A few decades ago when I last had a “real job,” our executive team was sitting around the executive table making executive talk (and occasionally making an executive decision) and trying to justify our executive salaries. A fancy, well-heeled casino competitor had entered our market and our previously very successful casino was struggling to stay even somewhat successful.
We muckety-mucks were brainstorming to come up with some difference-making profitable ideas. Getting frustrated by the discussion and the emptiness of the ideas, I blurted out, “You know what we should do? Right now, we should all go down to the casino floor with our fancy clothes and fancy titles and ask each of our customers what we could do right now to make their experience with us better. And then we should do it. Right then. I’ll bet that would make a difference.”
Fortunately, our general manager was an out-of-the-box kind of guy who occasionally liked one of my blurts. So we did it. We went, split up and mostly in the casino, but a few of us went to the front desk and buffet, two busy areas. We all had the same script: “Hi, I’m so and so, the VP of this or director of that. Thanks for being with us today. I just want to know if there is anything I could do for you right now that would make your experience with us better. Anything at all.”
The results from these executive “one-on-one focus groups” were interesting. Most guests were blown away that a senior executive had stopped to talk with them and offer their assistance.
“No thanks,” most of them said., “Everything is just fine, but thanks for asking.” I figured most of them were lying, or didn’t want to bother a busy executive, or didn’t want to get distracted from what they were doing.
The comments from customers who did offer an “actionable item” for us muckety-mucks were instructive. A few were easy fixits, like, “I can’t check in until 4 pm” or “My pillow in the room is too fluffy” or “The air conditioner is too loud.” Several said, “Yeah, could you get me a drink?” Which we immediately did, inadvertently upsetting our union cocktail servers (though they were okay about it when we gave them any tips we were given). And the number-one thing we heard from our customers when questioned by our executive survey takers was, “Let me win.” Several of us did the moonwalk on that one.
Thinking about that past experiment with our customers decades ago got me thinking about what might happen if we asked that same question today and our guests really told us what we could do for them. So that led me to Dennis’ Top 10 Things That Casino Guests Hate. Rather than share a lot of really irritating “little things” (like sticky slot buttons, bill validators being out of service, or exit doors you must PULL to exit), I thought I’d share broader categories that have multiple irritants. These come from what I’ve heard, seen, and read over 45 years in this industry. Feel free to share any of your own categories of what casino guests hate.
Dennis’ Top 10 things that casino guests hate
10. Parking— Oh, such a simple thing. Give casino guests a safe convenient place to park their cars. But guests hate having to park hundreds and hundreds of yards from the casino (shuttles may help, but only a little). They hate the close parking spots taken by casino executives. They hate parking garages that have tight squeezes, confusing signs (especially EXIT signs, when they want to get the hell out after losing!), no covered walkways (and exposure to heat, cold, rain, and snow), and poor lighting. And the things hated by guests about valet parking are no less irritating: irregular hours, short staffing, long waits to retrieve cars, radio channels changed, having to pay for valet parking, and sometimes, not even having valet parking at all. Finally, add in paid parking, instituted for example on the Las Vegas Strip several years ago after eight and a half decades being free, and it’s safe to say that most casino guests hate casino parking.
9. Getting Lost—Really? Yes, really. Guests get lost at our casinos and they hate it. “When is that?” you ask. It’s when poor signage makes them drive around the whole casino looking for the right parking. It’s when the parking-garage design and exit signs conspire to have guests driving in circles. It’s when the casino floor is such a crowded maze you could never find your mother-in-law (well, now that I think about it …). It’s when hotel floors have numbers like 11174 to indicate the 11th floor. It’s when some facilities or services are in separate buildings, or in the basement, or on the mezzanine, or in another wing, and it’s not made clear. And it’s especially maddening when a guest’s favorite slot machine has been moved three times in the last six months. It’s even when guests get lost looking for the Lost and Found!
8. Environmental “Hates”—This category is so broad, it could be a whole separate hate list. Guests hate smoke. Increasingly, they hate any smoke at all, but particularly thick hanging smoke in problem nooks and crannies. They hate ear-splitting noise, whether it’s the shrieking of a slot machine that is supposed to promote fun, not deafness, the blaring of overhead, poorly selected, and poorly volume-controlled music (mixed with every other casino sound), the screeching of the grunge band in the lounge too close to the gaming area, even the screaming of the poorly trained promotions MC trying to hype “excitement.” They hate the temperature zones that are too hot or too cold, the casino areas that are eerily dark or blindingly light. They hate the dirty and the unkempt, from the messy restrooms (especially the messy restrooms!) to the uncleaned ashtrays and slot floors. Basically, they hate casino environments that weren’t designed for them being in it!
7. Having to Beg—Shockingly, casino guests, even VIPs, often have to beg for something. And they hate it. Sometimes they have to beg for comps, even those that they’ve already earned. They can be made to beg for extra condiments or menu substitutions. Even VIPs have to sometimes beg for rooms on weekends or holidays. They might be made to beg for a free-play offer that they used to get automatically. They’ll beg to have a guest paged in the casino (“I lost my wife!”), because the casino has a no-paging policy. They’ll beg for show tickets and drawings for the promotion. Do they sometimes not deserve what they’re begging for? Sure. But can’t you find a way to not have them beg at all?
6. Being Given the Runaround— Similar to begging, casino guests hate the “runaround” or the “You’ll have to go OVER THERE.” Some notable quotes give you the idea: “You have to take your free-play voucher to the cage FIRST”; “you’ll have to see my manager”; “you’ll have to come back on a Monday”; “you’ll have to eat at the bar, because our restaurant is full (even though two sections are completely closed). Little wonder that customer-service guru Steve Browne has labelled these examples, and many more, as symptomatic of “hafta disease.”
5. Screwed-up Procedures—Casino guests describe this hate as being “hard to do business with” or “Why do you make it so hard for me to give you my money or make a transaction?” It happens every time an ATM isn’t working or is confusing to use; when they can’t play two slot machines at the same time or reserve their slot so they can use the restroom; when a cashier won’t let a guest exchange a bucket of coins for paper money; when a ticket-redemption kiosk doesn’t dispense coins as part of an odd cashout amount, only a ticket that must then be taken to the cage to redeem; when hotel guests can’t charge services to their room; when to- go orders aren’t allowed in the restaurant or when no room service is available. There are simple solutions to most of these hates, but most of them involve a manager paying attention and walking a mile in the guest’s shoes.
4. Rude, Disinterested, or Bored Employees—Every casino has them and guests hate having to deal with them. Sure, COVID hit and it is now REALLY hard to find and keep good staff, but that’s no excuse for tolerating employees who can’t or won’t deliver gracious service with at least a modicum of friendliness or appreciation toward guests. The good news here is that if most of the employees can be inspired to satisfy, delight, or even astonish guests, this hate can be turned around and become a real source of sustainable competitive advantage.
3. Waiting—Even more so nowadays with COVID and incredibly tight labor markets in all industries, waiting for service has become its own pandemic. Casino guests wait in lines to check into the hotel. They wait to make simple transactions at the players club, which is now often a players club/cashier with less staff and more types of transactions. They wait for their drinks to be served when they’re playing slots. They wait to be paid after they’ve hit a jackpot, which should be the best experience in the casino. They wait for valet to retrieve their car. They wait to have their hotel room cleaned and now often it’s not cleaned at all. They wait to be seated in the restaurant and they wait to get their check before they can leave. Guests hate waits and the most powerful thing you can to is to eliminate, at least minimize, lines and waiting, ESPECIALLY WHEN GUESTS ARE TRYING TO GIVE YOU THEIR MONEY.
2. Getting Gouged—Now I realize there is a big discrepancy between what casino guests call “gouging” and casinos call “fair and competitive pricing.” But when you add up all the price increases, takeaways, cutbacks, tighter slots, 6-5 blackjack, $7 ATM fees, paid parking, resort fees, venue fees, etc., it leaves casino guests feeling gouged. They don’t just hate it and scream about it, they’ll leave you over it (even though you might think they won’t), they’ll trash you online over it, they’ll reduce their visits, they’ll tell their friends, and they may even decide that bowling or a movie is a better deal. Indeed, if your customers feel gouged, you should feel warned.
1. Losing Too Fast/Not Winning—This has been the biggest hate of casino guests for decades and may be so for eternity. They simply believe you don’t let them win often enough or give them enough “time on device” to match their gambling budget. This goes hand in hand with the gouging hate, but it is more than that. Many guests feel that casinos make active decisions to take players’ money more quickly and have them lose more often. They may metaphorically describe it as “a little guy in the back room who puts his foot on the pedal when I’m winning,” but what they really mean is, “I hate it when I lose my money so fast and can’t enjoy your experience anymore and have to go home.”
Yes, casino-goers hate a lot of things, I’m sorry to report. I know it can make casino executives defensive, argumentative, even angry, as they defend the casino they love, the casino that feeds their families, over these “unfair accusations” from these “unappreciative customers.” You can whine about it or do something about it. You can take the path less traveled and try to turn detractors into advocates. To turn hate into love. Now there’s an audacious goal.
Earlier posts by Dennis: