Casinos Must Re-Engineer for A Guest Service Business Model
by Martin R. Baird

A gambling consultant was recently quoted in the Wall Street Journal about the need for Las Vegas casinos to re-engineer their business model. That was his solution to the financial hard times that Vegas casinos are slogging through.

The Journal article has been bothering me. The story stated that this consultant and other industry observers believe that casinos “will have to return to the days of being a bargain destination” in order to shore up their bottom line. The article said that this is “already starting to happen, with hotels throwing in coupons for spa services and high-end restaurants offering cheaper options.”

These people may be on to something for all casinos, not just properties in Vegas. But coupons and cheap tricks don’t set well with me. To claw their way out of a deep economic hole, casinos need to improve operations. That will draw new customers who just might become regulars, not guests who are here today and gone for good tomorrow after the gimmicks go away.

Yes, casinos need to change their business model, but they need to re-engineer for improved guest service. The bargain should be the kind of service that customers simply can’t forget, the level of service that astonishes them because they weren’t expecting it. That’s a good bargain in my book.

Following are some ideas for re-engineering toward a guest service focus that will ultimately bolster any casino’s revenues.

Hire the Best, But That Is Not Enough
All casinos work hard to hire the very best candidates to fill job openings at their property. Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning. Hiring the very best is a great place to start, but it simply isn’t enough. If hiring the “right” person was all it took, there would not be a multibillion-dollar training industry. A company invests in training because it needs and wants more out of its people.

All of us face budget crunches on an ongoing basis, but what is your budget’s alternative to training? If you’re like most properties, you don’t have a choice. You find and hire the best of the best and they still need improvement.

Just for fun, take a day and look at the amount of time and energy you spend hiring people. Now look at what it would take to turn your employees into truly great customer service ambassadors. It’s much better to invest in training than it is to throw money out the window hiring people and then firing them for not providing the level of guest service that will allow you to compete.

All Training Is Not Created Equal
Isn’t it odd that people will spend $30,000 for a specific automobile because they recognize the quality of the brand but when it comes to investing in the growth of their employees through training, they shop it based on price alone? You get what you pay for, folks.

I’ve attended training sessions that did not use the principles of accelerated learning and within 10 minutes I was looking for the escape hatch. I couldn’t stand it. It was boring and slow and those were the good points. Accelerated learning dictates that people learn when they say it and do it. Unless you’re trying to teach your employees how to sleep, the training needs to have more interest. People retain new information the least when all they do is listen to a lecture.

The trainers also need to know the industry. They should understand that most gaming employees only make money when they offer their customers a great experience.

You should hire a company that specializes in customer service training for the gaming industry. Companies that don’t have this specialty can help you reach an outcome. It may not be the exact outcome you desire but they will help you to a point. If you need to improve guest service, don’t grab the closest tool or hire the most available company. Invest a little time auditioning to make sure you find the best solution for your guest service needs.

The Fun Factor
Your casino is in the entertainment business. It’s important to realize that your customer service training needs to be entertaining, too. Most people think training is a form of torture. It doesn’t have to be that way. If people are not having fun, it’s very difficult to get them to listen and pay attention.

Think for a moment about children and their ability to watch cartoons for hours. They’re riveted to the TV. If you asked them to tell you about the cartoons, they would remember them in vivid detail. The reason these children remember is because of the fun factor.

Learning IS fun and if you start customer service training with that premise, you will increase both retention and application. If you learn only one thing from reading this column, make it this – add more fun to your training.

It’s An Investment
Sure, training costs money. But it’s not an expense; it’s an investment. With training, you’re investing in your people and in the opportunity to generate more revenue for your property. If you invest in your people, it helps both them and you.

Studies show that most employees want to be recognized and appreciated and that they rank these two items much higher than pay. By investing in your employees with training, you’re recognizing them and showing appreciation. You’re telling them and showing them that they are important to your success and that you want to enhance their value. If done correctly, you’re also giving them tools they can use to make more money the next time they start their shift.
There’s another investment to consider, the fact that improved service and a better guest experience can increase your property’s play and, ultimately, its profits because those factors encourage customers to come back. It can be eight to 10 times more expensive to get a guest to visit once than it is to get them to return. If you could improve your customer service and get 10 percent of your visitors to play one hour longer, how much would that contribute to your bottom line? If you could invest $100 and generate $200, would you do it?

Generate An Accurate Perspective
I’m disappointed by the number of gaming venues that really don’t know what their customers want. Management will tell you they understand their customers, but all their information is second-hand or biased by their experiences. For example, some people in management think employees always smile. Of course they smile when a boss walks by. Or they see only the negative because that’s what they hear from guests. They get feedback from guests who are upset and hear nothing from those who have a great time.

Creating a customer service culture at your casino involves change and in order to start that very challenging process of change, you need to have an accurate, unbiased view of where you are today. You need to know what your guests really see and think. An insider’s point of view is not nearly enough. Do a 360-degree evaluation so you see things from the guest’s perspective, from management’s viewpoint and from the employees’ standpoint. When you do this, you have a clear view of what is really happening.

If you don’t start with this perspective, you are doing training or trying to improve service based on fiction. If I were going to invest a portion of my budget on improving service, I would want to base my investment on honest, unbiased observations.

Date Posted: 19-Apr-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 provides guest service training and employee incentive and recognition programs, as well as presentation skills training, management skills training and team building programs. The company is an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association. Robinson & Associates may be reached at 206-774-8856, mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com or via its Web site at www.casinocustomerservice.com.

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