I am sure you recall that milk advertising campaign from a few years ago. It featured both male and female celebrities with a big, white ‘milk moustache’ and the simple query “Got Milk?” The reason the ad worked so well was the brilliant combination of an irresistible photograph and a nearly universal need.

Today, I have a variation on that milk campaign’s question and it’s for anyone concerned with driving casino revenues. Simply put, “Got Training?”

My background includes working in industries as diverse as retailing, transportation, financial services, medical products and, now, gaming. Throughout my career, I have always been amazed that senior management in these various disciplines invested large sums to acquire the latest equipment, advertised their products and then spent so little time or money to educate and prepare their own employees.

What is true for many auto dealerships, brokerage firms and retail stores seems to apply to gaming, too. Many casino owners routinely acquire great locations, build magnificent structures, rely on expensive advertising and promotions to bring in the customers and then do so very little to prepare their employees.

To appreciate the financial risk of their poor commitment to training, look at the casino experience from the customer’s perspective. Day or night, any one of the casino employees the player meets is, at that moment, the ‘whole casino.’

For example, I recently met with the general manager of riverboat casino. During our conversation, I complimented him on his operation and told him that, from my perspective, he was doing everything right.

“You have a terrific location, state of the art machines, a great rewards program, fine restaurants, dynamic advertising and promotions and customers are coming through the door,” I said, “but what happens when one of those customers arrives and runs into an employee who doesn’t have any idea about how to deliver great customer service?”

The general manager replied, “Then I have to spend twice as much money to buy the customer back with no guarantee he’ll ever return!”

Put that conversation in the context of today’s financial reality. As we continue to work our way through constant news about this stalled economy and its scary unemployment rates, casinos from coast to coast are working frantically to make certain that customers stay longer and return sooner. With discretionary dollars in short supply, no property can afford a careless customer encounter or risk alienating any player.

So, after those newest machines are installed and those player’s club perks are enhanced again, what is to be done? I believe every casino needs to be sure that employees have the knowledge, skills and solid work habits to succeed and make a real contribution. Because gaming always has been, and remains, a ‘people business,’ surviving and prospering today means aggressively investing in employee training and development.

I am sure you’re thinking, “Hey, we have that covered.” You have new hire orientation and offer some additional training in such areas as Title 31 and, ideally, customer service. Maybe your casino is among those properties that have a management development program available for front-line men and women who lead departments.

Well, is it actually working? How do you know?

Measuring training’s return on investment should be automatic and a part of each quarterly review. After all, if you don’t measure it, how are you certain you are getting your money’s worth? Here, I am not referring to those forms that attendees complete at the end of the class, with fuzzy questions such as, “What did you like the best about this training?”

The way to evaluate training is by a financial measurement.

Here is what I mean. It costs you something to have any employee sit in a classroom for an hour. For the sake of this example, let’s call that cost (wages and benefits) $10. In a class of 25 students, you are investing 25 times $10. Say the class lasts for three hours. That investment becomes $10 multiplied by 25, multiplied by three. So, a single scheduled training class costs your casino $750 in addition to the wages and benefits paid to the instructor.

Of course, if this is a Title 31 class, as mandated by the Treasury Department, the total number of attendees probably exceeds the 25 in the above example. So, without much trouble, Title 31 training will cost you well into the thousands of dollars every year.

Again, is it working? Shouldn’t you look at that $750 training investment as closely as you look at the customer’s time on any machine or the various other measurements used on the floor. You routinely calculate the effectiveness of your advertising, promotions, comps, restaurant menus as well as machine usage and signage placement. Why not take a long look at training, too?

But maybe you’re wondering how.

Before training, establish a base line of behavior. If you want to train employees in customer service, look at reported complaints. Speak with customers. Observe your people on the job. Establish a sense of “where we are right now.” During training, sit in on a class or two or prepare a videotaped message that signals your interest in, and commitment to, great customer service. Next, demand verifiable results. Have your trainers conduct a class that features quizzes and a real, final exam. Ask hard, open-ended questions. After training, continue to look at employee behavior and turnover; review those customer complaints.

Whether you develop your training in-house or you out source it, create a results-oriented program with real measurements. Be demanding. Treat training like any other important investment. In today’s economy, you don’t have a choice.