Casino Service Lessons from Apple and Its Quirky iPhone 4
by Martin Baird

There’s a silver lining in every dark cloud and I have found something glittering for the casino industry thanks to Apple and its iPhone 4 problems. In fact, how Apple relates to its customers goes to the heart of how casinos can position themselves for success.

Apple’s dark cloud is the iPhone 4’s antennae snafu. I must admit, Apple probably goofed with the external antennae that can drop calls when the phone is held a certain way. But the silver lining is everything else that Apple has done right. Think customers are abandoning Apple because of the iPhone 4? Think again!

Jay Greene, former Seattle bureau chief for Businessweek and author of “Design Is How It Works,” wrote in the Wall Street Journal about Apple’s iPhone 4 situation and I couldn’t agree more. Here are some important points Greene makes. I explain why they are important for casinos.

Focus On Quality and Generate Goodwill. Greene says Apple’s fierce focus on designing cool products pays off in more ways than just sales. Even with its antennae problems, customers snapped up iPhone 4s like they were a limited edition. They bought millions of them. Apple couldn’t keep up with the orders. “How is that possible?” Greene asks in his article “Because Apple’s decade-long focus on design has bought it significant goodwill among consumers…Apple’s consumers are willing to cut the company some slack because of its reputation.”
Well said, Mr. Greene! Casinos aren’t struggling with a product glitch, but they are slogging through a nasty recession. While Apple zeroes in on design, casinos need to aim for the customer service bull’s-eye. Focus on providing quality guest service and your customers are more likely to repay you with goodwill that comes in the form of continued play at your property. They may just give you a break and return to play even though economic times are tough. Sure, they may not spend as much, but at least they come back. You can achieve this by building a reputation for a wonderful gaming experience that’s underpinned with stellar service.

No Goodwill, No Customer Loyalty, No Sales. Greene turns to Microsoft as a contrast to Apple. “After years of making software for cumbersome, poorly designed (cell) phones, Microsoft hasn’t engendered much goodwill with the public,” Greene writes. Microsoft launched its Kin mobile phone last May, customers found it lacking and sales reflected their attitude, Greene says. “When it came to the Kin, consumers were unwilling to overlook the phone’s shortcomings,” Greene writes. “Sales were anemic and Microsoft discontinued the product on June 30, just 48 days after it hit the market.”

Let’s say your casino has never worried much about its guests’ gaming experience. If revenues are good, who cares? Oops, then comes along 2008 and the Great Recession. Even though money is tight, some people are still willing to play at a casino and they’re trying to figure out which one to visit. They may remember your casino as being somewhat fun. Then they remember Casino XYZ where they had a super fantastic time even though they didn’t win much or didn’t win at all. Where do you think they will go?

The Customer Experience Is Like Gold. Apple CEO Steve Jobs believes that “it’s a mistake to think that design is merely about aesthetics,” Green writes. Greene offers the following quote from Jobs: “That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

From my point of view, Greene and Jobs are talking about the customer experience. Is an iPhone so well designed inside and out that customers love to use it? Think of design this way – a casino employee brings a guest his drink in a timely manner and the drink is very good. The customer likes what he sees (the drink arriving) and tastes (it’s an excellent whiskey sour). In other words, that’s a good design of great service. But what’s even more important is how the design works. How did that excellent service make the customer feel? How does ALL the service at the casino make the customer feel? Is the service impressive enough that the customer remembers it the next time he decides to visit a casino? The whole point of fantastic guest service is to create a great gaming experience that brings guests back again and again. You want them to fanatically love playing at your casino.

Goodwill Has A Long Shelf Life. One of these years, this awful recession will be gone. Times will get better. Casino revenues will improve. But we all know that another recession is lurking somewhere down the road. What kind of relationship will your casino have with its customers when that inevitable day arrives? If you’re building service-based goodwill, the relationship should be a sound one and your casino just might survive yet again (the current economic downturn has shown beyond a doubt that gaming is no longer recession proof).
Greene points to Apple as the recipient of long-shelf-life goodwill: “Apple faced a similar debacle two years ago that’s instructive today. Back then, the company’s new MobileMe Service, which promised to synchronize e-mail, calendar and contact information across multiple devices, didn’t. Service outages prevented customers from accessing their e-mail accounts and led to an onslaught of criticism similar to Apple’s current (iPhone 4) crisis.” Maybe two years doesn’t seem like a long time to you, but in today’s frantic, technology-driven world, it’s practically a lifetime. For Apple to have these bumps along the road and still ride a groundswell of goodwill is amazing.

I didn’t gloat over Apple’s iPhone 4 problems, but I was certainly happy to see the silver lining for gaming. There are lessons to be learned here that will be of value to casinos for many years to come.

Date Posted: 14-Sep-2010

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 and improvement. For more information, visit the company’s Web sites at www.casinocustomerservice.com and www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com or contact the company at 206-774-8856. Robinson & Associates is an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association.

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