A few weeks ago, USA based casino marketing specialists, Raving Consultants posted what they termed a “provocative thought” about gaming in one of their newsletters.
It highlighted the increasing reliance, and the considerable investment in, sophisticated data capture and analysis procedures, at what appears to be the expense of face to face dialogue with customers. It resulted in a huge response from the gaming industry. The answers are thought provoking and all relevant to the local market.
Below i the original quote, with some of the responses, both for and against, following.
“Casino owners, operators and managers no longer have the ability to understand players and staff so they retreat into research, reports and meetings. They hire MBAs who went to school with folks that graduated to market for Fortune 500 companies. It’s hard to tell their buddies who are creating complicated algorithms and sophisticated online campaigns that the way to create revenue for their [casino] employer is to talk to little old ladies sitting in front of slot machines, so the rest of the staff can see what really matters. Money comes from the pockets of players. Nothing more needs to be analysed.”
“Amen. I recently took over a property, and using good old-fashioned guest interactions, we have seen an increase in gaming revenue of 9% in just 6 months. While it takes really smart people to run these businesses, it’s not as complicated as some would want you to believe. Simply, find out what the players want and within reason, give it to them.” – Barry Phillips, General Manager, The Reserve Casino Hotel
“My reaction, ‘So Damn True’. Being in the gaming business in Oklahoma for the last 30 years has been quite a ride, but I can without a doubt tell that the operators that pay attention to customers and give the players a fair return of entertainment for their dollars have a tremendous chance of greater success over the operators that spend time trying to squeeze the life out of their players. Customer service and creating the right environment for entertainment creates loyal customers.” – Phil Bowden, Integrity Gaming Inc.
“Agreed. I walk the floor 5-8 times daily. It is amazing what you can learn from customers and employees alike. We have a marketing direct mail program called ‘Ed’s Cash in the Mail’ with my photo on it. Customers thank me personally daily, like the free play came from my own pocket. Talking to customers and employees alike goes a long way towards loyalty.” – Edward Gilbert, General Manager, Feather Falls Casino & Lodge
“Take it from someone who knows. Acknowledging, recognizing, appreciating and thanking your players (and employees too) as often as you can really works. This is the most powerful marketing tool any owner, operator or manager can individually employ with very direct and positive results to top line growth. Affect someone positively and then develop a relationship. Believe me, it works.” – Randy Takemoto, General Manager, Cache Creek Casino Resort
“With all of the analytics available from today’s slot and marketing systems we come to rely on the data of patterns and theoretical and lose sight of the power of interaction as stated. Money comes from the pockets of players and loyalty comes from the interaction with these players. We always remind our staff of the theme song from Cheers, ‘You wanna go where everyone knows your name and they’re always glad you came.’ We have been voted Denver’s Best Casino for five years in a row primarily because of our personal player relationships.” – Mickey Rosenbaum, General Manager, Century Casino-Central City
“I totally agree. Analytics certainly have value, but the casino business is, and always has been, about people. And frankly, too often and for too long, the only people that have been taken into consideration are the high rollers. Remember, Las Vegas (and the rest of Nevada) was built on nickel and quarter players.” – Wyval Rosamilia, Indian Head Casino
“As always, I like your newsletter, and duh, this makes sense in any industry. The trick is getting the money out of their pocket and into your pocket, in the most fun and enjoyable way. Can an algorithm identify what someone considers fun and enjoyable? I’m not sure. What I am sure about is that the people always teach us the business, and the only way to learn the business is to talk to the people who are buying our service or product. And that’s my perspective after almost 40 years of talking to the people. (Steve and I really can’t be that old). Keep the good advice coming.” – Pat Mione, President, The Apical Meristem Co.
“I’ll take a room full of executive hosts, casino hosts and GSRs over algorithms any day. To attract new guests, I can see the sophisticated campaigns for new awareness and new sign-ups. But on the floor, relationships with your guest will get you the farthest.” – Ryan Stewart, Marketing Manager, SouthWind Kaw Nation Casino
“The amazing, contemporary spin that’s reshaping player development practices is indeed daunting to me, most of the time. I’m with you on this one. Granted, we’re collectively fixated on crafting that uncanny promotion to harness millennial dollars, while trying to maintain core players and boomers who preserve our bottom line. Generation X’ers, at present, represent the largest chunk of preservation power. I am one of them, and I say, ‘Give me World-Class Customer Service with a sprinkling of bulk mail and text messaging and I’ll continue to ‘spin to win’.” – Val Goodson, High Stakes Bingo Vet
“As a gamer in Las Vegas, it has become clear in the local market leader locations that algorithms for the slot machines have been adjusted so your gambling budget no longer generates the ‘play time’ it used to or the average number of points it did for your “rewards” with the loyalty programs. ‘Money comes from the pockets of players’, and players will adjust their spending habits based upon their play experience. Your casino owners, operators and managers should be talking directly with players on premise, but believe me, the front line staff knows how the players feel because they’re on the floor and interacting with customers. They are another great ‘research’ resource.” – Alice Ronconi
“Yes, it is true. I am surrounded by analysts and number-crunchers, and they are out of touch with the gaming experience. They never go up on the floor and talk to patrons.” – Anonymous, East Coast Casino
“I agree whole heartedly with this quote. I ask myself at least once a day why I am killing myself to get an Accounting degree at the age of 46, when not one class has taught me how to interact with people on a basic level. The best part of my day is spent sitting with Team Members hearing about their family lives and interests, and listening to guests that just want someone to care that they won a few bucks. People skills … you either have them or you don’t!” – Angela Shefveland, Gaming Operations Manager, Treasure Island Resort & Casino
“I most heartily agree! This is a simple business, but all of the moving parts can make it complicated for some, or worse, we make it complicated by asking the wrong questions, searching for the wrong answers. The casino business is a lot like baseball. There is a cornucopia of information and statistics that it is easy to get lost and not concentrate on what is important. In baseball there are 3 things you need to do to be successful: 1) throw the ball 2) hit the ball 3) catch the ball. In the casino business there are also 3 simple things to do: 1) ask the guest what they want 2) give it to them consistently 3) repeat 1 & 2.” – Conrad Granito, General Manager, Muckleshoot Casino
“The author of the quote needs to watch the movie ‘Moneyball,’ … and if he or she has already seen it, I recommend seeing it again.” – Sara Hart, InfoSearch International
“Ours is a business of numbers and statistics. Measured behaviours. Measured outcomes. ROI. Dr. Ralph Thomas once told me ‘I don’t care what the customers are saying. The sole measurement of customer behaviour is how they open their wallet.’ Or as Dr. Greg House from the TV show ‘House’ always said: ‘It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what.’ And it is true. In my experience, customers often have told me one thing that is skewed to their benefit or perceived benefit, but the data shows something else. They tell me they are mad because we have cut back on free play, but revenues per guest are up. They have ‘talked to a lot of other customers and they aren’t coming anymore’ yet revenues are higher than previous years. They say ‘you are sending me too many mail offers, I can’t go to all of them. I don’t like that.’ Yet, after test and control, we see that the more we mail the higher incremental play is. So there you have it. Can’t help myself. I’m jaded, I’m a nerd, I know. I still love Betty. She is my brand ambassador. But if I have to make a million dollar decision, I am going to the analytics, not canvassing the floor. Like in the movie ‘Moneyball’. We still have subjective decision-making going on, when data and science can cut through all of the biases and egos and ‘instinct’. But I will be silent now and let Peter Brand speak for me: Money Ball Video Clip” – Michael Broderick, Director of Marketing, Soboba Casino
“If ‘little old ladies’ were the only customers in your building, I would agree…. but I haven’t ever been in a building with a single stratum of customers. Although this is a key activity, it is far short of understanding your customers’ wants and needs. I agree that we often find ‘paralysis by analysis’, but this technique is also too extreme and simplistic. My two cents….” – John Glassy, Equinox Entertainment LLC
ON THE FENCE
“That person in my opinion is 50% right. There needs to be a hybrid of art and science. 50% analytics and 50% knowing your customer. I agree that we might be going too far into the analytics side of things. You use the analytics like an additional tool in your tool belt.” – Anonymous, Las Vegas
“It is my humble belief we use our data & analytics to help guide our programming, validate our gut checks, and learn from the results. However, we should always strive to give our guests what they C.R.A.V.E. (Comfort, Recognition, Appreciation, Value and Enthusiasm). Give a guest 2 minutes, or 20 seconds, of genuine and sincere service, and you will create a memorable moment. Memorable moments create loyalty.” – Michael Ka’ahanui, Director of Player Services, Muckleshoot Casino
“Taking the time! That’s at the heart of what the quote is getting at … in my opinion anyway. I definitely feel the pressure to be on the floor more, and I see it from others too. I often hear from guests or team members something along the lines of, ‘Hey! I haven’t seen you in forever! Where have you been?’ And too often my reply is, ‘I’ve been in my office…’ It always hits me in the gut. Here are two solutions (one I use, and one I’m planning to implement):
•The Rule of 52 and 17 – I set a timer in my Chrome browser by typing into the search bar “set timer for 52 minutes” – when it rings, I stop what I’m doing and I get up to walk the floor for a minimum of 17 minutes, every 52 minutes. I love it.
•‘Office Hours’ – taking an idea from one of your articles, I am going to put a desk on the floor with ‘office hours’ – I will dedicate a few hours of certain days of the week for guests to schedule a visit with me or just stop by and say hi…
“I love the analytical and project building side of being in the office too – like everything else; it is a struggle to find a balance. I’ve been using the 52/17 for 7 months and find it does help with productivity, but more importantly it gets me moving.” – Sam Wedll, Marketing Manager, Blue Lake Casino Hotel
“Both are relevant: talking to players and crunching the data. When you have 100,000 different customers a year/a month, you can’t talk to a great portion of them. There are also customers who don’t want to talk. Even if you don’t take into account younger people who share their thoughts on social apps. On the other hand, one shouldn’t neglect human intelligence, which is still far superior to AI. Talking to customers and getting their point is crucial. For high-tier players you probably don’t need BI, you can handle smaller numbers by your staff. So I find the right formula in combining both methods.” – Sandi Saksida, HIT Casinos, Slovenia
“The first question a casino owner should be asking his managers to find out is, ‘why is she sitting there?’ Not the superficial reason, but the real reason. What are her likes, dislikes, habits, etc.? What time of day she prefers and why…? That ONLY comes from actually talking to her. What you do with that information is the same as it’s been forever in the casino business, or any other business for that matter. You ask your team ‘how can I find, and attract, more like her?’ The complicated algorithms and online campaigns are the new age tools that can and should be used to sift through the myriad of big data that is out there in order to find and attract the demographic and psychographic match of that little old lady. In short, reports, analytics and complex algorithms are great, but you have to know what you’re digging for first, and that only come from good old human interaction.” – Rob Gallo, Peak Gaming Group
“Interesting. I’m not sure yet how I feel about this — I’m on the fence. I believe that it may very well be true of the really large gaming companies and probably true of the large gaming systems. So much data…too much data? More than any organisation can ever process and actually use? Perhaps. For the smaller gaming companies who do not have the staff, processes, and systems in place to analyse what we think we want to, we have no choice than to rely on relationships. I do believe it is possible that a company (in any industry) that reaches a level of great success can easily forget where they came from. On the other hand, they are a great success for a reason, right? Still on the fence…” – Pam Shaw, COO, Kaw Nation Southwind Casinos
“There’s a place for both the handshaking and the analysis, but there is no doubt in my mind that the number crunchers are killing the casinos. The casinos have become just like any other business/industry. Short-term profit is the mindset, rather than providing a consistently great entertainment experience that results in more loyalty and long term profitability.” – Anonymous, Southern Casino
“That’s true of some, but not all. Like in many cases, a blended approach is best. We need both the ability to understand and relate to the players, and the ability to understand and influence the numbers. Thanks for the insights and sharing of your vast experience and exposure.” – Anonymous, Southern Casino
So there you have it … roughly two dozen responses, representing the blurred dichotomy between the effectiveness of data analysis and personal touch.
We’d be interested in what you think and invite you to share your thoughts.