One of my favorite sayings is, “The operation was a success but the patient still died.” Often, in today’s highly competitive casino industry, balancing common sense with value or perceived value in a highly regulated environment can make the difference between success or having your patient (the customer) die (or disappear).
One time, I received a telephone call from a small player that I knew quite well on a personal basis. He called me to tell me that he was sorry but that he was going to have to cancel his reservation at Foxwoods. I asked him why, and he informed me that he was offered a better deal from another casino. He told me that he received a discount coupon in the mail and that he could use that extra savings for play in the casino.
The $20 difference in room rates represented value to him. I was also intrigued because this customer was my own brother. So much for loyalty in the casino industry today; value won. This made me think for a moment about what else we take for granted that we often see day in and day out that may be perceived as “value” by our customers.
Foxwoods was rapidly approaching its annual strategic planning sessions. Therefore, I decided to issue a challenge to all Foxwoods management throughout the organization to first take a good hard look at our own operation within each of their own operating divisions and then to make at least three personal visits to our direct competitors or any other competitors on either a local or a regional basis. I discussed this with our CEO, who immediately recognized the thought process, and issued a personal memo to all management to support our new value project and to accept the challenge.
Over the next few months we organized numerous focus groups from almost every operating department at the property. We then set up two-hour meetings in one of our small conference rooms with each department head and their representatives to discuss our findings, focusing on what we thought were the key items or issues that represented better value to our customers if and when they visited our competitors.
Each focus group was made up of 10 to 15 team members from within their respective departments. The only ground rule was that the sessions were not to be used as complaining sessions. We wanted positive feedback.
The results were extremely interesting, informative and enlightening. I chaired every meeting and my secretary took minutes. Not only were we able to document what we thought our competitor(s) were doing better than us, we were also able to develop lists of positive recommendations of what we thought we would need to do to create better value or perceived value at our own casino.
Obviously, many of the recommendations were easy to implement immediately, but many were also more complicated and involved some additional funding or capital expenditures. Therefore, I informed each group that I would summarize their recommendations and present them to senior management for further review.
It was amazing. The entire property quickly became energized and focused on creating value or perceived value in everything that we did. We even came up with a value meal in our food court similar to McDonald’s Value Meals. What was interesting was that the process worked, and we began to quickly receive great feedback from our customers.
I held several meetings with senior management and we further prioritized items that would require additional funding or capital expenditures. Many of these recommendations were eventually rolled up into our cap-ex budget request, which was presented annually to our tribal council.
Tribal council also quickly recognized the benefits, and we received approval for a very substantial capital-expenditures budget, which was needed to upgrade certain areas within the property to help create better value or perceived value for our customers. These improvements helped to ensure our long-term ability to remain competitive and profitable in today’s highly competitive casino industry. The overall feedback from our customers at that time was terrific.
Our value project was extremely successful because our management team properly communicated the “challenge” down through the organization. That was the reason we set up our focus groups for each department to include team members from every level of operation within each department.
People are people, and we all share many common traits as human beings. One such trait is being able to recognize value or perceived value. Another trait is involvement or inclusion in the change process. Many of our best and most productive recommendations actually came from many of our rank-and-file, front-line employees.
Take a close look at your own casino and then take an even closer look at your competitors. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. The value project concept works. Use it as a model to issue your own challenge to your fellow team members. You may be very surprised with the results both from the perspective of what is wrong and the recommendations of how to fix the problems.
Many of our recommendations didn’t cost a lot of money, but the changes represented “value” or better perceived value to our customers.