by Martin R. Baird
How Much Lipstick Will You Put On the Pig?
By Martin R. Baird
On a recent flight to California, I sat next to a computer expert with the Department of Defense. We chatted and to my amazement, he gave me a lesson in the difference between shallow casino guest service and service that is so ingrained it is part of the property’s culture.
When he learned that my company helps casinos around the world improve their guest service, he was relieved to know we have not worked with two very large and well known casinos in Las Vegas. He had stayed at those properties on previous trips and had rather interesting comments. I’ll call them Casino X and Casino Y.
Here’s what he had to say about Casino X. It was nice and the people were OK. But he really got the red-carpet treatment when he discovered security issues with the computer system connected to the television in his hotel room. He found the problems after only a few keystrokes. He called his boss and his boss said he should notify the casino’s head of security. He did and was taken seriously because of his profession. The next morning, a flock of people from the casino and corporate headquarters wanted to know what he did and what he could see. They were nice and said they would comp his next visit. Someone went so far as to say, “Call me when you come back and I’ll take care of you. This has been great.”
A year later, he was planning to return to Las Vegas and called a few of his contacts at Casino X. He wasn’t looking for a free ride, but a nicer room or a good dinner would suffice. Not one person returned his calls or e-mails. These are the same people that couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say about their computer system, but now he didn’t deserve any courtesy.
So he decided to stay at Casino Y. Here’s what he had to say. He was not happy when he arrived at the front desk and they didn’t have his reservation. He told the desk clerk that he was not very impressed with Las Vegas at that moment. By then, I think he was an anti-advocate for an entire city, not just a couple of casinos. But Casino Y’s staff apologized and found him a room. Because of his troubles, they gave him an upgrade. Each casino employee he talked to was nice but not gushing. Theirs was more of a professional level of service than anything else.
His next comment floored me. He said Casino X has a “guest service veneer” but that Casino Y has good service. WOW! I like the phrase “guest service veneer.” I looked up veneer in my thesaurus and it listed “pretense, guise, mask, façade, thin covering.” When I looked at these words, I realized they were a perfect description of what my friend at the Department of Defense was talking about. Here’s another way of looking at it. If you take a piece of furniture that is made with veneer and saw through the paper-thin top layer, all you find is cheap wood. The furniture looks nice but it’s a cheap imitation of the real thing.
I see many casinos with precisely that kind of guest service. They tell front-line employees to provide great service but nothing happens. Why? Because as soon as you mention money to management, guest service takes a hike.
Here’s an example. A northern U.S. casino called me once and as we talked about improving its guest service, the guy kept saying, “This is exactly what we need.” Then he asked how much our program costs and I explained it’s an investment in his people as well as a means of improving each guest’s gaming experience. “I know and agree,” he said. “So how much is it?” When I told him, you could hear his jaw hit the floor. His reply was, “We won’t spend that on our people!”
Perhaps he should have called them guest service veneer people. If service is the best way to differentiate your casino from the competition, shouldn’t the notion of great service be more than a mask? It reminds me of the saying that no matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it’s still a pig.
Casinos that crave long-term success must get past the idea that they can put a façade over their business and level of service. They must embrace and create a service culture. Notice I use the word “culture.” The concept of culture is much deeper than a thin covering. Culture goes down to the soul of the organization. If you want to have a casino that turns its guests into advocates for your property, you need to have employees who get excited about providing great service, who love where they work, who look forward to coming to their jobs each day.
Don’t skip to the next article because you suddenly think my point of view is an “HR problem.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. An organization’s culture is not a set of words that one department writes down and everyone else sits around and says, “Sounds good enough to me.” A service culture requires an organized effort that is managed over the long term. It must be embraced by all departments and all levels of the company. It’s also not enough to have a high-priced consultant come in and say your culture should be this or that. At best, you will get the worst case of guest service veneer and you will also waste a good chunk of change.
If you want to do more than smear on more lipstick and hope your guests don’t notice it’s still the same pig, then you must have an organized plan that follows best business practices that generate internal improvements. From leadership and management to closure with the guests and employees, each step in the process needs to be completed before you can remove the mask of guest service and reveal a team that lives service in every way every day.
This article first appeared in International Gaming & Wagering Business
Date Posted: 17-Sep-2006
Martin R. Baird is author of “Advocate Index™: An Operational Tool” and chief executive officer of Robinson & Associates, Inc., a global customer service consulting firm for the gaming industry. Robinson & Associates helps casinos worldwide determine their Advocate Index, a number that indicates the extent to which properties have guests who are willing to be advocates, and then implements its Advocate Development System to help casinos create more guest advocates. The Advocate Development System uses the proven methodology of Advocate Index in combination with best business practices to chart a course for growth and profitability. More information about the Advocate Development System and Robinson and Associates is available at the company’s Web sites at www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com and www.casinocustomerservice.com. A copy of “Advocate Index: An Operational Tool” may be obtained by calling 206-774-8856. Robinson & Associates may be reached by phone at 480-991-6420 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Based in Annapolis, Maryland, Robinson & Associates is a member of the Casino Management Association and an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association.