When I was asked to write an article about the best players clubs in the industry, two thoughts immediately came to my mind. The first was, being that Randall Fine, my boss at the Fine Point Group, is the patent holder for technology used behind the current version of Harrah’s Total Rewards program and the fact that many of us (including me) were involved in the launch of that program, I will get it out of the way now and say that putting it on the list just seemed too self-serving—even for a consultant in the gaming space.
My second thought: Our industry involves so many jurisdictions with different tax rates, regulatory requirements, etc., that it was hard to decide which clubs I truly thought were the best in the industry, because we as marketers design and implement customized clubs that work for our individual businesses—and each is unique. Some are really good, and some are really bad. Therefore, I picked players clubs that I felt each did a great job meeting one of the core tenets of what makes a good loyalty program.
At the Fine Point Group, we have developed and deployed for our clients a methodology of the five factors that should be used to assess your current program (if you have one in place) and after assessing, as a guide for designing a new, enhanced or refreshed program. The five core tenets of a good loyalty program are simplicity, flexibility, control, aspiration and transferability.
The most important tenet from the customer standpoint is simplicity, or better said, it’s the customer’s ability to understand how the program functions, and why it is beneficial for them. As a basic rule, if employees can’t explain a program in 30 seconds or less, simplicity is not a check mark in your assessment. However, from the casino operator’s viewpoint, the ability to sustain a loyalty program through good times (then) and bad (now) relies on flexibility—the ability of casino operators to make changes to the program as the business changes, without having to overhaul the entire program and disrupt the customer’s experience.
Keep in mind that most of the very best players clubs out there today encompass three, if not more, of the five core tenets to be successful, so the clubs that are used in our examples are no exception; we have simply showcased them for one tenet.
If the program is not simple, no one cares how rewarding it is, because they don’t understand it. Like much of their great marketing, Club Barona at Barona Casino in San Diego, California, is the perfect example of how to keep your players club simple.
Club Barona members know exactly how to earn points and how many points are needed to reach the next tier status level. If $1 coin-in played at a slot machine earns two points, and it takes 20,000 points to earn Gold status, then a player knows that it will take $10,000 coin-in, played within a six-month period, to move to the next level.
Club Barona members are told exactly what they need to do, and once they do it, the club delivers the reward to them as promised. It doesn’t get any easier than that. Besides tier level, other ways of keeping programs simple are explaining how to earn reward points, how to redeem those points, and what the points can be redeemed for—such as free play, comps, cash, etc.
Sounds easy, right? But 95 percent of the clubs out there miss the mark on this one—and it is critical.
As mentioned earlier, to be sustainable, an effective loyalty program needs to have flexibility for the casino and its employees, to make educated decisions based on a member’s circumstances .
Let employees do what they are being paid to do! Without flexibility, the ability to build relationships with customers is limited and a program will not be successful. Creating an element such as a discretionary comp bucket gives trained, qualified employees, when appropriate, the ability to comp guests above and beyond the parameters of your program.
Additionally, the program must be flexible enough to change as the business deems appropriate without causing significant confusion to the customers or a complete overhaul of the program.
Parx Casino at Philadelphia Park in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, is in a jurisdiction that has a slot tax rate of 55 percent and table games tax rate of 16 percent. So, although all players are members of the Xclub, the program for comping table games players is different because the property has more flexibility with a much lower comp tax.
A good program allows all members to feel rewarded, but that doesn’t mean you have to reward all members based on the same internal guidelines. Given the dynamics of this jurisdiction, having flexibility in a loyalty program gives the casino the ability to make appropriate changes to the internal framework and leaves customers feeling rewarded.
Database marketing and direct mail are the casino’s way to incent customers in a non-transparent way to change their behavior. To balance that mystery, effective loyalty programs reward members for their play in a simple and transparent manner while they are visiting the property.
This gives members a marketing bucket they can control on their terms—similar to a bank account.
Customers should always know where they stand in relation to tier status and should choose when, how and where to redeem their points—either for cash, free play or comp incentives.
The Grazie Club at the Venetian and Palazzo Casino in Las Vegas has three different types of points: Status Points, which tell a customer where they stand and how many points they need to move to the next level; Slot Reward Points, which are redeemable for slot play and for restaurant meals as well as other on-property amenities; and Grazie Gift Points, which are redeemable for choice gifts. When members control their rewards, this incents their decision of where and how they play based on the competition in the market.
Members need to feel that there is always something in it for them to participate in a loyalty program and ultimately consolidate play at the casino where they feel the most rewarded. Whether the goal is obtaining an elevated status level to have access to valuable benefits, banking points for merchandise or playing for a gift of the month, giving customers aspiration or “something to shoot for” is core to the foundation of any effective program.
A good program makes the customer say to himself, “I must be crazy to play anywhere else.” If the benefits and rewards of the program are not perceived as having value and becoming more valuable as tier status increases, the program will not be successful.
Mystic Lake Casino in Minnesota and its program Club Mystic includes five tier levels with a selection of guaranteed benefits for each tier such as point multipliers, priority service and complimentary hotel stays.
If you look at the program’s benefit list, you will notice something out of the ordinary when compared to other players clubs: There are no asterisks. Why does this matter? Because members would not choose to play for a tier level that promises a reward with disclaimers such as “based on play, when available, Sunday–Thursday,” when it’s sunny out, when the member is wearing a blue shirt… You get the idea. If you tell customers to do something to receive a benefit, reward them with that benefit.
And if you can’t operationalize it or make the math fit within the budgetary guidelines of your program, don’t offer it. Because once you put an asterisk near it, it’s not a benefit any longer. Giving customers the feeling of aspiration in the program encourages them to play up a level that perhaps they didn’t know was possible.
The ability to redeem points or receive benefits in an effective program should be as wide a range as possible. If members feel limited in their redemption and participation options, aspiration will be lost in the program and customers will not feel compelled to consolidate their play.
Examples of transferability can be earning and redeeming points at all properties in a multi-location company, using reward points with community partners or outside vendors, or of course, “buying” merchandise with points. The Wild Card, offered at all the Seminole Casinos in Florida, allows a player to earn and redeem points at all Seminole properties across Florida.
Sounds like a no-brainer, yet there are several multi-property operators in the industry who still don’t offer customers some form of portability in their programs. A great example of transferability for single-property operators is the Capital Club at Delaware’s Dover Downs, offering NASCAR ticket redemption for points and discounts at local merchants based on tier.
In these times, it’s all about the marketing, and getting your players club right is an essential piece of the marketing puzzle for attracting new customers, capturing the right data for your database, and retaining the customers you already know.
The programs we highlighted represent some of the best in the industry and using the these five principles as a blueprint is the first step in determining the strategic path needed to create, change, enhance, refresh or overhaul your current program’s framework.