One lesson for bingo operators: Smile!
One lesson for bingo operators: Smile!Customer service, interaction and entertainment are vital to Oneida's bingo success
It was 1931 and bandleader Ben Selvin was trolling around for a new song to release with vocalists Joe and Don Mooney. The tune they finally picked out made it into the top twenty for two weeks and remains as relevant to the bingo industry today as it was to dance hall audiences during the depression. It's title? "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!"
"Every business has its own culture, and if you come into a business that does not have that customer service culture, the customer is not first and that kind of mentality is extremely
difficult to change," said Mark Powless, Bingo Director for the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin's Oneida Bingo and Casino near Green Bay. "If you have employees who have been here for a number of years and are used to doing things a certain way, they sometimes ask things like, 'Is it really that important if we smile at people as they come in the door?'
"For me, that was my biggest challenge. It's been slow turning that around, but it has improved and it's made all of the difference in the world."
Bingo is unlike almost any other game in that the players show up at the bingo hall as much to interact with each other and the hall's
employees as they do to play the game itself. For some retirees, for example, Powless points out, bingo night is their only opportunity to get out of the home and have a night on the town.
"One thing that we're learning is that this is really a social game, and the customers like the social interaction," Powless said. "They like being involved in what we're doing. So when we do customer interaction things, it's really, really appreciated. They come here to make friends, talk, whatever. When you get in the habit of going to the people and greeting them and asking them how their day is and everything-and this is especially true of the customers that tend to complain-you find that the complaints go away."
Interactive approachRealizing the importance of customer interaction, Powless has tried to incorporate that interaction more into bingo promotions. As an example, Oneida began offering something called "Trivia Night" that turned out to be enormously popular with players.
"Trivia Night went off far better than we expected," he said. "We used our player tracking to create a random list of players, and we ask the players a list of questions. We try to keep the questions fairly simple, you know, grade school stuff, nothing that anybody has to have a college degree for. We keep it fun and simple. We ask a question, and if the player gets it wrong, they get a dauber. If they get it right, they get a $10 bingo certificate and they get added to a drawing for $250. It's really an inexpensive promotion but it increased our attendance by 150 people on each of the nights we offered that promotion."
Other promotions target new bingo players, Powless said, by offering prizes that appeal to younger audiences.
"One way that we use our promotions is to target new bingo players, whether that be a teen night or some other promotions or prizes that might attract younger people," Powless said. "In November we gave away two snowmobiles. Of course, you're not targeting retirement-age people with snowmobiles. You're targeting people who are more adventurous."
Powless said that Oneida Bingo generally tries to stay competitive in terms of pricing, though their payouts tend to be very generous. Still, there are some customers who may be on a budget and find the Oneida entry fee a little steep. Powless uses promotions to attract that player, too.
"We do different promotions to bring in people who may feel normal bingo is too expensive," he said. "So we offer discount nights where we offer cheaper bingo packages or some kind of gift certificate for their next visit. We also have senior days, senior nights, and we have direct mailers for our more loyal bingo players. Anybody who spent a certain amount of money in 2003, we send them a bingo certificate.
"We're trying to target anybody we can with our promotions. That helps keep bingo on the minds of as many people as we possibly can, not just our main market, which is retirement-age people."
An old hand at the gameOneida Bingo is one of the oldest tribal bingo operations in the country, first having started in the mid- to late-1970s. Because of its longevity, it's an extremely familiar entity locally, which clearly has its benefits.
"We've been in the game a long time, and when you're able to provide something that people want, and you're one of the first people out there, you tend to stay in people's minds," Powless said.
Another advantage is the lack of competition locally.
"In my mind, the only real competition we have is Potawatomi Bingo in Milwaukee," he said. "They're about two hours away. We do pull people from Milwaukee and Chicago. In Milwaukee they have a higher payout, but they also have a higher buy-in. They're a much bigger hall. In reality, we don't really have any serious direct competition other than the entertainment that's offered in Green Bay."
To counter competition from local entertainment and sports venues, Powless said, Oneida Bingo has |shifted the emphasis from pure
gaming to entertainment.
"We've shifted over the last few years from looking at ourselves as high stakes bingo or gambling and into entertainment," he said. "In our bingo hall we like to do things that make bingo more than just bingo. We try to build some entertainment into it. We bring in musicians on occasion."
One has to wonder: Do you think these visiting musicians ever had a chance to perform a little ditty called "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile"? CJ