Tag Archives: business partners

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?

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.

Featured image

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.

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!)

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.

_____________________________________________________________________________

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