Winning Combination = Casino Success

It’s not unusual for me to tell casino executives that they have much to learn about customer service from industries other than gaming.  Logic says that a particular business segment can’t have all the answers to the issues it faces.

(Read more here and here about the importance of casino customer service.)

I found proof of this yet again while watching a television newscast.  Frankly, that day’s news wasn’t grabbing my attention until I heard something about measurement of customer experience and loyalty.  Suddenly, I was wide awake and rewinding the TV.  I started the story over and there it was – key messages I have been delivering to casinos about their service for decades.  I didn’t agree with every means of measurement I heard about, but much of it was spot on.

Apparently once a year the Luxury Consumer Experience Index (LCEI) survey results are announced by New York-based Luxury Institute.  The newscast reported that wealthy U.S. shoppers ranked Nordstrom highest among luxury retailers for 2012.  This had nothing to do with casinos except for what Luxury Institute measured in its survey.  The institute measured how customers evaluate a brand’s store personnel, shopping environment and degree of satisfaction with the total experience.

Every casino in the world should consider itself to be a brand.  Every casino should intimately understand how guests feel about the property’s staff, the environment in which customers play and the overall gaming experience.   Thank you Luxury Institute for reminding us of the importance of these factors.

The LCEI gave Nordstrom the top overall score of 8.41 out of 10.  Neiman Marcus’ Bergdorf Goodman subsidiary was close behind at 8.37 while Barney’s New York was 8.23.  Those are close scores and 8 out of 10 is pretty darn good.

I Googled the LCEI to learn more about the 2012 survey and found a press release from Luxury Institute.  A quote from CEO Milton Pedraza blew me away:  “Retailers, especially in luxury, are selling experiences to customers more than they are selling any particular good.  In the case of a retailer like Nordstrom, we see that a program of continuous improvement in the customer experience can lead to higher degrees of loyalty and improved financial performance.”

Luxury Institute took the words right out of my mouth!  Casinos cannot compete based on their gaming machines and table games because those offerings are much the same from property to property.  As Pedraza pointed out, you do not sell a product.  You do, however, sell an experience, a gaming experience.  And that is where you can compete.  This is why surveys such as the LCEI are so important.  They clearly show the benefit of emphasizing staff competence, environment and overall experience.

In my opinion, personnel and environment go a long way toward creating the experience.  In the case of casinos, employees bolster the gaming experience by providing outstanding guest service.  Customers notice good service and have come to expect it.  They have choices in most gaming markets, so if the service stinks at one casino, they simply go to another property where customers are appreciated.  Quality service can no longer be an afterthought within management.  It must be part of a casino’s business plan.

But great service is seriously undermined if the casino is run down and dirty.  Customers are attracted to bright, welcoming, clean and well maintained casinos.  Put top-notch employees in a place like that and you have a winning combination.  You also have an outstanding gaming experience.  Most guests know it isn’t likely they will leave the property with more money in their pocket, but they play at their favorite casino anyway because they like it there.

Pedraza’s comments about continually improving the experience were critical to achieving the improved financial performance he mentioned.  Casinos shouldn’t expect to polish their service to a gleaming shine overnight.  The key to success is a carefully considered plan for improved service that is rolled out over time.  And while there may be a beginning, there is no end to the process.  Service can always be improved and should always be emphasized to keep everyone on their toes.  Employees will provide great service when they understand that there is now a permanent service culture at the property.

I only disagree with Luxury Institute over measurement of customer satisfaction and loyalty.  Specifically, it was interested in the degree of customer satisfaction with the total shopping experience.  That word “satisfaction” gets on my nerves, as does “loyalty.”  Research published in Harvard Business Review clearly explains why customer satisfaction is no longer meaningful.  A casino customer telling a survey taker that he is satisfied with his gaming experience at XYZ Casino may only hold water until that customer plays there again.  What if he is unhappy the next time he goes to XYZ because an employee brought him a poorly prepared drink?  Is that customer satisfied or dissatisfied?  There’s no way to know and, thus, satisfaction is a meaningless measurement.

Instead of the standard satisfaction question, the survey taker should ask the customer if he would recommend XYZ to a friend.  If the answer is yes, then something meaningful has been revealed.  That customer is an advocate for the casino because he is willing to put his personal reputation on the line with his friends.  The casino guest who recommends a property is like an unpaid salesman who can generate new business, all while continuing to play at the casino and creating repeat business.  Friends who take the recommendation to heart and play at XYZ may themselves become advocates.  The more advocates a casino has, the more successful it will be.

And how are advocates created?  By providing the one thing that sets one casino apart from all the others so it can compete and succeed – an outstanding gaming experience.

To read other articles by Martin Baird, go to

Martin R. Baird
Robinson & Associates, Inc.

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