Today we’re talking about casinos. Casinos and airlines are similar in their operational complexity and sense of wonder.
Few people really know how casinos work. Sure, most people know the house always wins, just like most people know planes take off on time (most of the time…), without considering the complexities behind the scenes. How do you keep an airline running smoothly? How do you manage the flow of people – and their heightened emotions – in a casino setting?
Both airlines and casinos have distinct check-in touchpoints. Three months ago, I had the chance (no pun intended!) to take my mother to Las Vegas. I had visited previously on business, but I had never experienced Vegas as a tourist.
To my disappointment, I found that most casinos had not figured out self-service as a check-in touchpoint. Now, by self-service, I do not mean Hyatt digital keys. I mean functioning kiosks that can be used quickly to avoid long lines.
When I saw no self-service options of this type, I was so disgruntled I shared my frustration on social media! Shortly after returning to New York, we were faced with COVID-19. And, for a time, I put aside my bad guest experience. Now that we are talking about reopening, I see the lessons we can learn about how to make a good first impression on a customer journey.
Consider the Check-In Touchpoint
No matter the industry, check-in is an important customer-facing experience touchpoint. For airlines, it can mean the difference between catching a flight or missing it. For hospitals, it can make or break patient outcomes.
And for casinos and their hotels, check-in can determine how much money a guest is willing to spend on the casino floor. The faster a guest checks in, the sooner that guest is spending money gambling.
In the post COVID-19 world, check-in is becoming more important than ever. Self-service will be a casino game changer. Those with strategic leadership thinking will optimize this touchpoint and see the returns they so desperately need.
Take a Strategic Approach
The CEO who acts with the right level of urgency now has the chance to grab a much larger portion of the post-COVID market when everything opens. After all, the beauty of check-in is that, once you build it, it can be applied across multiple scenarios.
For a casino, strategically designed check-in solutions can solve not just for hotel check-in, but also for entering a show, a sports game, a concert or any other entertainment offering. All of this becomes even more important (and more challenging) post-COVID.
A Tale of Two Lobbies
Let’s compare two experiences. After a long flight, Guest A arrives in a crowded lobby, similar to the one in the image above. It is 11:30 p.m. local time. Guest A spends more than an hour waiting in line, worrying about social distancing.
Eventually, Guest A interacts with a front desk agent (still worried about social distancing). Finally, Guest A receives a reusable plastic key (this causes more anxiety). By the end of this transaction, Guest A is annoyed at best, and in a real state of panic at worst.
Now, imagine Guest B arrives at an open space lobby with kiosks.
By design, this space looks clean and spacious. Guest B approaches a kiosk that dispenses a room key after a few simple clicks. If the facility wants to optimize available biometrics technology, it enables the kiosk with a facial recognition program and makes Guest B’s experience contactless.
How do you think Guest B is feeling? After this easy check-in, Guest B is thinking only about the NEXT interaction with the casino. Why? Because the check-in was so seamless and easy, Guest B is not even thinking about it!
Who is in a better mood? Who is ready to spend money on the casino floor?
Even more importantly, who is more likely to return to the casino after this visit?
Overcoming Check-In Challenges
Some of you might say, “Great, but to do this, we need to integrate the legacy reservation system with the kiosks.”
And others might say, “Ok, but the payment system needs to be upgraded to include contactless pay.”
Last but not least, the unions (yes, casinos have pretty powerful unions) will counter,“you are eliminating jobs.”
Now, this is where the lessons from the airlines come into play. Airlines have the exact same challenges. The same archaic systems run their passenger reservations. But at the end of the day, if you do not solve this, you will always be a prisoner of the technology of the past. Today, investing in technology is investing in hospitality.
Invest in Hospitality
If you are in the business of travel and entertainment, you need to schedule a meeting with that one dinosaur technology provider by the end of Q2. Figure out how to integrate with the new world. I know it is doable. We did it in JetBlue. Of course, it was not easy.
Yet, that is the reason why we were able to board people using only their faces in 2017, while our competitors were asking travelers to register at a kiosk with their ten-digit ticket number. Try to guess the adoption rates of those competing programs.
The current contactless payment challenge is not much different. Apple Pay started in October 2014. JetBlue became the first airline to adopt it in February 2015. And this is just one example.
The strategic casino out there has to figure out the contactless payment service that works for their organization. The point is, if an airline with small margins can do it in 2015, a casino can do the same in 2020. And they must.
Back when we were working both on the self-service lobbies and facial recognition programs, we were asked all the time if we were planning to eliminate jobs. The answer was always the same. We were SHIFTING jobs. We were UPGRADING jobs. Think of today’s front desk casino employee.
Front desk employees are struggling with old systems behind very high podiums. They activate plastic keys that constantly get deactivated. They serve guests who are annoyed, tired, and anxious. In the future optimized lobby, that same employee is a welcome concierge who provides updates about casino cleaning and safety. This employee ensures that, from the first moment a guest enters the casino property, she feels comfortable, welcome, and take care of.
Making lists in posts in not my style. But for the topic of self-service, I am making an exception. For casino industry colleagues reading this, here are some top observations from my stay in Las Vegas.
1. The ROI of self-service follows the same logic as slot machines.
The more guests use them, the better the return. Shutting down kiosks between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. should not happen. Whatever the system issue is, invest once to fix it, then see the long-term payout.
2. Having kiosks in front of the registration desk while keeping the desk fully staffed does not drive adoption.
Take the risk. Staff your check-in with fewer people.
3. Do not install kiosks in the middle of the lobby.
Instead, make it intuitive for the guest. And create seamless experience design.
Think Ahead – and Be Flexible
No one knows exactly what a casino or an airline experience would look like post-COVID. However, we do know that people will seek safety, security and comfort.
We also know that long lines are coming our way, unless we do something about it now. The technology is available. It has been for years. The only thing left is for you to design it with intent. The intent to make your customer happy, and to secure a healthy future for your organization.
Enjoy the experience! And it you would like a guide on your journey, we are here to help.