Technology has always been a double-edged sword when it comes to customer service and relationship building. The chance to save time and money is the basic motivation behind the twin embrace that players and casinos have extended toward technologies that make customers more self-reliant at the end of the day. But if loyalty ultimately depends on how people feel toward each other, how do you keep giving customers the convenience they want without sacrificing the personal touch?

This was the idea behind the “New Technologies That Enhance the Guest Experience” session at Southern Gaming Summit earlier this year, which was very capably led by Stephanie Maddocks, founder & president, Power Strategies, who kept the speakers focused on the issue of how to increase speed and efficiency without losing personal contact.

“Doing the little things and going the extra mile is what builds relationships and loyalty,” said Hunter Hunstock, vice president of technology, Playersoft Technologies. “Relationships build loyalty and loyalty drives repeat business. If you make those interactions personal, where it’s not just you interfacing with the machine, it’s you interfacing with a person. If you can have the technology there to make it simple, then it makes going the extra mile not something outrageous, but the standard, and that’s why guests come back.”

As always, the twin engines of mobile and online gaming are playing a transformative role in the discussion. Here’s more of what Hunstock and executives from Aristocrat and Bally had to say about the issues of technology, relationship building and service:


ARISTOCRAT: ONLINE GAMING & KIOSK FUNCTIONALITY

At Aristocrat Technologies, player portals and new applications are opening new doors for operators and customers.

“With the adoption of online gaming slowing in the States and taking a different trajectory than anticipated, we see an opportunity for free-play content online that can drive registrations and loyalty at the brick-and-mortar property and differentiate your brand,” said Patrick Flannery, senior director, product commercialization for Aristocrat. “You can use the online free-play environment and attach it to your web brand to create more reasons to come to the property.”

Aristocrat’s nLive is an online, wager-ready content engine that is an Internet gaming system. It can be plugged into the casino website, and the company is looking at similar technologies that exist in the social space with unlocking or locking content. That unlocking or locking content is driven by customers in casinos so, as they come in, they can unlock and have a different play experience.

“Players can have the same interaction with the slot content that they have in the casino,” said Flannery. “They also have access to all of your loyalty information; tier status, balance, statements. It really drives convenience from the player’s point of view so you can free up your personnel to drive a different guest experience.”

Hanover, Md.-based Maryland Live! Casino implemented the nLive product and used it as a customer acquisition tool. The website drives content through Aristocrat’s content and its partnership with other companies to provide a free-play environment similar to what you would see in a casino. Prior to their opening last year, Maryland Live! put up a web portal that was attached to their main brand and enabled player registration via the online website. The portal validated players, verified their ages and issued user registrations for almost their entire data base. “That allowed Maryland Live! to personalize their customer service because then people weren’t necessarily standing in long queues at the time of opening, cards were pre-printed and ready to drive that first-time team interaction with the guests,” said Flannery.

Along those lines, Aristocrat is working to drive some elements away from the kiosk and integrate them with the slot machine via the nCompass media window, providing more time-on-device which drives more revenue. From marketing in-boxes to player registration to information on what types of loyalty marketing are happening at a venue to checking on Facebook; this approach provides more mechanisms to increase brand awareness.

“The thought is to create a different kind of play experience so the slot machine becomes an interaction point,” said Flannery. “There are a lot of applications and functionalities that are available to be experienced at a slot machine just as at a kiosk.” 

Aristocrat continues to develop different applications that can be distributed across the Web, the game machine and its mobile platform. Among the things it is looking to integrate with its mobile platform are the at-game experience; casinos are going to start seeing secondary system games that allow players to interact with the slot machine and check in on the status of their journey. The mobile hook or Web hook is letting players know where they are in relation to everyone playing. For instance, if everyone is playing to a score of 100 and the player is at 97 and is passed by someone, an alert is sent to their mobile phone that tells the players how much time they have to come in to the casino and try to catch up.

“Technology is never meant to replace people,” said Flannery. “Sometimes you can be more efficient, but in the context of the player experience we really see technology being leveraged so that you can do things that are more important than the mundane tasks like basic player registration data. You can also put information at your customer’s fingertips so when they come into the casino you are in a position to deliver personalized service.”


PLAYERSOFT: FITTING TECHNOLOGY INTO THE SERVICE MODEL

Hunstock of Playersoft, a leader in the area of mobile player administration products, said there is now technology that can be leveraged to provide service without hiring 50 percent more staff on the floor. “Because we can offer self-service, there are certain criteria that should be met if you’re going to provide face-to-face service,” he said. “The first one is it’s got to be fast. Service is real-time. The second is when you have to leave the guest, walk away and do something else, we’ve lost. We’ve lost that guest and that touch point. Service has to be immediate; that’s why we have smartphones, Instagram and Twitter.”

Technology lends itself to providing real-time service, which is how mobile fits in. It gives gaming operators all the tools they need at their fingertips to provide real-time service. At the end of the day, service should be easy to get; if you have the right technology, it makes it even easier. Doing the little things and going the extra mile is what builds relationships and loyalty. Relationships build loyalty and loyalty drives repeat business.

“[You need to] make those interactions personal, where it’s not just you interfacing with the machine, it’s you interfacing with a person,” said Hunstock. “If you can have the technology there to make it simple, then it makes going the extra mile not something outrageous, but the standard, and that’s why guests come back. We all do things, whether it’s monthly promotions, offers or mailers to get guests to come back. But on a dark day, where you don’t have anything going, why does a guest come? Predominantly they’ll say it’s because of how they’re treated. It’s service that differentiates us as a property. Having the technology that helps us give the best service will keep us ahead.”

The diminished value of club membership generally creates a need for club-related service. “If you think about club membership, when you were a kid you had all these different things (school activities, sports, scouts) that you were a member of,” said Hunstock. “Predominantly, you were asked to be a member, because someone recognized the value in you, whether it was athletic value or personal value, someone saw value in you and wanted you to join, so it was something special; club membership was very meaningful. As a society, we’ve kind of diminished the value of a club. If you think about how many club’s you’re a member of, I’m pretty sure it’s astounding. Rewards clubs for airlines, rental cars, the local pharmacy, the restaurant you go to the most, three closest three grocery stores, etc. You joined those clubs not because they saw the value in you, but because you had to in order to get the base level of service. Club membership has become something that you have to do, not because you are special.”

If operators can make that relationship between their guest and their host, the guest and the property, personal and face-to-face, that’s what builds relationships and loyalty. Playersoft’s tools enable operators to see a guest’s true value—they can greet them personally, know when the guest has arrived; the last time they visited; and the player’s worth. “If you ask for something, I know immediately if I can give it to you,” said Hunstock. “I have your preferences at my fingertips. I know that we’re running the special that you like so much in the steak house, and that the bottle of wine you prefer is now in stock. Because I know things about you and can greet you by name, wish you a happy birthday or anniversary… that is what creates a personal relationship. That is what technology is supposed to be about; driving relationships without having to kill ourselves to do it.”


BALLY: EMPOWERING EMPLOYEES & CUSTOMERS

For Philip E. Pepple, senior product manager, systems, Bally Technologies, “with any technology, you’re trying to get something out of it. You’re trying to increase guest satisfaction, grow loyalty. The more data you can get from the player and use to gain insights, the more you can build loyalty. The better your customer loyalty, the less you’re going to spend on marketing. And when it comes down to the players; do you truly communicate with your employees and your guests?

“Mobile solutions are a must have; guests expect proactive communication. Just being reminded that they have an offer that is expiring soon; it gives them something they might not have known. Giving them some sort of bounce back offer when they leave is another great idea.”

An example of proactive technology on the Bally side is Service Tracking Manager (STM), a dispatching product with much functionality. Dispatching via STM is based on rules that are highly configurable to eligibility and availability. If someone is currently involved in a transaction, it kicks a tilt machine resolution to another user who is the next closest to the problem. Same with jackpot pays.

Similarly, the machine entry access log is being moved onto a mobile device for numerous reasons. “We can pre-populate it with who’s on a machine based on the card they have put in; time, manufacturer, what type of event triggered it,” said Pepple. “Now you have a database of information by manufacturer that says, ‘hey we’re having more trouble with manufacturer X.’ We can also shoot e-mails if it’s a participation-style game to companies, the care center, the individual who covers the region, so they understand they’ve got a bad monitor or whatnot at the property. Technology is at its best when you don’t have to remember to do some detail or other, and follow up with the shift supervisor who is supposed to tell the manager; it can all be resolved at the machine.”

Other mobile features for employees include wayfinding and slotfinding. If an operator aggressively converts and moves machines and they have a large number of machines, even their best employees have difficulty keeping up. Same with the property’s players and they can get a little frustrated.

“If you can help them find machines, that’s great,” said Pepple. “Wouldn’t it be nice to know if that machine is even being played instead of trekking 12 or 15 banks over to the next part of the casino?”