Tag Archives: feedback loop

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.

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.

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 Host Basics

So you’re a casino host.  Now what?  There are tasks and goals and guests and procedures, and some of them seem to be at odds with one another.  Simply put, it’s a host’s job to balance all these things.  Your primary objective is to drive more trips or get more play from the best players at your property.  The tasks and goals and guests and procedures are all parts of the whole role, which is to build relationships with players on behalf of your property in order to secure their loyalty and limit the amount of their gaming wallet that goes to your competitors.

As a rule, the relationships you build with your players will become second nature after a time.  They may begin to feel like your actual friendships.  You’ll learn which of your players are interested in what sort of events at your casino.  You’ll figure out which ones want more comps than their play warrants (manage them carefully!) and which ones would rather just be left alone to play.  It won’t take you long to remember what brand of smokes your best players prefer, and which restaurants each of your better players frequent.  Who golfs, who owns his own business, who takes care of their grandchildren on weekends, who gets all worked up if you don’t return their call within a couple of hours…you get the idea.7K0A0523

But you have to start somewhere.  Begin with a letter to any “new” players, meaning ones you haven’t yet met face-to-face.  After a few days, give each guest a call to inquire whether they’ve received your letter and whether there is any service that you may offer to them.  Have a calendar or list of upcoming events handy so you can tell them what’s going on, and note the events in which they seem interested.  (That way, you know which ones to contact them for in the future.)  Explain the services you can provide and ensure that the guest knows how to reach you when they need you. As a host, it’s your responsibility to provide the guest a touchpoint for your casino.

A player’s host is his “inside man.”  You should be able to get him a room or dinner reservations or show tickets or registration for a tournament or other event without him having to do more than ask you to take care of it.  Afterward, relentless follow-up is required.  Always return a guest’s call as soon as humanly possible and do what you say you will do.  If you’re making reservations, call back with confirmation that the task is complete, no matter whether the reservation is for today or in three weeks.

Work within the guidelines you’ve been provided, and remember that when you break a rule for a guest, you are, in fact creating a new rule.  Players will share with one another what you’ve done for them, and others will begin to expect the same sort of consideration.  Be diplomatic, and learn to say “no” and make it sound like “yes,” using the phrase, “what I CAN do for you is…”  It’s never a good idea to create an expectation for something you cant deliver.

Learn how to read player accounts well enough to quickly determine whether a guest will still be profitable after redeeming all his or her offers before providing additional incentives.  If she redeems her room and meal coupons, downloads all her points for free play AND you give her a comp, how much of her play is left over as profit?  Let that be your guide.  As a general rule of thumb, don’t comp someone more than 10% of their average theo (or loss, if that’s a bigger dollar amount.)  When you DO provide an extra incentive to a guest, be sure they understand whether or not such an incentive may be provided again in the future.  Tell them what they need to do to get what they want.

Ask the other hosts on your team (particularly those who are more experienced) how they handle certain situations and take the best practices from among them to make your own.  Every host is different in some ways from his or her counterparts, and because of that, your own signature approach will often serve you well.  Learn from your mistakes and always ask someone you trust for help when you need it.

Remember always that your job is to get more visits or more play from the best players at your casino. The best hosts find a way to accommodate their guests without creating unrealistic expectations, learn to anticipate their guests’ needs, and accurately report on their activities so the property’s leadership understands the Player Development team’s contribution to the bottom line. The tasks and goals and guests and procedures are how you get there.

 

 

10 Tips for Casino Hosts

A couple of recent e-mails from casino hosts gently pointed out that many of my blog posts are aimed squarely at those who lead casino player development teams and that there wasn’t a lot of content for those who actually ARE casino hosts.  With this post, I am addressing casino hosts directly in order to help them streamline their efforts to drive more visits from their property’s most profitable players.  The following guidelines may be applied as needed in order to help hosts accomplish more during a shift.

  1. Understand who your customers are and what they want.  This sounds pretty simple, but is , in fact, as complex as each of the players themselves.  Think for a moment about the things you hear over and over again in conversations with your players.  These are common themes, and it’s likely that your players have discussed their feelings about your program with one another as well.  Are they getting more free play from your competitors?  Since there’s not much you can do about that, remind them that you provide them extra “value” for their visits by making it easier for them to make room or dinner reservations.  Do they tell you that they don’t like your promotions?  Get specifics and pass them along to the pertinent associates in your marketing department in order to provide those folks the direction they need to make those promotions more appealing, which makes them more profitable when better players participate.  Talk with the [layers and share what you ‘ve learned in order to keep your casino ahead of the curve.
  2. Know how to say “no” and make it sound like “yes.”  This concept suggests that you can share with them what they need to do in order to get what they want.  Rather than shut them down as soon as they ask for something not warranted by their play, tell them how much they’ll have to play in order to earn the thing they want.  Remember to look at spouse play or other mitigating factors (how frequently they customarily visit, whether they likely visit competitor properties, recent illnesses or bad weather, etc.) in your calculations.  Then tell them how many points or trips or comps they will have to earn (or make) to qualify.  Put the ball back in the player’s court, so to speak, and then the “no” doesn’t have to be spoken.  Empower the guest to earn what’s necessary to have their wish fulfilled.
  3. Understand how your property’s direct mail program works.  This single accomplishment will enable you to more profitably manage your player list.  If the guest has hotel coupons that haven’t yet been redeemed, offer to make the reservation for them using the coupon.  (If your property requires that the actual coupon be surrendered upon check-in, remind the guest to bring it to the hotel desk.)  When the guest asks for a steakhouse reservation, look at their offers and determine whether they want this meal in addition to what their coupons provide and decide if the comp is warranted on top of the other offers they might redeem during the trip.  If they’ve got an offer for 2 (two) show tickets and they want 4 (four) seats for an upcoming show, look at recent play to see if the add-on is warranted.  (Maybe they had a big loss since the offers mailer…or maybe they didn’t.)  Understanding your mail program helps you better address player concerns when their offers change, too.  And you’ll get that question a lot.
  4. Make breaking (or bending) a rule a last resort.  Once you’ve broken a rule to accommodate a guest’s wishes, you’ve actually established a new rule.  The guest will likely come to expect a similar accommodation in the future unless you tactfully communicate to him that this is a one-time only situation.  As other players hear about the special favor you’ve done (and they will!), some of them are likely to ask you for similar consideration due to their own extenuating circumstances.  It can be a slippery slope, so it’s probably best to avoid the trip down the hill.
  5. Pass along player comments to your team leader.  Whether you know it or not, your team leader is probably going to follow up on the information you share.  Often, managers and directors are so busy with the day-to-day tasks of their own jobs, as well as the occasional firefight, that they don’t get to talk with guests and learn what is important or vexing to them.  In your role as a host, players will often share their frustrations or delights with you.  Close the feedback loop by sharing this information with your boss in order to ensure the guests concerns are at least within his awareness.
  6. Always maintain confidentiality.  It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget who is around you when you are speaking with co-workers or even other guests.  If you are going to be talking about specific player patterns or proprietary company information, always ensure you are in an area away from guests as well as employees who do not have access to the information you are sharing.  Never reveal things like ADT ranges or levels, customer losses, company policies and procedures, or sensitive information like room numbers or addresses.  When speaking with a customer directly, use generalizations or anecdotes to share pertinent information without going into specifics…unless you are talking about that guest’s own play patterns.  Even then, only use points or another metric which the customer can plainly see for himself to make your point.
  7. Never let ’em see you sweat!  Even when you’re running around the casino like a madman on a Saturday night, take your time to walk through the gaming areas, keeping in mind that the guests may take a cue from your behavior.  Walk with a purpose, but like you own the place.  Even when you’re on your way to a firefight, take advantage of opportunities to briefly “touch” players you know and make a mental note to get back to them when you have a moment.  Be calm and plan your next move instead of being buffeted by the tides of a busy casino floor.  Better yet, plan your day ahead of time.  Build in a buffer to accommodate the unexpected, and you’ll accomplish more.
  8. Don’t come out of the gate with an offer.  When you approach those players on the gaming floor, or when you reach one by phone, don’t automatically offer free play or a buffet comp.  Player development is about relationships, and it isn’t your job to be Santa Claus.  Talk with the guest.  Learn why he visits your property instead of a competitor’s.  Find out why he doesn’t like the buffet or never brings his wife with him.  Make a connection instead of an offer.  When you do this via telemarketing, you’ll often find that the overdue or inactive guest will make a visit to your property within a couple of weeks even if you didn’t sweeten the deal with something extra in the way of perks.  Just having you as their host will often keep your property top of mind, so touching base will sometimes generate a visit on its own.
  9. Share your ideas.  One of the best hosts I’ve ever known is also once of the most creative people I’ve met in my lifetime.  She is great at decorating, throwing parties, and generating ideas for casino promotions that drive revenue.  Fortunately, she is also a “sharer.”  She’s put together game shows, suite parties with hors d’ouvres and an open bar, slot tournaments, and countless other engaging events for her coded players.  She included other hosts in these events when they were interested, and they worked together to make the events memorable.  At the suite parties, they even set up a photo “booth” and took pictures with their players.  Those photos were featured at future events to show those who’d missed the parties just how much fun they’d had.   The hosts who opted out of participating in these events generally didn’t drive as much revenue in the same time period, and all of these great ideas were profitable.  Brainstorm with the creative minds at your property and provide your coded players another reason to come have fun at your casino.
  10. Never forget who you work for and who provides the dollars in your paycheck.  These entities are not one and the same.   You work for the casino, but the players provide the dollars in your paycheck.  It can create a balancing act for you, because sometimes what the player wants is at odds with what the company says you can provide.  Making sound business decisions is the hallmark of a good casino host.  Therefore, you must always balance the guest’s needs with the company’s success.  Paying a player to patronize your casino is never a good idea, because you haven’t actually secured their loyalty…and that’s ultimately what your job really is.

Being a good casino host takes a lot of varied skills.  You have to be a god communicator, both written and verbal.  You have to quickly weigh circumstances and crunch numbers to make decisions, the results of which your players will take personally.  You have to develop real working relationships with people around the casino to help you meet your guests’ needs in addition to the relationships you’ll need to build with the guests themselves.  You have to be ever mindful of the policies, procedures, regulatory concerns, ethical considerations and other guidelines by which you have to conduct your business.  While thinking like an entrepreneur, to manage your book of business, you have to abide by the rules your casino has for reinvesting in its players.  Often, you’ll have to do this on the fly without access to all the tools available to you, do it in addition to other tasks, or do it with so much data you can’t wade through it all.  It’s not a job for the faint of heart.

But you are a people person, and likely have casino player development in your blood, like I do.  That means you’ll come back again and again in an effort to get your guests to do the exact same.  7K0A0246

Casino CRM: What’s on your wish list?

Not long ago, I (triumphantly!) found a document for which I’d been searching.  During my years in Casino Player Development, I’d searched for a contact management system that did everything a host team would need it to do in order to best manage the casino’s high rollers.  I’d written my wish list to address the perspectives of the hosts, the player development team leader and the property.

I’m sharing my wish list here because Harvest Trends is THISCLOSE to completing development work on our first version of the CRM we’ve built specifically for Casino Player Development.  I searched for this product for more than a decade, as I’ve shared in this blog post and this one, too.  What features for Casino CRM are on YOUR wish list?

From a host’s perspective, the CRM should:

  • Allow quick data entry and quick review of past contacts both by player and by user
  • Provide a detailed player snapshot, including things like player worth and visit history, interests, bookings, preferences, and associations with other players
  • NOT restrict hosts from viewing one another’s players to enable them to tag-team problem resolution and bookings
  • Be flexible enough to reflect changes in programs, lists, and offers
  • Provide views to progress in terms of bookings, goal achievement, player frequency, faders, inactives, new players, etc. based on individual host and/or player parameters
  • Generate a “tickle” when a player needs to be contacted for any reason, to include birthdays, anniversaries, frequency drops, tagged events, and user-set parameters (e.g.: “call back with confirmation”, “call in XX days”, “send a Get Well card”)
  • Notify the host when certain events occur with coded players
  • Be flexible in use on the floor, in the office, or on a mobile device
  • Be quick to load, update, and accept input

From a management perspective, the CRM should:

  • Be easy to use to boost user adoption and acceptance
  • Provide insights related to host contacts and the effects of those contacts on player activity
  • Allow identification of “Players of Interest”  to include faders, inactives, new players of worth, and others as defined by the property
  • Include a dashboard or daily flash to show individual and team progress to goal (pace), achievement of assigned tasks, contacts, and success in responses to tickles and other notifications
  • Generate Top 20 (or 50 or 100) lists for Players of Interest based on property parameters
  • Allow for the assigment of tasks and follow-ups on the same
  • Automatically update and e-mail standard reports and updates to specific parties each day, week, month or quarter

From a property perspective, the CRM should:

  • NOT require extensive resources to keep running smoothly
  • Inspire confidence in its ability to provide timely and accurate direction and information
  • Be readily adopted by any and all users
  • Come with reliable training and support

Now, Player Development pros, tell me what I missed.  Comment with features or elements that I didn’t include on MY wish list…things that are on YOURS.

HT ipad