O'Brien: Should I really need a wrench?

Over the holidays, I had to get a wrench out of my garage to open a 2-liter bottle of root beer. Seriously, first I tried turning the cap by hand, then with one of those rubber circles you hang on your refrigerator, and even using a mechanical jar opener. Nothing would budge the top of that soda bottle. The wrench, which in my mind was really overkill, finally worked. And it got me thinking. … what do casinos make much more difficult for their guests than is necessary? What hoops do we force our customers to jump through on their way to an entertainment experience, when we could make it so much easier for them to enjoy themselves? Read on for. …

Ten improvements you could make now to enhance your guest experience:

Grrr: Slot seats glued to the floor. In this modern age of slot seating, why do casinos still use those seats that are attached to the floor? And why are mobile seats frequently too high or too low for the level of the machine? When a casino switches from a slant-top device to an upright, it is rare that the same seat will work for both. Tall or short, gorilla arms or stubby appendages, a guest that cannot comfortably reach the slot machine will NOT stay seated for very long. And isn’t extended time on device exactly what both the guest and the property want?

Ahhh: Invest in reasonable slot seating if you want to get your customers playing longer. No matter what the market, a majority of your guests are over 50 and starting (or continuing) to deal with nasty and aggravating aging symptoms. Don’t torture them; be nice to them. I’m sure the guys at Gary Platt would be happy to help you.

Grrr: Standing around at the valet pick-up area. What’s up with that? Very few casinos have seating for customers who are waiting for their cars. Now think about it: About 75 percent of these people have just lost money at your property. They came hoping to win but most likely, they didn’t. And now, they have to wait 5 or 10 or 20 minutes for a valet to bring their car so they can get the heck out of there. And stand. … in the cold (or heat). … shuffling from one foot to the other until their car comes around. And THAT’S the last experience they have. Wouldn’t you rather they leave remembering the BEST things about their visit?

Ahhh: Get some benches (if you’re in a cold climate, not stone or metal, please). Have some heaters in the winter that work. A little music adds to the ambiance. And hustle up the process; don’t make your guests hunt around for the valet.

Grrr: Hotel room computer outlets that are 10 feet from the desk or under it. It’s understandable that you don’t want players hanging out in your rooms, messing with the Internet. But if they have something to do, why not make it easy for them to get it done and move on to your gaming floor? I’ve been in casino hotels where there’s no wireless access, the desk is on one side of the room and computer cords don’t stretch far enough to reach the nearest outlet. Or, more often, the outlets are under the desk. Expecting your guests to crawl down there?

Ahhh: Use desk lamps with outlets built in or spend the few bucks and get your electrician to install outlets where guests can reach them. Groveling on the floor is not the convenient experience your guests appreciate.

Grrr: Multiple stops to redeem an offer. You send your players a direct mail coupon via flyer, postcard, letter or e-mail. They must have that coupon validated at the players club. Then they have to take it to the cage for redemption. Or, you send them a dining voucher which has to be validated at the club, a coupon printed at a kiosk, signed by a supervisor, redeemed at the restaurant. Stop the madness! Technology has come a long way, baby.

Ahhh: For those jurisdictions that allow kiosks, tremendous progress has been made that enables patrons to access one-stop redemption. And, with a little cooperation between your player tracking, your food and beverage and your hotel systems, it’s possible for your guests to truly swipe and enjoy.

Grrr: The 500-pound door. This year I found myself challenged with a temporary handicap that required my using a wheelchair and a walker for several months. Still visiting casinos for work and recreation, I discovered a variety of difficulties that proved many properties aren’t prepared for their physically challenged guests (again, think about your demographic and all the baby-boomers who will deal with this issue over the next 10 – 20 years). Like the heavy doors at property entrances and hotel rooms. You try juggling a wheelchair or walker and getting through those doors or using the electronic handicapped buttons that are behind those doors. I don’t even think The Flash could handle it!

Ahhh: Try your own doors. If you have trouble opening them, how do you think your guests feel? Better mechanisms, accessible handles, balanced hinges can all make getting inside your casino easier for the people who really do want to spend their money with you.

Grrr: No floor designation in the parking garage elevator. Lots of properties have covered garages that rise above ground and also go below ground. If you park on the fourth floor and get in the elevator, how do you know what floor the casino is on? You’d think there would be clear signs, wouldn’t you? Remember, not everybody who visits your property is a local and/or frequent visitor. If a focus on acquisition of new players is important to you (and it should be critical), check out all the access points at your property and make sure signage is clear.

Ahhh: Your customers always know where to go, how to get there, and never feel confused when they are traveling in an elevator.

Grrr: The eternal buffet line. Some properties have VIP lines that expedite the experience for their best players. But what about everyone else? Think about how much money the casino is losing when gamblers are stuck in long lines instead of sitting at slot machines or gaming tables. And, it’s so boring.

Ahhh: Here are some solutions I’ve seen in the field: Beepers, just like they use in nice restaurants (they buzz and light up when your table is ready). Timed cards, like the Fast Pass line at Disney (they tell you when to come back within the hour and you get right in). Videos visible from the buffet line (no, not all sales). A staff member, carrying a basket full of goodies, that she shares with the waiting guests while she greets them and chats with them.

Grrr: Fifteen-minute players club line when you just need a replacement card. If asked what the most frequent use of the players club booth is, most casinos will tell you that it’s providing cards for guest who have lost them, left them in a machine, or forgot them at home. The transaction takes about 15 seconds (check ID, access account, print card), but the line is shared with people redeeming points, redeeming coupons, joining the club, asking questions, complaining. Arrg! This is a loyalty club for players and the most important thing to your bottom line is getting them back in action. Fix this!

Ahhh: Recent technology enables guests to get a replacement card at the same kiosks that they can redeem their own points and offers. Cards could be replaced by staff members at the machines. Use a less busy point of sale and offer this amenity (perhaps at your gift shop).

Grrr: No transportation from an unattached hotel. Congratulations, you get your players to buy into the overnight guest concept. You’ve succeeded in driving extra play time from them versus a day trip. And now, you leave them stranded at your hotel. I visited a property recently (in a place with frequently questionable weather) where the path from hotel to casino meant walking across a “covered” walkway (think wind and rain), along the side of a building, through the dark, underground garage, and up an elevator to the casino floor. And while there was an accessible shuttle from the casino to the hotel, it was not easily accessed from the hotel. WHAT?

Ahhh: Get your players into your casino! Golf carts, open shuttles, buses, cars, horse and buggy. … just make it easy, have friendly drivers, and make sure customers know it’s available. Cypress Bayou Casino in Louisiana even has an indoor shuttle service to help guests traverse the very long walkway between the two sections of their property.

Grrr: My machine was here yesterday. … where did it go? A good slot director knows the favorite machines on his gaming floor. The most popular ones that locals love to play; players tend to be very loyal to and “entitled” when it comes to their favorite machines. So why do we move them around the gaming floor with no clues left behind? (Think Hansel and Gretel when they lost their breadcrumbs, and look what happened to them!) Don’t leave your most dedicated players in the lurch.

Ahhh: A sign pointing out the new location of older, popular machines; a kiosk that offers a slot map enabling guests to find their machines and tables of choice; educated employees who can direct players. With current database technology, you can even send direct mail to a customer advising them where their favorite game has been relocated.

The minimum expectation of a casino customer is to have a good time and receive good service. Remove the hoops. Take down the barriers. It’s a New Year and a new decade. Don’t make your guests bring a wrench to access the fun that is your gaming experience!

Note: If this column inspired some “wrenching” peeves of your own, feel free to e-mail them to me at Toby@ravingconsulting.com and I’ll share them in a future column. But remember, if you send a complaint, you HAVE TO send a solution!

Toby O’Brien, vice president of marketing and client services since 2001 for Raving Consulting Company, provides marketing expertise, mentoring and training to Native American, commercial and government casinos. O’Brien helps gaming organizations develop and implement customer-focused, strategic marketing plans aimed at driving revenue and creating an outstanding entertainment experience.