Tag Archives: service

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 Marketing Vendors to Treasure

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

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

All-Star Incentive Marketing

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

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

Integrity Events

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

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

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

Pixus

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

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

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

Specialty House of Creation 

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

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

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

Micro Gaming Technologies

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

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

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