Tag Archives: angry customers

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.

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.

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?)

How a good host handles a “bad” guest.

Someone found this blog by searching the phrase, “how to reason with a casino host for comps.” As I’m sure you can imagine, I was pretty taken aback by this phrase. Having spent years in the industry, and having handed out millions of dollars in comps, it was clear to me that the player who Googled this has no idea how or why hosts issue comps in the first place. Like most casino guests, he thinks it’s all about him.

The first thing I wanted to tell this casino patron is that reasoning with a host isn’t the way to get a comp. Comps are based on play. Then it occurred to me that he’s undoubtedly heard this phrase before and is looking for advice on how to wheedle or cajole to get comps unwarranted by his play.

More importantly, what should a host (or any other player development pro) tell a guest who is trying to “reason” with him for a comp? The first thing you should do is establish the fact that the guest’s play should be the main consideration for any discretionary comps you may issue. In my years in the industry, I’ve heard so many of their reasons for believing they deserve a comp that this became my mantra.  “We issue comps based on play.” Repeat it. Say it in different ways if you need to.  “Your play doesn’t support the comp you’ve requested.” “Have you played yet?” Always bring it back to the play.

Next, tell the guest how much he or she needs to play in order to warrant the comp they’re asking you to give them. As Raving Service’s Steve Browne says, “You’re not negotiating the comp. You’re negotiating the guest’s play.” If your property has a blind discretionary comp system, equate the theo to points based on the guest’s past play history and give him a point threshold which will bring him to a level that will earn the comp he wants. That way, the burden is shifted to him.

Then, monitor and issue only what the play warrants.  If he needs to earn 1000 points to get the free room, he has to earn 1000 points to get the free room.  Don’t give it to him for 900, offer a discounted rate instead.  Stand by your word.

Sure, it’s tough to withstand the barrage of reasons the guest will throw at you in order to wear you down and get what he wants. But know this: if it works, he’ll do it again and again.

“It’s your anniversary? Great! Here’s ‘the tier benefit for that occasion’.”  (Alternatively, here’s a greeting card with an offer for your next visit. Or maybe a free dessert.)

“You had a tough day at the slots? I’m so sorry the machines weren’t being very forgiving today. Can I make you a dinner reservation (or walk you to the head of the buffet line) so you can take a meal break?”

“The cocktail server didn’t make it to you in a timely manner? Would you like a bottle of water? I’ll be happy to bring it to you right here.”

As always, be polite. As usual, you should follow the rules and guidelines when issuing comps for any reason.Should you make the decision to issue a comp despite my suggestions to the contrary, be crystal clear with the guest when you explain things. Before you hand over the voucher, make eye contact and say something to let him know exactly why you decided to issue the comp and that you want him to know how much you value his business.Let him know you appreciate his loyalty and clarify whether or not you are likely to issue similar comps in the future. Make sure he understands that you are making a rare exception for him because you are his host.

The bottom line is this: if the comp is warranted by play, then comp away.  But when something other than play becomes the issue, a comp is probably not the best solution. Use your creativity to come up with an alternative that is appropriate to the reasons the guest has presented when asking you to give them a comp Handling such requests using this rule of thumb will prevent you from creating unreasonable expectations. And just as you always should, use your best judgment.

Do Rainy Days and Mondays Get YOU Down?

The prevalence of Monday-themed memes on social media would suggest that many people dread the arrival of another work week.  If you work in the world of casino gaming, your “Monday” may well fall on another day of the week, but the question remains: Do you, too, feel despondent over the prospect of returning to the weekly grind?

As a matter of fact, a quick Google search…well, a picture is worth a handful of words:

Mondays1

In a study published in the UK in 2011, Marmite(?!) found that Mondays are so depressing that many people won’t crack a smile before 11:00 am.  Nearly half of us are destined to be late for work on Monday mornings.  As Google autofill suggests, Mondays suck.

But that begs the question…Why?  The study’s authors opined that our collective slow start upon the return to work is a throwback to our tribal instincts.  We feel the need to re-connect with our co-workers after being apart from them over the weekend, and thus spend the morning hours in common areas of our workplaces commiserating over how much we dislike the return to work after the relative freedom of our two days off.

But, if you are a Casino Player Development professional, connecting with people is your stock – in – trade.  It’s what you do.  So you can’t let “Mondays suck” become a time suck at the beginning of your work week.  The impact this will have on your productivity is likely to depend on your specific shift(s) and days off, but it’s safe to assume that you can’t lose half your first shift every week to reconnect with the people you missed while you were away.  Or is it?

In fact, the study suggests that those who participate in the “tribal bonding” at the beginning of the week are better prepared for productivity, while those who start their Monday with gusto are more likely to burn out before the week is up.  Spend the time at the beginning of your first shift of the week connecting with people.  Have a plan.  Target a certain group of people each week and put your innate programming to work for you instead of pulling against it.  Don’t forget to include relationships other than those with guests, too.  Just the same way you would segment players, break down your working relationships and include a few of these in your weekly bonding time.  Whether you do it by department or some other way, make the effort to build and maintain relationships with people of at levels and responsibilities across your property.  Make 10 guest calls, then leave your desk and hit the floor.  Talk to guests and associates as you go, then go back to the office and crank out some more calls.  Now, you’re all better.  Right?

Alternatively, you can proactively get the Mondays out of your system.  The study has some ideas for a pick-me-up to banish your doldrums before you arrive at work.  They are:

  1. Watch TV
  2. Have sex
  3. Shop online
  4. Buy chocolate or makeup
  5. Plan a vacation

Make sure you don’t indulge in any of those activities at work, okay?

 

5 ways to ensure you don’t talk TO your customers, but talk WITH them.

A recent article on Businessweek.com suggests that $5.9 TRILLION dollars are lost every year by companies whose angry customers take their money and go to a competitor.  What is the main reason these customers leave?  More often than not, it is because they feel that the company has not met their needs, usually because it didn’t listen to them.

How well do you and your employees communicate with your customers? Does the communication travel in both directions? Want to make sure it does? Here are 5 things you can train your team to do right now that will keep the feedback loop open and active:

  1. Look for body language (or listen for “that tone”) that indicates the customer has a problem. If someone is on your floor looking around like a tourist, or is making big full-arm guestures, they probably need assistance. If they sound exasperated, they likely are. This is an opportunity for a win. Be proactive. Don’t make them ask for help when you can see they need some.
  2. Ask customers to provide insights about their experience with your business. This can get you both positive and negative responses, which are also perfect for coaching your staff. Handing out customer questionnaires (don’t make them too long) or business cards with a website for a survey are two ways to accomplish this, but you can also find out a lot just by asking people their thoughts as they depart the store or step away from the counter. Even informal feedback is valuable.
  3. Empower your employees to recover common situations without requiring approvals, but have that recovery include handing out a manager’s business card so the customer can share his feelings after all is said and done. We all know that a customer whose experience went badly but was successfully recovered is the best possible source of referrals, so close the feedback loop with these customers and provide them access to a decision-maker in case they aren’t completely satisfied with how the front line employee handled things.
  4. LISTEN! Listen with all your attention and recap what you heard when the customer is finished sharing with you. This works in couples therapy for a reason: it ensures both parties are on the same page and that the communication is clear. Anytime you are talking with a customer, stop whatever you are doing and really listen. Do this even when on the phone.  You may pick up on nuances you would have missed if you continued shuffling papers or looking at your computer screen, and it certainly makes the customer feel good to know they are the most important thing in your world at that moment.  Aren’t we all looking for that feeling?
  5. Give them what they’re asking for. Any time you hear the same thing repeatedly from your customer base, you should give serious consideration to implenting the thing they are telling you they want. Obviously the customer isn’t always right, but if many of your customers (especially the regulars!) tell you they want free coffee or that your sandwiches would benefit from better bread (or whatever), don’t you think you should at least look into it?

Your customers have an interest in seeing your business remain successful so they can keep doing business with you. Even angry customers who complain are asking you to give them a reason to continue doing business with you; that’s why they’re complaining.

Put yourself in their shoes for a minute.  Have you ever been disappointed with a company with whom you’ve done business?  How well did they handle your disappointment?  Did you feel like they really listened to you?  Did you spend any more money with them?

Share your thoughts here or send them to me at ahudson@harvesttrends.com