Monday, November 30, 2009

Can Total Rewards save Atlantic City?

Atlantic City, the famed gambling Mecca about an hour down the coast from me, is on a nasty losing streak. A recent story in the NY Times quoted a top gambling executive as saying “the city is in a death spiral.” Few disagreed.

It seems that after a rough couple of years, 2009 is looking even worse. Every Atlantic City casino but one is seeing a double-digit drop in revenue. The lone exception being the glitzy, feels-like-you’re-in-Vegas Borgata, which is down about 5 percent this year.

The reasons for the decline are many: the rotten economy, competition from newly opened gambling operations in nearby states, and the fact that Atlantic City, like the dwindling number of day-tripping seniors who bus into the city each day, is feeling old and tired.

The most-talked about solution: a cash infusion of a few billion dollars to build new hotels, new attractions, new anything that can start pulling in people again. Which, with the current economic environment, is as likely as me filling a double inside straight flush at the poker table. Or not very likely.

Harrah’s Entertainment ups the ante.

In years past, I’ve frequented the Borgata where I’m a member of the My Borgata Rewards program. But on my last two trips into Atlantic City, I ventured to the swanky but hip Caesars, where I joined Total Rewards–the casino loyalty program from Harrah’s Entertainment, the company behind the Harrahs, Caesars, Bally’s and Showboat casinos.

It appears that Total Rewards has upped the ante over the My Borgata program, by rolling out the red carpet for program members. My evidence here is strictly anecdotal, but I (and a good friend) recently received a bump up not one, but two tier levels to Diamond status. I also received a pair of free weekday hotel stays. (Surprising because, trust me, a high roller I am not.)

It’s obviously a play by Harrah’s Entertainment to get past customers back to Atlantic City and it’s either a smart move or a desperate move, depending on your perspective. I say smart—because rather than gamble on an expensive, and to my thinking, ultimately wasteful mass media campaign, Harrah’s is appealing directly to its customer base for more business.

Granted, they’re digging deep into the base by giving a two-time visitor like me special favors, but my guess is they’re mining the data for a few things: the recency of my visits, my perceived spend level, and my zip code, which tells them I live nearby and should be at a certain income level.

So can Total Rewards really save Atlantic City? It’s a lot to ask of a loyalty program, but it strikes me that Harrah Entertainment is playing the hand it was dealt—and reaching out to its customer base may be its last, best hope. I, for one, hope it works. In fact, I’m about to book a free night for my wife and I right now.

Now, a few words about the Total Rewards communications.

The first good thing I can say about Total Rewards is that they actually have a communications program in place. As a member of the My Borgata program, who opted in for e-mail, I cannot recall receiving the first piece of communications from them, digital or otherwise. (It’s good to be King!)

While the Total Rewards postcard and e-mail creative is perfunctory, they do some small but important things right. They recognize me by name and tier level, and occasionally by the casino I visit, Caesars. They’ve also made attempts to cross-sell me into other areas of the property, including their dining and entertainment venues.

But the Total Rewards communications could go even further. A few thoughts, for the people behind the program:

1. Pump up the engagement: I checked and Total Rewards has a presence on both Facebook and Twitter. Why not add these links to every e-mail? And while you’re at it, add an “invite a friend to join” link to each e-mail, as well.
2. Talk to my preferences: I know your part of the Harrah’s empire, but frankly I only joined the program because I like and visit Caesars. So more info on Caesars and less on Vegas and the other brands please.
3. Leverage the community: I know starting your own online community may be a hassle you don’t want to contemplate, but why not use some of the glowing testimonials found on social travel sites like Kayak and Virtual Tourist. This both encourages loyal customers to return and invites them to join the conversation.

This article originally appeared on Loyalty Truth on November 23, 2009 and was written by Tom Rapsas, a Creative Director/Writer/Strategist. He can be reached at and via Twitter @tomrapsas.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sometimes even the best customer service comes up short.

It’s probably no surprise that the great brands are able to combine excellent products and services with a superior level of customer service. After all, it’s this magic combination that makes them great brands in the first place.

Go to an Apple store to purchase their (in my opinion) superior products, and you get service from friendly, helpful sales reps who truly know and love their stuff. I’m also a big fan of Credo cell phone service. Not only does part of my bill go to worthwhile social causes, every time I talk to customer service I find their reps are some of the nicest people in the world.

Then, there are certain products or services we use and like in spite of their customer service. Like the cool hotel on the beach, with the nice rooms and fantastic ocean views, but the less than accommodating staff. Or the pizza joint with the best pies in town and the never-on-time delivery.

But what about the opposite scenario. Can great customer service overcome a product or service that is lacking or deficient in some way?

Regular readers of this blog already know where I’m going with this: right to my television set and Comcast. On these very Web pages, I recently wrote about my efforts to get my hands on a digital converter box from Comcast in order to receive a couple of channels that had dropped off my set.

You see, back in April, I was informed that I needed to pick up a digital converter to continue receiving MSNBC and AMC. But after going to my local office, I was told, “we’re out of them, come back in January”. A 9-month wait. After checking back in September, I received several conflicting responses, and after a lot of back-and-forth, I was led me to believe a converter would be sent to me in two weeks.

Fast forward to September 26th: two days after my last Comcast blog entry was posted, I received an online reply from ComcastMark of Comcast National Customer Operations. After answering a few questions, I was turned over to ComcastMike (or was it ComcastRich?) who e-mailed me with a few more questions. He, in turn, had a Comcast customer service rep named Cynthia call me.

I wish I could tell you the story had a happy ending, that Cynthia stopped by in a Comcast van to hand-deliver the converter box to me, and I was now writing this from my bedroom office, Countdown with Keith Olbermann playing in the background. But no such luck.

You see, instead of bringing me good news, ComcastCynthia reverted back to the original story. She told me there was in fact a 9-month wait for the digital converters, due to a delay by supplier Scientific Atlanta. She would call me as soon as they came in, probably in January.

To me, a 9-month wait to get the converter box means that someone in the offices of Comcast had really dropped the ball. A 9-month wait means these devices must be in demand. Yikes, can’t Comcast put a little pressure on Scientific Atlanta to ramp up production? After all, in my town, a place where Comcast had a monopoly for many years, their share of market has dropped below 50%. Surely, there had to be a quicker way, Comcast. You’re bleeding customers!

It got me thinking about a recent post by Chris Brogan who pointed out that when a customer service rep tweets “some kind of comforting or informational note to someone who’s having a problem in real time, this information doesn’t exactly travel (easily) through the rest of the system to the people most likely to be directly in front of that person.” Or, in my case, to Cynthia, my designated Comcast rep.

Yet, I don’t really blame ComcastMark or ComcastMike or even ComcastCynthia. Sure, I was passed down the line once, twice, but that’s okay, as they all got back to me in a prompt and courteous manner. Cynthia also gave me the straight story, contrary to my previous encounter with a Comcast rep who said I’d have the converter mailed to me in a couple of weeks.

But despite their best efforts, I’m still in the same place I was back in April, before the Comcast National Customer Operations crew got involved—in essence, waiting 9 months for a part. (Which makes me glad I didn’t lease my car from Comcast.)

It just goes to show you that all the great customer service people in the world often don’t translate into happy, loyal customers—unless you have an organization behind them that gives them the tools, and great products and services, to back them up.

Note: This article was originally published on the Loyalty Truth blog on November 5,2009. A day or two after being published, I received a follow-up reply from Frank @ComcastCares, followed by phone calls from 4 different Comcast reps, local and national, some calling multiple times. Needless to say, I had a service guy at my door a few days later, new boxes in hand, who got me all squared away (for free). So there was a solution out there, it just took the right people to find it. Not sure what the learning is from this beyond the old adage, “the squeaky wheel…”

Tom Rapsas is an independent Creative Director/Writer/Strategist. He can be reached at and via Twitter @tomrapsas.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bling Bling!

Bling = flashy, ostentatious jewellery

Bling Nation, A country of rappers with gold bullion dripping all across, well not exactly.....,

A fairly young firm, with a ton of funding has rolled out possibly the first convergence of RFID. mobile and banking systems. Quite a heady cocktail!

Customers are issued RFID stickers, attached to their mobile phones. These in turn linked with their bank accounts, as in the case of a debit card. When tapped on POS terminals, configured with this solution, the payment is completed, with confirmations being Hence a contactless payment solution, without the hassles of issuing smart cards etc.

The solution breaks open new ground even further, allowing retailers to offer loyalty rewards to customers opting for this payment service.

Targeting smaller communities and markets that are not serviced by larger banks, Bling Nation offers pure convenience to customers and merchants are drawn in with lower fees.

This definitely promises to be a company to look out for.