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Delay Management in Casinos
by Desmond Lam

Delay Management in Casinos
Desmond Lam

Let me recall an incident I encountered during a recent trip to the Sands Macau casino. I was engrossed placing bets for my automated roulette, when I realized the frustration of a fellow player at the table. Just 10 minutes ago, she had requested for payout. A ‘payout’ staff came over, did something to her machine and asked her to wait as he hurried away to get the cash for her. So, the woman sat back on her seat and watched the games while waiting. Fifteen minutes passed, the staff was yet to be seen. The woman became frustrated with what seemed like a long wait for a gambler and started complaining loudly to the other players at the table.

“It’s only a couple of hundred {Hong Kong dollars}!” She said at one point in time.

“These people are so slow!” She added, with nodding agreement from a player beside her.

When the staff did return with the payout, she stopped grumbling immediately, gave the staff a good stare, took her cash in a hurry, and disappeared into the crowd.

Delay in the delivery of service is a negative experience and liability for any customers to a casino. It is a wasteful and undesirable activity for both casino and its patrons. Delay can occur at entry to a casino, at entry to a restaurant or bar in the casino, when making foreign currency exchange, when exchanging tokens for cash, when placing orders for a drink at the bar, etc. Dislike for delay is generally related to its expected frequency and duration.

For a casino patron, delay can be very frustrating. Research has shown negative relationship between long waiting times and customer satisfaction. Delay can lead to dissatisfaction with the service experience, anger, give rise to negative word-of-mouth or complaints, and even reduce patron loyalty. Quite often, customers are reluctant to complain the delays directly to the service provider. Complaints from dissatisfied customers to their family and friends may further tarnish the image of the service provider, resulting in lower turnout.

Waiting for service is such a painful experience for the customers that it can become associated with their whole service experience. The longer the customers have to wait, the lower their evaluation of the whole service. For example, the female roulette player described earlier might negatively evaluate her gaming experience at the Sands simply based on one single incident of delay. The speed of dispensing services to avoid delays is, thus, an important attribute in marketing services.

For casinos, delay is non-economical because patrons waiting in line to be served are not consuming. Too often, casino staff who provide the service do not notice the irritation and frustration of their customers caused by the delay. Research has shown that there is often a perceived differential towards delay between service providers and their customers. Customers are more likely to perceive a delay as “too long” compared to the service provider.

Customers are bothered by delays especially if they are unexpected. The more unexpected the delay, the greater the uncertainty, the more it is disliked. Uncertainty is central in explaining why customers’ react negatively to delays. A friend of mine from Sydney recently came to Macau for a visit. Having heard so much about Las Vegas Sands in Macau, he was really looking forward to having a good time here. Upon arrival via Hong Kong, he and his partner went straight to the casino with their bags. At the entrance of Sands, they were shocked to see a long queue and learned moments later that they had to check-in their rather small bags at the counter. “Not another queue?” said my friend, as he approached the counter. For Australians, these were totally unexpected. Rarely are they required to check-in bags at Sydney’s Star casino or at Melbourne’s Crown casino. Never have they seen long queues like this outside casinos in Australia. Disappointed by what they believed were the incompetence of the service provider, they took a quick tour of the casino and left after 20 minutes.

Such delays, when unexpected, can become a nuisance to the customers. It is especially so if the customers feel that the delay is within the control of the service provider. Customers often try to determine the reasons behind a short or long delay. Frustration from delay will not be directed towards the service provider if customers perceive the reasons for the delay to be non-provider-related such as exceptionally slow customers at the front of the line. The more control the service provider is thought to have over the delay, the more negative is the perception of the delayed service. However, when delays become common and predictable (hence, expected), customers are likely to put up with the “expected” delays. Dislike towards the cost (i.e., time) incurred by the delay will, however, increase in this case. Hence, casinos need to better manage the expectations and perceptions of their patrons.

One way of managing delays is to inform the customers about anticipated delays. Any information that help to reduce the extent of a customer’s perceived uncertainty regarding a delay will be beneficial. The provision of delay information is commonly employed by airlines and train service providers. Information is often displayed reporting the wait before the train or flight arrives. Delays are usually reported in advance. Despite the fact that it does nothing to shorten the delay time, such information when communicated properly and timely are likely to be appreciated by the customers. Depending on circumstances and contexts, it may be useful to even give customers the cause of the delay.

At the same time, customers are generally less irritated by delay if they can occupy their time during the wait. Customers’ perceived waiting time shortens when they are entertained. Disneyland, for example, manages delay by entertaining its queues with music and TV programs. At times, extra staff was employed to usher queues. The provision of materials like informative advertisement, posters, mirrors, flyers and menu suggestions at waiting areas or queues may also help.

Research has shown that customers can better tolerate delays if they occur during the middle of a service process (in-process). Delays that happen at the beginning (pre-process) and at the end of a service process (post-process) are often perceived more negatively. For example, frustration is most likely to occur when one encounters delays while checking-in for a flight or while clearing custom to leave the airport. At restaurants, “take the order first and wait” (in-process) will be better perceived and tolerated than “wait before taking the order” (pre-process).

Individuals’ dislike for delays is associated to their expected waste of time. Customers expect their costs of waiting to match their rewards. This means that those receiving benefits would be more tolerant of delays than those incurring costs. Hence, casino patrons are more likely to tolerate and forget about the delays encountered earlier if they win. If they lose, delays will be remembered and complaints of the delays will likely follow.

Good delay management should be part of the overall casino marketing strategy. While the number of visitors (especially mainland Chinese) going to casinos in Macau has increased substantially over the past few years, it is expected to rise even further in the near future. Good delay management, thus, becomes a necessity given the large number of visitors that some casinos in Macau are already attracting. As competition intensifies, good delay management can significantly affect patron satisfaction towards the services provided by a casino, increase patron loyalty and enhance a casino’s image and reputation.

To avoid delays, casino operators can try to increase service supply such as hiring more staff to do payout or setting up more counters when needed. Such operati

Date Posted: 04-Apr-2005

Biography
* DESMOND LAM is a lecturer of marketing at the University of Macau, China. Desmond’s interests lie in marketing strategy, gaming, cross-cultural decision making process, the role of word-of-mouth in customer and brand loyalty, and email communication. He can be contacted at DesmondL@umac.mo.

 
 
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