years ago when my company started helping casinos improve their service, we talked about guests going back to their apartment, office and family to share their experience.  Now guests reach in their pocket and, with a few clicks on their smartphone, share their experience with the world.

What does this mean for casinos?  Let’s start with disruption of the traditional customer feedback loop that social media has caused.

In the olden days when a guest had a problem in table games, he called over a pit supervisor and gave him a piece of his mind.  It was often colorful but rarely affected more than the three other people at the table.  Or maybe something happened in one of the restaurants and the guest asked for the manager.  The manager quickly learned about all the problems with the guest’s meal.

The wonderful part of this ancient process was that it created a perfect opportunity for  service recovery.  Yes, service recovery!  The critical element of the process was real-time guest feedback.  Today, we have social media and the wonderful feedback loop is broken.  Social media has destroyed the way feedback used to be shared and that is having a negative impact on your casino.

Today, instead of whiners looking for the pit boss, guests are vigilantes armed with a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer.   They’ve morphed into self-proclaimed critics and experts.   They want to share a very creative and entertaining story of what they experienced.  They want the world to read about it and comment.

Think about this for a moment.  It’s much easier to complain on Yelp, Twitter, TripAdvisor or Facebook than it is to fill out a comment card.  It’s easier to launch an app than it is to find a pen to fill out the comment card.  Guests also know they get more satisfaction from a well-placed online rant than they do from a card dropped in a box at the front door.  After all, does the comment card ever get read?

It’s clear that social media has made real-time service recovery even more challenging.  But there’s more.

The next big problem is the number of people affected by online posts.  Old-school statistics revealed that when a person had a bad experience they told 10 other people.  Now they potentially tell hundreds if not thousands of people because it’s on the Internet and it stays there forever.  Back in the day, you told your neighbors or co-workers about a terrible casino experience and people forgot about it in a few hours.  When a guest posts on TripAdvisor, it’s there for future customers to read for years.

It’s not just the longevity of the message that matters.  The impact of the post also is important.  A recent study by Convergys found that in the resort hotel market, a negative online comment affected 30 potential guests’ decisions.  Based on an average customer spending $200 a month, Convergys estimated that a negative post could cost a hotel more than $70,000 over a 12-month period.

Lastly, social media sites have done a poor job of making clear what they really are.  For example, many say they provide “reviews,” but the reviews are often just tirades from angry customers and employees.  Because social media has made communication so simple, people are more than willing to share their experience.

There is also the issue of what gets posted permanently to the site and what’s removed.  Businesses complain that some sites only keep the negative and filter out the positive. That could be true.  Negative sells more newspapers.  Perhaps it also generates more web visitors.

Tulalip Resort Casino in Tulalip, Wash., began noticing social media feedback as a trend in early 2011 and decided it had to get involved to protect the property’s image.  “With social media, consumers are so empowered when they can tell their experience to others, especially bad experiences,” says Juan Echevarria, Tulalip’s marketing director.  “Consumers brand you virally via social media.  If you don’t control that negative connotation, then that negative connotation will control your brand.”

Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder, La., promotes and pays close attention to its Facebook page, where guests post both positive and negative comments.  “People are not shy on our Facebook page,” says Phil Ziegler, director of marketing.  “If they want to rant, they want to rant directly to us.”  Ziegler says the casino sometimes lets an uncomplimentary post sit on the site and watches to see what happens.  Frequently, other guests come to the property’s defense with their own posts.  Legitimate gripes get immediate attention.  “Turn it around and maybe you will get a positive post later from the customer,” Ziegler says.

That approach is fine but what if it takes happy guests weeks or months to come to your rescue?

So what is the solution?  Here it is.  The gaming industry needs to make it easier for guests to share directly with casinos than it is to share on Twitter, Yelp or TripAdvisor.  There is a new barrier casinos must overcome  – making customer feedback so simple that guests WANT to do it purely because it’s so easy.  People are lazy and they will do that which is fast and effortless.

Comment cards are not easy.  The perception among customers is that they require an annoying amount of work.  You need to find a pen or pencil.  You need to hand write your remark.  You need to find a box to drop it in.  You may need to mail it back at your own expense.  These are all barriers to feedback.  If your casino currently uses comment cards, send a memo telling staff to make them disappear and remove the comment boxes scattered around the property.  That includes the cards and boxes in the hotel and restaurants.

The next part of the solution is to create simple feedback in real time.  This will allow casinos to offer service recovery that also happens in real time.  The technology exists today to make real-time guest feedback a reality.  With posters and point-of-purchase signs that ask for feedback, all customers have to do is see the sign, scan it with their smartphone and use their phone’s keyboard to share what they are thinking and feeling at that very moment.  The technology can even score customer responses and send email or text alerts when there is feedback with particularly low scores.

After receiving a worrisome alert, the casino can dispatch the right employee to talk with the guest in person and improve that guest’s experience.  For example, the hotel manager receives an alert that a guest doesn’t like the smell in his room.  Someone could easily call the room and ask if the guest would like to be moved.  Or the manager could dispatch the right people to correct the issue.

Ken Kettler, Tulalip’s president and chief operating officer, says the gaming industry benefits when service recovery occurs while the guest is on the property, noting that a dedicated team and an appropriate culture are important.  “Recovery is one of the keys to a successful service strategy,” Kettler says.  “If you can solve the customer’s problem to their satisfaction while they are on the property or soon afterward, they tend to be three to four times more loyal than if they had no problem at all.”

True, casinos could hire staff to scour the Internet for comments or track automated comment alerts received from online apps such as Google Alerts.  But that approach means that thousands of other people also see the posts and there could be a time lag between when guests experience a problem and when they get around to posting about it.  Reducing the time lag increases the chances of turning a guest’s experience around.  You may not be able to move that guest from a “hater” to a “lover,” but you can often get him to give you another chance.

Social media is here to stay.   Casinos must adopt new strategies and technologies to achieve fast and easy real-time customer feedback.  The future of those properties that don’t change with the times could be bleak as guests stop coming because of the “reviews” they read online from prior customers.

Martin R. Baird is chief executive officer of Robinson & Associates, Inc., a Boise, Idaho-based consulting firm to the global gaming industry that is dedicated to helping casinos improve their guest service so they can compete and generate future growth and profitability.  Robinson & Associates is the world leader in casino guest experience measurement, management and improvement.  For more information, visit the company’s Web sites at http://casinocustomerservice.com  and www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com or contact the company at 208-991-2037.  Robinson & Associates is a member of the Casino Management Association and an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association.