An Act of Cleanliness
by Ray Hanania
An Act of Cleanliness
Keeping a casino clean without interrupting the customer experience is paramount to a successful business
In the casino industry, cleanliness has to be a lifestyle, not just a service. In order for a casino property to be at its maximum performance, efficiency and experience for its customers, cleaning needs to be at the top of the to-do list — and be done constantly.
But unlike most other industries, casinos attract large public volumes, or traffic, through their properties, meaning that they must take maintenance seriously if they intend to maximize the customer experience.
Rick Messura, assistant general manager of hospitality at the Lakeside, Calif.-based Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino, compares a casino to an airport.
“There is a big difference between a nongaming resort and a gaming resort,” Messura explained. “That difference has to do with many things but mainly volume of people that move through the property. That volume is similar to an airport, so the wear and tear and the dirt being tracked in properties and on the carpets, for example, is tremendous.”
“A typical resort in California, for example, doesn’t have the thousands of people who walk through their lobbies the way we do,” he added. “They mainly only have the people staying at their resort. In the case of a casino, it draws people from inside the resort and even more from outside the resort.”
Messura said the goal at Barona and other casinos is to ensure that the property looks “exactly like it did when it first opened. Cleanliness. The smell of a new property. And there are numerous challenges that we face to make that happen,” he said.
Messura explained that Barona has created a sophisticated structure to oversee all aspects of maintenance needs. For example, housekeeping is divided into two specialty services: inside housekeeping, with a staff that addresses the casino’s public area needs; and outside housekeeping to clean the exterior of the property.
There are two other departments, Messura said, that address the look and feel of the casino property itself from the standpoint of the bigger picture.
“We also have a landscape department that deals strictly with the landscaping needs of the lawns, plants, shrubbery, and we have a facilities maintenance department that supports our housekeeping departments to help them reach areas that they can’t routinely address,” he added.
“These are four departments that must coordinate their support services to ensure Barona provides the highest level of service that the customers have come to expect.”
Challenges of the setting
The centerpiece of the Barona resort is a traditional casino setting that offers guests 2,000 Las Vegas-style slots, video poker and keno machines and nearly 70 table games, a 15-table poker room, and an off-track betting area.
Nestled in the picturesque rolling hills of the Barona Indian Reservation located in northeastern San Diego County, Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino offers guests luxury, seclusion and gaming excitement ideal for a mid-week or weekend getaway. The resort’s California ranch style accentuates the rich cultural history of the Barona Band of Mission Indians and pays tribute to the founding fathers of the reservation who purchased the Barona Ranch land for the Tribe in 1932.
From the rich, earthy tones of the deluxe guest rooms and luxury suites to the attractive stone walls and oversized fireplace in the casino, evocative natural imagery and elements reflect the tribe’s harmonious coexistence with and reverence for nature. The dark wood and stone façades of the aged, ranch-style buildings are designed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape and the existing structures on the Barona Indian Reservation.
The resort has a functioning, old mill waterwheel, several magnificent lakes and includes a footbridge and a restored barn. It features a golf course with lush landscaping and water-scaped designs. All these offer special challenges that go beyond simply cleaning and maintaining a property, especially with so much outside customer volume passing through the property.
“We have a number of maintenance challenges that a typical resort in Las Vegas doesn’t have,” Messura said.
“Some casinos in Vegas, for example, have fountains and spectacular lighting, but we also offer a more natural environment including a habitat for many species of animals and birds. For us, the cleaning of the habitat and ensuring everything is maintained at that level is very challenging.”
The show must go on
Messura, who began in the casino industry in 1984 and joined Barona in 2001 after holding positions at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, said the challenges are magnified by the 24-hour-a-day casino operations.
“That means that maintenance must take place while customers are engaging the property’s assets,” Messura explained. “You have to provide basic maintenance housekeeping and clean in and around your customers in a way that does not disrupt their ability to enjoy their play. You have to be invisible, but you have to be in there every day. A casino never closes. We know customers want the casino to be cleaned, but no one wants to see the staff cleaning. So, they have to be well trained, and we have to employ the latest in technology to help us achieve that invisible presence.”
Messura said Barona has invested heavily in new technologies that allow the maintenance staff to consistently operate in and around customers without being obvious.
“We were the first casino to buy an Intellibot vacuum cleaner, which we use in the convention showrooms and meeting rooms that are not in use, where it can work behind the scenes. This allows us to focus our staff on the public areas of the casino,” Messura said. “It’s an amazing device that vacuums an entire convention room and then sends an automated signal to the housekeeping staff when it is completed.”
Messura said that Barona also purchased Windsor Chariot Riding Vacuums about a year ago, and employees dressed in uniform drive around the casino game floor.
“A staff member actually gets inside the chariot and rides around vacuuming the floor right there with the guests. It’s silent. It has no electrical cords, and it blends into the entertainment environment. It allows us a high level of cleanliness without disrupting the customers,” Messura added.
In addition to service structure and technology strategies, Messura said that employees must be trained not only in the techniques of their specific area of professional maintenance, but also in customer interaction. All employees are trained to participate in maintenance awareness regardless of their position and job.
“Cleanliness has got to be everyone’s job. It’s not just housekeeping’s job. Everyone in a casino must have the same philosophy and commitment to maintenance. In the casino industry, cleanliness is a lifestyle, not just a service,” he said.
Behind the scenes
Signature Worldwide Senior Vice President Dave Hamilton oversees training for casino employees, emphasizing how they must “seamlessly mesh into the casino working environment” to complement the overall casino goal and support the highest level of customer service.
His company is a leading provider of training and business building solutions to the hospitality and casino industries.
“Maintenance is extremely important in the hospitality industry. It is a shame if a casino has a service level where that is the make it or break it point for their bottom line. When people call up to make a reservation at the casino, they are looking for the fun side of the experience and that is all encompassing,” Hamilton explained. “We teach people to go beyond the expectations. It’s the little things … that sometimes impacts the environment and the customer experience. A burned out light bulb should not be the make it or break it factor in molding a customer’s experience at your property.”
Signature instructs employees on guest experience, working with every department to ensure that customer service is at its highest possible level.
“People are people. What makes one person different from another is the longer they have been entrenched, the harder it is to make them think differently. A person making up a room in a specific order and then coming in and showing them how they can change, enjoy it and do a better job is difficult. It takes an ongoing process over a period of time to get them thinking about it,” Hamilton said. “What we don’t create is their standard operating procedures (SOP). Instead, we take their SOPs and then work with them to help the staff improve their ability to enhance the experience of the guest.”
Hamilton cited the possibility that a slot machine might break down during play.
“Historically, the slot technician would work in silence and get it working for the customer, and then leave. What we try to do is get the slot tech to greet the customer, explain who they are, apologize, empathize and add those basic customer service skills that all are needed to maintain the customer’s experience,” Hamilton explained.
Hamilton added that employees are basically all the same.
“It is not harder to work with them than other areas. Humans are humans. I can honestly tell you I have not met anyone who can’t give good customer service, but I have met a few who didn’t want to,” Hamilton said. “This isn’t unique to the casino industry. Service is service. Sales are service. But there are basic processes that must be followed. Once you follow a basic process, you can put more tools into the hands of your staff to help them do better. When you start doing that from a business standpoint, they can use it in their own personal lives as well.”
Identifying common themes
Hamilton offered a number of strategies and guidelines to ensure that employees and their properties are on the same page:
—Ongoing employee education: “Very often, training is little more than getting people together and getting them to understand how things should be done. Telling people what to do it is not very effective. But, getting people to buy into the process is the most effective way to do it.”
—Give employees the tools they need to do their work: “The most important part of any customer and employee relationship is for the employee to have enough tools to form the relationship at the right level so that customer feels good about it.”
—Relationship building: “This is about creating different toolboxes of skills for people. They need to form a relationship with anyone in order to succeed. Have a greeting that is consistent with the company standards, understand that listening is important, and be aware of body language. You can tell the difference between someone who is a season professional and someone who is on their first day.”
—Discovery process: “Talk to the customers. People like to know what is inside the slot machine.”
—Create value: “Have employees learn to become familiar with customers. Be friendly.”
Hamilton concluded with, “I can’t tell you what the best screwdriver is. But I can tell you that if you are going to make a difference, it has to start with an educational training that is accountable. And that applies to every aspect of industry, including at casinos and especially in services that have direct contact with customers, such as maintenance.”