Creating Customer Loyalty in the Gaming Industry

By: Gary Galonek

Resort casinos and racinos are growing in popularity as many states consider the revenue-generating potential that gaming can provide and as more federally-recognized Native American tribes pursue gaming opportunities. Besides gambling, resort casinos offer luxury facilities and amenities, world-class entertainment, fine dining, kids activities, and other types of activities such as concerts and golf. With popularity comes competition. Casinos are vying for customer loyalty, trying to increase player traffic and get loyal customers to play more. Creating a memorable, positive gaming experience, in part through exceptional customer service, is a major factor in determining which casino will stand out from the competition. In an effort to create and maintain that positive experience, casinos, more and more, are making a commitment to guest services and employees through the use of incentive program solutions. These solutions help increase customer loyalty, generate casino traffic, increase player frequency, and reduce employee turnover.

Building Customer Relationships

Customers have many options when it comes to the gaming industry. And like other entertainment venues, such as movie theaters, stadiums, and concert halls, customers take into account their overall experience when comparison shopping.

In his article, “On Beyond Loyalty Programs,” Richard Cross states that the “Key to success is identifying the service and product elements that really make a difference to each customer. These might start with a traditional reward structure, but might also include customized products, retail store amenities, personalized communications, expanded channel choices, and the like.” With the bottom line directly tied into player traffic and frequency, casinos need to establish relationships with existing and potential customers to discover what they expect and demand from their gaming experience. The best incentive solutions are formed from this type of personal understanding.

Dynamic web-based incentive solutions offer database and list building opportunities, instant communication and detailed reporting. An online rewards program with built-in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) elements used to garner information and aid database construction is far more powerful than the traditional offline-only program of the past. When used properly, incentive programs can dramatically bolster customer loyalty. The key is to use the customer insight that is gathered and adjust the reward program to exceed the customer’s expectations, anticipate needs, and most importantly, reinforce desired behavior. Today’s most effective loyalty programs offer more than just points, they offer an enhanced, highly personalized experience and service driven by data collected about your customers.

Once a casino knows what will motivate and reward their customers, they have many incentive solution options. All Star Incentive Marketing’s gaming incentive solutions include an array of Loyalty Programs such as player rewards programs, monthly player gift programs, high roller gift programs, and special events. All Star’s Promotional Merchandise solutions are used as checkout gifts, card-swipe sweepstakes gifts, pillow gifts, etc. Finally, All Star’s Special Event solutions, such as high roller shopping events, holiday shopping events, themed events and employee shopping events, are used to build loyalty and traffic.

The advent of online solutions also makes it easier to measure customer experience and determine the return on incentive investment (ROI2)™. Online solutions gather the quantifiable results necessary to show the correlation between incentives and increased performance, illustrating a return on investment. Online programs can compliment on-premise reward stores with information on new reward choices, ability to create wish lists, product specials , and more. Online programs also cut down start-up and maintenance costs associated with offline incentive programs that require more administrative expenses. In addition to the benefits of faster deployment, online incentive programs allow for better communication integration and centralized management.

Employee Motivation for Positive Customer Experience

A company’s workforce drives productivity, maintains a company’s competitive status, and ensures that a company’s long-term goals are met. This is, of course, equally true for the gaming and entertainment industries. According to the “Gaming Business Directory,” by Casino City Press, gaming properties, that reported their number of employees, staff a total of over 575,000 people in the US. In southeastern Connecticut alone, two casinos located less than 10 miles apart employ in excess of 20,000 people. The sheer size of casino operations requires that they use the best practices available to motivate and reward their employees. Casino employees are the direct link to casino guest loyalty. Casino employees have difficult jobs, often on their feet for long hours, in a noisy, fast-paced environment, catering to demanding patrons. Maintaining optimistic work environments and morale is imperative in the gaming industry in order to reduce costly employee turnover and to assure positive customer service.

One of the most common reasons for low morale and job turnover is lack of appreciation. In fact, studies show that employees are more responsive when motivated by award-based recognition for a job well done than by monetary gifts. Recognition may come in many forms, everything from a trophy to public praise at a company meeting. The most successful employee reward and recognition programs combine a form of public acknowledgement with an award to show appreciation and reinforce a desired behavior. Effective performance improvement solutions, moreover, are results-driven and performance-based. Solutions that award for length of service, idea generation, safety practices, and team building motivate and reward employee performance and help establish and maintain a positive work environment as they improve relations and reduce turnover.

In “Casino Guests, Employees Both Win With Incentive Programs,” Martin R. Baird explains, “Incentive and recognition programs are behavior modification in its simplest form. You want your employees to behave in a certain way so that guests have a pleasant gaming experience and rewarding staff members for demonstrating that behavior will get the job done.” When creating a performance-based solution in the gaming industry, clearly defined performance parameters need to be set before starting, and maintained throughout the life of the program. Any deviation from these rules may result in broken trust, which is detrimental to employee morale. The first step is to decide the behaviors that will help lead to a more positive guest experience. These will be the behaviors you reward employees for performing. Next, there needs to be a concerted effort to educate your employees about the desired behaviors and recognition program through training.

The Casino Solution

Incentive programs are a very valuable solution for improving your property’s overall guest experence. According to a survey of industry insiders at the 2003 Global Gaming Expo, “When asked if the casino industry might follow the airlines’ lead in trying to create valuable, independent businesses by marketing other products to their frequent player customers,” 100% thought it was a “good idea.” For the past nine years, All Star has successfully run Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Wampum Rewards Mega Store — part of the largest ongoing player rewards program in the industry. All Star manages all of the awards available in Foxwoods exciting Wampum Rewards Mega Store and also handles targeted special merchandise events. In the casino-wide loyalty program, participants redeem points earned through gaming for merchandise, food, entertainment and services. All Star’s biggest challenges are to continually supply fresh, cutting-edge, merchandise appropriate to a demanding repeat audience and providing exceptional fulfillment and customer service. The onsite store is stocked with products that range from housewares to luxury items. All Star strategically rotates merchandise and introduces new products quarterly. The Wampum Rewards Mega Store, maintained by All Star, is the most successful retail establishment in the casino-wide loyalty program, redeeming more points for merchandise than any other store — more than 8,000,000 points annually.

All Star also successfully works with Resorts International in Atlantic City and Isle of Capri, headquartered in Biloxi, Mississippi. For Resorts, All Star oversaw the launch of, and maintains, the on-site rewards store — The Destination Shoppe. All Star supports The Destination Shoppe with a seasonal custom catalog with more than 40 brand-name featured awards. For Isle of Capri, All Star oversaw the launch of a new unified Isle Mile Players Club program at 11 Isle of Capri properties across the nation. The new program features a custom award website and catalog with more than 200 memorable, brand-name awards. The program, a significant upgrade from the previous, offline IsleMile Players Club program, is designed to build lasting player loyalty, and keep Isle of Capri casinos packed and profitable.

Gary Galonek is National Sales Manager, Gaming at All Star Incentive Marketing, a full-service Incentive House. For decades, All Star has been improving the development, implementation, and strategic management of customized incentive programs to enhance clients’ business performance by targeting client sales teams, employees, customers, and prospects. The success of All Star’s clients can be attributed to All Star’s "Proven Process" which takes clients from concept through reporting to ensure maximum return on incentive investment (ROI 2)™.