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Is Your Casino Ready for 5 Dangers?

As I visit casinos around the country, I hear a common theme at every property – times are tough.  I’ve heard this so often, I decided to have my company take an indepth look at the kinds of dangers casinos face.  We succeeded in identifying specific challenges to gaming and unearthed facts and statistics to put these issues into perspective.

I am now going to share the highlights of what we learned.  We identified five serious dangers that will affect casinos for the next 10 to 15 years.  The dangers are – the economy, housing, competition, tax target and the S curve. 

The economy.  Across the country, we are hanging at just under 10 percent unemployment.  It’s amazing that 1 out 10 people who once had jobs and came to your casino now are out of work. 

The part of the employment picture that is really missed is underemployment.  These are people who have jobs but are not making what they could or should.  At this time, it’s estimated that underemployment is running at just under 20 percent.  This means that 1 out of 5 employed people are earning less and have less to spend.

Some economists believe our economy has started a V-shaped recovery – a sharp economic decline followed by a sharp rebound.  If this is true, it could be six to 12 months before the job market improves.  Once people do get a job, I can’t guess how long it will take them to pay down the credit cards they’ve been living on or catch up on their car payments and start thinking about casinos again.  First, they must fix the damage that has been done to their finances.   Some economists don’t see a V unfolding.  They see a long, painful economic recovery.

Regardless of how the recovery pans out, there will be the psychological effect of going for months or years without a job.  Something like that changes the way people view the world.  It can make them much less likely to jump on the spending wagon when they do land a job because they are always thinking that they could be laid off again at any moment.

Until your guests feel secure, good and confident about their jobs and the economy, they are less likely to spend freely at your casino. 

Housing.  Yes, Americans feel less wealthy because their homes are worth less, but just how bad is it?  About a quarter of all mortgage borrowers owe more than their homes are worth and housing prices are not expected to appreciate much for the next five years, further dampening expenditures on entertainment.  Imagine this – your house is worth less than you owe AND you are unemployed or underemployed.  You probably feel like you are on the verge of poverty.    Discretionary spending such as playing the slots at a casino is likely out of the question.

Competition and tax target.  The weak economy continues to push competition for gaming revenue higher and higher.  Non-hotel casino revenue is expected to decline for the third consecutive year in 2010, dropping by 1.6 percent. 

This puts a squeeze on state governments as well as casinos.  States take a cut of casino revenues and their share is declining.  In fact, all sources of income for state governments are declining and, loath to implement new taxes on residents, many states are looking for ways to expand revenues from gambling.  Delaware has added poker, blackjack, roulette and craps to generate more money for the state.  Illinois is talking about adding slot machines in bars as a way to rake in a little more cash.  That leaves states that have said they will “never” have gaming.  How long will they continue to say that as they lose tax revenue to neighboring states? 

Gaming is increasingly looked upon as a revenue source by cash-strapped state governments.  State deficits could spell a new level of competition that would not have been imagined a few years ago.

S curve.  Businesses and industries go through standard cycles and if you know where you are on the curve, you will easily know what is coming next.  The S curve is a curved model that shows the pattern of market penetration.  Most experts believe gaming in the United States is in one of two places – either late in the growth phase or in maturity.

In the latter stages of the growth phase comes consolidation.  The strong players do what they can to take over the market.  But as time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to grow organically.  This means that casinos are forced to take guests away from their direct competitors.  Or they need to get their guests to come back and play more often with more money.  During this phase, what’s required is differentiation created by offering a significantly better gaming experience, a branded experience.

If casinos are in the mature phase, this means that it will be harder than ever to generate trial.  Potential guests know what your competitors have and they like it.  Getting a guest to leave another casino for your casino will take an amazing improvement in their gaming experience at your property.  I’m not talking about having employees smile when they didn’t do that before.  This means that you need to have service standards that are higher than ever and are being executed 90 percent of the time.

Conclusion

These five dangers are quickly rolling out now.  The longer it takes you and your team to make a decision and move forward, the further behind you will be.  If the economy is recovering, you should have started improving your guests’ service and gaming experience 90 days ago.  Improvement takes time and when guests start coming back, they need to have an amazing experience so they come back again and tell their friends all about your casino.  If we’re in for even tougher economic times, you are six months behind because as people have less money and confidence, they will be increasingly critical of the experience they have at every entertainment venue they patronize.  In fact, they are already more critical and forming long-term perspectives on your casino.  They are taking a hard look at your ability to deliver a truly dazzling experience.  That’s what it will take to get them to spend their precious dollars with you.

You must ramp up your service and gaming experience.  The casinos that will make it through these challenges and grow are the ones that have the vision to ask for help and invest in improving themselves now.

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

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.
mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com
www.casinocustomerservice.com
www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com
206-774-8856

Casino Service Lessons from Apple and Its Quirky iPhone 4

There’s a silver lining in every dark cloud and I have found something glittering for the casino industry thanks to Apple and its iPhone 4 problems.  In fact, how Apple relates to its customers goes to the heart of how casinos can position themselves for success.

Apple’s dark cloud is the iPhone 4’s antennae snafu.  I must admit, Apple probably goofed with the external antennae that can drop calls when the phone is held a certain way.  But the silver lining is everything else that Apple has done right.  Think customers are abandoning Apple because of the iPhone 4?  Think again!

Jay Greene, former Seattle bureau chief for Businessweek and author of  “Design Is How It Works,” wrote in the Wall Street Journal about Apple’s iPhone 4 situation and I couldn’t agree more.  Here are some important points Greene makes.  I explain why they are important for casinos.

Focus On Quality and Generate Goodwill.  Greene says Apple’s fierce focus on designing cool products pays off in more ways than just sales.  Even with its antennae problems, customers snapped up iPhone 4s like they were a limited edition.  They bought millions of them.  Apple couldn’t keep up with the orders.   “How is that possible?”  Greene asks in his article  “Because Apple’s decade-long focus on design has bought it significant goodwill among consumers…Apple’s consumers are willing to cut the company some slack because of its reputation.”

Well said, Mr. Greene!  Casinos aren’t struggling with a product glitch, but they are slogging through a nasty recession.  While Apple zeroes in on design, casinos need to aim for the customer service bull’s-eye.  Focus on providing quality guest service and your customers are more likely to repay you with goodwill that comes in the form of continued play at your property.  They may just give you a break and return to play even though economic times are tough.  Sure, they may not spend as much, but at least they come back.  You can achieve this by building a reputation for a wonderful gaming experience that’s underpinned with stellar service.

No Goodwill, No Customer Loyalty, No Sales.  Greene turns to Microsoft as a contrast to Apple.  “After years of making software for cumbersome, poorly designed (cell) phones, Microsoft hasn’t engendered much goodwill with the public,” Greene writes.  Microsoft launched its Kin mobile phone last May, customers found it lacking and sales reflected their attitude, Greene says.  “When it came to the Kin, consumers were unwilling to overlook the phone’s shortcomings,” Greene writes.  “Sales were anemic and Microsoft discontinued the product on June 30, just 48 days after it hit the market.”

Let’s say your casino has never worried much about its guests’ gaming experience.  If revenues are good, who cares?  Oops, then comes along 2008 and the Great Recession.  Even though money is tight, some people are still willing to play at a casino and they’re trying to figure out which one to visit.  They may remember your casino as being somewhat fun.  Then they remember Casino XYZ where they had a super fantastic time even though they didn’t win much or didn’t win at all.  Where do you think they will go?

The Customer Experience Is Like Gold.  Apple CEO Steve Jobs believes that “it’s a mistake to think that design is merely about aesthetics,” Green writes.  Greene offers the following quote from Jobs:  “That’s not what we think design is.  It’s not just what it looks like and feels like.  Design is how it works.” 

From my point of view, Greene and Jobs are talking about the customer experience.  Is an iPhone so well designed inside and out that customers love to use it?  Think of design this way – a casino employee brings a guest his drink in a timely manner and the drink is very good.  The customer likes what he sees (the drink arriving) and tastes (it’s an excellent whiskey sour).  In other words, that’s a good design of great service.  But what’s even more important is how the design works.  How did that excellent service make the customer feel?  How does ALL the service at the casino make the customer feel?   Is the service impressive enough that the customer remembers it the next time he decides to visit a casino?  The whole point of fantastic guest service is to create a great gaming experience that brings guests back again and again.  You want them to fanatically love playing at your casino.

Goodwill Has A Long Shelf Life.  One of these years, this awful recession will be gone.  Times will get better.  Casino revenues will improve.  But we all know that another recession is lurking somewhere down the road.  What kind of relationship will your casino have with its customers when that inevitable day arrives?  If you’re building service-based goodwill, the relationship should be a sound one and your casino just might survive yet again (the current economic downturn has shown beyond a doubt that gaming is no longer recession proof). 

Greene points to Apple as the recipient of long-shelf-life goodwill:  “Apple faced a similar debacle two years ago that’s instructive today.  Back then, the company’s new MobileMe Service, which promised to synchronize e-mail, calendar and contact information across multiple devices, didn’t.  Service outages prevented customers from accessing their e-mail accounts and led to an onslaught of criticism similar to Apple’s current (iPhone 4) crisis.”  Maybe two years doesn’t seem like a long time to you, but in today’s frantic, technology-driven world, it’s practically a lifetime.  For Apple to have these bumps along the road and still ride a groundswell of goodwill is amazing.

I didn’t gloat over Apple’s iPhone 4 problems, but I was certainly happy to see the silver lining for gaming.  There are lessons to be learned here that will be of value to casinos for many years to come.

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

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.
mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com
www.casinocustomerservice.com
www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com
206-774-8856

Casino Managers Benefit From Presentation Skills

Casino managers are expected to have a multitude of skills.  More than I care to list here.  But there is one skill that eludes many of them – the ability to give an effective presentation.

Managers shouldn’t feel badly about this.  They have lots of company.   Most people fear standing in front of other people and giving a presentation.  They fear giving a speech more than they fear death.  They get sweaty palms at the mere thought of doing a presentation or even being in charge of a small meeting.

These fears can be overcome with proper training.  Indeed, they must because casino managers and the properties they work for have much to gain from effective presentations.  Being able to present information and speak to groups ranging from seven direct reports to 70 people at a departmental meeting is critical.  It is vital to the overall success of both the presenter, that person’s department and, ultimately, the casino. 

First, I’ll take a look at benefits to managers.  Let’s say you have an idea that would improve the efficiency of your department or save the casino money.  You want to present your idea to the powers that be.  Over and over again, I’ve seen casino managers – even casino executives – have great ideas but, due to their lack of presentation skills, the ideas are discounted and never acted upon.  It has been well documented that people are influenced more by the delivery of a presentation than they are by the actual information.  But if you combine worthwhile information – your outstanding idea – with an effective presentation, that’s a one-two power punch for success.  Besides, it really feels good to have your idea accepted and implemented.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Potential promotions are another benefit of effective presentations.  A study by AT&T and Stanford University shows that the top predictor of professional success and upward mobility is one’s enjoyment of and skill in making presentations.  Face it, those who are good at delivering information to others are the ones who get noticed.  The ones who get noticed are the ones who have opportunities sent their way.  Strong presentation skills can help you move up the ladder.

Overcoming one’s fears is another benefit.  I cannot think of a better boost to one’s self-confidence than facing a fear and overcoming it.  In this case, I mean dealing with the fear of public speaking and turning it to your advantage.  If being comfortable with making presentations is the top predictor of professional success and giving presentations is the No 1 fear, clearly there is an advantage to be had here.  Overcome your fear, become an effective presenter, boost your self-assurance and good things will happen. 

There are also benefits to your casino.  Presentation skills are one of the most important skills to possess in the age of information, and casinos should want their managers to do well in this area.  Public speaking development should be part of the property’s strategic business plan.  A high-quality presentation skills program will increase employees’ motivation, self-image and confidence while also sharpening their organization, planning and communication skills.  Those are exceptional employees in my book, and every casino should want to have staff members with those qualities.  It can give the casino a leg up on competitors that don’t appreciate the value of  presentation development.

There also can be a cost savings for the casino.  Plenty of information is passed along at casino conferences and executive meetings.  I know from personal experience that some of these sessions are a waste of time because the speaker does such a poor job of organizing the presentation and delivering it.  The presentation is difficult to follow and, thus, no one on the receiving end really cares.  The average attorney probably bills at $200 an hour.  Casino executives’ time is worth much more than that.  If there are 10 executives in the meeting, that’s a minimum of $2,000 spent and for what?  For nothing! 
That doesn’t even include the hours the presenter spent getting ready for his or her show and tell.  Imagine what could be accomplished if some of the presenters at these meetings captivated their audience and made convincing arguments.  Ideas would flow.  Work would get done.

Delivering an effective presentation is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.  Casino managers need to be comfortable sharing ideas and information in a way that creates buy-in and enthusiasm.  Casinos that offer their managers presentation skills training visibly demonstrate that they value their employees.  The cost of the program is not an expense, it’s an investment in a casino’s people.  It’s an investment that will pay handsomely for the casino and its managers.

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

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.
mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com
www.casinocustomerservice.com
www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com
206-774-8856

Casinos Need A 360-Degree View

I’m not sure if you watch “What Not To Wear” on TLC, but the premise is very simple.  The program takes average people who think they have good looks and style and shows them why their choices may not be working.  Participants get a whole new perspective of themselves and learn how to get it right.

One of the tools they use on the show is a 360-degree mirror that allows people to see how they look from all angles.  It’s funny to watch their reaction as they get a good gander at themselves.

Here’s my point.  In a casino, you have a number of operational areas that you don’t or can’t see very well.  You use anecdotal information as real data and believe you know what is happening.  For example, people show up for your latest promotion, so your marketing must be working.  Employees tell the GM they had fun at the guest service training session, so it must have been successful.

It takes perspective to truly understand your casino and that information often comes from afar, meaning a third party that has no vested interest in your property.  It’s very difficult for most people to do their own post-mortem.  We see two critical areas of your casino that should be fully evaluated by fresh eyes.  The first is marketing and the second is your guest service improvement.

Steve Karoul, president and CEO of Euro-Asia Casino Consulting, is an expert in casino marketing and player development.  His company has developed a “Casino Marketing Tune Up.”  It’s a great program that brings Steve’s years of experience and perspective to your casino to look at what is working and what could be improved in your marketing.  Yes, I know you have an ad agency that you pay big bucks to every month, but do you really think they can do an unbiased analysis?

Marketing is a critical part of a casino’s long-term success.  If the marketing is off target or off message, it’s a huge waste of money, much as a poorly running car gobbles gas at an alarming rate.  Investing in a 360-degree evaluation of your marketing is money well spent.  It helps you see what you may be missing and provides recommendations on how to make your marketing better.  After all, looking in a mirror doesn’t give someone the information they need to dress better.  It’s helpful to know you have a style problem, but you also need advice on what to do about it.

We suggest you launch your evaluation process with marketing because that’s where business starts.  Marketing makes a promise to your guests and prospective guests.  It could be that they will win, be excited, have fun or even meet beautiful new friends.  The promise isn’t as critical to us as the actual delivery of it.  We think that if a casino is going to improve its guest experience, it should start by matching the promise to the reality of the casino floor.

I often laugh when I visit a casino for the first time.  Before I arrive, I browse their Web site or look at their ads in local magazines so I know what to expect.  Yeah right!  I have walked into some casinos and thought I was in the wrong place.  The marketing people took some creative license, if you know what I mean.

Now let’s shine the not-always-flattering light of perspective on guest service.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I think the training managers and trainers at most casinos are great people who give 110 percent each and every time they take employees under their wing.  The work they do often goes unnoticed and under-appreciated.  It’s not easy teaching people new and better ways of doing things, especially with employees who have been in their jobs for years and know they are doing it right because they “get good tips.”  (The operative word here is “get.”  I hear it all the time.  Casino employees must realize they “earn” tips from the service they provide.)

Here is a challenge we often see.  A casino develops a guest service training program and is very proud of it.  The property does more than invest a significant amount of time in the program.  It pours its heart into it.  The training is the best the casino has ever created.  This is a wonderful accomplishment that should not be taken lightly.  But that doesn’t mean the training couldn’t be better if experts with the right perspective reviewed the information and presentation. 

A guest service improvement assessment has three critical areas:  employee orientation, guest service training and the employee reward/incentive program. 

It all starts with what you tell your new hires.  Cornell University research shows that it costs $5,000 to replace the average hospitality worker.  That’s $5,000 PER employee!  This means orientation is critical.  Don’t just bludgeon your new staff members with the 10,000 ways they can get fired.  They need a realist job preview and a solid understanding of management expectations.

Next is the guest service training you provide.  I know most casinos are proud of their training.  But most of the people on “What Not To Wear” think they look dazzling in some atrocious outfits.  It often takes a critical eye to see what needs to be improved and, just like with marketing, provide ways to do it better.

The last part is your employee reward program.  All too often, this is an entitlement program that happens the same way year after year for no other reason than that is how you have always done it.  It should be reviewed.

Borrowing from Steve’s, tune-up theme,  I remember seeing television ads as a child that promoted a particular brand of motor oil.  The ads encouraged people to get an oil change.  The mechanic said you could pay him now or pay him later.  An investment of a few dollars today could save thousands of dollars in major repairs tomorrow.

Getting a 360-degree view of your marketing and guest service today could be much smarter than waiting until you are losing market share.

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

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.
mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com
www.casinocustomerservice.com
www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com
206-774-8856

Time Is Money; Spend It Wisely

“Time is money.”

This profound statement is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin.  If Ben indeed coined this phrase more than 200 years ago, then he was a wise man.  These words are amazing and true.  For example, the time you spend reading this article has a cost to you.  Thus, if you could do something else more valuable with 10 spare minutes, then reading this article is a waste of your time and, as the quote says, your money.

Let’s fast forward to the 21st century and see how Ben’s thinking applies to our modern world so troubled by a shaky economy.  Let’s see if there’s a lesson for the gaming industry.  (Hint:  keep reading because there is a lesson here.)

I read a Forbes magazine article  in 2008 that is still pertinent today.  It talked about the “Distress Bus” airline flights from New York to Detroit.  Planes on this route were filled with a variety of experts who worked with auto manufacturers and suppliers to help them survive the downturn in the auto sector.  The article estimated that the Big Three and their suppliers spent more than $500 million in the past year on fees for advisors and experts. 

Half a billion dollars!  That certainly caught my attention.  How did General Motors, Ford and Daimler Chrysler justify spending that kind of money?  How did they explain this to their directors, stock holders and employees?  Can’t the auto makers’ own people develop internal solutions to the companies’ woes?  Don’t they have bench strength?

Old Ben has the answer to all these questions.  Time is money!

Of course GM and the others have talented people.  But they know that time is money.  GM generated $181 billion in revenue in 2007 before the floor fell out from under them.  That was almost $500 million a day.  At that rate, it would cost GM more than $347,000 per minute to create its own solutions.  Perhaps outside consultants could devise some answers much quicker and cheaper while GM focused on running the day-to day business.  Obviously, the Big Three decided consultants were the way to go.

Now let’s turn to the gaming industry.  It’s no secret the recession trickled down to  gaming.  What is it worth to your casino to find solutions to this problem faster?  Do the math and you maybe shocked.  There are many excellent consultants in the gaming industry that cam help your casino find better solutions faster than doing it on your own and that can mean real savings.  Time is becoming more expensive for casino executives.  Journalists write about the cost of crude oil, gasoline, food, etc., but they never mention the cost of time.  I think if you are a casino CEO, president or GM, the cost of your time is much greater than it was a few years ago.

The cost of your time has skyrocketed because gaming has changed forever.  The casino market is ultra competitive and becoming more so every day, while the rocky economy makes each decision even more important.  The right decision regarding your employees could save your casino thousands of dollars this month.  It could create more employee and guest advocates at your property as the months roll by.  Decisions concerning your guest experience and how you manage it could make the difference between your casino surviving or not.

“You may delay, but time will not.”  It appears Benjamin Franklin also said that.  If time is money, then delay is the loss of money.  The time it takes you to take action costs you money and opportunity.  

The Big Three auto makers invested $500 million in consultant assistance because they knew it was too costly to develop solutions internally.  Here’s a simple way of explaining their decision.  I could make repairs to my home’s heating and cooling system if I was willing to learn how HVAC works.  I could brush up on the subject, talk to experts and buy the right tools.  Of course, I probably would make mistakes, break something and have to buy new parts.  Still, I could do it.  But how much would it cost me in time spent learning, in time spent doing the work, in time given up that I could have devoted to my family?  How uncomfortable would we become until I finished the job?

Here we are a couple of hundred years later and old Ben is still as profound as he was while alive.  Time is money.  In today’s gaming world, your time is very expensive.  How will you spend it?

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

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.
mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com
www.casinocustomerservice.com
www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com
206-774-8856

Every Casino Should Implement A Turnkey System for Success

If Southwest Airlines can establish a nationally recognized brand by providing customer-pleasing service, then a casino should be able to do exactly the same.  In fact, Forbes magazine has identified stellar service as one of seven secrets to successful corporations.

Publisher Rich Karlgaard wrote in an opinion piece that “the trick is being true to your brand and never promising service you can’t deliver.”  Karlgaard notes that Southwest customers gladly print their own boarding pass, stand in line and scramble for available seats because that’s the expectation Southwest sets.  The airline delivers a good record of on-time arrivals.  And flight attendants are free to laugh and entertain passengers.  “The message is:  We’re all in this crowded aluminum tube together, so let’s relax and have fun,” Karlgaard says.

Every single casino on the planet can do this.  They can establish service standards so they never promise more than they deliver.  They can set realistic expectations of an outstanding gaming experience so guests feel comfortable with what they find on the casino floor.  All guests are in the same building and casinos can make sure they have fun while they are there.  In the process, a brand is established.

But casinos must have a system in place to make all that happen – a turnkey system of best practices that gauge, monitor and improve the casino’s performance and guest service.  The end result is guests who are far beyond being simply satisfied with their gaming experience.  They are advocates for the casino and will return to play again and generate new business through positive word they spread about the property.

The best practices that casinos adhere to are critical.  I believe those practices are leadership, program management, goals and metrics, incentives, action planning, improvement, and guest and employee closure. 

Leadership.  Management must act as leaders to create a culture that clearly demonstrates how important guest advocates are.  A property’s executives and managers must do more than simply support the changes needed to generate improvement.  They should lead by example.  For any improvement program to be successful, it must start with and be guided by management’s vision and ability to lead people to a new place.  An idea can start at any level of a casino, but for it to have maximum impact, it needs to be embraced and exemplified through leadership.

Program Management.  This is one of the areas that casinos will find challenging.  If your people are all busy working, how can they add a project like managing advocate development to their plate?  It’s also challenging because creating more advocates requires the effort of all departments, not just one.  So if you have a person from table games managing the program, how will that make the people from F&B or slots feel?

Most casinos will be more successful if they delegate program management and support to an outside company.  An outside firm won’t have the bureaucracy to deal with and it will have a single focus that it is accountable for.

Goals and Metrics.  Measurable goals and metrics should be established for all departments within the casino.  They should be tied to a common goal to create incremental progress and profits.  Many casinos spend a significant amount of time and energy developing goals and metrics so they can measure and judge the performance of a person or a department.  The weakness I see many casinos facing is that the goals are not connected to the department and its ability to create advocates.  The goals should add value to the casino over time.

Incentives.  Once you have relevant goals, you want to have “carrots” or incentives in place to encourage employees to embrace the new behavior or system.  If smiling will create more guest advocates, what incentives do you have in place that are directly connected to that behavior?  To be effective, incentives must be specific.  They also need to have a positive effect on the entire casino.  For optimum results, the entire team should have identical goals and incentives.

Action Planning.  Now comes the next major hurdle and that is action!  For a program to be successful, it must have an action plan that lays out in detail who will do what, when they will do it and why they will do it.  This plan is the cornerstone of improvement.  It turns a dream into actionable items.

Improvement.  Internal improvements should be identified and implemented to create more guest advocates.  The improvement process likely will involve participant-centered training for all employees.  For people to improve, they need to know what is expected of them and the best way to do that is through training that uses accelerated learning.  This technique makes learning fun and that, in turn, helps people adopt new concepts.  Poorly executed improvement makes the entire process painful and ineffective.

Guest and Employee Closure.  Employees will want to know how things are progressing.  Keeping them informed gives them closure.  As part of the system, guests should be asked how the casino can be a better place to play.  Guests have closure when the casino tells them how their input was used.

I have just outlined a program for success based on internal improvement, outstanding service and guest advocacy.  The Southwest Airlines brand didn’t happen by accident.  Without a doubt, Southwest also created a system for success and then moved forward.  Your casino can and should do the same.

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

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.
mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com
www.casinocustomerservice.com
www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com
206-774-8856

A Potpourri of Ideas for Providing Great Casino Customer Service

It’s the middle of the year and a great time to review whether you have made inroads in 2010 into improving your casino’s guest service.  Following are some thoughts and ideas that can really help. 

By the way, these are directed at all casino employees from the top down.  If senior management thinks only a portion of this applies to them, they couldn’t be more wrong.  Every employee at your property, regardless of rank or title, should never pass up an opportunity to learn how to offer stellar service to guests that walk through the door.

Speaking of management, let’s start there.

Guest Service Rolls Downhill

A commitment to creating a service culture must start at the top of the casino with senior management.  Management must take steps to ensure that all employees are aware of this high-level commitment.  When employees are expected to go through service training, the lessons are much easier to learn when they see the casino’s executives leading the guest service charge.   When employees see their general manager smiling, greeting guests and picking up trash, they know they need to conduct themselves in the same manner.  Follow up training with a recognition and incentive program to encourage employees to embrace the new behaviors expected of them.  This is an additional indication of management’s commitment to service.  When everyone in the casino works together to create a great experience, guests take notice.  They appreciate those efforts.

Stay Committed With A Customer Service Buddy

Employees who strive to improve their customer service will achieve a higher degree of success if they simply hold themselves accountable for reaching their service goals.  One way to do that is to have a customer service buddy.  A little help from a friend is a great way to stick to your service plan.  I call this the customer service buddy system and it’s simply partnering with someone to reach your service goals.  You can use a variety of people for your buddy.  It could be a close friend or another employee.   After you have selected your service buddy, explain your plans and what you’re trying to accomplish.  Give your buddy important dates and milestones in your service plan so they can contact you and see how you’re progressing.  Offer incentives.  For example, treat your buddy to ice cream each time you meet or exceed your monthly service goals.  That’s a very small investment for reaching your goals and staying on plan.  A customer service buddy system is something simple you can do to make it easier for you to succeed with your plan.  Doing this could be the first step toward climbing to that new level of service that you have always wanted to reach.

Smile!  What Could be Simpler?

It’s amazing how much smiles can help casinos go the extra mile in providing quality customer service.  Sometimes it’s the simple things that really make the difference in creating a pleasant guest experience.  Having a smiling staff on the property is truly a simple technique, but it’s effective.  By smiling while you are at work, you are helping your customers have a more enjoyable visit.  We all like to be around smiling and happy people because they make us happy, too.  It’s a proven fact that people feel better when people smile.  Smiles also make a great first impression.  People want to stay and play at a happy, fun casino.  A smile can make all the difference in the world – even the difference between an outstanding gaming experience at your casino and a less fulfilling experience at a competitor’s establishment.  That’s a difference you want to cultivate.

Be Proactive and Reap the Rewards

Casinos looking for ways to offer something a little extra in their customer service might try thinking and acting in a proactive manner.  It’s wonderful how being a little proactive can make a guest’s experience memorable.  Great results can come from doing little things before you’re asked to do them.  When you’re proactive, you’re thinking for the guest so they don’t have to think for themselves.  Being proactive could be as simple as wiping up a spill or giving a customer the inside track on what’s great at the restaurant.  The assistance you provide will be appreciated and recognized.  Being proactive makes guests feel their welfare is always foremost in your mind as you go about your job.  If you want your casino to stand out, being proactive is a great place to start.  Think of ways to work a positive, proactive attitude into your casino operations.  Don’t wait. Do it now.

Establish Bonds With Customers

The relationships between a casino and its guests should be handled with care because they can shatter like glass.  If casinos don’t handle guest service just the right way, they could damage the relationships they have with their guests and never be able to repair them.  That is what makes working with casino customers so challenging.  Building relationships with customers is one of the most important elements of providing top-notch service.  You should develop long-term relationships so your guests don’t overreact to little bumps along the way and think about looking for a new casino.  Give guests a good reason to visit your property again and again.  You can achieve that goal by providing stellar service and paying attention to other details, such as keeping your property clean and sparkling.  Make customers feel special – make eye contact and listen when they talk to you.  Greet your regulars by name.  It’s impressive when you remember a guest’s name because they realize you have singled them out from hundreds of other customers. 

Understand That There’s A Lot At Stake

Stellar service leads to positive word-of-mouth advertising that can translate into new customers.  Conversely, if a guest doesn’t have a wonderful experience, they will tell lots of people about it.  That’s the kind of advertising casinos cannot afford in today’s gaming environment.

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

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.
mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com
www.casinocustomerservice.com
www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com
206-774-8856

Fanatical Love – Do Your Guests Feel That About Your Casino?

Do your guests fanatically love your casino?  Does your casino offer such a superior gaming experience that it generates that kind of devotion at the customer level?

The fanatical love question comes from none other than Forbes magazine.  In a recent opinion piece, publisher Rich Karlgarrd didn’t write about the gaming industry, but his point was well taken.  He laid out seven skill sets of successful corporations and one of them had to do with customer devotion.  Karlgarrd wrote that “products must stick out to get noticed and be loved fanatically by users to get real momentum.”  Successful companies achieve that goal.  (I added the italics, by the way.)

From my point of view, an equally important question is whether casinos have even the foggiest notion of how guests feel about them.  I think few casinos really know if their guests love them and are fanatical about them.  Karlgarrd calls these customers fanatics, and we call them advocates.  Advocates are the deciding factor in your casino’s future success.

So what do you do if you don’t know how your guests feel about you?  Fortunately, that’s simple.  You measure how many advocates you have.  If you measure the degree to which your customer base is composed of advocates and express it as an index, you have a powerful number.  From that moment forward, the index is a benchmark for future success.  The more advocates you have, the higher the index number and the greater your success.  Advocates are critical to your bottom line because they return to your casino again and again to play (repeat business).  They tell others about your casino and encourage them to give your property a whirl.  That creates new customers (new business).  If those new customers become advocates, the cycle starts again.

You can even use the index to predict future growth.  If, for example, you knew that a five-point jump in the index would result in a 3 percent increase in revenue within 12 months, well that is a potent management tool.  What if you looked at it in reverse?  What if you set a goal of a 10 percent increase in revenue and determined that you could accomplish this mission  by increasing your advocacy score by 20 points? 

The beauty of such an index is that it is easy to implement and communicate internally.  Management and employees simply focus on improving the gaming experience to raise the index ever higher.  Yes, you need to measure periodically, but managers and employees only need to know one number.  Everyone can watch the trend line established by the index over time to know how well they are doing.  That is about as simple as you can get.

I didn’t dream this up.  Research published in Harvard Business Review shows there is absolutely no correlation between customer satisfaction and the future performance of any business.  Even measuring customer loyalty is not good enough.  The Harvard article points directly to advocacy as the key.  The importance of advocacy is the result of 10 years of research of more than 4,000 customers in 14 industries.  Advocacy is not well known in gaming but it is in other industries.  Companies such as Dell, Intuit, Enterprise Rent-A-car, Symantec and Harley Davidson use methodology similar to the index I’ve mentioned in this article.

The research published by Harvard undermines the gaming industry’s infatuation with customer satisfaction surveys and comment cards.  Neither can identify the customer as an advocate.  Measuring satisfaction is a waste of time, energy and money.  The problem is that guests can say anything they want on a survey or card because they have nothing at stake.  But they put their personal reputation on the line if they advocate on behalf of your casino by voluntarily recommending it to others.   

Guests who fanatically love your casino are advocates.  You want to have as many of those customers as you can possibly get.  Your casino may very well have some advocates in its customer base, but to what extent?  You need to know the answer to that question so you understand where you stand today.  Only then can you plan your future success.

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

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.
mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com
www.advocateindex.com
206-774-8856

Casino Guests Are Talking About Quality of Your Service – Globally

For 15 years, I have been telling casinos that guest service matters.  That service can have a positive or negative impact on casino revenue, depending on whether it shines or stinks.  To lend additional credibility to my claims, I have quoted service experts in other industries and written about examples of stellar service no matter where it occurs, as long as it relates to the entertainment and hospitality markets.

Now I bring you the ultimate proof.  I am letting your guests speak for themselves.  As guests speak, they offer you two critical lessons.  First, they clearly say that service is important to them.  Second, they are talking about your casino’s service to anyone who will listen – globally.  And they link your service (good or bad) directly to your name!

I recently went to Twitter and did a word search for “casino customer service.”  Two posts caught my attention.  The first one was positive:  “Enjoying Tavern Casino, West 44 at Greenbrier.  Customer service is impeccably executed and sincere.”  If this person is talking about Tavern Casino at The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, I give you guys a well-deserved tip of the hat. 

The second post was both positive and negative.  This guest prefers one Detroit casino over another and names both properties in his tweet.  I have removed the name of the casino that got the short end of the stick.  Here’s the tweet:  “I have been going to Greektown Hotel Casino more than (XYZ Casino) lately.  Go Figure.  (XYZ Casino) has to step up its customer service!!”  The guest typed in the exclamation marks, not me.

I rest my case.  Casino guests themselves say that they like good service and that they avoid casinos that don’t provide it.  That means they go to casinos that emphasize service.  So how can your property be the casino of choice?  There are a multitude of ways to improve guest service, more than I can elaborate on here.  But the following seven tips on providing stellar service will get you off to a wonderful start.

Do Your Best for Every Guest.  Each guest who comes to your property is expecting a great gaming experience.  Guests want to have fun and know that they stand out and that they’re special.  This is a priority for everyone at the casino – employees and managers alike.  In other words, every casino employee is in the guest service business.

Be Observant.  It’s smart to observe guests by watching and paying attention.  By watching what they do and how they do it, employees have an opportunity to know what guests want before they ask.  That’s high-level service.  For example, if a guest puts down an empty glass at a machine, bring a refill.  If someone can’t find the restroom, step forward and help them.  That simple act of observation sets a casino apart from the competition and truly impresses guests.

Be Timely.  Casino service needs to be provided in a timely manner.  Guests only have a certain amount of time to play and employees should want to be sure every minute of it is spent at the casino where they work.  The faster guests are served and the more quickly they get what they want, the more likely they are to stay. 

Acknowledge Guests.  Casino guests want to be recognized by the property’s employees.  They may not want their name yelled across the casino floor but they do want to be recognized.  A nod of the head could be just the thing for one guest.  For another, it could be remembering their name and using it appropriately.  Recognizing guests is one of those simple things that is greatly appreciated.

Create A Welcoming Atmosphere.  Every casino guest is welcome.  They’re welcome to play, eat, stay in the hotel and swing their clubs on the golf course.  They should feel welcome, not out of place or uncomfortable.  Casino employees should make their guests feel as welcome as an old friend.

Watch Your Tone of Voice.  The way you say something has a huge impact on what people hear.  So be careful about your tone of voice as you interact with guests.  Casinos are noisy.  That’s why your voice needs to cut through, but in a calm, friendly, smiling and welcoming manner.  The way you say words often has more impact than the words themselves.

Have A “Yes I Can” Attitude.  No matter what a guest wants, no matter when they want it and no matter which department is responsible, you need to have a “yes I can” attitude.  Sure, the request may be outside your area of expertise, but you need to come through for your guest with a cheerful, “Yes, I can do that.”  Your guest will remember and appreciate your effort.

Now to that second lesson I mentioned.  Social media is here to stay, folks, and it can work for you or against you.  I guarantee that guests are talking about your casino on the Internet, and they are conversing with anyone around the world who wants to listen.  Twitter is just one platform for this discussion and there are applications out there that allow people to simultaneously post a comment to several platforms – Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, you name it. 

Even if a remark posts at only one social media site, it can spread like wildfire.  I wonder if the above guest who tweeted that XYZ Casino “has to step up its customer service” got any retweets?  I wonder if those retweets were retweeted yet again? And again?  I’m sure Greektown is hoping the answer is yes and that XYZ is biting its collective fingernails.

Take a hard look at your casino’s guest service.  Does what you see make you proud or nervous?  You need to know the answer to that question.  It matters and guests are talking about it.

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

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.
mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com
www.casinocustomerservice.com
www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com
206-774-8856

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.
mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com
www.casinocustomerservice.com
www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com
206-774-8856

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