How Knowing Your Competition Can Help You Improve Your Casino


My mama told me, you better shop around …

It’s true! Knowing what your competition is doing is a great tool for improving your own business. I’m not just talking about going on their website or looking at their ads in the local paper, either. While that is a good place to start, by digging a bit deeper, you will eventually learn what is good and bad in your own business. “Shopping” your competition involves you experiencing the property from the point of view of a guest, not a casino employee. Experiencing their level of service in person and learning their strengths and weaknesses will help you make the guest experience for your players better. It is also important to shop yourself! Guest service is the key to success! That is the one place you can really make a difference with the people who visit your casino. So many times, a guest will have a bad experience and not tell any team member who may be able to assist. However, they WILL tell all of their friends, or post their displeasure online.

One casino I worked at really took guest service seriously. They developed a complete training program that every employee was required to complete. It took nearly 18 months to complete the initial training. Moving forward, all new employees completed the training before they started their new job. In another project, they selected 25 of the best employees from all areas of the casino and gave them a collective mission to shop all the casinos in our area and report the findings. The executive team gave the basic outline of information that they were looking for, a timeline, and importantly, a substantial budget to support the project. That was all the direction given by the executive team. The committee was given the leverage to come up with the how, when and where of the project.

The ultimate goal of this project was to improve our product. So the committee chose to experience the other properties as customers: to see the properties as customers do, a true secret shopper experience. This meant that we had to shut off the “I work in a casino” part of our brains. We were asked to look at all aspects, both good and bad, comparing all areas so that we could find where our casino did well and where we could improve.

Before we hit the streets, we held several meetings to develop a collective strategy, which included breaking the large group into seven subcommittees in order to quickly cover more territory. We also developed a rather detailed checklist for reporting purposes. We needed each team’s report to be consistent in order to combine all findings for the executive team’s final report, as well as keep track of all receipts that were required for the final report and audit.

When shopping, you need to look at the whole guest experience, from the initial contact through departure. No matter the size of the property, you can still use the same principles. With larger properties, you will have more opportunities to be “touched” by the staff. Keep in mind that this is not an exercise in tearing down your competition. It is a way to improve the guest experience for YOUR guests.

A few tips:

This is a great way to reward your best team members and include them in improving your guest service experience! In the example above, our budget paid for everything we did that had to do with the project, including gambling. Again, by being very diligent about what was spent on what, only a certain amount was earmarked for gambling. The executive team even decided that the committee members could keep whatever was won during the project! Being part of a team like this gives your best employees a sense of ownership and pride about being part of the process. They will then become your leaders and teachers on the floor.

Make sure that there is a consistent and detailed way to evaluate each area. Consistency in the reporting will help the observations make sense. The overall analysis of the findings will be made clear by having a detailed checklist that everyone uses.

Don’t just observe, but engage! It’s easy to just sit back and observe, but you have to engage to really experience what your guests are seeing, hearing, and feeling. Talk with the staff, call the operator, ask questions, engage!

Follow up! What will you do with all this new knowledge? How can you use this information to improve your product for your guests? After all, that was the goal! For instance, empower your frontline employees to take care of common issues that can be resolved quickly:

  • A front desk clerk shouldn’t have to call a supervisor for every little complaint. Create a dispute resolution program with detailed recommendations of solutions, starting from the initial contact. For instance, let’s say a guest’s order wasn’t right in one of your restaurants. Give the wait staff power to comp it! While they will probably take the order back to be corrected (I hope!), it doesn’t eliminate the fact that the guest has to wait for the problem to be solved. So, comp it!
  • Was a guest’s room not ready? Give your front desk staff the ability to problem solve! Either by offering a different room, or possibly an upgrade at no charge. How about a few bucks off the room, or a comp to the restaurant of the guest’s choosing?
  • During your shopping, did you have a great experience with a department or team member? Well, give kudos for a job well done! If you catch someone doing something good, write a note and mention them by name.

And finally, a few things that I still see consistently in my travels that just need to stop!

Poor WiFi signal – we all have devices, and to have a weak signal is frustrating, especially when we are paying those additional “fees” for our rooms!

Poor or no signage and information, both on the floor and in the room. Include a map of your property in the rooms, along with menus for your restaurants.

Directional signage needs to start from the moment the guests drive on to your property. Please pay attention to the parking garage! Make the signs big and noticeable!

Only one electrical outlet in the bathroom – REALLY?! Between electric toothbrushes, curling irons, blow dryers, electric shavers … come on!

Coffee pot in the bathroom – well, first of all, EW! Secondly, see my complaint above.

Guest service slackers:

  • Employees who either only explain how to get somewhere, or merely point. Go the extra step and walk with the guest, or get someone else to walk them where they need to go.
  • Employees who respond to a complaint with “I know” or “I’m sorry,” then do nothing to make it right. I recently stayed at a casino hotel, and there was a loud, drunken argument next door at 1 a.m. I tried to call the front desk, but it just rang and rang. So I called the operator, only to find that the phone didn’t work. I could hear them, but they couldn’t hear me. I needed to be up at 2:30 a.m. for a flight, so I just gave up and decided to talk to the front desk upon checkout. The response of the front desk clerk? “I’m sorry,” then she handed me my receipt and said goodbye.
  • If a guest needs something, don’t make them come get it, take it to them! For instance, maybe a guest in your hotel needs additional toiletries, coffee, or forgot their toothbrush. Have someone immediately take it to their room. Don’t make them come get it!

By paying attention to details and learning your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, you can improve your product substantially, and really create a wonderful guest service experience for your guests!

Janet Hawk