Casino Mystery Shoppers and Gaming
by Martin Baird

By Martin R. Baird

Casinos use mystery shoppers for a variety of reasons but the mistakes made by these shoppers, and the properties themselves, can be costly to the point of driving customers away.

Casino marketing departments often use mystery shoppers to gain insight into how guests feel about the property’s customer service. Casino human resources teams use mystery shoppers as part of an incentive program. Casinos use shoppers for all kinds of reasons, but the mistakes the shoppers and the properties make are often the same.
Not Getting Paid. It’s not difficult to find complaints on the Internet from mystery shoppers who did the work but were not paid. Any casino should question the validity of the data generated by a shopper who doesn’t get paid for the work performed. Just how good a job will shoppers do evaluating customer service if they aren’t paid? Why would a casino even use unpaid shoppers?

Many casino shopping companies only provide shoppers with money for gambling and food. Those shoppers are only having their expenses covered and the company thinks it is doing them a favor. What kind of work would a mechanic do if he was paid for parts but not for his labor?

No Casino Experience. Some gaming properties use shoppers who have little or no casino experience. Unfortunately, there are mystery shopping companies that place advertisements near a casino, offering to give people money to gamble. The casino could end up with shoppers who don’t know the difference between a full house and a straight. Those are not the people a casino should rely upon to provide data for future customer service and property management plans.

Some mystery shopping companies advertise for shoppers online. Would you want someone who has answered an online ad deciding how well your casino delivers its guest service? Casinos use mystery shopper data for personnel reviews, promotions and even bonuses. But some mystery shopping companies will select almost anyone to do the shop.

No Training. Some mystery shopping services contract with a person in the morning and have them shopping a casino by the end of the day. Shoppers need to be educated about what they are looking for and how they are to rate experiences. Good mystery shopping companies invest time and money to train and develop the shoppers.
No Service Standards. To provide maximum value to the casino, shoppers must have specific service standards that they can apply to the reality of the casino floor. Without instructions on what to observe, they are forced to share their opinions. For example, when a casino has a so-called standard for “big friendly smiles,” the shopping results are subjective. That makes service almost impossible to measure and very difficult to improve. Casinos must have S.M.A.R.T. standards – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound.
Forgetting the True Goal. The goal of mystery shopping is not to catch employees doing something wrong. The goal is to provide observations based on service standards so the casino can use that information to improve the guest experience. If employees know that the casino is shopped regularly, it creates a halo effect on service. Employees smile more because there’s always the possibility they’re being shopped.

When casinos use the data as an excuse to punish employees, that creates anxiety, not improvement. Management should use the data as an indicator and then observe for themselves to see if there’s a troubling pattern that needs correction with training or better supervision.

It’s A Snapshot. Mystery shoppers give gaming properties a snapshot of what guests may experience when they visit a casino and it is no more than that. It’s important for casino executive teams to remember that they need to analyze the shoppers’ results and make additional observations. Shoppers are a great tool to help properties improve their service. But like any tool, they are not the only thing needed to create a great gaming experience.

Pride Gets In the Way. There are times when casino executives let their pride get in the way of improvement. When managers insert their egos into the mix, they try to invalidate the shopper data to make themselves feel better. Mystery shopping results are not right or wrong. Shops are not conducted to make people or a department look good or bad. They simply involve observation.

Date Posted: 30-Mar-2013

Martin R. Baird is chief executive officer of Robinson & Associates, Inc., a Boise, Idaho-based consulting firm to the global gaming industry that is dedicated to helping casinos improve their guest service so they can compete and generate future growth and profitability. Robinson & Associates is the world leader in casino guest experience measurement, management and improvement. For more information, visit the company’s Web sites at www.casinocustomerservice.com and www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com or contact the company at 208-991-2037. Robinson & Associates is a member of the Casino Management Association and an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association.

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