Dec. 14, 2011
By Adam Tschuor, Director of Ticket Sales (Ball State University)
NACMA Online Library Blog - At face value the fact that I started my professional career as a table games supervisor (more commonly referred to as a pit boss) at the Harrah's Casino in Council Bluffs, IA sounds more like fodder for interesting conversation than anything else. It usually gets people very intrigued and they always want to know what stories I have. Trust me there are plenty to choose from! But my favorite memories are hands down the professional lessons that I learned working there and what I can apply to my career in intercollegiate athletics. Sometimes I come across people that see it as a negative (even my own bride-to-be!) but for the most part people see the forest through the trees. Gaming does come with certain negative connotations but overall it was an outstanding, responsible company to work for. Although working in the gaming industry turned out to not be my calling I was truly privileged to have wound up there. Not many 22 year olds can say they started their professional career working in management for a Fortune 500 company.
For a bit of background I was a student-athlete & finance major at nearby Creighton University. I was getting ready to graduate and had a couple offers to be a stock broker or financial advisor. Those positions scared me to death since many offered only 100% commission. As my dad put it to me "I don't know of too many 65 year old, retiring couples that will trust a 22 year old to invest their money!". With that I scoured the area for the next best option for a finance major, being a corporate financial analyst. With that I interviewed for a back of house financial analyst position at the local Harrah's Casino across the Missouri River in Iowa (those that go to the CWS are probably familiar!). I didn't get the job but a few weeks later the HR manager called me asking if I would be interested in another managerial opportunity. I went in with no idea what it was and was shocked that they were offering me a chance to be a pit boss. Especially because I didn't know anything about gaming! As it turns out this position was a trial run of offering gaming "crash courses" to local college grads and once they told me the salary and benefits I accepted the job. I spent 4 months back of house learning the games and in 18 months was filling in as a backup Casino Manager for the entire property. Managing anywhere from 6 to 50 employees at such a young age was first and foremost the best experience I could have ever gotten.
After much reflection that I was simply not happy with my career there. I left Harrah's to become an athletics graduate assistant at Ball State (quite the pay cut!). I still don't make near what I made at Harrah's but I have no regrets, I am happy and back where I belong; in college athletics. On a side note I will be eternally grateful to Creighton Athletic Director, Bruce Rasmussen for sitting down with me and knocking the sense into me that I needed to take big step backwards professionally in being a G.A. in order to get my foot in the door in college athletics.
The managerial experience may be first but there are many other things that I learned at Harrah's that I, and maybe you, can apply today. If you seriously look at the two objectively, the gaming/entertainment industry and the external side of intercollegiate athletics, the goals are one in the same. It's all about making those turnstiles move! Casinos are fantastic case studies in customer service and client rewards. Many of our own priority point systems and student reward programs are no different than the Total Rewards program that Harrah's (now Caesar's Entertainment) incorporates. I can go on and on but here are my top three favorite lessons that I learned working there that I try to instill today.
One of Harrah's main priorities is customer service. Part of that philosophy was creating a fun environment for your front line employees. These are the dealers, servers, cashier cage staff, attendants, etc, the people that have day to day, one on one interaction with the customers. If they were having fun and were happy then they would transfer those good vibes to the customer. One of the ways we charged up the front liners was through buzz sessions. These were 10 to 20 minute long staff meetings that were right before the workers hit the floor. The beginning part was more informational (there's prime rib in the cafeteria tonight, keep an eye out for counterfeit $20 bills, etc.). The last 10 to 15 minutes though were games designed to wake them up, charge them up, and get the excited about coming to work. They ranged from all kinds of games but my favorite was always "One Word Story" (Keep it clean people!). We did these every day, before every shift, no matter how large or small.
A happy staff leads to happy season ticket holders, happy donors, and more importantly happy people that want to come back. Make sure that your ticket sellers, game day marketing staff, even ushers are fired up to engage with your fans. A fun game or two can go a long way!
Spotlight on Success:
Customer service was taken very, very seriously. So serious that even their annual raises were based partly on their rated customer service. Most supervisors had 6 to 10 dealers that reported to them directly. Each supervisor was charged with maintaining a file on each subordinate and giving them bi-annual evaluations. The midyear evaluation was for development that would inform them of what they needed to do to get the highest raise possible. The last one was the final evaluation that determined what their percentage raise would be. A full third of their evaluation dealt with customer service and interactions.
Every month each supervisor was required to do four "Spotlight on Success" customer service ratings of random dealers. These SOS evaluations rated the dealer on a five points in a one on one interaction with a customer. You rate them on a scale of 0, 10, 20, or 30. The best you can get was a 150, anything south of 110 and you had problems. After that an action plan had to devised to work with the employee on getting their customer service ratings up.
Now in your own world you don't need to be quite so formal in rating your employee's service abilities. But having some sort of quantitative, rewards based system with which you rate the quality of your employee's external outreach is important.
If you do already have some type of system or rating card, good for you! Best tip I can give though is if you are "spotlighting" one of your front line employees interactions don't be obvious with it. Once I started to supervise the pit bosses this was a big pet peeve of mine. Every employee knew what those red and white Scantron rating sheets looked like. Some lazy supervisors would stand there, staring full bore at the dealer with that sheet in their hand. You would all of a sudden see dealers with notoriously low ratings get astronomical scores. It's easy to be great at dealing with people when you know that specific interaction is being scrutinized.
Have a quality Customer Relationship Management system:
At Harrah's there was a great system called WinNet. This was Harrah's Entertainment's national system with which a customer's Total Rewards card was tied to. Harrah's is a very big company, with over 50 properties in 14 countries when I worked there. This system tied all of the properties together. With that a supervisor or manager could look up what each patron had spent with Harrah's whether it be at the casino, hotel, restaurant, or golf course, what they've been given complimentary, and more importantly their info screen.
This screen was something everyone checked because it always had useful information. If someone had been verbally abusive to a waitress at Harrah's Lake Tahoe, we'd know. A hotel manager at Horseshoe Biloxi could put what the customer's favorite drink is or that if you were going to comp something for a high end player that they prefer buffet vouchers. It let you be one step ahead in providing great service.
We're very lucky at Ball State to have a ticketing system like Archtics. It is truly just as much a CRM as it is a ticket system. We have donor status, birthday information, secondary contact info, and info lines that detail seating requests, habits, and even unfortunately details on habitually hostile customers. We haven't gotten to the point where we are putting pictures of the clients in yet but we're getting there! Paciolan and NeuLion are other quality systems that provide similar features. Not all ticket systems can provide these but if they do not it is wise that any sales/marketing team have a CRM in addition. Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle are good systems to look into and run around $500.
Professional Development tip of the day:
Send your employees to professional development opportunities
Harrah's spent enormous amounts of resources professionally developing their employees. I've been fortunate to work in a similar environment here at Ball State. So far this year Ball State Athletics has sent met to a sales symposium, a leadership seminar and once again I will be attending the ultimate development opportunity, the 2012 NACDA & Affiliates Convention in Dallas this June. As my boss has told me numerous times he knows that not only do these opportunities make me and my co-workers better administrators but when the day comes that we move on our department will have a reputation for developing quality employees. This will in turn lead to better candidates for future positions.
If you are not already providing opportunities for your staff to grow then please do so! You don't have to pay the whole way for your staff to go to a convention or take a webinar series but even covering a small portion would go a long way to not only making your staff better but making you a more complete manager.
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