Complaint-Handling in a Casino
by Desmond Lam

Complaint-Handling in a Casino

Whether you like it or not, casino patrons often complain. I see that in almost every casino visit that I have made over here in Macau. They complain when the free shuttle bus is late, when the queue is long, when the food or drink served is slow, when service staff is rude or not available, when dealer makes a mistake, or when the light is too dim and noise too loud. In all, customers complain when they perceive some form of service failure.

There are generally two types of behavior when a service is perceived to fail: Exit and Voice/Complaining. Patrons can exit from your service or in worst case leave your casino for good in search of another one. Alternatively, they may choose to voice their displeasure or complain either to you or to other people. The most common types of voices are complaints (perhaps in hope of compensation) to service provider and negative word-of-mouth. Service providers within a casino need to understand that complaints are common. You first need to have a positive attitude (i.e. don’t treat them like nuisances and act defensive) towards customer complaints. What is most important is the way a complaint is managed, which can affect re-patron and subsequent word-of-mouth behavior. Effective complain-handling requires much more than simply providing a channel for your customers to file their complaints such as a toll-free feedback telephone line or email/paper feedback form.

A humble service provider should consider itself lucky when its customers do complain. Complaints by your customers give you a chance to fix perceived service failure, perhaps further strengthening your relationship with them. For casino operators, it makes perfect sense to collect and evaluate complaints from your dissatisfied customers. An effective response to a customer's complaint may significantly reduce negative word-of-mouth from spreading to other customers (potential or existing) which may then damage your image and affect sales. Moreover, vital information about your customers and their perception of your service quality can be gathered through customer complaints. These information are valuable in helping you to make further improvement to your services and enhance marketing effectiveness. A well-handled customer complaint may strengthen service satisfaction, increase customers' confident in your service offerings, encourage higher re-patronage and raise customer loyalty.

It is important to note that while customers always complain, most are unwilling to do so directly and promptly to their service providers. Many would choose to do nothing when they encounter services that they are dissatisfied. Most dissatisfied customers actually only complain to their family, friends and/or co-workers. From business point of view, complaining is a form of communication and feedback from your customers to you and will always have some positive values. Before deciding on whether to complain, your customers weigh the pros and cons of their actions and sometimes think about their perceived likelihood of success in obtaining a compensation. Some customers may complain simply because they feel a genuine need to stand up for their rights. From the perspective of a customer, a positive outcome from a complaint may include all forms of compensation, replacement of service offerings, an acknowledgement or apology of the mistake and better service quality in the future. A negative outcome from a complaint may include wasted time and effort, and embarrassment in front of fellow gamblers. The importance of the service to your customers and the influence of social groups like friends, family and co-workers also affect the likelihood of complaining. Other factors that affect whether your customers complain or not may include whether they have the time and skills/knowledge to complain.

Despite the various reasons for a positive approach to complaints, effective complain-handling is an exception among companies. This is despite the fact that research has shown that the speed and quality of response to a complaint raises satisfaction and increase loyalty behavior. Moreover, there are discrepancies in the perception of a complaint between service providers and their customers. A customer more often sees the complaint as justifiable and wants some forms of remedial actions - be it just a simple apology or a full monetary compensation. The service provider thinks that customers are often too critical and are not sufficiently tolerant of the service situation. In gaming jurisdiction like Macau, there are more demand than supply of basic services. When things are rosy, such as in Macau, these attitudes by service providers often prevail. Existing service providers may think that they can afford "occasional" poor services during these good times. They choose to ignore and/or often mis-handle complaints. However, the next time when customers do have a choice, they may abandon your services and join a competitor that offer similar services but with higher service quality. When competition intensifies, a good complaint-handling attitude and system may be the key factor in keeping your customers satisfied and loyal.

Date Posted: 03-Jul-2006

Desmond Lam is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Macau. He can be contacted at DesmondL@umac.mo.

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