Rules of retention
Rules of retention
Casinos can do a lot more to keep customers. Here are 10 ways to improve player loyalty programs.
A casino marketer, like any other businessperson, needs good customer relations to be successful. Unfortunately, we have few role models of good customer relations, as every day it seems we deal with companies that don't live up to our expectations.
It could be the cable company who tells you their installer will show up "sometime between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m." Or it could be the bank teller who doesn't know your name, account, or business. Or maybe it's the airline that serves a small bag of pretzels instead of lunch during your midday flight. Are these businesses meeting your needs or their own?
The casino industry has not been immune to this trend. The cost of player acquisition and retention is going up, service is going down, and personal contact has gone the way of doctors making house calls-virtually non-existent. The time has come to make some changes so you can better meet your casino marketing needs and attract more players to your organization. Indeed, the most valuable card for a casino marketer is not an ace, but a well-used player loyalty card. Here are some initiatives your organization can implement to boost loyalty, and return casino visits, from your customer base.
'D-A-T-I-N-G' your players
The key to improving customer loyalty is to form better relationships with players at all levels. Cultivating a relationship is much like dating; it requires the right amount of thoughtful planning and preparation, intelligent nurturing, diligent caring-even break-ups at times.
Patience and planning pays huge dividends in your quest for the perfect relationship. Remember when you were in high school and you wanted to date someone? You thought about it. You imagined being on dates together. You might have even imagined going steady with that person, or maybe even marrying him or her. You realized, however, that the first step was to ask the person out.
Player care is similar. To court your players, you need to:
D - Dazzle players with your service.
A - Anticipate your players' needs by emphasizing caring over costs.
T - Treat your players well by being a problem solver (see sidebar). Try to understand their concerns and treat the whole person, not just the symptoms.
I - Innovate by understanding most rules should be flexible.
N - Nurture your employees by giving them the same care and respect you want them to give your players.
G - Guarantee you stay in business by making sure you have a great service plan for your players. Also, make certain that your employees understand this plan and follow it.
Shift in thinking
Here are 10 shifts to help make D-A-T-I-N-G your own player relations more personal and productive.
Shift 1: Bet on what you offer
Most casino patrons come to a facility to gamble-they view the opportunity to win as life changing and understand the risks involved with wagering money. At some point, however, all gamblers will feel they have earned certain "rewards," everything from free buffet passes to hotel room upgrades, and will likely abandon a property that withholds such benefits. My advice is to keep your players happy by giving them little rewards often. When you create a loyalty program make it fun to win and the chance to win often. Often providing the little unexpected extra is what it takes to keep your players returning to your organization. Offer easy to win, lower value rewards. Never let someone staying at your hotel leave without providing a "bounce back" offer. The offer could be a free room valid on your slowest day of the week or a free buffet dinner when a second one is purchased, or something from the gift shop.
Just like dating…a single rose, frequently given is often received more favorably than a special occasion bouquet.
Shift 2: Create an individualized player plan
In today's increasingly customer-centric universe, patrons expect gaming experiences to cater to their specific desires and needs. When they win, they expect to be recognized and treated well. The same goes for when they lose-except that they want to know you care and understand their fears and frustrations. Gaming is a large financial commitment; the least we can do is create loyalty programs designed specifically to meet their needs.
Shift 3: Ante up for your players
A customer's casino experience begins as soon as they walk into the property and apply for a line of credit or player card program. To ensure return visits, make sure every service experience from that point forward is enjoyable and that staff is always friendly and helpful. You don't want disappointments to "double down."
Managers also need to understand that no two players are alike, and the best way to ascertain their needs is through one-on-one interaction, which allows personalized, relevant, useful, and nurturing contacts to be formed. True, finding such personable employees and managers can be a challenge. Fortunately, even the most inarticulate nurturer can be supported with an online menu of letters, memos, notes, and other such communication aides.
Shift 4: Offer Texas Hold 'em style solutions
Look beyond the "historical" approach to customer problems and you might find a new idea that radically improves the entire relationship, much the way Texas Hold'em reinvigorated the game of poker. Most players will tell you what they want. They provide the information you need to be successful.
Unfortunately, most casino loyalty program desk clerks do not really listen. They tell the player what they have been programmed to say. Instead, they need to be flexible in their approach and have the freedom to act on what they hear.
Organizations must listen to their players and employees to make sure all needs are being met. And remember, just because your organization has followed a certain procedure for 10 years doesn't mean it's the best way to handle something. Don't be a slave to tradition. Only a decade ago there were no slot card readers for tracking play. Innovate, don't replicate.
Shift 5: Focus on keeping your current players
Just like any business, you'll spend more money to get a new player than to keep an old one. So why do we forget about the players we have and constantly try to get new ones?
A simple follow up once a quarter by e-mail, phone, or a personal meeting with each player to determine their needs will be rewarding to both of you. At this time you can ask for a testimonial that you can show to other prospective players. If they are unhappy with your service, they will now tell you they can't provide a testimonial.
Shift 6: Stay positive and stay in contact
Use e-mails, phone calls, and personal notes for making "touches that matter." People remember people who intentionally create experiences that make them feel special. Keep the tone positive.
Often, players weren't happy that they were turned down, had to pay points, or simply were not treated as a valued customer. Let them know you care. Here is your chance to hear their tone and react accordingly.
Remember that referrals are the most cost effective way to grow your business. Treat each "conversation" as a way to get more referrals. Watering a plant is like creating a loyal, repeat player. A little liquid each day is better than waiting a month and then drenching them. It wastes your resources and ruins any growth.
Without a regular maintenance program, your players will not return to your organization when the next need arises. In fact, 40 to 60 percent of all players probably won't choose you again. As such, you will lose revenue, referrals, and continuity. So stay in touch often. Be aggressive and generous.
Shift 7: Take pride in your solutions but don't take all the credit
An attitude of gratitude with your team shares the results and encourages continued nurturing. Make sure your staff understands their role in keeping your players satisfied. Nurture this relationship. Dissatisfied employees cannot keep your players satisfied.
Shift 8: Even winners often lose. Turn losers into winners
Walk the floor. Talk to the players. Make them feel important when they lose…they will remember you when they win. Explain, if appropriate, if there are levels or tiers to the loyalty program and what the qualification and benefits are for each level.
Shift 9: Stop pondering the past and begin nurturing the future
In the past, loyalty programs were mostly for the realm of the major gambler or "whale." Sure, we all like to see the big "whales" play, but 80 percent of the revenue comes from the smaller bets that are more frequent. Make sure on the first visit to your gaming organization that a player signs up for the loyalty program.
Unlike whales who already understand the value of a close casino ties, these smaller players will need to be educated as the relationship grows. They often don't understand the rewards of larger bets or more frequent visits.
Shift 10: Remember to D-A-T-E your players
If your organization is going to compete in today's fierce marketplace you must think progressively. The first place to take action is with your players. They are no longer loyal. Costs being equal, they really don't care if they have worked with you for years-unless you have formed a relationship and become a problem solver for them. That will ensure they return to your organization.
By forming caring and open relationships with your players, you will keep the players you have and attract more. Take the time you need to develop a plan that will improve the organization experience for your players. Once implemented, your organization will be ready for whatever changes come its way.
Searching for an answer
Problem solving should be first and foremost on the minds of the loyalty personnel
The key difference between other service providers and casino marketers is the clear, immediate, real-time need to be problem solvers.
So become an interpreter of what players need and value. Sell your ability to solve your casino players' problems. They made the choice to come to your organization and use your services. Once they've contacted you, prove that you deserve their business. They are now in your hands and dependent on your wisdom to provide a "rewarding experience."
To understand the player's problems, however, you have to know the player. You have to meet and greet them on their terms and in real time. Too often however, administrators, organization executives and managers stay in their offices sitting at their desk. They may hear of deteriorating conditions in the organizations that they lead, but they do not see the conditions for themselves. No substitute for firsthand information and direct contact exists. To service your players you need committed employees, and you need leaders that can reliably deliver the benefits you provide to your players.
- James Feldman
Casinos learned years ago that slot players are the backbone of most gaming organizations. So why not reward these players more often?
Most of your players have received offers or seen advertising that asked them to make a visit and join "loyalty programs." Yet it is the reward and not the experience that is the main premise of the offer. However, today's player is more sophisticated. They can play on the Internet, go to local betting parlors, church bingo games, or riverboats. Locations come to the player…the player does not have to travel to the gaming location.
To overcome this disadvantage, casino marketers need to go beyond problem solving and offer customer benefits that entice them to come to the brick-and-mortar gaming facility.
There are two types of benefits that you can provide-discretionary and open. Discretionary benefits should be given freely. These include free drinks, meals, upgrades, etc. Everyone that spends more, plays more, and repeats their visits should be treated as if they were winners. If someone stays with you more than six times a year it is safe to assume that they are frequenting your organization to play, stay, or relax. Find out why and go above and beyond their expectations when it comes to giving benefits.
Open benefits are easier to track because your players receive points that can be used to purchase merchandise and travel rewards. Slot reward programs are the most prevalent form of open benefit packages.
For benefits to work as a customer loyalty tool, casino hosts must know their players and how they play. Experienced hosts have, for years, found ways to recognize their players and offer discretionary benefits. Don't become the airline ticket agent or the flight attendant who no longer has any influence on the passenger. Increase your bets on your players and the rewards to your organization will increase as well.
- James Feldman
James Feldman is CITE, CPIM, CPT and MIP chief solutions officer for Gaming Marketing Solutions, a division of James Feldman Associates, Inc. You can contact James at (312) 527-1111, by fax at (312) 527-1116 by e-mail at email@example.com, or visit the company's Web site: www.gamingmarketingsolutions.com.