Four Sure Bets for Player Loyalty

Perhaps the most obvious foundation of a player loyalty program, whether large or small, is coming up with rewards that your players want. Most gaming organizations attempt to achieve this goal by offering a myriad of options. Yet, for many, they simply do not work. Why not? From my perspective, they have forgotten to match trends with lifestyles. Before your take the plunge and switch from cash to non-cash rewards, simply ask your players what they want.

Most casino hosts will tell you that players want cash back. High reward potential is the reason that many players enter your casino and money is tantamount to motivation. Right? Well that might have been true when the economy was spirally downward, taking bumps and bruises, so jewelry, electronics, and digital cameras were placed on the back burner. The “pay for play” business model became the poster child and cash was simple to reward.

Reject the most outrageous suggestions and requests for cash. Both are offered without consideration for the “win-win” that makes the reward plausible. The play atmosphere is the key to keeping players in the casino, but it is the reward structure that brings them back.

Slot machines, table games, sports books are replicable at any gaming organization. Finding out what matters to the player and targeting their interests will distinguish your relationship. I call it creating a “meaningful memory.” We do business with organizations that make us feel good.

Today you must reconsider what the player wants. . .not what the gaming organization thinks. How many players want an iPod, or an LCD TV, or a cruise? Whether it’s travel, merchandise, or VIP tickets to an event, player rewards can pack a powerful ROI, yet too few gaming organizations recognize them as such.

Let us be clear here. Giving back money benefits the gaming organization because you think the player will simply put the money back in the game. Yet, when they leave, they have nothing. Nothing but the bad memory of losing. What is their “meaningful memory”? Losing! Instead, how about turning losers into winners?

One team from the Super Bowl is awarded with a trophy. The other is simply the loser. Imagine there is no trophy at the end of the game. No Super Bowl ring. Team members do get a cash bonus, but they wear their rings with pride. They take photos holding the trophy. The money is simply forgotten.

One team wins. The other loses. Do they feel like winners when they lose?

McDonald’s built a business model that was mirrored after the old car drive-ins we remember from the 50’s. Years later they invented a drive-thru. Why can’t we apply what we learn from other industries?

Each Station Casino that I visited has a ‘burger stand. Many offer pizza, sub sandwiches, and other “take-out items.” The fast food stations offer both eat-in and carryout. So why doesn’t Station Casinos, and others, offer food delivery to the slot or table game player? How difficult would it be for the take-out to be delivered to the “eat-in” player, so that they can continue to put coins in the slots and increase their playtime at the tables? If Barona can execute white linen service for fine dining, how difficult is it to put a burger in a bag or pizza in a box? I am sure a single visit to Burger King will demonstrate how to have it your way and then “just do it.”

How about delivering on the promise of “taking home a meaningful memory?”

If you offer merchandise with your casino’s logo, why not give player loyalty points? Then your player will deliver more players to your gaming organization. It is called peer or mentor advertising. They will tell others. You get advertising for the gaming organization, high profits on the logoed goods, and a player that is actually advertising your gaming organization when they leave.

Instead, the merchandise usually is sandwiched between the potato chips and chewing gum. The prices are obscenely high, and they normally do not sell in any quantity. Sure, you can throw a few dollars at the player, but will they end up with something memorable after they have leave?

You need to ask, “What are my players not doing today that I want them to do tomorrow? How can my gaming organization make more money by offering what players are going to spend money on while they are here?”

We know that players are more prone to play where they stay, so why don’t we merge the marketing of room nights with the casino promotions? It is not always about play, it could include the stay. Moreover, if we make profits from the sale of food, beverage, and events, why don’t we track those purchases with the player card?

Do not overwhelm. I recently visited Stratosphere in Las Vegas. I counted 11 concurrent promotions. While each of them had some merit, I could not see the effectiveness of one over the other, because each one took away from the other. I knew they had gone overboard when I heard a slot player say to the host, “I won something, didn’t I? But I don’t know what.” Stay focused. Simple is better.

The way to gain “mind share” resulting in “wallet share” is to find out what players desire and then give it to them once they give you what you want. Remember, players are not winning the rewards, they are earning them. Products that do not appeal to your audience will make them want cash.

Harrah’s, MGM, and others host a shopping spree before the Christmas Holidays, yet they still ship the products instead of offering the smaller items on site for instant gratification. Think about it from the players’ perspective. They “earn” some gifts and then have to wait for the delivery. UPS service is swamped. The postal system is overloaded. So why do these progressive organizations ignore the realities of holiday shipping delays? What happens if the items are back ordered or sold out, or lost by UPS/USPS, or arrive broken? Who is blamed? That’s right – you are.

What would happen if the holiday event delivered the products on site in festive shopping bags, or packed them up for airline travel? The player receives instant gratification, bragging rights, and the ability to decide if they want to regift or keep it from themselves. Either way the player wins. And the gaming organization wins by creating a meaningful memory instead of nightmare.

The recognition factor is really what makes rewards so valuable. Picture the player walking through the casino with a shopping bag full of goodies. Listen to those that were not invited to the shopping spree ask questions. Watch your employees promote the benefits of extended play, additional visits to the hotel, or purchases of logoed merchandise. Hopefully you are saying, “OK, Jim, now what? How do I begin?”

Here is my short list of what you need to do to create a Four Sure Bets Player Loyalty Program.

Promote Often. While this may seem contrary to the previous comments, you do need to remind your players how to earn the rewards. They already know how to lose because most of them have had that experience. Promote often to turn losers into winners.

When I signed up with MGM’s player program, I played about $100 in the slots. Within a few days I received an email telling me how may points I earned and how close I was to reaching the first reward level. Somehow, those notices made me feel better. Instead of reflecting on the loss, I thought about how soon I would return to play in order to earn the “free prize.”

Reward Frequently. “It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” It’s the same with rewards. For most of us, we are excited about winning anything. We do not focus on the big prize; we respond to the small rewards. To get the most from your program, offer many “quick rewards.” A logoed hat or sweatshirt gets your name out. A free pass to the buffet line doesn’t.

Most of us will agree that employees often complain that they do not feel valued by their companies. Is that same premise true with your relationship with your players? Have you concentrated on the “whales” and forgotten who pays the overhead?

Create continuity. This year I joined Morton’s Steakhouse frequent diner’s program. For Christmas, they sent me a gift. It was a poker set. Now how did they know what to send? Perhaps they saw that I visited the Las Vegas location more than any other and assumed I might be a player? Does the poker set have anything to do with eating a steak? Nope. Nevertheless, it did have their logo on every card, every poker chip, and the box. In addition, inside was a coupon for my next visit. Morton’s was hoping that I would take the logoed poker supplies to my poker game. By creating continuity, they wanted to build excitement and discussion.

I kept the coupon and regifted the poker set. Did Morton’s lose? Actually, no. Morton’s received two customers instead of one. And I told others about their thoughtfulness. Can’t you learn from Morton’s?

Look around. Observe. I was recently at the Chicago Gift Show. Hundreds of vendors were touting their products. They ranged from food items to hand creams. After a few aisles, all the products started to look the same. And then a brilliant insight appeared. . .in the men’s room. Don’t laugh. In the men’s room, on the sink, a display of hand creams. Six versions in pump dispensers with a small card that said, “Compliments of Pretty Baby, Booth 1347.” I watched. I listened. Every man, after washing and drying their hands tried one or more of the hand creams. Over 80% took the small information card or made a note of the booth location.

Can’t we learn from the way a small company made a big impact? Deliver your products to your players in unexpected ways. Encourage them to bring their friends. Think like the player, and you will find ways to reward them with meaningful memories that translate into visits that are more frequent and suggestions to their friends.

Walk the floor. Think about what your player wants that will encourage them to stay and play. How about offering a cigar to players at the poker table? What about a small “bee’s bar hand cream” that reduces chaffing or dry hands? What did you send out for Valentine’s Day? Can you provide recipes for Super Bowl snacks? How about simply giving 2¢ stamps so those old 37¢ get used? I promise you, your players will comment, react, and respond in the most favorable way.

Use holidays to promote your casino. Are you hosting a shopping event for Mother’s Day that features Tumi and Kate Spade products that are targeted to women? What are you planning for Father’s Day, NASCAR events, the World Series? Have you considered lifestyle rewards, such as gas cards, diet center membership, personal trainers, golf instruction, or ski rentals?

Include everyone. Make the experience rewarding for everyone, including your employees. Peer recognition is not only motivating, but builds a team with spirit. Learn the name of as many of your workers as possible. Then ask them to learn the names of their peers as well as your frequent players. It’s the little things that make you feel good inside. Everyone wants to work, and play, at a place where you feel appreciated.

Managers have to understand the reward strategy as well as the reward offers. Above all, make certain that your reward design is in line with your business goals. Create a game that everyone can earn for reaching established performance goals.

Remember both employees and players are the only “appreciating assets” you have in your company.

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