Every now and then, while doing something completely mundane, an idea hits me like a bolt out of the blue. That happened recently while I was watching an episode of “Restaurant Impossible” on the Food Channel.
As I watched a team of experts try to revive a struggling restaurant, the thought came through loud and clear – casinos serious about improving their customer service to survive this nasty global economic slowdown should bring in a small group of experts to give it a once-over and make recommendations. All they have to do is ask for help.
How does this work? On “Restaurant Impossible,” struggling restaurants ask chef Robert Irvine to rescue them. He assembles and oversees a team of professionals in all aspects of running a restaurant. They have $10,000 and 48 hours to fix the restaurant’s problems. Everything is explored, from the decor to the menu to food preparation. The restaurant closes for the two-day period and then reopens. In addition to the makeover, the restaurant gets amazing national television exposure. All of this doesn’t cost the restaurant a dime.
Inc. magazine does something similar for struggling small businesses. It’s called “Case Study.” Business owners interested in breathing new life into their enterprise are reviewed by a panel of small business experts. The experts write up their recommendations. Then the magazine publishes a profile on the business, along with the experts’ suggestions. Talk about major media placement! Again, the advice and exposure don’t cost the business anything.
These are just two high-profile examples of how this process works. Now, I’m not suggesting that casinos tell the world about their problems through the media. What I am suggesting is they might want to give serious thought to asking for help. There’s no shame in that. What’s wrong with bringing in a small group of experts on different aspects of casino customer service and letting them take an unbiased look at your operations? What’s wrong with having them draft suggestions and then having a sit-down to go over them? The answer to both questions is a resounding “absolutely nothing!"
There are two ways to go about this: paying for the advice or getting it for free. Casinos could pay a group of sharp people to come in and do a tough, fast review. It would need to happen in a timely manner to keep costs down. And, frankly, if they’re being paid, the experts should feel a responsibility to do the best they can.
But there could be other resources right in the casino’s community and they might be free (or inexpensive) and just as valuable. What about joining the local chamber of commerce and tapping its resources? Yes, you pay dues but the chamber’s sole mission is to help businesses succeed. And if you succeed, the chamber succeeds. In other words, the chamber has a stake in the process.
What about university professors? Might they jump at the opportunity to do some work in the business world? They could recruit top students to help and that creates a learning experience for potential future employees for your casino. Community colleges might be another source of help. Small casinos might want to approach the U.S. Small Business Administration.
You get the idea. One way or another, help can be found.
No matter how wonderful a casino’s guest service may be, it can always be better. Employees get set in their ways and it can be very difficult to change their habits. And good service habits lead to an excellent gaming experience that keeps guests coming back.
And now some final thoughts. From my point of view, casinos need to take a look at their employee orientation, actual customer service in practice on the floor and the reward system they use to encourage employees to do a better job.
Does your employee orientation get new hires charged up or does it make them want to make a mad dash for the parking lot? Often, orientation scares the heck out of people. Gaming is heavily regulated and there seem to be endless ways to mess up. Don’t lay out how easy it is to get fired. Instead, give employees a realistic overview of the casino and clearly explain what management expects of them. In other words, set them up to succeed.
I can hear it now – you know all about your customer service and don’t need help in that area. But what is the source of your information on the quality of your service? If the general manager strolls the floor and sees happy employees having fun with guests, then service must be great. But what happens on the floor when the GM isn’t hanging out? You need a complete review of your service that includes input from management, employees and customers. You likely will need additional help to get customer feedback. For example, mystery shoppers might be in order.
Finally, there’s the matter of rewarding employees for a job well done. This is also known as positive reinforcement.
You don’t need a doctorate in psychology to understand that people respond to praise. In fact, research shows that praise ranks higher than money as a motivator. If you have a formal reward and recognition program, you need someone to take a hard look at it. Trust me, many casinos get it wrong and that’s worse than having no program at all. Have an expert take a look and make suggestions.
Martin R. Baird is chief executive officer of Robinson & Associates, Inc., a Boise, Idaho-based consulting firm to the global gaming industry. For more information, visit the company’s Web sites at http://casinocustomerservice.com and www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com.
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