Over the Top Guest Service is not Only Anticipating a Need


It’s giving the guest something they didn’t even think they needed or even imagined

It seems to me, that we often praise “basic service,” when in fact, it’s just BASIC SERVICE! Why are we often surprised when we approach the players club, the coffee stand, or hotel check-in, and are greeted with eye contact and a smile as we approach? Why are we surprised that after our transaction is correct and handled efficiently, that we are asked before we depart if there is anything else we need?

You’ve got me. Why have we settled?

Folks, this is basic service described above. Not even great service. It’s certainly not “over the top service.”

Would you agree that when our guests are delighted by a service experience, it’s because it is a one-off? Meaning, they just happened to interact with our guest superstar? Or do you believe that all of your team members are superstars, as they were trained in a culture of service?

This past week, after months of planning and final execution of a major event with a million moving parts, I have been thinking about the rare times I’ve experienced truly “over the top service.” Those times that I’ve really been surprised and had a VIP experience.

I’m talking about when my needs were not only anticipated, but I was given something I didn’t even know I needed, wanted or imagined.

Some service industries seem to be inherently good at providing the unexpected and service “wow.” Think a spa in a resort.

You may be signed up for a massage or a facial. For first time visitors, you may be surprised that when you check in, you’re wrapped in a deliciously soft robe, and slippers are waiting for you in your private locker. While you’re lead into the serene lounge, filled with over-stuffed, clean and luxurious couches and loungers, you’re invited to help yourself to a cucumber and strawberry-infused water and maybe some granola and fresh fruit.

My point is, you paid for a massage or facial, but you didn’t ask or even imagine the total experience you received. The “basic service” would’ve been the smile and greet, transact and depart. The “over the top” was the lush and carefully decorated rooms with every sensory experience thought out, turning the one-hour massage into a multi-hour affair of relaxation and pampering.

So, how do we translate the spa experience to amaze our guests at our casino resorts? Can we create an experience that exceeds our guests’ expectations? Sure we can. Let’s not settle for basic anymore.

Let me give you an example of how my expectations were exceeded.

Last week, after months of planning, we held our 22nd premiere event, Raving NEXT: Indian Gaming Analytics and Marketing Conference. It’s an exclusive event for Tribal gaming operators and suppliers, held for the first time at Isleta Resort & Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

To get the scope of this event, we used just about every venue the casino has to offer: all of the square footage in the conference room, the showroom for luncheons, the steakhouse for large private parties, all the hotel rooms, and their nightclub for an after-hour party. We may not be the largest group they’ve ever hosted, but as Victor Sanchez, our Conference Services Manager, told me, it was one of the most challenging, integrating so many venues and departments property-wide. View Photos of the Event

It’s important to note that Raving’s culture is that from our marketing to post-conference communication and value, we want attendees to experience learning at its best in a personal and meaningful way, from warm hugs to returning guests and clients, to impromptu dancing, round tables, technology that facilitates learning and so much more. So, finding a property that aligns with our service mantra is key to bringing it all together.

As an event planner, who has organically grown into her role for 20 years of conference planning, there are certain services and products I know that are not listed in any printed materials outside event menus and AV option lists. Most of the time, however, these add-ons are not transparent, and I always have to ask about them. This can mean arranging transportation for guests so they don’t have to rent a car, to being able to leave cards and gifts in attendee hotel rooms and not being charged for the service. If, after I’m made aware of some of these premium options, I often have to make a choice due to budget, if these upgrades will impact the attendee experience as a “nice to have,” but not a “need to have.”

Checking off boxes I didn’t even know I had (the definition of “over the top service”):

  • I want to tell you that the team at Isleta checked off all the boxes I would expect as a quality casino hotel resort and conference facility.
  • They checked off all the boxes that I would have expected to pay for as a “nice to have,” but not a “need to have.”
  • They checked off boxes I didn’t know I even had. And that’s where you get “over the top service.”

Here’s how Isleta Resort & Casino’s conference, marketing and hotel teams checked off boxes that I haven’t had checked off before:

  • Without my asking, they extended the check-out times of ALL of our presenters and team members on our final day, knowing that we’d still be finishing up during regular check-out time.
  • They provided complimentary shuttle from an overflow hotel. This was the first time we had booked-out the host hotel completely, and needed to house others in a hotel (not owned by the host property).
  • At hotel check-in, they had complimentary snacks (cheese and fruit on arrival day) and packaged premium trail mix and bottled water on departure days, with a sign crediting it to our organization.
  • Every team member on the entire property had a Raving NEXT flashing button, a traditional button, or both.
  • Without asking, for our luncheons, that were held a good walk between the convention area through the casino floor, they not only posted directional signage, but more importantly, had their team members greeting and guiding our attendees through the maze to make it to lunch on time.
  • The marketing department provided a photo booth on the tradeshow floor for attendees; handmade chocolate from a local chocolatier, and a branded water bottle and notepad were given for conference bag stuffers.
  • The marketing department customized their spin the wheel promotions game with our logo and lent us other games at no charge for an interactive gaming event we created.
  • They coordinated all the linens in our classroom, exhibit hall and lunchroom to match perfectly with our brand and logo.
  • Knowing the team members were coffee drinkers and had to start each day before attendees arrived, they had coffee, soda and water for us (and we never ran out).
  • As a surprise, on both of our luncheon desserts, they had our logo in chocolate.
  • They created a custom, handmade chocolate center-piece for our welcome reception.

The Isleta team provided all of the above for us without me asking. Really, for any special request or customization I threw at them, their response was, “No problem; we’re happy to do it; we’ve got your back.”

Here’s a list of other items that properties should make available to event planners, whether they are upgrades or comps, depending on the value of the group. Isleta, of course, had all of this on their radar:

  • Car service for VIPs
  • Airport shuttle service for conference attendees and exhibitors
  • Negotiated drayage and handling fees waived for show organizer and exhibitors
  • Room upgrades for VIPs
  • Property-wide discounts for attendees at outlets (food outlets and spa)
  • Free play for attendees who registered for a players club card
  • Dedicated Wi-Fi
  • Upgraded, print and digital signage (including the outside billboard)
  • Custom welcome gifts for attendees or VIPS
  • Knowledge and availability of in-house resources (furniture, printing, decorator) rather than outsourcing

This is what I want readers to take away.

Every resort property can make their guests and their groups feel like VIPs. The Isleta team wasn’t asked to do those items on the first list. That was why, as an organization, their entire team gave great service. It wasn’t a “one-off” by one star employee.

Thank you to the Isleta team for making us all feel like VIPs: Harold Baugus, CEO; Jaci Marx, Senior Director of Marketing; Victor Sanchez, Conference Services Manager; David Black, Director of Resort Sales; Michael Walling, Hotel Analytics Manager/Call Center, and the entire team at Isleta for making this a wonderful experience for us. We’ll see you next year at Raving NEXT 2021, January 26 – 28, 2021, Isleta Resort and Casino.

PS – To our attendees, presenters, exhibitors and sponsors: We wouldn’t and couldn’t do this without you! Check your inboxes for our follow-up special reports and materials this week.

Christine Faria