Embracing (the Need for) Change

Apparently we humans are wired to both hunger for and shy away from change. As we gaze longingly into the world(s) beyond and dream of what we might find there, we remain solidly planted in the tried and true; the more familiar environment from which we muse. So when things aren’t too painful for us, we rarely look outward with the purpose of implementing change, no matter how beneficial those changes might potentially be.

We have spoken with scores of casino properties about their Casino Marketing and Player Development operations, and when someone is talking to a technology vendor, it seems they are considering making some changes to the way they do business. This change is not necessarily representative of a big shift in the company’s processes, but often heralds an adjustment to the way they look at things as a starting point for improvement. In other cases, a total rebuild of a department’s function is under way, or at least being considered.

Shifting marketplaces, tightening competition for discretionary dollars, and an increasingly entitled customer base, among many other factors, make it tough for casino marketers to continue with the status quo today. Now, more than ever, we have to identify and pick up any dollars left on the table. Finding efficiencies in order to get more done in less time (and with less money) has become a normative practice in nearly every kind of enterprise. All of these realities mean that change is inevitable. Our best move now is to manage the change and make it work smarter for us now and into the future.

In speaking with casino operators, I have learned that the reasons for making changes are as varied as the markets in which these fine folks do their work, yet they remain somewhat universal. For example, properties who have traditionally had host teams who hug rather than hunt are looking to shift the team to a more sales-focused function. Casinos whose core marketing mailer has traditionally been mailed to *everyone* in the database are taking a more nuanced approach in determining what offers go to whom. Heck, even slot manufacturers are coming up with fresh new spins on old favorites to broaden their appeal. Markets tighten, customers churn, and the same “been there, done that” methodology just isn’t cutting it any more.

These changes are happening all around us. Spreadsheets are being replaced with dynamic tools that make it easier for middle managers to see the effectiveness of the casinos’ programs. Executives can shift their time from analysis to observation of the property’s operations. Front-line employees have been empowered to really take care of their customers. Processes are being scrutinized and modified for increased efficiency and effectiveness. All of these represent a fundamental change in the way business is being conducted. The hard truth? None of these beneficial adjustments will occur unless change is embraced. Even if implemented, lack of commitment to the change will result in less than optimal results.

The key is finding a solution to your business problem(s) that allows you to maintain control over the change process, empowers you to implement the changes you identify as your best practices, and improves the overall efficiency and effectiveness of your programs. As you begin to distill your wishlist, the actual work of finding the right solution for you will become easier.

Embracing the need for change is only the first step. Determining the course the change must take is obviously a much more involved process. Make the process easier by finding a technology vendor who wants to be a technology partner. Choose someone who understands what you are trying to accomplish and can help you get there. There is a better way.

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When Hosts Don’t “Adult”

A former colleague reached out to me via Facebook a few days ago and asked me to blog about hosts who steal other hosts’ players.  My reply to her suggestion was that I needed to think about it a bit, because I always addressed it on an individual basis when allegations of such behavior occurred on one of my host teams.

The first idea that came to me as I gave this some thought was: this behavior is immature, to say the least. Then, when following that train of thought to circumstances during which I’d seen this type of thing happen, I remembered that often, the hosts who would poach other hosts’ players also had other behavioral “quirks” that provided clues to the motivation behind some of their other problematic habits. So, here we are, discussing “non-adult” conduct that might be making waves among the members of your host team, and how you should address them.

Player Poaching

Honestly, this just isn’t cool. When one host has already been working with a patron, unless the two aren’t getting along, the other hosts should simply make themselves available to assist that patron if needed. Under no circumstances should any host suggest to a player that they “ask if you can be coded to me instead of insert other host’s name here.” Not only is it a pretty underhanded way to gather worthy new coded players, it undermines the team’s effectiveness in a number of ways:

  • It gives rise to mistrust, which begins as suspicion among the rest of the team, then turns into gossip. (And we all know how helpful gossip is…) Later, there is open discussion among the hosts and any other associates who care to listen, all while the host in question is out on the floor looking for more good players to approach. As a team leader, I have walked into a shared host office and seen the informal gathering that indicates a deep discussion about something…and learned that they were drawn in when a co-worker started complaining about another host. No phone calls are being made, maybe one of them was on the floor, and nobody is listening to the radio or responding to alerts.
  • It creates retaliation and reduces the efficiency of the team. While everyone is speculating and talking about how upset they are at this person’s behavior, how much work is getting done? Not a lot. Even when they are on the floor or responding to alerts, they’re still half-absorbed by the drama.
  • The retaliation splits the hosts into Survivor-style “teams.” Everyone takes a side (the best abstain from participating), and the sides snark at one another. Teams refuse to take care of “their” players, and generally work to derail any sort of progress they might make as a cohesive team. (Now, maybe nobody is acting like an adult.)
  • It confuses players. Like in any new relationship, players need to take some time to consider what it means to them and how they feel about this new person. Having more than one host courting a patron can start a comp bidding war between the hosts to secure the patron’s loyalty to him or her…instead of remembering that the patrons’ loyalty should be to the property first. Relaxation players may just skip the real-life drama and take their money to a competitor.

In order to prevent this situation, have a clear and concise prospecting process. Clarify for the entire team when a player is “up for grabs” or when he has been secured (more or less) by a single host and should only be approached when there is a reason for another host to provide that patron assistance. When the guidelines are clear and enforceable, it’s much more difficult for the hosts to find opportunities for poaching.

Complaining To Players

When talking with patrons, hosts should always remember that they are a representative of the casino. First, this suggests that the host shouldn’t be unloading his or her burdens on the guests. Casino patrons are entertainment seekers. They didn’t come to your casino to hear about employees’ problems. Personal concerns may come up during the course of conversations over time, but those of the property’s team members shouldn’t be discussed with guests. (The exception is when a personal experience of the associate’s can provide comfort or empathy that the guest will recognize as genuine.)

It also means that when a player complains about something, the host should not respond with anything like, “Yeah, I don’t know why they do that…” While it’s understandable that a host might want to agree with, and thereby validate, the patron’s source of unhappiness, this is not at all helpful in the larger scheme of things. The host’s response should be one that helps the player understand what he must do to get what he wants. For example, if the property doesn’t allow hosts to issue comps but requires patrons to redeem points for free buffets, the host might suggest that the player take advantage of point multipliers to make the most of his play, or invite him to a VIP dinner instead. Hosts should think of themselves as leaders, or as managers of their book of business. Good leaders don’t gripe to customers about the company’s rules. They also don’t use them as excuses for guests’ disappointments.

If this is happening at your property, you will hear about it at some point, and it would be best if it’s not from one of the players who has had his or her concerns validated by a host or been regaled with a host’s personal drama. Good or bad, hosts are still representatives of the property, after all. Invest a few hours each week to talking with both hosts and patrons to discover sooner rather than later if this is happening so you can nip it in the bud…and do address it as quickly as possible.

Going Rogue

I’ve addressed this in another post, but it bears repeating and fits this category quite nicely. It’s a running theme in every bad cop movie: the down-on-his-luck veteran police detective says in a growl, “I work alone!” Just like those fictional detectives, your hosts really do their best work when they’ve got the rest of the team available to provide backup when needed. A host who has gone rogue is likely to be wherever the rest of the hosts aren’t, and he’s asked “his” players to contact him directly, day or night. While this level of service is commendable, it’s really fueled by a desire to keep the other hosts away from those guests whenever possible. Your Rogue may also be poaching players from the other hosts and keeping a distance to avoid conflict. Either way, your team isn’t a team when one host stands alone.

A frank one-on-one discussion is the best way to approach this situation. Get to the root of the host’s concerns about the others backing him up when he’s not available for his players. Realistically, there is  no valid reason for your premiere customer service team NOT to all work together to ensure a seamless experience for your hosted players. Obviously there are situations where one host is preferable to another, but ideally all your hosts should be able to provide the same level of service to all your worthy players. Understanding and addressing exactly why your Rogue doesn’t want the other hosts talking with and serving his players is the key to settling this one peacefully. As a bonus, you may uncover information that will enable you to improve your team.

Shirking Responsibility

Every parent has experiences this. Many supervisors and managers have heard it, too. “But, it wasn’t my fault!”

As the leader of a host team, providing clear expectations and regularly checking in with each host to determine why they are successful or not will help you to keep these hosts on task and on track. When they know you will be asking the questions and that you expect reasonable answers, the irresponsibility has to take a back seat to preparedness. Knowing what your hosts are doing (and what they are not) is key. Holding them accountable for their effectiveness is going to help you move them up or move them out.

How would you handle these “non-adult” behaviors? Let us know in the comments!

Advertising on the Biggest Entertainment Stage

“Ad Bowl” 2015 is all about grabbing our attention and not letting go. What can you learn from this approach?

Casinos, Brands, and More

As most marketers have done today, I’ve read many posts and articles about the big game last night: the winners and losers of the “ad bowl”; why Nationwide made such a goof; how Loctite took a gamble and how everyone spent most of the game crying.

This year’s Super Bowl was certainly worth remembering. As NFL fans, we work ourselves up to a frenzy in anticipation of this one game, but all too often, we are disappointed by a lopsided score and a game that doesn’t really feel as competitive as it should be. If you know me, you know I’m a Saints fan. So, the 2010 matchup will always hold the top place in my heart. However, I do have to say that this year’s game was excellent…true entertainment experience from beginning to end. I know I wasn’t alone in that moment when I gasped thinking my cable signal…

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Getting Your Casino Player Development Team Back On Track

“What should I do if my team is behind pace for achieving their goals?” If you’ve ever asked that question, this post is for you.

There are a number of great ways to get the team back on track, and not a single one of them involves anything painful. (Well, maybe just a little emotional pain is involved if anyone who is part of the process decides to make excuses or tries to pass the buck.) Being proactive is the key here, as it’s nearly impossible to make up lost revenue at the end of a quarter. For your team’s success, look at the numbers as often as possible and discuss the situation with your team at least weekly to ensure the feedback loop is fully functional.

The first thing to do is determine which goals are presenting the biggest challenge. Presumably, your host team has more than one goal: theoretical, retention, and either acquisition and/or reactivation numbers to achieve. If the team is struggling with theoretical, then improvement in any one of these three major patron groups will have an immediate impact on theo aggregation. If new or inactive players are where the team is struggling, there are some really effective ways to get those patrons back into your casino before the quarter is out, provided you reach them quickly. When retention (maintenance) is the issue, perhaps there’s a bigger problem afoot. Identify where the “missing” players are, and you’ve got a starting point.

So, once you’ve identified the patrons who need to be targeted, it’s time to determine the root of the problem.  (That’s right, the next step involves analysis. You saw that coming, didn’t you?) Determine which segment of the “missing” players is most responsible for the shortcoming. Are your local patrons not making as many visits as they once did? Are you having trouble activating new members for a second or third visit? Is a competitor actively courting your regulars? Is the weather keeping your older guests from driving to the property on weekdays? Did the direct mail offers not move the $200-$300 ADT group? Are your hosts simply not connecting with their players as they should? Any one of a zillion factors could be at play, so you need to figure out which one(s) are affecting the numbers.

Then, it’s time to come up with a plan to mitigate the loss(es) and make up that lost ground.

  • If the locals are making fewer trips, a low- or no-cost event may be the way to go. Assemble some of your guest-friendly executives for a town hall -style meeting to ask the patrons who keep your power on, “What’s keeping you away?” (Be prepared to hear some crazy responses, and make sure no one makes promises the property can’t keep!)
  • While I’m not a proponent of matching competitor offers, knowing what the other properties are doing is the only way to ensure your patrons can’t play you against one another. Shop your competitors or develop a relationship with a good player (or several) who regularly visits several properties to keep abreast of what they are offering. If your budget allows it, retain a company who can provide you certain ADT range comparisons and offer updates from the properties you choose.
  • For icky weather, drop a postcard that extends a special offer to motivate weekday visits after a particularly cold or snowy period. I’ve seen both point multipliers or mail offer date extensions do a great deal to bring in folks who just couldn’t make it in when it was nasty out.
  • If you aren’t sure the host team is doing all it can (or even if you think they are…), monitor host contacts daily to ensure they are making every effort to build relationships with the players you’ve assigned to them. Hold them accountable if they aren’t.
  • For new members, coordinate with your traditional marketing and direct mail teams to ensure the new member offers are reaching mailboxes (or inboxes or voice mail boxes) in a timely manner to engage worthy new cardholders. Target the best for host contact as soon as possible after the first visit.
  • Most importantly, don’t accept excuses or the status quo. Hosts who aren’t doing the job need to know that’s not acceptable. Offers that don’t get a response should be evaluated and, perhaps, tweaked or replaced. Competitor moves that impact your numbers must be countered in a cost-effective way.

Taking a little bit of time to identify the cause of any shortfall will give you the best basis for making a difference with whatever you decide to do to make it up. Relentless analysis and postmortem evaluation will help you learn what works and what doesn’t. Regular two-way communication and coordination with all the parties involved will enable you to stay proactive and make up lost ground sooner rather than when it’s to late.

What tactics have you used to make up revenue you might have otherwise lost? What worked and what didn’t?

 

Quantifying Casino Advertising Spend

My friend gives you a roadmap to measuring your ad spend. This is a great way to start 2015!

Casinos, Brands, and More

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

—John Wanamaker

This post originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Casino Journal.

As advertisers you’ve likely seen this famous quote more times than you can count, and as such, it probably makes you cringe. It should, because like all marketing efforts, if you don’t know what you’re measuring, you can never defend the use of resources. Yet, as more and more channels of communication become digital and measurable, the pressure is on to determine how effective your advertising spend is.

Historically, we have relied on our media buyers to guide us in ratings, frequency, reach and GRPs. These are all great measurements of efficiency, but what good is an efficient buy if it’s not effective? In today’s challenging gaming markets, it’s more important than ever to use all your resources…

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Customer Service and Casino Player Development

There are parallels among all the service industries, if one cares to look for them. Throughout my career, I have made it my business to understand the impact that customer service has on my operations, with an eye to profitability and loyalty, particularly as they apply to player development. In that career, I’ve done a lot of service jobs. From fast food to retail to supply chain to casino marketing, there are a lot of commonalities.

Like any business that requires patrons to enter its bricks and mortar locations to spend their dollars and their time, a casino is selling a product. The catch is that the product may be much more nuanced from customer to customer in a casino. I’ve written about what motivates players to patronize casinos before, and I’ve written often about how an attentive casino host can provide guests a compelling reason to visit one casino property over another. But today, we are going to explore the parallels between casinos and other, similar establishments.

When a shopper enters a department store, he may or may not have a particular item in mind that he would like to find and purchase. There may be more than one target in the customer’s crosshairs, and he may or may not need assistance with making his selection(s). A smart salesperson (especially one who works on commission) will develop a method for assessing the interest and commitment levels of each customer he encounters. This enables the associate to quickly determine how to allocate his resources (time, attention, computer systems, fellow associates) to serve as many customers as he can, as quickly as possible. This makes customers happy, and has the added benefit of increasing profits. It’s especially true if customers become frequent purchasers because of the service they receive.

A casino host on the gaming floor must have similar skills: while walking on the floor talking with known players of worth, a host takes a moment to speak to each player nearby. If any of the patrons need a player’s card, the host can proactively bring it to the player at the machine. Should a known player have a friend nearby, the host makes a good impression on both by acknowledging the “new” guest personally. Perhaps there are patrons listening to a host offering an inducement to a coded player, and they want to know how they can have something like that, too. The principle is the same: understand who is in your area and how you can best serve them. The more delighted patrons you have, the more loyalty to your property you create, and the more your bottom line is boosted.

In big box stores, appliances and electronics are aplenty. Customers can easily be bewildered by the sheer number of options available, each with features which may or may not be available on the next model over. It is simplicity itself to greet every customer who graces your place with their presence, and doing so provides each of them with a familiar face if they require assistance. Being attentive to the facial expressions and body language of your guests makes it relatively easy to spot the ones who are seeking help, and proactively offering your expertise is a fantastic way to delight a customer.

This is remarkably similar to the wide-eyed look one can find on the face of a patron who has walked onto a jam-packed casino floor looking for a game she recognizes. If your property doesn’t have an electronic wayfinder to help guests find particular machine themes, make sure your hosts know the layout of the floor well enough to escort the player to an appropriate area. In fact, it would be ideal if everyone whose work takes them to the gaming floor was able to offer this sort of assistance. This is the kind of service that will pleasantly surprise your guests and make you stand out from among your competitors.

Even online shopping has parallels to gaming. There are a couple of ways to look at it (particularly online slots vs. casino machines), but we will compare the casino guest to an Amazon customer. Amazon has an uncanny suggestion algorithm that crunches what you look at with what you’ve ordered and (I’m sure) looks at your spending patterns.  Then, it shows you items related or similar to the things in which you have expressed an interest, all in the hope of getting you to buy something more.

So, when a host sends a carbon-copy e-mail or quarterly letter to all his players, he is missing an opportunity to emulate Amazon’s enormously successful “personalization” strategy. The host should write a communication with room for variable fields related to upcoming events or other news that can be customized based on the patron’s interests and past activity.

Here’s how it works: on Amazon, if I buy 3 books by the same author, my suggestions will include others by that writer and books like hers, so I may learn about a new series or author I’ll enjoy, so I buy more books than I originally intended. With my favorite casino, if I get a letter from my host every few weeks, I’d like it to specify the things the host believes I’ll like instead of just reiterating everything the monthly coupon mailer already told me about. Perhaps I’ll call the host to book my room for the slot tournament if he suggests that in his communication. Long story short, Amazon doesn’t show me country music artists, because I have never purchased any of it from them. In the same spirit, my host shouldn’t tell me about a blackjack tournament if I have never played cards at his casino.

Now that you’ve seen my parallels, see if you can find some of your own. Think about your outstanding or most disappointing experiences as a customer and find some inspiration in it. Either emulate what was done well or provide in your own role the things you wish the service providers who failed you in some way had done.

Customer service is at the heart of gaming and hospitality.  Without it, every hotel or casino out there is pretty much just like all the others. To differentiate yourself, start with these two notions: Player development team leaders, include in your hosts’ goals some direction for reaching out to “untouched” patrons of worth (collecting  player profile information, calling through an inactive player list, etc.) . Hosts, make it your personal goal to provide the kind of service you’d like to receive. Find the grumpy faces and make them smile. Delight your customers so they come back and see you next time.

What parallels can you find?

How a (PD) idea became a reality

Once upon a time, a Casino Player Development Manager had an idea. He was using spreadsheets to run his host team and measure their achievements. Parts of his program were working just fine, but other parts had room for improvement.

“My hosts are good at prospecting and identifying good players on the gaming floor and in the database because of our Casino Management System technology,” he thought. “But how can I make a change so that they are more proactively qualifying those players and making them loyal to our casino?” Because the hosts wouldn’t benefit from the theoretical generated by their prospective players until AFTER they had qualified to be coded, there was no urgency to work toward getting these players to come in more often and/or play more…and that’s what hosts are supposed to do.

He was only able to “code” players to the hosts at the change of the quarter, because his property’s lone database analyst spent so much of his time and resources on keeping the mail moving (and analyzed) that he didn’t have time to provide PD reports more often than once each month. This limitation was also responsible for the property’s inability to give the hosts “credit” for the theoretical generated by the prospect players.  The idea was to use a rolling 90-day qualifying period that would run concurrently with the goal period.Unfortunately, when he had this idea, restructuring the reports and other processes used to run the PD program just wasn’t an option.

To get anything more than once-a-month reports, the PD manager had to run his own canned reports, export the data and crunch the numbers into something he could share with the team. Doing this took as much as 40% of his week; all to provide weekly updates to keep the team on track. Hosts, too, could run and export some canned reports, but they spent too much precious time massaging the lists into something they could work with. The PD Manager and his boss knew there had to be a better way.

Fortunately, the property was just about to subscribe to a service that would allow them to streamline and optimize their direct mail program and free up some of the database analyst’s bandwidth for ad hoc reporting the Marketing Director wanted to see. The PD Manager began building a relationship with this new service provider, and he explained his idea to his account representative.She worked with him to set up the program based on his hosted player qualifications and the details of the program. Then, the idea became a reality.

Today, each host receives a Daily Action Plan automatically, and knows exactly how he is pacing to goal, which of her players was on property yesterday, which of their prospects have qualified, and why the ones who haven’t didn’t. The PD Manager (who has since been promoted, but still runs the PD team) receives his own Daily Action Plan, which provides a snapshot of his PD program. It lets him know how each of his hosts is doing in terms of goals and objectives, which players need to be coded to which host, and which ones weren’t activated. (Players don’t sit dormant on a host’s prospect list any more after 90 days, so someone else can give them a call!)

In addition to the Daily Action Plan for PD, the Manager receives a handful of additional daily updates on overall profitability, day/week/month trends, and a few others he and his coworkers “designed. If he wants, he can also log in to a dashboard and see how his rewards program is doing in terms of new players and tier churn, how each of his specified markets are performing, and what sort of mail redemption they’ve had, among (a LOT of) other things.

He gets all of this automatically, or in the case of the dashboard, whenever it is most convenient for him. He doesn’t have to ask the database analyst, the database analyst doesn’t have to stress over when he can get to it, and the Manager has the information he needs to run all of his programs more efficiently and effectively. They can arrange to have automated updates sent to specified property recipients, make and monitor changes to any of their programs, and have a much wider and more granular view of their database with this subscription.

The moral of the story? All things are possible. You can bring your ideas into the real world. You just need the right tools and the right partners.

So. What would you build if you could make your ideas reality?