Corporate Cultures

Measuring Up

by Ray Knight and Rob Sanders

August 98 Casino ExecutiveA customer-focused casino culture doesn't happen in a vacuum.  By definition, in the gaming industry an internal corporate culture is interdependent with the external "customer culture."  This symbiotic relationship is a dance where the partners hold each other close, where movement by one should be matched by complementary response from the other. 

In concrete terms, this means that the investment a casino makes in creating a corporate culture that emphasizes customer service should be reflected in a corresponding improvement in customer satisfaction.  Yet, in the authors' experience, it's surprising how few gaming companies really know what their customers' perceptions are, let alone the changing dynamics of these perceptions over time.  For that matter, only some of the more progressive casino companies bother to find out for certain what their employees think and feel, either. 

Few casinos have any systematic process in place for regularly monitoring what their customers are happy or unhappy about.  For the most part, casino managements rely on hearsay, general impressions, and instinct.  In the fickle gaming marketplace, trusting to gut feelings about what's on the customer's mind is a good way to be fooled or misled. 

Yes, there are those customer comment cards.  Every casino has them.  Yet surprisingly few casinos have systems in place to aggregate, monitor, and analyze them regularly to identify and isolate specific issues and their causes.   In any event, customer comment cards tend to be filled out by people at the extremes, either gushing with elation over their experience or bitingly angry about perceived shoddy treatment.  The great mass of customers in between rarely bothers to fill them out.  Customer comment cards are useful only to the extent that this extremism is taken into account.  The information extracted from them can be useful as an anecdotal thermometer recording the highs and lows of customer experience, but reveals little about the true overall temperature at a given moment. 

Moreover, what if analysis of the cards yields low customer satisfaction ratings?  How do you interpret the cause?  The "why" is usually revealed in employee research.  Many service and hospitality companies say that if they had to forego either consumer or employee attitude research, they would always go with the employee surveys.  They reason that, in a service business, employee attitudes (and behavior) drive customer satisfaction cause and effect. 

A strategically planned service culture initiative should include systematic measurement of both employee perceptions and customer perceptions.  By comparing and correlating the two, reliable insights as to cause and effect become apparent.  If there is a statistically significant rise in employee morale and pride that is reflected in a corresponding rise in customer satisfaction with service, for example, the conclusion can be drawn that investment in that aspect of building the service culture is measuring up to customer expectations. 

"Systematic measurement" means repetition over time.  A single market research event only provides a snapshot of attitudes and perceptions at one moment in time.  By repeating the research at intervals of six months or a year over a period of several years, the data begins to reveal trends and patterns.  Conducting ongoing research is especially important with regard to building a service-based culture because the results don't necessarily show up in one quarter.   Furthermore, with the volatile and continually changing gaming market, the environment in which one market survey is made may be radically changed only a few months later. 

Changing employee behavior patterns takes time, more in some places than others.  Changes in customer perceptions also take time, generally lagging the employee trends slightly.  It takes awhile for them to become aware of improvements in service. 

Ongoing monitoring need not be expensive.  A well-designed survey instrument can be a one-time investment that is reusable over and over.  The questionnaire can be self-administered.  Ongoing costs are limited to tabulation and trends analysis. 

By analyzing the market research over time, management can see what parts of a corporate culture initiative are resonating with the employees and customers, and which ones aren't.   Though it's no substitute for experience and judgment, market research gives casino executives a realistic basis for making informed decisions rather than educated guesses.  Holding a  wet finger in the air to judge which way the wind is blowing gives a broadly general idea of the direction.  However, scientific data measures not only the precise direction at the moment but the exact speed, range of variance, rate of change, and probable future direction and speed. 

Marketers in other industries routinely use consumer market research to get accurate and continual feedback on what customers like and dislike, what they want and don't want, what they know and don't know about a product or service.  They have long understood the direct link between customer attitudes and the company's bottom line.  Gaming, in general, has yet to embrace this fundamental discipline on anything like a broad scale. 

There are exceptions, of course.  Some forward-thinking casino executives have embraced the idea of regular consumer attitudinal measurement and implemented ongoing research processes.  Though such information is usually kept a well-guarded secret, it's a safe bet that these enlightened managers sleep easier at night knowing that whatever decisions they've made were based on fact rather than hunches. 

The long term nature of this systematic measurement discipline makes it a hard sell to casino executives more dazzled by the sexiness of stunning new facades and gee-whiz entertainment attractions.  Market research isn't sexy, but it's a basic necessity to guide the development of an effective customer-focused corporate culture that pays off in real customer approval.  The important first step is to make the commitment to obtaining real market intelligence.  It gives the decisionmaker the power of knowledge, of truly knowing what the situation is.

(This article appeared in the August 1998 issue.)