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Why do casinos need player development?

I’ll bet your property sends out a lot of mail. Tons of it.  Right? I remember when I was on the seed list at my last property, and it seemed like I got a LOT of mail…and that was just the stuff from my own property!  The mailers I got from checking out the competition weren’t as numerous, since I wasn’t a high roller, but I got a pretty fair number of those, too.

There is a lot of e-mail communication, too. I get something at least once a month, even from properties I haven’t visited in some time. So I know casinos are reaching out and doing database marketing; in fact, I believe casinos do this better than many other businesses today. There’s certainly room for improvement, particularly in terms of “if this, then that” marketing, but that’s another blog post…

Casinos do a lot of things to bring players through their doors.  They post giant luxury cars onto multiple billboards, radio ads let patrons know who is going to be in the showroom soon (and more billboards sport the same message), postcards alert tier card holders there’s a continuity gift program for the upcoming holiday, and reservations agents are scheduled overtime to book the hotel once the coupons arrive in mailboxes market-wide. There’s clearly a lot going on to provide incentives for players to visit a particular casino.

Events are held, show tickets are handed out, food is served, prizes are awarded, and guests show up. So, why do casinos need player development?

Casinos need a true-to-life player development department because it can generate revenue the programs and activities above don’t get for them.  Sure, a player who has had a “pretty alright” experience at your property in the past may come in if you dangle the right prize or giveaway or food coupons at them. But to get the right ones to come in more often, there’s nothing like the personal touch.

A host can make it easier and more inviting for a player to return to a particular property than any other service you can offer.  A host can simply provide the final push a patron needs to commit to the trip your coupons got them to consider.  A host can find out whether a particular guest enjoys tournaments and invite them. A host can let them know when it looks like their favorite progressive is about to hit. A host can get them to share the tale of their bad experience and convince them to give your property another chance to get it right.

There are any number of ways to get a player to come to your casino for a visit, but there is nothing quite as effective as a casino host when it comes to bringing back players or potential worth.  These players expect more than coupons and promotions as a “reward” for their patronage.  Many of them know they are worth a lot to you and expect to be treated as such. Targeting new players who aren’t yet loyal, finding players who are at risk of defection, and reaching out to those you have already lost are cost-effective ways to boost revenue, and there’s no one better than a host to bring them back to you. A well-trained and equipped host team can drive revenue that will have a significant effect on your property’s bottom line.

If you aren’t sure where to start, or if your team needs additional tools or resources, find a PD partner who can show you how to refocus your host team and target the right potential players in your database.  You’ll be pleased with the results.

 

This post is brought to you by Harvest Trends. We specialize in Player Development (PD). Please take a look at PowerHost, a comprehensive way to drive revenue from your team of Casino Hosts and Player Development Executives. Or contact Paul Cutler at 561.860.2621 or pcutler@harvesttrends.com.  Paul will overnight you an informative package along with pricing.

War Stories: Cautionary Tales from ‘The Trenches’

Many years ago, I had primary responsibility for a big casino promotion. My bosses were at the big gaming show in Vegas (before it was called G2E; it was a loooong time ago) and I was launching a big 6-week extravaganza without them for the very first time. We had floor sweeps to hand out scratch-off tickets, offering a variety of prizes for matching symbols. Every ticket had the potential to be a winner, but the odds suggested we’d have only one or two “big” winners (of $1000, if I recall correctly) for the entire 6 weeks.   Non-winning tickets could be dropped into a big drawing drum for the grand finale: a pickup truck to be given away on the last night of the promotion. When the second and third “big” prize winners showed up within hours of the first floor sweep, I knew we had a problem. Someone had figured out how to cheat the scratch-off…and I was sure of it when the fourth winner of the night was the same person who had turned in the first winning ticket.

The GM and I wrote an announcement that I would read over the PA to suspend the scratch-off portion of the promotion, and we quickly printed out truck giveaway entries to be handed out until we could sort out the issue with the game tickets. It was with trepidation that I began reading our announcement, but security and a handful of sympathetic guests (regulars, but the good kind) were nearby to offer moral support. Only twice since have I been in front of a crowd so hostile. As I clicked off the microphone and took a step to leave, a handful of them surged toward me, blocking my exit route to complain about the provision that we would not accept any more “winning” tickets. A few of these had multiple tickets in hand, suggesting that they had picked up tickets others had left behind…it was a mess.

From this promotional War Story, I learned many things.

  • Have scratch tickets printed by someone who has lots of experience with them so it’s impossible for players to cheat.
  • Involve the Security Manager and Compliance department when doing promotional planning to help ferret out vulnerabilities in the conceptual stages.
  • Don’t be afraid to do what’s right for the honest guests, even in the face of some who are angry that they can’t take advantage of a vulnerability they found.
  • The NGCB had our back. Our rules were clear and enforceable, and they stayed in the loop with us as we navigated those uncharted (for us) waters.
  • The loudest voices you hear aren’t always the ones you should pay the most attention to. My GM was cool, calm, and collected as we worked through our short-term plan. Loud, angry voices had no place in that discussion, though we obviously thought through the effect we’d have on our guests.

Everyone who has worked with the public at all probably has some pretty good stories to tell; it’s likely they’ve got some that will curl your hair. Thinking about them for this post actually had me chuckling earlier:

  • The club rep who figured out how to cash out points belonging to inactive guests, but didn’t notice the transactions on a detail report the same rep ran each night for the manager’s review.
  • The angry patron who grabbed a supervisor’s tie to pull him over the counter and almost found himself prone when the (former military) associate instinctively drew back a fist. Fortunately, no one was harmed during this little episode.
  • The promotional attendant who set up a promotion to run with pre-determined winners…and didn’t see any problem with that.
  • The guest who called the company headquarters to complain that he’d been told his patronage wasn’t important…since the casino wouldn’t increase his offers just because he thought they weren’t sufficient.
  • The high roller who hung up on his host because the host uttered the word, “No” during a brief phone call. (The host called right back and said “It seems we were disconnected before I had a chance to tell you what I CAN do.” The guest was all ears.)
  • The small gang who gathered at the promotions desk to write down the winner’s names at nearly every drawing because they were convinced the giveaway was rigged against them.

Here’s the best part about these War Stories: every single one of them teaches us something. The club rep learned that there are checks and balances to prevent theft and that a few hundred bucks was all it took to lose a promising career in gaming. The patron learned that he would be asked to leave private property after assaulting an associate, with a minimum 12-month exclusion to boot. All of us who have worked with casino promotions have learned that people feel entitled to win and will always suggest that someone is cheating them if they don’t. The high roller learned that sometimes it’s better to be quiet and listen to the rest of the story before shutting someone down (particularly if it’s someone who can help you). The gang learned more than they ever cared to know about how electronic drawings work, as the executive responsible for promotions gathered them close and did a mini-workshop on the software’s capabilities.

So, tell us in the comments below: what are your favorite War Stories, and what did you learn from them? Any lesson is a good one, though the ones learned “the hard way” tend to stick with us. Those where we learn what NOT to do are even better, because we may not have to live through the awkwardness and difficulties ourselves (or only tangentially).

Share with us the stories that came to mind as you read some of mine. We can’t wait to learn from your experiences!

7 Habits That Help Hosts Succeed

In a world of increasing digital contact and fewer human interactions, Player Development still has a focus on personalized contact, whether by phone, email, snail mail or in person.There are techniques that successful Casino hosts employ to build relationships with valuable players and secure their loyalty.

These the 7 Habits that we’ve observed in successful casino hosts:

  1. Successful hosts are detail-oriented.  When you’re responsible for hundreds of valuable casino patrons (and their spouses, at least by proxy), it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. Remembering a guest’s children’s and grandchildren’s names is just the beginning. Does she smoke cigarettes? Which brand? What kind of room does he prefer, and does he have a favorite in your hotel? Will he want to go to the steakhouse right after he checks in, or will you need to go and pull him off the tables so he won’t lose his reservation? This kind of attention to the details about his or her players allows a casino host to provide personalized service that hardly exists anywhere these days. It sets them apart.
  2. Understanding profitability is key.  The details a good host remembers about his players aren’t limited to preferences and habits. He needs to understand the profitability profile of each player and his associates in order to proactively motivate them to make visits to the property without overspending the casino’s assets. Here’s a good rule of thumb for tough comp decisions: If you wouldn’t foot the bill yourself, why would you expect the casino to do so? Look at play patterns, redemption patterns, and associated play in aggregate before making a comp decision. It is entirely possible to motivate a player without spending money on supplemental offers.
  3. Good hosts don’t let good players languish. Does Susie usually make at least one trip per week? Have you seen her lately? If not, you should give her a call. Did you hear that Ron was upset about not getting tickets to last weekend’s Beatles tribute show? You should look into what happened and check in with him. While it’s sometimes appropriate to allow an angry guest some time to cool off before making contact, it’s better to reach out soon and re-establish communications before they try a competitor and decide they’re treated better someplace else.
  4. Information is king. Sharing it is key. Whether overheard on the gaming floor or learned in a training session, like any good employee, a good casino host will look for ways to incorporate things they learn into doing a better job taking care of their players. This includes learning what not to do! A great PD team leader will encourage hosts to share what they’ve learned, particularly about promising players or competitor activities, so they can work together to be proactive against any threats or looming disappointments which might be mitigated.
  5. Balance the wants of the guest with the needs of the business.  It’s often a precarious position to be in: your players want what they want and your company says it’s a “no go.” There are a myriad of ways to make everyone happy, and a good host will navigate through the possibilities until finding just the right one. From making an alternative offer, meeting the player halfway, presenting a case to the leadership in advocacy for the guest, or coming up with a brilliant out-of-the-box idea, hosts whose heads AND hearts are in the game will find a solution that keeps the players and the bosses happy.
  6. Remember to take “me” time…but not too much!  While it’s true that working in a 24-hour business with some of its most demanding patrons is almost assuredly a recipe for burnout, most of the PD pros we’ve met love their jobs so much they don’t ever want to do anything else for a living. In order to keep themselves on an even keel, dedicated casino hosts have to take a breather now and then to keep from going into overload. Leaving their players in the hands of their co-workers may be nerve-wracking, but the time away from the constant demands of  the job is essential to long-term well-being and success. Aside from weeks-long vacations, there are ways to regroup and refresh during the work week as well. Enjoy a hobby, take a walk around the neighborhood, meditate, go to the gym, read an engaging novel. Finding a way to disconnect from the world for a few short hours and recharge one’s batteries can make all the difference.
  7. When all else fails, host pros ask for help. It’s not easy to admit it when we need assistance. Whether it’s with a computer program, finding time to accomplish everything on the day’s to-do list, or handling a sticky guest situation, there’s nothing like another perspective to help a host move past a roadblock and keep things moving. There’s no reason a host who needs a hand shouldn’t ask for the assist. Studies have shown that people who do favors for others tend to regard the recipients in a more favorable light, because who wants to help out someone who isn’t deserving? This happy side effect can help to bring a host team closer together while solving the issue at hand. Nice, huh!?

There are a lot of moving parts in a casino host’s set of responsibilities. These 7 attributes can indeed make a good casino host better. Think about it: If you’re refreshed and fulfilled, have the tools you need to execute what’s best for both the guest and the business, and you proactively seek solutions to the day-to-day demands of your players, you can’t lose.

This article is brought to you from casinoplayerdevelopment.wordpress.com, sharing Helpful Ideas on Player Development.

How do you keep your team rolling?

I swept my whole house today. You’re probably wondering why I started with that fascinating factoid, right? While I was moving the dust mop through my kid’s rooms, I noticed that the stuff I was sweeping up was reacting differently to the mop’s motions based on its individual nature.

There was a yellow bead that kept rolling right past the rest of the stuff I’d swept up, and there was a tiny metal bead (like a BB) that rolled pretty well but mostly stayed with the pile. There were some dust bunnies under my 16-year-old’s bed, and they stuck to the dust mop. The leaves under my 9-year-old boy’s bed were stubborn and didn’t want to be swept up, so I had to get the bristly broom for those.

Your player development team is a lot like the stuff I swept up today. How? Each individual on your team responds differently to the same stimulus. The yellow bead is the host who takes your advice and direction and runs with it, not looking back to see where the rest of the team is. The BB was your “steady Eddie” host, who stays with the pack and keeps moving at a steady pace.The dust bunnies are like the hosts who won’t make a move without a push. The leaves are the hosts who keep doing what they’re going to do regardless of your attempts to motivate them, at least until you force the issue.

In my experience, player development pros get better when they have to step outside their comfort zones, and their leaders sometimes have to start sweeping to get things moving. The dust bunnies would still be under my daughter’s bed if I hadn’t swept. The yellow bead would probably have ended up in a different place on the floor, and the BB would be hanging out with the leaves. They needed motivation to move; to roll.

Each of the members of your host team needs motivation too. Most likely, it will take something tailored to each individual to get maximum results.

The host who’s rolling on without regard to the rest of the team may be ready to take on the challenge of being a mentor for another employee. The one who is rolling along but not excelling may benefit from some encouragement to implement his ideas. The ones who want to hang back and need a push might do more if they know you’re watching and keeping track of their accomplishments. The stubborn ones could get better with training, so they should be paired up with a “rolling” host.

Take the time to evaluate your team individually, assess the tools you have available to get them moving, then choose the right combination of tools and methods to start things rolling. Then, repeat as necessary. Just like I’ll have to do with the clean(er) floors in my kids’ rooms.

Player Development isn’t a Department. It’s a Mindset.

Does everyone at your property sell the gaming experience to your guests? Just as importantly, does everyone at your property understand that the main function of a Player Development department is to sell the gaming experience to your most worthy guests?

It still amazes me how many people work in gaming without a clear understanding of the role Player Development professionals play in the operation. When given the opportunity to do the job they were given, Casino Hosts can drive revenue. They build relationships with patrons. They make it easier for a guest to choose YOUR property over going to visit a competitor. They provide concierge-like service to players who have a real impact on the bottom line, especially when those patrons don’t come in as often or play as much as they once did.

How is Player Development a mindset? It extends to every casino employee who has direct guest contact as well as those whose work affects the guests. (So, basically everybody.) If a dishwasher doesn’t do his job properly, one of your pickiest profitable players might receive a drink in a dirty glass. If a slot attendant assists a guest without introducing himself, he doesn’t exactly make a good impression even if the service was timely. When maintenance isn’t keeping up with broken fixtures in your restrooms, your guests notice. Honestly, we don’t want ANY casino guest to experience these things. This means that every employee needs to understand the basic principles of Player Development in order to keep the guests raving about your property.

These principles include using a guest’s name, responding quickly and professionally to guest requests, and anticipating guests’ needs (and meeting them). These are all things that PD pros do every day. Happily, they are things every casino employee can do, too! These simple measures help to solidify the loyalty of the guests who frequent your property, and they give new or undecided guests a reason to come back.

Even if front-line employees don’t fully understand the Player Development function, they can learn to do the things inherent in building player relationships to make your property more profitable. By keeping your guests top of mind, all your associates can facilitate keeping your property top of mind with those guests. In general, building relationships with patrons who help to keep your doors open is a function of player development that applies to every guest and every employee with whom they come into contact, either directly or indirectly. Helping your associates understand this is the first step in creating a PD mindset that will differentiate your customer service from that of your competitors.  And that, folks, is a good mindset to have throughout your operation.

What Kind of Culture is Best for Casino Hosts?

It takes a special kind of “people person” to be a good Casino Host.  The backgrounds of today’s hosts are quite varied, but the thing they all have in common is that they are delighted to be in the company of others.  A host has the ability to make each of his players feel as though they are the most important person in the world.  Hosts can make “no” sound like “I’d really like to…”  And they need a particular kind of environment in order to thrive and do their best work.

Like employees in any sort of job, hosts expect to be compensated for the work they do.  Hosts should be paid a salary commensurate with carrying a company phone that is likely to ring at all hours of the day and night.  Casino hosts have to cater to some very demanding guests, but because the guests are worth it, most hosts pride themselves on satisfying those “difficult” players.  But again, just like any other employee, hosts require more than just a paycheck in order to do the job to the best of their ability.

Think about the primary tool in a Casino Host’s toolkit: the relationship.  It is more powerful than a comp, brings players to the casino more reliably than the direct mail program, and trumps new or updated competitors in the long run as long as it’s been properly built.  Interestingly, a strong relationship with a team leader should be part of a host’s compensation.

The relationship a Casino Host has with his or her team leader will, in many cases, directly affect the host’s level of engagement with his or her assigned players.  In a recent blog post on Harvard Business Review, the author suggests that engaged employees feel “loved,” and that the more “love” an employee feels drives a higher level of engagement in the job.  The post clarifies that the love in question is “companionate love,” derived from a feeling of connection and warmth in the employer/employee relationship.

“You mean we have to hold hands and sing Kum By Yah in a circle at our host meetings?”  As entertaining as that might be to watch (contact me before you do this; I want to have you record it and send me the video file!), what I am proposing goes deeper.  I am suggesting that team leaders invest some emotional capital in the hosts to help them flourish.

Any good Player Development professional will confirm that the relationships hosts (or any casino associate, for that matter) build with the property’s players build loyalty and help a casino hold on to their share of the gamer’s wallet.  Strong host/player relationships can prevent a player from defecting to a competitor over a disappointment or other negative experience.  Doesn’t it stand to reason then, that the relationship between an employee and his or her team leader would have a commensurate effect on the employee’s performance and direct engagement with the job?

Here are some ways to build that companionate love without crossing the necessary boundaries of a workplace relationship.  Spend some time with the members of your team during the workday.  Learn about them: family ties, personal motivators, challenges and frustrations, hobbies and interests, background experience, and growth aspirations.  Share some of your own workplace experiences with the members of your team so they see you more as a fallible person instead of just as a “boss.”   Ask them for feedback on your leadership style.  Demonstrate their importance to the property’s success and implement their ideas whenever you can.  Lavishly praise their accomplishments and provide candid and fair assessments of their performance when improvement is needed.  Observe their performance first hand and discuss your observations.  Talk WITH them and not just TO them, just like you should with your guests.  Generate a dialogue.  Build strong working relationships to ensure they each feel a connection with you.

Not the warm and fuzzy type?  Don’t fake it.  They’ll know.  Just be genuine.  Step outside your comfort zone for them.  Make the effort.  It will make a difference.

How will you know it’s working?  When the members of your team feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns and speak freely, you’ve arrived.  If someone isn’t doing the best job possible, and you approach them to discuss it, defensiveness melts away during the conversation.  If it’s real, you’ll both know.  And your team will thrive.

By all means, share your own experiences with us.  Tell us what you’ve done that worked or what you’ll do to build that kind of relationship with your team.

7 Keys to Evaluating a Casino Host’s Performance

As the end of the year approaches, it is time to reflect on the year past…and for many of us, it is time to begin writing evaluations. It does not have to be a daunting prospect. Two things need to be addressed, however, before we get started.

  1. Use concrete examples whenever possible to back up what you write in the evaluation.  Even if you don’t include them in the document, make note of the examples and use them when you discuss the evaluation with the host. Anecdotes help you make a point in a clear and concise manner.
  2. Nothing in the evaluation should be a surprise to the host. If you’re going to drop a bombshell on someone, this is not the right time. Be honest, but don’t be brutal.

Use the following 7 areas of performance to evaluate whether your hosts are doing well or not, and use the evaluation process as a starting point for coaching to improve the performance of those hosts who are not meeting your expectations. Rate each host in every attribute and make notes to back up each rating.

Accountability: A host who is accountable is one who takes ownership of his role and understands how it contributes to the property’s success. The accountable host handles his responsibilities and knows where he stands in terms of his performance. What negatives should you look for? “Lost” reservations, difficulty locating the host while on shift, guests who say calls were never returned, incomplete tasks, and similar dropped balls.

Contribution: An individual makes a contribution to a team by providing candid and constructive feedback to team leaders and co-workers in the spirit of continuous improvement. Did your players like the ice cream social party you had? If not, what should you have done instead? A host who is contributing to the team’s success would have shared with you what her players said about it. She also might have told you about the shortcut she found in your player tracking system and she may even have suggested coming in an hour early tomorrow to show the ambassadors how to set up for tournament registration.

Collaboration: Hosts need collaboration to be successful. From getting timely hotel reservations to setting up birthday celebrations, hosts need to establish and nurture working relationships across the enterprise to effectively meet both guest needs and property objectives. Leveraging relationships with dealers, slot attendants, steakhouse servers, reservations agents and valet attendants enables a host to provide the absolute best experience for their players. Ask the host who her go-to person is in each department on property to understand how collaborative she is.

Communication: It is of vital importance that hosts understand what needs to be shared with whom, and in what venue. Ensuring that the flow of information follows established guidelines to protect private and proprietary data is one of the most critical security concerns hosts have. Beware the over-sharer or, alternatively, the host who rarely has anything to add to a conversation.

Results: A results-oriented host is one who achieves individual and team goals the majority of the time and focuses on results instead of efforts. Here, you’re looking for a performer who can tell you whether or not he is on pace to reach a goal, how much theo his players drive on a typical Wednesday, and what he is doing to surpass his goal. A host who is not results-oriented will tell you how many people he was unable to reach when he was making calls and often offers up excuses instead of plans when he is off pace.

HostGoals

Guest Service: This seems like a no-brainer, but it needs to be addressed because of its importance to Player Development. When in front of a guest, the host should be able to focus on that guest as though he or she is the only person in the world regardless of what is going on around them. A host should always follow up on guest requests in a timely manner and should provide the same level of courtesy to his collaborators around the property. Think of more than one anecdote to back up your score in this area, because there is always room for improving one’s guest service.

Strengths and Areas for Growth: To demonstrate your understanding of each host as an individual contributor to the department, include a short list of that host’s strengths as well as areas in which there is a need for improvement. Think of it sort of like a lawyer’s closing argument. Present to the host a quick but comprehensive picture of your view to his overall performance. Doing this establishes that you have been paying attention to the host’s work and that you know him.

Now that you’ve written some scores and anecdotes for each of the attributes, set aside the evaluation. Review it in a couple of days and make any adjustments you deem necessary, then complete the review process according to your property’s practices. Keep in mind that you should be setting the example for your team, so you may want to evaluate your own performance using the same 7 attributes.  Happy evaluating!