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Posted February 8, 2002 By Jonathan Jackson     Feedback

Not surprisingly, Las Vegas is an excellent paradigm of good customer service. After all, people keep coming back for some reason.

Going to Las Vegas is like an out-of-body experience. Wandering amid the miles of neon, one searches for new superlatives to describe the place. It's life without all those pesky rules. Smoke wherever you want. Gorge at a buffet. Drink for free. Gamble 24 hours a day. It's all there.

Not surprisingly, Las Vegas is also an excellent paradigm of good customer service. After all, people keep coming back for some reason. The gaming industry wants you to have fun while it gently empties your pockets. If any business should have honed its customer relationship management (CRM) skills, it's the casino biz. As I discovered, however, there is still some room for improvement -- and the lessons learned can benefit any business.

On a recent visit to Vegas, I decided to combine a little business with pleasure. Walking up and down the Strip, I signed up for every slot club at every casino. (Tell me I don't work hard for this column!) What I learned was very interesting.

For those of you who haven't been exposed to the concept, slot clubs exist so that casinos can track how much a player wagers. By inserting a personalized plastic card into a slot machine, the casino knows exactly how much time you're spending there and how much money you're willing to risk. In return for this knowledge, the player is awarded points that can be exchanged for one of the ubiquitous casino "comps," or complimentaries. Anything from a kitschy key chain to a free room can be yours if you spend enough time and money at a particular resort.

That part isn't very new. Casinos have been doling out comps ever since the modern Las Vegas rose from the desert some 60 years ago. The interesting part, at least for those of us in the marketing racket, is the way people obtain these slot cards.

Every casino wants your email address. From the plushest resorts on the center Strip to the grind joints downtown, email has taken hold. What's interesting is how they get that address and how they use it.

First of all, you have to give them your phone number if you want the card. No phone number, no card -- and no potential freebies. But when it comes to an email address, some casinos get friendlier. A few offered to enter me in contests for untold riches if I would just kindly share my email address with them. Needless to say, those were the ones that got my unreserved cooperation.

Other slot clubs simply ask for your email address and expect you to fork it over -- whether you like it or not. There is no indication of how it will be used, even when you ask staffers the question directly, nor is there any incentive for providing that information. If you "forget" to enter your email address on the form, you will always be asked for it.

Well, perhaps you could overlook that. After all, you have a shot at some comps if you get the card, so perhaps that is incentive enough. On the other hand, if a casino really wants the customer completely on its side, it ought to, at the very least, try to give people an added benefit for giving up email addresses.

It's still an anomaly in the marketing business that consumers are apparently more than willing to give out their snail-mail addresses and telephone numbers, but their email addresses have to be wrung from them grudgingly. As I've discussed in previous articles, email is win-win for everyone. Consumers get a relatively unobtrusive and convenient way to receive marketing communications, and companies save all manner of time and money by sending email instead of making phone calls or sending regular mail.

But once they've gathered those precious email addresses, what do the casinos actually do with them? Unfortunately, very little it seems. It has now been several weeks since my Strip tour, and I have received a grand total of one -- one -- email. What a waste.

Having wrested my email address from me, using incentives or otherwise, the casinos now have a low-cost way to contact me on a regular basis. Although no one wants to receive a deluge of email from any company, simply acknowledging my existence in an email would hardly be untoward. In fact, the one email I did receive was a bland, all-text thank-you note. Hardly inspiring, but at least it was something.

Particularly in an industry that rightfully prides itself on strong and lasting customer relations, passing up or delaying an opportunity to start that dialogue with the consumer is simply foolish. By using email to acknowledge, advise, entice, and inform their customer base, casinos (or any business for that matter) can elevate a mere business transaction to a new level. You don't want someone to simply fork over his money and call it a day. A personal connection with the consumer is essential, and email can help make that possible.

As one of the founding fathers of Las Vegas quipped, "If you want to get rich, make little people feel big." Sound advice. And get their email addresses while you're at it.

Related Article:
Casinos Deal New CRM Program

Jonathan Jackson is an online marketing consultant based in New York City. He has written extensively on Internet advertising and e-mail marketing. Formerly a senior analyst at "eMarketer," Jonathan's worked at several great metropolitan advertising agencies and teaches Internet marketing at colleges in New York.

Reprinted from ClickZ.

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