Ellis Communications, Inc.


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October 17, 2012

Protect Your Brand: A Tale of Three Casinos
by Martin R. Baird

Not long ago when gaming was booming globally, it wasn’t unusual for gaming companies to build properties within driving distance of one another, if not within the same market.  Those casinos are still with us, but they can pose a challenge related to branding.

More than ever, these casinos must provide consistently excellent customer service.  Their guests will expect it.  Here’s why.  If I eat at a chain restaurant in Los Angeles and then visit one of its sister restaurants in London, I will expect the quality of the food and service to be the same at both locations.  If the two restaurants are across town from each other or even a few blocks apart, my expectations will be even stronger.

Some casinos with multiple properties in the same market are failing this test and I know it from first-hand experience.  My wife and I once visited a number of casinos on a business trip.  Three of them were the same brand in the same city and I expected our experience as customers to be similar at all three.  I was more than disappointed.  I was traumatized at the differences among the properties.

Let’s take a look at this problem.  For simplicity’s sake, I’ll talk about casinos A, B and C.  Please note this is an egregious fabrication and any resemblance to real casinos is accidental – or not.

It’s very important to note that guests do not make a distinction among properties A, B or C.  If the brand is the same or similar at all three properties, these casinos are all the same to customers.  In a customer’s mind, this means that if one is great, they are all great.  The opposite is also true from the customer’s point of view.  If one is lousy, they all are and customers will tell more people about their gaming experience if it’s a poor one.

We started at property A.  We had noticed billboards advertising it and recognized the name.  As we approached the market area, we could see the casino and thought it would be a great place for us to start our visit.  As a matter of fact, we were excited to visit the property and its relatives in the area.

As we drove into the parking garage, we both commented that things looked a little rough.  The signage looked old and worn.  But that was only the parking area.  The casino would probably be great.  We couldn’t have been more wrong.  As we walked into the property, we noticed one thing over and over.  Dirt!  The carpet was dirty and looked awful.  You could see ashes on the carpet everywhere.  Even the windows were a mess.

We decided the property could just be having a bad day.  It happens.  Wrong again.  We walked onto the casino floor and right into a huge letdown.  The casino was dark, small and confusing.  Unfortunately, those were the good points.  The casino was so uninviting, we wanted to leave at that very moment. 

When we approached the player’s club to get our cards, the employee who greeted us was nice.  He smiled and even made a fun joke.  But when we asked for cords to attach to our cards, he told us we had to buy them in the gift shop.  I was stunned that this casino wouldn’t give away a simple cord.  I suppose if they can’t afford to hire cleaning people, they also can’t afford such a trifle giveaway.

We gave our visit one last shot.  We tried one of the restaurants just to see if that would lift our spirits.  The service in the restaurant wasn’t bad.  The people were nice.  I wouldn’t say friendly, but they were at least pleasant.  The food was OK but expensive for a sandwich and chips.

That was it.  We’d had enough and walked out as quickly as we could.   Casino executives need to pay close attention to my next comment.  Based on that one experience, if we were average consumers, we would never visit another casino with that brand. 

But by now, we were on a quest.  Casino B was next.  Would it be better or are all three that bad?

We entered Casino B and immediately noticed a difference.  It was clean, open and looked inviting.  It was a property that we would enjoy visiting again in many ways.  It was also a newer property and I understand designs for old and new properties are different.  But it’s just too easy for guests to generalize and decide that A and B are the same.  The company that owns these casinos better hope people go to property B first.

How could one casino be so terrible and the next one much better?  Now we simply had to go to casino C, the tie breaker.  Would it be the one that makes me encourage friends to visit brand X casinos?  Or would it be the final nail in a large casino coffin that should be buried deep?

Here’s the kicker.  Casino C was very nice!  It was clean and had a great energy.  I would want to tell people to visit and enjoy themselves.  But should I risk it?  What if they didn’t listen to exactly what I said and went to casino A?  What if they thought property A was my definition of a nice casino?  What if they went in and felt so dirty after 10 minutes they longed for a clean room where they could get sterilized?

It’s critical to remember that your company is only as good as its reputation.  You are only as good as the word that circulates about you on the street.  And if you have more than one property in the same local market, you simply must pay attention to what’s going on.  I know that people talk about casino A in the city we visited.  Our experience was not a one-time event.  That property has serious needs and everyone in the area knows it.

I can hear the typical excuses from the executive team when something like that happens.  “You can’t get good workers here.” “We have a union.” “We don’t have a union.”  “We don’t have any money.”  Customers don’t care about those excuses.

When a company spends hundreds of millions dollars on a property and it has other properties in the area that are not up to par, it doesn’t matter how great the new one is.  People will still talk about casino A.

If you want to have a successful brand, you need to make sure your quality, guest service and cleanliness are great at all your properties, not just the newest one.  Protect your brand.  Protect your future.

Martin R. Baird is chief executive officer of Robinson & Associates, Inc., a Boise, Idaho-based consulting firm to the global gaming industry that is dedicated to helping casinos improve their guest service so they can compete and generate future growth and profitability.  Robinson & Associates is the world leader in casino guest experience measurement, management and improvement.  For more information, visit the company’s Web sites at www.casinocustomerservice.com and www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com or contact the company at 208-991-2037.  Robinson & Associates is a member of the Casino Management Association and an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association.

Lydia Baird

Tom Ellis