Employee Reward and Recognition Must Be Implemented Properly

When we consult with casinos about their guest service needs and how to keep customers coming back, the conversation inevitably turns to employees and their state of mind.

As far as casino management is concerned, employees will provide better service and guests will have a better gaming experience if the property’s staff has a good attitude.  I agree entirely.  But here’s the challenge.  How do you create that positive outlook within the staff?

When we ask management that question, they always say, “Pay them more.”  Then they quickly add, “But we can’t do that.”

It’s a trick question because we know the answer and it has nothing to do with pay.  Studies show that employees would rather get praise from their supervisors than money.  It may be hard to believe, but most casino employees are starving for attention from their bosses.  From their point of view, a pat on the back would be a nice change.

Thus, the answer to our question is to roll out an employee incentive and reward program.  However, you could do more harm than good if the program is not properly planned and implemented.  Your incentive and reward effort will succeed if you keep the following points in mind.

(Read here and here for other best practices that lead to great guest service.)

First, decide what behavior you’re looking for from your employees.  It could be something as simple as smiling or more complex behavior such as using a company slogan when talking with your guests.  If you don’t identify the behavior you want, you’ll be rewarding people for doing something entirely different.

Second, assign someone to decide whether employees are performing the way you want them to.  Many companies think this is a job for managers and department heads but that’s a huge mistake.  We know from experience that when bosses are involved, casino employees see recognition as a popularity contest that’s not based on specific criteria.

Any form of bias – real or perceived – will bring the greatest recognition program to its knees and to an ugly end.  It can be the kiss of death in communities where employees from one family work at the same property.  If my sister runs the program and I receive the reward, it will look fishy even if I truly deserve it.

It’s critical to use an unbiased third party.  This avoids claims of unfair treatment and removes the huge hornet’s nest that managers bring into the equation.  Use a mystery shopping company to get “real” people’s input and ideas.  Mystery shoppers have absolutely no vested interest in who gets the rewards and recognition.

Now that you know the behavior you want to reward and you have a third party to do the evaluations, give the shoppers clearly defined employee-performance expectations. They need to know exactly what to look for.  This is extremely important.  The data you receive will only be as good as the specific requirements you set for the shoppers.

The next critical element of your program is to set your people up to win.  Before you roll out the program, give your staff guest service training so they become familiar with the skills they will need to pass a mystery shop.  You want your people to get high scores during a shop because that means they’re doing things correctly.

During the first baseline shop, you might not tell employees that mystery shopping is happening.  But after that, they need to know they’re being evaluated.

Now it’s time to think about the rewards.  Cash is not a high priority but tangible gifts or gestures of appreciation are.  What about lunch with some of the key executives?  What about gift cards?  Look at gift companies on the Internet to see what they have to offer.  The rewards don’t need to be expensive.  They just need to be consistent.

How you deliver the reward also is important.  It’s standard procedure to praise in public and correct in private.  I don’t think there’s nearly enough public praise these days.

Give the reward as soon after the event as possible so the employee makes the connection between the proper behavior and the payoff.  That means you must have a turnkey system in place so you have rewards and recognition that are ready to go.

While you’re rolling out your program, please remember that it is designed to provide incentives and rewards, not to “catch” employees doing the wrong thing.  It’s sad, but some properties lose their focus and start using the shopping reports as a way to punish people.  If, during the mystery shopping process, you discover that some people have yet to jump on the guest service bus, use the information to help them.  Try
one-on-one coaching sessions.  If there’s a common problem, the shopping data can be used as a resource to design new training to help with specific needs.  You want to use this information to help employees grow into better guest service ambassadors.

My final comment is that this program will be effective only if it has the long-term support of management and the resources to make it happen.  It’s detrimental to the property to start a program and stop it mid-stream.  We require properties to commit to at least 12 months of our program because it’s a waste of money otherwise.  Employees need time to learn about the program and the program itself needs time to build steam and create buzz.

Planning and implementing an incentive and reward program is not a quick, easy process.  But if done correctly, it can do wonderful things for your guest service and for the morale of your most important resource, your employees.

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

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.

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