An Industry Expert on the Current Challenges of Guest Service and Player Development

Interview with Steve Browne

(c)The Photo Group 2019

Steve, we’re back to some casinos cancelling concerts and changing some group events. At the National Indian Gaming Association Tradeshow this past July, I don’t know how many casino execs told me that they have not been able to open up to full capacity, especially in regards to their restaurants. Those of us at the show also saw lines and delays like never before. Is it time for an expectation adjustment from guests?

To some degree, yes. These casual gamblers who rely on the properties’ amenities to fill out their stay (from shows to dining to spa treatments, etc.) have definitely had to lower their expectations and curtail their activities. And with the resurgence going on I don’t see that opening up anytime soon. I see some properties being very strict with their protocols while others are more lax, but all have controls in place and events, shows, etc., are few and far between.

I even have one client who has postponed critical player development training due to a restriction against people being together in the training rooms. Depending upon where you are that is probably not a bad idea. However, for those guests who are avid, experienced gamblers and come primarily for the games (your core player), the loss of amenities and events has been of little consequence. Many properties are reporting record revenues and profits from gambling without the drag of unprofitable losses to bring them down.

So it has been a double-edged sword. While the trend points to what the late, great Mike Meczka always declared, “It’s the gambling, stupid,” nevertheless I think our properties lose something when the fully rounded resort offerings no longer exist. It will be interesting to see when and how they come back.

You’ve been able to get on the road and help both player development and guest service teams overcome some of those challenges listed above. At the end of the day, what conversations and concerns are you having with leadership that really stand out to you?

Surprisingly, with the vaccine out and some light at the end of the tunnel (not a lot, but some), and the return of the avid gambler to the casinos to play for fun and excitement, most of the concerns are the same as pre-pandemic. Is my service helping or hurting my bottom line? Are my player development efforts appropriate or are we leaving a bunch of money on the table? Are the competitions’ hosts stealing my players? Are we selling to the right players? Or just keeping our usual suspects happy? While the pandemic was a great lesson in catastrophe management and how to handle it, the properties I have been to seem to know that they are going to survive and it is back to how do we operate better for our guests, more efficiently for our bottom line, and more safely and rewardingly for our team members. Probably the best lesson learned from the pandemic is that you can never go too far in learning how to engage with your guests at all levels and keep them close to you through effective communication and appropriate rewards for their patronage.

When it comes to player development and rewarding our best players, with many casinos having limited amenities (still), have there been any surprising solutions?

I haven’t really seen any. Mostly the usual and more of it. More free play, more attention, more calls and offers to come in. Some of the things that I am trying to promote are mini-events for VIPs and quality visits. What do I mean by that? Mini-events are like your large VIP events but aimed at only a few players, maybe a couple and their friends, or a group of players who play together. These events do not cost much, can be tailored to the individual, and usually offer a clear ROI at the end of the stay.

An example would be a wine-pairing chef’s table dinner for a couple of wine-loving players (maybe two or three couples at the most), packaged with a room and free play offer. As to quality visits, take a look at the average marketing offer utilized by hosts. Whatever it consists of (free play, rooms, dining, etc.), the key to the offer is everything upfront to DRIVE A TRIP. But when you offer everything upfront, what is left to you to use to delight the player when they are on property playing? Where is the surprise offer, the spontaneous promotion or add-on? We are talking with hosts now about holding back and offering something to the player when they’re on property in order to enhance their playing sessions. So instead of $500 free play upfront, I offer $300 and then kick in an additional amount when the player is playing and not having any luck in order to enhance their playing session.

Our team members have gone through so much over these past 18 months: many have seen their duties expanded or shifted, many have seen their hours cut or they’re putting in lots of overtime because they are understaffed. How are organizations keeping their team members motivated?

Great question, and I wish that I had the answer. I can give you lots of examples of team members suffering in their morale, but have little to offer in the way of solutions. I think that would be a great question to send out to the Raving network to see what some properties have come up with (I have seen little, if anything, along those lines other than casinos doing everything in their power to keep their team members on payroll and connected to the property, for which they should be commended). But dealing with individual morale issues is tough. I know over in Manilla and Macau many of the foreign hosts are very distressed because they are used to going home to see family at least once or twice a year (to China or Korea or Japan, etc.). But with the pandemic they are stuck in a foreign land with little connection and little to do. It is really an issue.

If there is to be a positive to all of this, what tactics were born out of this crisis that you think are a positive?

  • Casinos showing a commitment to their people by keeping as many team members on payroll as possible during the closures.
  • Putting out a strong and effective message to guests and team members alike that their safety and well-being is a number one priority and the property will not compromise on that.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing procedures that I think you are going to see kept up for a long time or indefinitely (cleanliness is huge on a guest’s list of priorities).
  • I can’t say for sure that this has happened, because my evidence is mainly anecdotal, but a focus on more individualized and personal rewards to guests rather than single big crowd-inducing promotions, like car giveaways, that I think are counterproductive (and were, of course, a no-no during the pandemic).
  • A keener focus on the gambler and the experience that they have playing as a core guest with all the other stuff shut down.

About Steve: When it comes to creating self-sustaining guest service and player development programs, Steve Browne has assisted Tribal and commercial casinos for going on three decades through his work as a Partner with Raving Consulting, a Native-owned organization. From creating start-up programs for small rural Tribal casinos with under 100 team members to designing advanced training for high-tech gaming organizations, Steve understands the challenges that operators face.

Contact to schedule a time to talk to Steve Browne about Player Development and Guest Service at your property.

Steve Browne 19 Articles