Category Archives: Casino Player Development

Why Being Customer-Centric is Important

No matter what business you’re in, it pays (literally!) to be customer-centric. Whatever you do, you have customers, and understanding their needs and preferences is part of your responsibility to them. Why? Because part of any customer’s expectations of someone with whom they do business is that their needs will be met and that they won’t be disappointed unnecessarily throughout the process. This is implied, of course, but those businesses who fail to meet their customers’ needs and who disappoint them will not keep their patronage for very long.

In the casino industry of late, there has been a lot of talk about how to engage The Millennials in bricks-and-mortar gaming. Most of the articles I’ve read on the topic say something like this: ‘The adults of the digital age have come to expect a personalized experience. They prefer interactive entertainment and seem more likely to play table games or forgo the casino entirely and play on a mobile device. These preferences seem to be based on their online experiences in an increasingly connected world.’ So it follows that understanding this generation and meeting their expectations and preferences would give the savvy, customer-centric casino operator an advantage over his competitors who do not. This is true of many businesses who find themselves striving to remain relevant to a younger generation.

In retail, buyers and sales clerks need to be customer-centric in order to understand what their customers hope to find in their stores and provide that. Salespeople anticipating a shopper’s needs by observing body language and actively engaging them in conversation is a customer-centric practice with real value. Unlike in casino gaming, a retail operation with a customer-centric focus is not appealing to just one desirable segment of their potential customer base. Stores benefit from successfully engaging with patrons of all ages and socio-economic strata…and will earn their repeat business.

In B2B settings, being custom-centric is even more important, because providing the product and/or service you offer is an act of faith in your business on the part of your clients. Being both proactive and appropriately reactive are beneficial in this world, by first offering the best product or service you can at a reasonable price and then by understanding the business problems of the customers you serve. Doing this well will keep them with you even without long-term contracts…they will stay because you “get” them. (Again, the principle applies to most kinds of ventures.)

For those who work in service industries, much like in the casino world, understanding the individual in front of you and providing them the best possible experience is a game-changer. Whether it’s in a hotel, a restaurant, a sports arena or a movie theater, each of your customers has come to you with an expectation of their very own. It’s up to you to meet that expectation. Automatic assignment to one’s favorite room, a sample taste of a new dish, acknowledgement of the next person in line, treating people with professional familiarity when you’ve learned who they are, all these kinds of behaviors will set your operation apart from those of your competitors if you’re doing it right. It’s basic customer service, but with the personal touch.

So why is customer centricity an important component of any business? Because it buys you more business. Inexpensively, easily, manageably bought repeat business. It gains you customer loyalty because you have shown that your operation is worthy of it. I agree (in part) with Sir Richard Branson’s assertion that creating happy employees make it easy to create happy customers. I suggest this addendum: Empower and encourage your employees to conduct your business in a customer-centric way. Reinforce positive outcomes, address performance weaknesses, and you’ll have a winning combination.

Customer centricity is important because it is the best way to get, delight, and keep your customers. If they know you are willing to understand and accommodate them, they will reward you with their ongoing loyalty. Use analytics to ensure you’re applying this appropriately across your enterprise, and your customers will reward you with greater profitability. Then everybody wins. Happy employees, happy customers, happy stakeholders. Everybody wins.

Do you love what you do?

Like some of the people I’ve met in my career, I ended up in Casino Player Development almost by accident. I never intended to apply for a job at a casino, but I heard they had a job opening for talkative social types, and I had to know more. After being hired, I fell in love with the atmosphere, the guests, the giveaways (they gave me a microphone!), the tournaments, and especially all the hugs. We were a family, the guests and employees, and I was hooked. So hooked, actually, that I worked my way from host to supervisor to manager to executive before going to “The Dark Side.” (It’s my affectionate term for having left the industry to work for a casino technology vendor…and I love that, too!)

There are people I’ve worked with over the years who were naturals at casino hosting, and I’ve worked with some for whom another vocation was their true calling. Both groups can harbor Rock Star hosts, for sure. Some members of both groups have moved on to other career opportunities for a variety of reasons, and some of them are still in the trenches in a casino operation somewhere. Obviously, the choices these friends and acquaintances made revolved, at least in part, around doing something that makes them happy.

So, why do you do what you do? My years in a casino operation meant I went to work every day knowing that the day would present me with unanticipated challenges, small victories, and only rarely would I be bored. There was always something new to learn, interesting (or baffling) problems to solve, guests to meet (or placate), and often a crisis brewing. It was hardly ever boring. I did what I did because it was fascinating, challenging, and rewarding. I did it because I am a social creature, and I spent my workdays surrounded by people from all walks of life. It was, particularly in the beginning, my dream job.

Now, I do what I do because I believe Harvest Trends can make the lives of Player Development pros easier. We have assembled the tools I wish I’d had when I was running a Player Development team. To be able to quickly spin a list of players who fit a certain profile that the property had determined was our target, assign those players to hosts for contact, and track their progress as they worked toward completion is a dream come true for most of the folks I know who are taking care of the best players in properties around the US.

I do what I do because I fell in love with an industry that provides entertainment with the chance for a life-changing prize. I do what I do because somewhere out there is a good player who wants to know why no one appreciates his business, and I want him to know his “home” casino is glad he plays there. I do what I do because I am happier when I am feeling accomplished and fulfilled, and I want my children to see that making a living can be rewarding and is not always a drag. I do what I do because there are untapped resources available for casino marketers and player development professionals, and I want them to know about those resources.

So, tell us: Why do you do what you do?

Events (& Tips!) for Casino Hosts

When you’re looking at your player list trying to come up with ways to engage your patrons and get them to make a return trip soon, planning something with a broad appeal might seem like the way to go. But in reality, many players whose patronage warrants invitations to exclusive events are looking for a little special treatment. There’s not likely to be any single event you can do which will appeal to everyone you’d like to reactivate, for example. (Think of the invitees as the individuals they really are, and you’ll quickly see why.) This means that having a variety of event types in your repertoire is a good idea. Here are few to consider.

The Friendly Competition Team up with another host at your property and decide what sort of competition you want to have. Ham it up and go with armwrestling or a video game showdown; cheese it up with a craft-making competition or an online silly selfie contest; heck, you could even do a spelling bee. Involve the whole host team or even invite others. Feeling bold? Team up with players. Whatever you decide, make it something compelling to watch. Then set the stakes for the contest. You could have the “loser” host shave his head (set the shave date in the future and maybe drive two trips). How about a parade through the casino for the winner, complete with loud music, balloons, and a handout of some kind for the guests on their route? Again, make the stakes and the spectacle worth watching. You can do prizes for patrons in attendance if you like, too.

VIP/Executive Roundtable Guests love to interact with executives when they can. High-end guests feel as though their patronage should give them a seat at the table, so why not give them one? Light hors d’ouvres, light cocktails, and round tables surrounded by comfortable seating set the stage for a dialogue that will make your players feel important and provide insights to your executives. (Especially effective if Ops Execs participate!) Just remember, make no promises and always be sincere.

Paint & Sip Appeal to the artistic and/or wine lovers on your player list and do a fun, reasonably- priced relationship-building event. The host should be painting and sipping too for the record, to share in the experience and give everyone the same opportunity for praise and encouragement. A friend of mine did one of these and felt as though this event would work again and again. Handpick small groups and keep the atmosphere mellow.

Spa Day/Massage Therapy Do you have players who own their own businesses or who are raising kids? These folks migh not take adequate time to recharge unless encouraged to do so, so provide them a good reason. If your property doesn’t already have a spa, talk with those around you and work out an equitable way to provide the service to your patrons. Setting up on property is preferable, but you could add a fun element if you have to “road trip” your guests to an off-property pampering.

Hometown/Region Celebration This could take many forms, but is based on bringing in patrons from a particular geographical area while appealing to hometown pride. Invite only those from your target area and encourage them to bring a friend if they like. Feature decorations that emphasize the unique qualities of the area, serve local favorite foods, play music about or from the region…you get the idea.

Plus, Bonus Tips! To make every event a success, there are a few things to consider throughout the process:

  • Harness the power of social media. Tweet, post, blog, stream, and share before, during, and after to maximize engagement. Tag your guests! (If you haven’t already, consider – within company rules, of course – setting up profiles for use only with guests to share directly with them… keeping your personal accounts “private”)
  • Ask for feedback. Give your guests a score card or link to an onlie survey asking what they thought or for ideas for future events to ensure you’re hitting all the high spots. I’ll bet you will get some great stuff from this!
  • Include others. Ask co-workers to team up with you, invite the chef to talk about the food, have executives stop in, and encourage patrons to invite friends when appropriate. Many years ago, we invited one of our patrons (who also owned a nursery) to do a VIP presentation on preparing your garden for winter. We got lots of brownie points for that one!
  • Build relationships. Use people’s names, show appreciation, introduce guests to one another, and share the stories that keep them laughing. This will pay dividends in the form of stronger bonds between co-workers and yourself, between guests and associates, and among the guests themselves.
  • Get creative! Anyone who’s been in or around the casino business for very long knows that we recycle a lot of the same events. (Or do a “tribute” to competitor’s successful event.) Come up with ways to keep things fresh: do a fun theme, switch up the details (think middle 25 scores win the tournament), or combine elements from more than one event.
  • Remember to have fun! Ultimately, your guests return to your property because it’s an entertainment experience. Don’t let them see you sweat if things go awry, resolve that the show must go on, and have fun with it. No matter what.

For more event ideas, see our first post on the topic. Got ideas of your own you’d like to share? Tell us all about it in the comments below or email them to Amy at ahudson@harvesttrends.com!

Casino Marketing and Technology

Harvest Trends recently debuted a new CRM product, built specifically for casino hosts and their team leaders, at the first combined Casino Marketing & Technology Conference in Las Vegas. While we were there, we met lots of great folks and heard some very informative sessions on the challenges faced by casino marketers and how those challenges can be overcome. As a result, the conference, which provided the perfect blend of marketing & technology information to casino operators from around the world, introduced us to (and reminded us of) some things that will enable casino marketers to be more competitive in an increasingly connected and customer-oriented marketplace.

Steve Browne and Dennis Conrad of Raving Service and Raving Consulting, respectively, were each the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award during the conference. During their acceptance speeches, they both repeated their oft-stated opinion that casino marketers are behind the curve when it comes to utilizing technology to effectively communicate with and market to their patrons. (After the conference, Amy spoke with a high-end blackjack player who confirmed that these gentlemen were correct. Not only do casino patrons often receive offers that don’t apply to their preferred activities, but the offers are sometimes seen as insulting or inconsiderate of the effort the patron would have to expend to take advantage of the offer, even when they are interested in them.)

The next day, Tim Huckaby (CEO of Actus Interactive, who is also an executive with Microsoft and several other prestigious technology companies) told attendees of the final afternoon keynote how technology, hardware, and associated software have continued to become more affordable and how they can improve engagement and interactivity between patrons and the brands they like. This means that affordable solutions to many problems encountered by casino marketers are readily available…but as an industry, we tend to stick to the tried-and-true, even if it’s not working as well anymore. Tim’s keynote indicated that it’s no longer prohibitively expensive to utilize the latest tools and integrated services to draw in new patrons and continue to keep them interested using a combination of technology and service.

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Long story short, there are a number of technology companies who are positioned to partner with casino marketers to enable them to meet customer expectations and drive more bottom-line revenue for their property. The gaming vertical is virtually crowded with vendors who can simplify the processes necessary to provide a more customized experience to casino patrons. It really is as simple as finding the right partner to help with your mail segmentation (and testing programs), modify your messages to make them more amenable to variable data points, identify your players of interest and opportunity, manage your communications with them, and track the effects of your efforts so you can refine them as you go.  To make it even more advantageous, you could choose only the services you need to keep costs in line. Bringing on a technology partner doesn’t mean you’ll have to invest a ton of money in software or hardware, nor does it require a long-term commitment in some cases.

If you found a partner who could enable you to do almost anything your heart desires, what would you do? What A/B testing would you conduct? How many segments (and by what data points) would you divvy up your mail file into if there were no limits? What changes would you make to your rewards program or club tiers or player development function?

When you have the right technology partner, virtually anything is possible. Do some online research, talk with your counterparts or folks with similar titles at other properties, go to a conference, do whatever feels right to you; but start looking around to discover what resources are available to help you do what you do even better!

Ask Harvest Trends how we can help you accomplish more and spend less, driving more bottom line revenue and patron satisfaction. It’s what we do.

Critical Components of Casino Player Development

Is your host team doing everything it should be to secure (as best they can) the loyalty of your patrons? There is quite possibly something more that can be done to ensure the continued visitation of your Players of Interest.

My experience, as well as the thoughts of many experts in the industry, have led me to believe that lots of hosts spend too much time on retaining players who have already demonstrated their loyalty to your casino. Many of your high frequency patrons know folks in every department and come in with treats and trinkets for lots of your associates. While they certainly need to be able to depend on your property’s premiere customer service team from time to time, it’s important to ensure that these players don’t take up too much of the of the host team’s time. Why? Because your property’s premiere customer service team should also be (1) finding out why good players have not visited recently and (2) getting new members of worth to return. In fact, there is probably more opportunity for increased revenue from the acquisition and reactivation functions your host team performs.

While competitors right-size, my money’s on spending time building relationships with your players of interest on an ongoing basis. Certainly every employee should be doing this whenever possible, this is a task perfectly aligned with what a PD team is supposed to do. These components of a successful Casino Player Development program are critical to its continued success. Ensuring that you hit all these points and hold your hosts accountable for them should result in continued profitability from your PD team.

Identification
Identifying these particular “players of interest” to your property is the fist step. Taking a somewhat granular look at your database will help you identify the new and at-risk players in your database who present the most opportunity for you in terms of long-term loyalty to your operation. It’s not difficult if you have the right tools and someone to ask the right questions. Where do our most profitable customers live? From where are our most promising new club members coming? When do the players of interest come to the casino? How often? Are there times when they don’t visit? Or do they sometimes come in and play less (or better yet, more)? Are there fight zones with competitors where profitable players are equidistant to you and another property? Are any of those patrons at risk of defection? What can you do to keep them from visiting the other casino? If they decide to stray, how will you get them back?

Planning
Once you know who you’re going after, decide on your plan. There will certainly be mail components and, if you’re really on your game, some form of digital marketing as well. But we’re talking about critical components of PD here. Ensuring that the hosts know who they need to reach out to and with what offer(s), if any, is the most critical component at this stage. The players of interest have been identified, and now the hosts have to do their stuff. Phone calls and handwritten notes and greeting cards and gift baskets delivered to hotel rooms, reservations at spas and golf tee times, steakhouse dinner parties and special gifts are all examples of critical components the hosts may bring to sweeten the deal to bring back even reluctant players of promising worth. Sometimes you have to be armed as though for battle, particularly in increasingly crowded regional gaming markets.

Acquisition
As a baseline, new players need to make 3 trips in order for a casino to recoup its reinvestment and turn that new player into a profitable one. Ideally, the patron will return twice more within 30 days. While an aggressive new player incentive and generous mail offers combine to increase the odds that a new patron will return, for those who play to a higher level there is nothing as effective as a personal “touch” from a casino host to provide an incentive to come back right away. In this capacity, the host becomes the new player’s “touchpoint,” or his “inside man,” so to speak. When the host offers to make a reservation or some other consideration for the player, he feels important and is more likely to return to the casino whose host made him feel this way. A personal connection is certainly a host’s strength, and this connection begins the journey by which a player can find his “home” casino. The patron may well return sooner than he might have if he’d only received a mailer.

Reactivation
For players who have gone quiet and haven’t returned in a while, a host may be the most effective method for getting that return trip. While a robust mail program targeted at reactivation can have a great response rate, having the hosts call the top levels of guests in that mailing can certainly provide a profitable boost to the results. Some of the players who receive your Where have you been? mailer will appreciate the opportunity to tell someone why they haven’t returned, as many of them are just looking for a reason to feel valued enough by your property to come back. A host can deliver the personalized experience that these players (rightly) feel they deserve. I’ve seen players who remember a host (“Oh, Bobby! Hi!”) return within two weeks of a “personal” call…at a rate of about 30%. (The host I’m referencing marveled at how effective simply calling and asking how people were doing really was in getting them to make a visit to see him.)

Retention
While I believe that many hosts spend too much time in this role, it’s still a vital part of the work they do to ensure your property has patrons coming through the doors with regularity. Divided equally, a host should spend roughly 30% of his or her time in contact with familiar faces, guests you know you’ll see on a predictable basis, and recognizing when those patrons are off their visitation and/or play pattern. As always, balance is key…and retention is a function that is necessary to maintain your expected levels of activity and revenue from these dependable patrons.

Analysis
Sometimes you’ll have to change direction, as markets change and people move on for one reason or another. New challenges will always be ahead, so having the ability to spot trends and apply the principles of preemptive reactivation, particularly when paired up with a robust view of your database, all combine to provide you with the ability to find a new path almost as quickly as your favorite GPS app. See what happens, keep identifying patrons who deserve host attention for whatever reason, and look for ways to stay ahead of the game using analytics.

Tracking
It’s important that you have a clear view of your host team’s productivity. When you assign new or inactive patrons to your hosts for contact, you may want to include a qualifier for the hosts to achieve before they can “claim” the patrons in question. Perhaps you will set a threshold for theo and a number of return visits so the hosts can have the players coded and see the benefits (extra theo toward my goal!) of bringing those players back. See who they’re contacting, what the conversion rate is, and how much they’re adding to your overall reinvestment in the way of comps and other freebies. Review this information at least once a week. Daily is better. Use your tracking data to keep each individual host on track throughout the goal period.

Measurement
Now that you’ve honed your identification and targeting skills, it’s time to see how well your plans have worked. The tools you use to locate your players of interest should be of use in determining your success rate as well. How many new players in which areas did we convert to our monthly mail program? Are they visiting us with regularity, and is there a pattern in the play that indicates we may be able to get more of their gaming wallet? What offers move them? Which ones do they ignore? Will something else work?

And repeat. If you’re not sure you have the resources to pull off the identification, analysis or measurement components, let us know. Harvest Trends is continuously refining its tools for casino marketers…we may have just what you need.

Did I forget anything? Are there critical components in your PD program that we didn’t list here? Please sound off in the comments below.

Tell your stories

When I first became a casino employee, I was hired as a casino host. This was a (big) number of years ago, so my duties didn’t really fit with what we know Player Development to be today. I was responsible for signing up patrons for the rewards club on the gaming floor, providing breaks at the players club, handing out drawing entries via floor sweep, announcing drawings, handling VIP events and registering players for slot, blackjack, and video poker tournaments. I spent more time doing paperwork than interacting with guests, and I certainly wasn’t driving any revenue for the property.

Within the first year, I was promoted to club supervisor. It was the next step on my journey to become the club manager, which was my goal. The work I’d done as a host had prepared me for this new role, and I got the job a few months after it was vacated by the lady who had originally hired me. With the support of a mentor (in the form of the department manager from slots), I became the player’s club manager. I was responsible for the club desk, the host team, VIP events, promotions, and tournaments. I knew how to do all the tasks and roles that reported to me, so it was a good fit.

The times, they were a’changin’. And there were some good stories along the way.

There was the Halloween VIP slot tournament where I awarded a prize by depositing it underneath Genie’s bra (Genie was a man in a body suit with a very heavily sequined genie outfit over it). I was Carol Merrill for a Let’s Make a Deal event, and got to give away some very nice jewelry and a box of 64-count Crayolas (with built-in sharpener!) in the same night. We laughed a lot, cried a little, gave and received hundreds of hugs, and had a blast most of the time.

After a couple of years of same ol’, same ol’, I got a new boss who had come to our rural outpost directly from Las Vegas. This guy had also worked as a host, and he had some definite ideas about setting up our host team to drive revenue from among our players of opportunity. I was excited about the changes, because it meant I’d get to learn something new. Something valuable.

Working with our database guy, we established player lists for each of our hosts and set some simple weekly and monthly goals: making phone calls to patrons we hadn’t seen in a while, and continuing to gather club sign-ups on the gaming floor. We began to track the play generated by each host’s list and used that data to craft achievable stretch goals for the team. We were contributing trackable revenue!

And there were more stories. Patrons who had negative comp balances but who routinely lost 10x what the computer said they should. (Would you comp them? I sure did!) We had Senior Slot Tournaments that filled the joint from Sunday through Tuesday, at one of which the birth of my daughter was announced via the overhead PA. (I got lots of gorgeous baby blankets, btw.) There were New Year’s Eve parties, Golf tournaments with celebrity golfers (“…Are these the ‘up’ elevators?”), arguments, a couple of newsworthy events, and tons of great shows.

The tangible growth in our PD program was fabulous, and we’d managed to establish a culture along the way. It was a culture of fun and inclusion, and for quite a while, it worked. The stories connected those of us who worked in the casino with our patrons. The shared experiences gave us points of reference for one another. We bonded over births, marriages, anniversaries, cocktail receptions, awards banquets, and jackpot payouts. We were family.

So tell your stories. If you’re a PD team leader, tell the stories to explain WHY you want things done a certain way. If you’re a host, telling your stories helps connect you and your players through commonalities. Telling your relevant stories helps people understand what experiences have shaped you. Hearing others’ stories makes it easier to relate to them and their point of view. Build a culture of sharing and accessibility. Knowing your patrons helps you serve them better, and it makes it infinitely easier (most of the time, anyway). Knowing your co-workers means sneaky folks will have a more difficult time getting one over on you and provides better communication opportunities.

Stories connect us in many ways. Like settling in on a rainy day with a good book, stories give us a respite from the troubles of the moment, allowing us perspective or providing inspiration when we need it. Personal stories allow us to share and receive something in return; even if we don’t immediately realize the impact the story had on the “sharee.”

Tell your stories. Inspire. Educate. Comfort. Share. Grow.

Don’t Settle

One of our clients kindly allowed us to do a case study on their player development program because they had seen such success with their rolling 90-day prospecting program, we wanted to share it with the world. The property’s partnership with us enabled them to implement an idea their leadership thought would drive incremental revenue, and they saw a 25% increase due to this new program! (They even saw increased play among hosted players when unhosted carded play was down.) They chose not to settle for the status quo.

The key to their success is two-fold: (1) the team leader’s idea for identifying, contacting and creating loyalty among their players of interest utilizes a key strength among their hosts, and (2) their daily updates (to hosts, host manager, director and VP) ensure that they know exactly how things are progressing. There’s no waiting until IT or database can run a new set of reports, there’s no sorting through excel files to track host progress or identify players, therefore there’s no roadblock to putting a good idea to use and no need to settle.

For too many properties, it is difficult for a player development team leader to receive necessary information in a meaningful way or in a timely manner. Weekly reports mean that the leaders and their hosts won’t know every day how they are progressing to goal, so adjustments are difficult to make during the last month of a quarter…especially if they have to wait for a spreadsheet to be generated and sent via e-mail to be massaged into something useful. This struggle makes it difficult for the leader to properly manage a host team to drive the best possible numbers.

Like their leaders, host teams at lots of casinos take care of the regulars and the players with whom they are best acquainted, but rarely have the bandwidth or inclination to dig deeper into the new player data or reactivation lists to find worthy “new” guests who require their attention. When there are rooms or showroom seats to be filled, many hosts call the same folks who had come to the last show instead of finding new patrons to reward with the freebies. (Nick Ippolito of Player Development Systems, Inc. shared that in a recent survey conducted by his company, 90% of casino host respondents stated that they prefer talking with players they have met or already know.) Without the right support, there is little a team leader can do to motivate their hosts to do more.

Equally frustrating to many PD team leaders are the delays in getting host results at the end of a quarter. When the end of a quarter and the end of a week don’t line up (assuming that even weekly reports are the norm), the quarterly host report might seem to be an afterthought to the database team. So these PD pros often run reports and cobble together some numbers for themselves to find out they had missed achieving their theoretical goal by only a few thousand dollars.

It is not necessary, given the current resources available for Casino Player Development, to settle for weekly numbers or hosts who aren’t accomplishing all that they can. There are some properties with advanced teams who are putting up good numbers despite the fact that most gaming markets are not enjoying the same recovery that the rest of the economy seems to have. There are also many teams who are talking with the same guests and accomplishing the same things every day, not progressing or growing incremental revenue. Then, there are the teams who aren’t focused on driving revenue; they are glorified promotions attendants who work at the club or in the VIP lounge sometimes. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. Technology in the gaming world is growing in leaps and bounds, and some company somewhere has just the solution your property needs. Whether you purchase a server and install an enterprise edition or access the software via the internet, you can likely find something that will help your team drive more revenue, just like the property in our case study did. If it’s training you need, there are a number of great options available for that as well.

The BNP Media & Raving Casino Marketing & Technology Conference in 2015 will provide a golden opportunity for marketing and player development pros to find the resources they need to grow their incremental revenue. Since the technology conference will, for the first time, take place as part of the Casino Marketing Conference, gaming marketers will be able to find answers to most of their questions or concerns all in one place. Start with some basic research on the exhibitors, decide which ones may have the solution you need, then make an appointment to meet with the ones you’ve chosen during the conference (but be sure not to schedule over an important breakout session).

Don’t settle for getting information whenever database or IT can get it to you. Don’t let your PD team languish or miss goals by only a couple thousand dollars. Don’t wait to begin doing research to find the right software, consultant, or other solution for making your team more efficient, effective, and confident. Don’t spend another year wishing you had a casino marketing partner, more data, or the ability to bring your vision to life. Walt Disney famously said that if you can dream it, you can do it. He forgot to mention that you might need some help to pull it off…but he was right, in any case. Bring your dream player development program to life in 2015. You’ll be so glad you did. (And so will your boss!)

The Stanislavsky Method in Customer Service

Fall often brings reminiscing, at least for me, about cooler mornings and warm weekday afternoons in a classroom.  In my high school years, I was fascinated with acting and drama, so it’s no surprise that I thought back to those classes after getting the kids onto their respective buses this morning.  Happily, I remembered learning The Stanislavksy System (or Method)…and realized that it influenced my approach to customer service. (Cool, huh!?)

For those of you who never aspired to act, the Stanislavsky Method (known more commonly these days as “Method Acting”), was a huge departure from the 19th century approach to bringing characters to life on stage. Instead of the big, broad movements and exaggerated speech that had been the norm up to the turn of the century, Constantin Stanislavsky believed that a more natural-looking performance would be more believable and just as entertaining.  At its heart, his Method stressed that the actor must first be believed, an accomplishment even more important than being heard or understood.  He must have been on to something, since his Method is being taught in acting schools around the world today.

So, you’re asking, “What the heck does all this acting stuff have to do with Customer Service?”  I’ll answer your question with a question of my own.  Have you ever had to act your way through a customer service interaction?  Have you had to pretend to care, or hold your tongue because the guest in front of you was being unreasonable, or try to keep from laughing because the situation was so absurd?  Yes?  I thought so.  The Stanislavsky Method, applied to these situations, would be immensely helpful.

Here’s how the Method works:

  1. Ask the “Magic If.”  “If I were insert name or description of person here, what would I do?  This is helpful because it allows you to step outside yourself for a moment and find a different perspective for handling the situation.  You could put yourself in the guest’s shoes, channel your boss, a mentor, or your mom to find the right point of view with which to approach the situation.  (WWJD also applies in this step, but from a slightly different perspective.)
  2. Re-think how you move and talk.  This step could make or break your interaction with an upset guest. Letting your own negative emotions show can quickly escalate an already unpleasant situation.  Take a moment to check your body language, facial control, and tone of voice.  If you look and sound annoyed or inconvenienced, the guest will pick up those vibes and react accordingly.  Make a conscious effort to project positivity, confidence, and empathy.  The rest of the steps will support this effort.
  3. Observation; be a people watcher.  Actors are always looking for a way to get into the thought processes of their characters.  One way to accomplish this is to observe real people in their natural habitat and learn about different behaviors, interactions, and personalities.  There are multiple ways this powerful tool can be of help to those who deal with customers every day.  First, even without a guest in front of you, if you are paying attention, you can spot people who are on the cusp of an issue (people looking around for help, confused facial expressions, guarded body language) and sometimes avert disaster before it develops.  Additionally, while you are interacting with someone, paying attention to how they hold themselves and respond to you and others around them can be a powerful guide to handling them more appropriately.  Plus, you can learn from the examples others have provided in their customer service conversations and adapt their more successful strategies for yourself.
  4. Ask “What’s my motivation?”  Surely you’ve heard aspiring actor characters in pop culture asking this question of an acting coach or director.  It’s a great question for actors to ask, because understanding the reasons behind someone’s actions helps an actor get more deeply into the head of the character. The same is true for customer service.  If you understand WHY the guest is angry or frustrated or laughing hysterically, it’s easier for you to resolve the situation to that guest’s satisfaction.  Without an understanding of the motivation behind a behavior, you will have difficulty convincing the guest that you really care about their issue, and you’re taking shots in the dark to hit the right solution.
  5. Emotional memory.  If you’ve ever wondered how someone can cry on cue, this Method step may be the answer.  Clearly, actors sometimes have to transmit emotions that they may not actually feel. To display the appropriate emotion (whether you’re feeling it or not), channel a time when you did feel the emotion in question. Dredge up that memory and let the replay loop in your mind’s eye. You’ll start to feel it again, and it will show up in your expression, posture, gestures, and tone.  In customer service, use a memory of being helpful, in charge and successful.  Or, if you prefer, find a memory of poor service and “wear” that to empathize with your guest, then bring him back with you to a level playing field where you can work with one another to solve the dilemma you are now facing together.

Acting and customer service don’t have a lot in common at first glance, but the Method proves that there are effective steps to find the right approach almost any situation in which you need to convince someone that you are who you claim to be.  These steps, whether put together in this order or applied one at a time as needed, will help you to become a better, more empathetic advocate for your guests.  They will appreciate the time and energy you put into it, and you will grow from the experiences.  It’s a Win/Win!  (And how often does THAT happen in the casino industry?)

6 Tips for a Better Plan for 2015

It’s time to wrap up your plans for 2015.  Do you, like me, leave out something that has an impact on your spending patterns or your operations and you find yourself either adjusting or going without all year?  Or, is there the possibility that your capital won’t be approved and you’ll have to spend P&L dollars on maintaining something that should have been replaced? (I’m looking at you, card embosser…)

Obviously you’re going to submit and obtain approval before getting your plan and budget’s final incarnations.  You may, however be able to mitigate some of the pain that comes from surprises in the new year.  Try these tips for better planning.

Tip 1: Take a hard look at this year

For this exercise, you’ll have to be ruthless.  It may even be a bit painful, but it is essential to a successful planning process.  From a budget perspective, it is imperative to understand where your dollars were spent well and where they were not. From a business or marketing plan perspective, you need to know where there’s room for improvement and which things are working for you today.

What did you plan that didn’t work out in 2014?  Were there things you didn’t have the funds for despite your best intentions? How could you have improved cash flow, yield, labor, data, events, etc.?  What goals or strategies did you employ that just did not give you the results you anticipated?  What processes or events or promotions met, or even better, exceeded your expectations and should be incorporated in to your plans for next year?

Take what you learn from this exercise to build a framework for the upcoming year.  Avoid being accused of insanity by proactively deciding NOT to repeat the things you did in 2014 and expecting a different result in 2015.

Tip 2: Get the interested parties together and hash things out

Sit down with the rest of your department and those departments whose budgets and plans are interdependent with yours and talk things through.  If your host team needs resources or new tools to identify or maintain contact with your players of opportunity, who better to ask about what they think?  If Food & Beverage wants to place steakhouse ads in the local newspaper, doesn’t marketing need to know that?  If Entertainment is planning a series of comedy shows, if the hotel is doing renovations, if slots is replacing a third of your machines…you see where this is going, right?  You can’t plan or budget in a vacuum and have the result be something you can actually stick to for an entire year.  Have a “big ole” meeting, have everyone put their ideas and plans on the table, and figure out how it all affects the other departments’ plans and cash flow.

Tip 2: Look at others’ plans for opportunities

Take what you’ve learned from the big meeting and determine what provides you with opportunities.  Is there going to be a big hotel refurbishment in your future?  Ask what they’re doing with items that can be re-purposed: some of the items could even be useful in a player giveaway or promotion, or you could have a big tag sale and drive revenue on a traditionally slow weekend after the renovation is done.  Is the slot department replacing under-performing machines?  What opportunities are there for events or promotions related to the arrival of the new machines?  Could you invite your best and most loyal players to cut a ribbon to open them up for play?  Surely there are lots of things in your peers’ plans that could provide you a chance to make a splash.  Learn about them now and incorporate them into your plans.

Tip 3: Dream realistically

Every department head has a wish list.  Brainstorm everything you’d like to have, see, or do; then cull the list by priority without regard to expense.  Then, rank according to priority with a note about how much it costs, so you can come up with a realistic scenario.  Obviously, not everything on a wish list is going to come to pass, so while you’re spending time with your friends from the other departments, ask about their wish lists and see if there are some synergies that can be leveraged to help the entire property.  Is IT buying any new computers next year?  Let them know about your technology wish list so they can spec your equipment for a combined order with a bigger discount.

Tip 5: Expect the unexpected

Clearly, some of the things you plan for will come to pass just as you envisioned them.  Others, however, will morph into something you hadn’t anticipated.  Spend the time now planning for contingencies and you will be better prepared for the unknown when it occurs.  Might you have to choose between two of your pet projects because the revenue projections were too high?  Sure.  Could you find yourself in need of a technology solution due to a hiring freeze or lack of qualified job applicants? Absolutely.  Is there the possibility that a competitor will launch a campaign or promotion to which you will have to adjust?  You betcha!

Any (or all) of these events will be easier to handle in the heat of the moment if you have spent some time preparing for them in advance.  Happily, there is no better time to plan than while you are already planning.  Look at some of the things you may have eliminated in your early planning process and decide whether any of them could readily be put on a back burner to be deployed in case of a major shift in your market or competitive set.

Tip 5: Get buy-in from the stakeholders

This is a 360-degree exercise, but totally worth the time and energy you invest in it.  Once you’ve got a first draft submitted, ensuring that your plans are in alignment with those of your boss, the department, the property and your employees will go a long way to assuring that those plans  and strategies are successful in the end.  Have a meeting with your team(s) and share the vision with them.  Ask them for ideas or suggestions to streamline their daily tasks or processes.  (It’s a good idea to do this periodically even when you AREN’T planning for the year ahead, by the way.)

This brings the process full circle and provides you with an opportunity to verify that your plans and budgets are on the right track to help you and the property achieve all you hope to in the year ahead.

 

Did we leave out an indispensable step you can’t plan without?  Please share for the edification of all our readers.

Casino Marketing Vendors to Treasure

Since joining the team at Harvest Trends, I have discovered that there is, sadly, no need for me to keep in regular contact with some of the vendors and their reps who made my life easier over the years.  This point was made clearer to me as I walked through the expo hall at the Southern Gaming Summit in May and the Casino Marketing Conference in 2014.  Even though I am no longer a customer to some of these folks, I was pleased to see some familiar faces at the booths.

Many of these people were instrumental to the success of some pretty big VIP events and player loyalty programs for which I was responsible, as their companies went above and beyond to ensure that everything went as smoothly as possible for my team, my guests, and me.  They don’t know I’m writing this about them.  They didn’t ask for this, nor did they have any input into this post.  They are, simply put, people and businesses who provided me great products and/or services and will, I’m sure, do the same for you.  The business name for each is also a link to the company’s website.  They’ll open in a new browser tab, should you have interest in any of them.IMG_1113

All-Star Incentive Marketing

All Star provides a wide variety of gift and giveaway items to its clients.  From high-end handbags to 4″ tall live plants, if they don’t have it already, I’m sure they can find it for you at a reasonable price. (…and if they don’t find it at a reasonable price, they will tell you what it will cost and offer alternatives!) At my last property, we did a couple of highly successful events with All Star at the ready.  They assisted us with a “choose-your-gift” event for our top rewards club tiers that exceeded all expectations.  How?  The initial list of items was quite impressive: good value for our spend and high perceived value for our guests (like Vera Bradley, Sunbeam, and Bluetooth). Then, once the selections were complete and event plans had been finalized, our sales rep came to the property to assist with the order-taking.   The guests got to touch samples of the items available, ask questions about them (Tim was really great with this part!), then choose which one they wanted to order for pick up (second trip!) on a pre-determined date.   I don’t know if this is something he does for all his clients, but Tim’s presence had a calming and reassuring effect on my nerves. He was super professional and super polite. I wouldn’t hesitate to do the exact same event with him again.

In addition to this fantastic giveaway, All Star came to us with some innovative ideas for point redemption programs, VIP and “regular” player giveaways, and everyday promotions and events. They were always honest with us about what we could expect in terms of price and delivery, supported their products without fail, and were responsive to our requests for more information or ideas. They even sent some of their executives to our property to meet with our marketing team in order to establish a stronger working relationship with us. It’s that kind of customer service that makes me recommend this company.

Integrity Events

Integrity Events helped me book entertainers for my showroom and New Year’s Eve event for a couple of years.  From corporate events and private parties with energetic cover-performing groups to big arenas with nationally known entertainers, these folks can help you find the right act(s) for your event or venue, and they can even help you with production services if you need them.  Lori was our contact, and she was fantastic.

Lori made it possible for me to book a couple of big-name artists I wouldn’t have been able to afford without her assistance.  How?  She knows her stuff and saw opportunities that I would have never known existed. She presented me with deals and options and straightforward advice that made my job so much easier than I could have ever imagined.  Her advice and suggestions were spot on, she never lost her patience with the decision-making process (that often took longer than I wanted it to) at the property level, and she did everything she could to provide us with the best entertainment value possible.

Entertainment is what Integrity Events does, and just like the name implies, they give you the honesty, respect, and service you deserve.  No matter what sort of event you’re planning, if it’s big enough to need live entertainment, Integrity Events is a great resource for finding the right act.

Pixus

As part of a cross-training exercise at my last casino property, I was responsible for traditional marketing for a few months (instead of “casino” marketing).  I had to oversee direct mail, advertising, promotions and events (again), property signage and messaging, and I took on an increased role in analysis and planning during that time.  Pixus was instrumental in my success during the training period, and about five years later, the property is still using my biggest Pixus purchase: a 6’x6′ magnetic game board.

I had contacted them initially to inquire about some signs we’d ordered from them.  Because I wasn’t their primary contact at the property, I wasn’t receiving notifications from their shipping folks.  While I was on the phone with Edna, she asked if there was anything else we needed, and she connected me with a sales rep (whose name I don’t recall) who sent me information on a handful of products they thought we might find useful.  As a result of this, I had some PhotoFab pumpkin pies made to alert buffet guests to a giveaway that was coming up, they produced a giant banner for my front entrance because our in-house large-format printer was down, and the magnetic game board they suggested has been in regular rotation since we bought it several years ago.

No matter what you need printed (even if you’re in a big hurry), no matter how big or small, and no matter what medium you choose, Pixus can get it done to your satisfaction.  They impressed me more than once.

Specialty House of Creation 

When I arrived at my last property, I learned that they usually purchased bungee cords approximately a quarter of a million at a time from this company.  They traveled, literally, on a slow boat from China, and they were the best ones I’d seen at the price point they’d negotiated.  (The slot machine bungee was my favorite.)  One of our shipments was subject to a customs delay, and the folks at SHC alerted us right away…with a solution!  Instead of just e-mailing their contact to tell her the bungees were going to arrive several weeks later than anticipated, they followed up with a call to ask how long our on-hand supply would last.  When we did the math and realized we’d run out of bungee stock before the delayed shipment arrived, Specialty House’s team suggested several alternatives which were readily available to imprint and ship, and at prices that didn’t make our finance team shout at us.

Once in 7 years we ordered bungees from another supplier instead of from SHC.  That was all it took to convince me.  The shipment we received was of inferior quality and the company we bought them from was apparently disinclined to even apologize for what we felt was a poor substitute for our usual product and follow-up service.

SHC carries a wide variety of promotional items, from keychains to t-shirts and everything in between.  If you can put a logo on it, they have it– or they can get it.  They’ve been supplying casinos with stuff for years…and everyone there is so much fun to talk with, you’ll feel like you’ve been their customer for years after only a few minutes.

Micro Gaming Technologies

At my last property, when we decided to stop handing out paper entries (and move into the 21st century with our promotions), MGT was the vendor we chose to provide us with automated drawing software.  While I wasn’t intimately involved with the selection process or the installation, I was mightily impressed with the finished product. My teams and I had to use MGT when we conducted drawings and announced promotional winners, and it was a very user-friendly and transparent experience.  The guests, who had some reservations about the change to electronic drawing drums, quickly came to appreciate the convenience and clearly random selection process for determining drawing winners.  Having the winners’ names appear on screens throughout the property eased our ongoing problem with communicating this important information to folks who were in the buffet line or who had visited the racetrack, and the associates in finance and analysis really liked the fact that we could quickly report on the number of participants and provide information related to the promotions in a much more timely manner than we’d been able to do before.

When we had issues of any kind, Bill and/or Wright were only a phone call away and were able to quickly resolve the problem in most cases.  They trained our staff thoroughly, provided ongoing support that gave us confidence in the product, and updates were always handled professionally with our fantastic IT team.  This kind of experience with a technology vendor can be difficult to find, but MGT delivers good service for a great product.

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Who are some of your favorite vendors for casino marketing products and services?  Tell us all about them in the comments section.