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If the Recession Is Fading, Is Your Property Ready?
by Martin R. Baird

If the Recession Is Fading, Is Your Property Ready?
By Martin R. Baird

As I read a variety of publications and watch different business television programs, it’s sounding more and more like the recession in the United States may be coming to an end or at least bottoming out. I don’t claim to be an economist, but to me it does look like the U.S. economy is turning around and that casinos are starting to see more guests.
The gaming industry is often referred to as counter cyclical. In other words, when the economy is soft, gaming does well. But for some reason, this recession has been different. Many casinos and other gaming enterprises have been negatively affected. People certainly cut back on travel after Sept. 11. Some people probably just sat at home in shock.
But there may be an additional reason. Perhaps this recession has been particularly tough on casinos because this is the first time an economic downturn coincided with a high level of competition in the industry. And therein lies the future of casinos from this point forward. If casinos think competition was fierce the past few years, those days will look like child’s play in the months ahead.
When the U.S. economy truly revives, the gloves will come off. Casinos will fight to get guests back and it will be a tough battle. Properties that have suffered will want to cut the flow of red ink as quickly as they can and so will their stockholders.
It will be a player’s market. So how will your casino compete for that ever-important player? How will it keep the guests it still has while luring players back and keeping them?
There are some short-term, stop-gap options. Blow your marketing budget and hope to rent a few guests for awhile. Go to double or triple points. Increase your buffet offering and reduce the price. Give rooms away so people are staying in your hotel.
I guess the better question is how will smart casinos compete? There is only one answer – by making sure they offer a truly outstanding guest experience, a pleasant, exciting and entertaining experience that keeps players coming back even if they leave with less money in their pocket. Simply put, smart casinos will polish their customer service until it sparkles so they can establish long-term relationships with their guests. That is the one thing that will set them apart from the competition.
So what are you waiting for? In order to be ready for the economic turnaround, casinos must start putting their guest service house in order now! Following is a road map that will get you to that destination.
Get Management Onboard – An all-out effort to improve customer service will not work unless management buys into it 100 percent and clearly demonstrates its commitment to all employees. If management is not serious about this, then the troops won’t be either. Customer service rolls downhill.
Conduct An Audit – Evaluate the current status of your customer service. Achieve that by conducting a customer service audit. Look at your guest service records and see what has worked and what has not. Know every detail of your service and be brutally honest with yourself. It’s OK to admit some service efforts didn’t work. They can be fixed or discarded. It’s great to pinpoint what did work because you need to keep doing it and there may be room for improvement.

Review your customer service plan, your training materials and your rewards and incentives. Do the math and total up what was invested to improve service. Calculate your return on investment.
Get going because this can take some time.
Get the Guest’s Perspective – You need more than your own opinion about the quality of your service. A 360-degree perspective is crucial and that means also judging your service from the guest’s point of view. You need to know what guests think, see and feel when they’re at your property. And I don’t mean from comment cards that say you’re either the best casino ever or the lowest life-form on the planet. Comment cards are important but they are not accurate enough for this project.
Mystery shopping is the only way to get the data you need in an unbiased manner. Have a third-party company send people to your property posing as guests. They will tell you what they do and don’t like. They will tell you where to make improvements.
Train, Train, Train – Once you have evaluated the status of your guest service, it’s highly likely your employees will need customer service training to take your guest experience to a higher level. And here’s an opportunity for management to show it’s support. Management absolutely must take part in the training with everyone else. That sends a powerful message to your employees that this is important to the future of the casino. They will then understand that this project is important to their future as well.
Recognize and Reward Desired Behavior – Let’s talk about behavior modification. Showing employees how to provide excellent service is not enough. They need some incentive. When they demonstrate the desired behavior – doing what they were trained to do – they should be rewarded as quickly as possible so they can make the connection. Recognize their efforts and reward them. If your audit showed you don’t have a reward program, now is the time to implement one.
Don’t Forget the Details – Some people have their cars and trucks detailed. Casinos need to do the same with their property and their employees in order to make their service really shine. These are little things that add up when a guest forms an opinion of the experience they had at your enterprise:

• Keep the property clean and sparkling. If your guests have a good experience but the casino is dirty, it will be difficult to get them to come back.

• Smile while working and interacting with guests. People want to stay and play at a happy, fun casino.

• Make an impression by making eye contact with guests. And be sure to have a cheerful look in your eye.

• Have a positive attitude. Employees may need to work extra hard on this because their attitude may have been shaken lately by layoffs or a reduction in hours.

• Listen when guests talk to you. Listening shows you care.

• Look approachable and alert. Show pride in your job.

• Be proactive for guests. Think for guests so they don’t have to think for themselves. Instead of telling the guest where the restroom or buffet is located, take the extra minute and walk them to it.

It will not be easy, fast or inexpensive to have your guest service ready for the economic turnaround. It takes vision and intestinal fortitude to invest in an uncertain future. We all could be wrong about the economy, but if the economy takes a little longer to improve, you will be ready when it does.
I ask again. If the economy is turning around and gaming is starting to take off, is your property ready? If you’re not happy with your own answer, now is the time to take action.

Date Posted: 02-Aug-2002

Martin R. Baird is president of Robinson & Associates, Inc., a customer service consulting firm based in Phoenix, Ariz., that provides specialty customer service training, management skills training, presentation skills training, team building programs and employee incentive and recognition programs for casinos. Baird has a Web site, www.casinocustomerservice.com, that’s devoted to helping casinos improve their customer service so they can compete and increase revenues. Robinson & Associates may be reached at 480-991-6421.

 
 
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