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The Reviews Are In … You Need a Casino Marketing Plan

Online reviews are a critical factor in customer decision-making and Raving Partner Justin Shank details how to actively manage your reputation

Justin Shank has an interesting perspective on the disruptive rise of customer reviews. The Raving partner, who focuses on social media marketing, was a movie publicist before he came to the gaming industry. Everything was going along smoothly until all of a sudden there was this new thing called Rotten Tomatoes.

“That became a really big stress point for movie studios I was working for,” said Shank, in a session on reputation management at the Casino Marketing & Technology Conference last July. “They were concerned about what people were saying and they actually showed some interest in it. Not only did we have to pay attention to what the critics were saying but also audience members. Yelp, TripAdvisor and Facebook also started getting pretty big at the time … there were all kinds of different sites where people were reviewing. We weren’t paying a whole lot of attention to what people were saying. There wasn’t a way to manage that; you had to do everything manually. Now there are all kinds of tools.”

The Power of Online User Reviews

Which is good because the numbers don’t lie. Online user reviews have become a determinative factor on customer decision making, and their role only figures to increase as sites such as Yelp and Facebook grow in importance as casino marketing tools. In response, casinos cannot afford to take a situational approach. Organizations have to ask themselves if they have a reputation management strategy, who’s responsible for monitoring reviews, what’s the process for crafting responses and follow-up; all of this needs to be a priority.

“Imagine if you had someone standing at a blackjack table talking to you about their problem and you just stood there and stared at them,” said Shank. “That’s what it’s like when you ignore customer reviews. People want your property to hear their message; they at least want to share it with their friends.”

What the Data Tells Us

  • The statistical case for why online reputation matters is strong. Here are some data points, courtesy of BrightLocal.com, and Shank’s perspective on them:
  • 97 percent of consumers looked online for local business in 2017, with 12 percent looking every day.
  • 85 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. “That trust number is pretty alarming,” said Shank. “I know, as an operator, how many of those reviews are just totally bogus… as I’m reading through them I often say, ‘that’s not what happened.’”
  • Positive reviews make 73 percent of people trust the local business more. Indeed, people are less likely to visit a business’ website after reading positive reviews… if they see a positive review, they’re just going to go to the casino instead of revisiting the website.
  • 49 percent of people need to see a four-star rating before they choose to go to a business. “That rating review number is really significant,” said Shank. “Even if you’re the only game in town, it makes a difference how frequently they visit you or what they do when they come to your property. They may spend some time at your property to game then go off-site to a restaurant that’s nearby that has a four- or five-star review.”
  • 74 percent of people have been asked to leave a local business review; 68 percent have left such a review when asked. That would mean actively requesting people to review your property, said Shank. You can do this in a number of ways. One successful technique is with top-tier players. “When you’re talking with people who are real brand advocates; they love it there and tell our player development department and hosts when they have a really excellent experience,” he explained. “We ask if they can take some time to review us online, give them some options, whether it’s Facebook or Yelp or Trip Advisor, and tell them that we would really appreciate that.”
  • 79 percent have read a fake review in the past year, but a worrying 84 percent can’t always spot them. “Most people have read one of those fake reviews and trusted it, but there are things that we can do, as people who are managing our brand reputation” said Shank. He recalled researching the reviews of an author of one blatantly incorrect and bad review of a casino’s steakhouse. “In this case, we looked at how this person was reviewing other businesses. Our steakhouse got a one-star review from this person, whereas she gave McDonald’s a five-star review. As we gathered more information, it turned out the price point in our restaurant was probably a little beyond what she was interested in spending, and that allowed me to craft a response appropriate to the reviewer. I wasn’t harsh but I suggested that perhaps she would like to eat in our buffet or some other option besides our steakhouse and that we hoped to see her again. The point was to understand more about the user.”

This can also be done in real-time. Shank recounted the story of a client who had a VIP event with about 50 customers on-site. “I managed their reviews and a two-star review popped up by someone at the dinner who posted they had a horrible experience. I took that message to the player development host and he approached that guest and asked how we could make their experience a little better. That guest went from a two-start review to a five-star glowing report about 20 minutes later because they were approached by a host.”

Processes that Work

Casinos looking to develop strong reputation management processes should consider a multi-marketing channel approach, starting with three questions:

  • What are people saying?
  • How are we getting information from them?
  • Where are they saying it?

“Google your business,” said Shank. “This is where 97 percent of all search happens; don’t worry about Bing. Google is leveraging itself to be the source for who’s reviewing you, how they are reviewing you, what types of images are out there and what information is provided. There’s the maps, images, the business website… a ton of different things. If you search your business you’ll see menus, hours, all your amenities listed. It’s important for us to claim those listings, go through the verification process, and start tracking it.” Other sites to look at are Glass Door, an HR site that provides reviews and job postings, and Open Table, a restaurant booking engine that also has a review platform and it’s very successful. Every user is automatically queried for a review.

Managing Your Feedback

Direct feedback is important as well. “As a marketer and someone who likes to ask people questions about what they think about our business, I think it’s important to take that multi-channel approach,” said Shank. “Not only am I asking them to review me on social media, be it Facebook or TripAdvisor or whatever platform they like, I also send them an e-mail asking about their experience, their stay at the hotel and how we did. If we’re using a good reputation management strategy, we’ll be able to take those reviews that come in through e-mail before they post it online as a negative review and hopefully address them before that person decides to post a two-star review on our hotel.”

Even paper comment cards can be valuable. “When I started in this industry, our general manager wanted a stack of them each weekend and went through each and every one,” said Shank. “For some reason, people at that level are not always aware of what people are saying online. There are so many different listings that a tool like a dashboard, like one of the review management systems that can help you deliver reports to c-level executives and keep everyone on the same page.”

Other things to think about: Who is reading the contact list forms, the e-mails that come in and kicking those off for action? Conversations on the floor; players club department, host department, who is talking to players in person? And, of course, who is reading social media?

With responsibilities and processes in place, there is still the important question of how to respond. Building a culture of thought and care is essential if you’re going to get this process right.

How to Respond

“Whenever we respond to a review or a comment, whether it’s a message that was sent privately or published anywhere, all of that information is something that can be turned around and marketed or shared by the person you’re communicating with,” said Shank. “I sent a message back to someone, through Facebook Messenger or a private message on Yelp, they can easily screen draft that and share that on their own page. So it’s important for us to understand that when we’re crafting responses we need to be educated about the situation. It’s good to write generic types of responses like, thank you, we appreciate it, we’ll talk to management and find out more information about it; but do we actually follow through with that?”

What works very well is when you have these stakeholders in the organization who have a say in how to respond to the people who review. “If it’s a hosted player, I might want to have a response that is designed and crafted by the casino host,” said Shank. “It might also come from the GM or the director of guest services. But have an idea of where your responses should be coming from, even if they’re not all the same people. Maybe all reviews of the restaurant go directly to the restaurant manager and they handle it. Perhaps it’s not totally centralized with PR or casino marketing. Or it’s departmental; I’ve seen it done a number of different ways.”

This article was originally published in the November issue of Casino Journal.