Recently, I spent 24 hours in Las Vegas. I had only been once before, when I was about 17; I remember loving it – the lights, what I perceived as glamour and the excitement.
Over a decade later, I was excited to revisit it. When I checked into my well-located hotel on the strip, I even asked whether the hotel was fully booked for the following night in case I was having too much fun and decided to stay longer.
After putting our bags in the room, my partner and I were looking forward to exploring, both of us in good spirits. As 24 hours unfolded, we had some fun, but we also had some negative experiences, which were mostly related to service issues – things the operators of Vegas could easily adjust to ensure people leave having the kind of experience that brings them back for more.
I was reminded of some important lessons from our time in Las Vegas that can be applicable for anyone working on building customer satisfaction – on or off the web.
1. Don’t Create Unrealistic Expectations
We aren’t buffet people. They don’t really do them in the UK, and in North America our experience is generally that quantity and quality don’t always go together.
Despite our shared knowledge, we allowed ourselves to be convinced by the front desk staff that if we paid $35 each, we would have our pick of wonderful, high quality buffets from six reputable hotels, all within walking distance. It was easy, it was inexpensive and we would have the freedom to pop into, say Paris, for dessert if we wanted.
We should have known better, but like many less practiced visitors, we allowed ourselves to be convinced. We were realistic about quality – we knew we were getting buffet food and weren’t expecting it to be five star. But where we felt let down was in the promise of convenience and ease, which was not delivered on.
For dinner, we went to no less than three hotels before finding one that only had a wait time of an hour for a seat in the restaurant – one of the six places included in our deal was not even open for dinner that night, which wasn’t conveyed by our eager concierge when she sold us the passes. The coveted Paris Hotel (where we were supposed to “pop in” for dessert) had a queue a mile long. Instead of spending our time exploring Vegas and spending money, we wasted a good deal of our time trying to find somewhere to eat and waiting for a seat.
It is far better to be honest with clients about the limitations of a product or service rather than selling them an ideal that you will not be able to live up to. We would have been happier with a la carte meals and, quite likely, we would have ended up parting with more money as a result. It’s better to be honest and allow customers to make an informed decision, rather than setting them up for disappointment.
2. Give Visitors a Map
If you’ve ever been in a casino in Las Vegas, you’ve probably noted some or all of the following:
- There are very few maps in the sprawling casinos and they are hard to find.
- Most casinos are lit so that you can’t tell what time of day it is, and there are no clocks.
- The layout is confusing – there are often different wings or branches of a hotel and, in some cases, even outbuildings to navigate.
- There aren’t a lot of people around to help you find your way.
There have been a number of studies to suggest that casinos are designed with user psychology in mind. The lighting, tacky carpet design and music choice are all cobbled together to illicit a specific reaction in visitors – to spend money. Though I’m sure that there is ample evidence to suggest that this works for some people, I instinctively had the opposite reaction; I felt frustrated that I couldn’t find what I was looking for and disorientated because of the lighting and the smell. Instead of giving up my money, I felt an itching desire to escape to the outside where the grid of the familiar design of the street allowed me to locate myself and find my way.
The message – tricks may work on some visitors. You may fool someone into discovering something they weren’t looking for if they are forced to try and circumvent difficult or non-existent systems of navigation. Or, you may frustrate and lose them, missing out on even the initial interest they felt in your offering. Smoke and mirrors is generally a risky proposition – give visitors a map and trust that you offer enough value or quality (or both) to keep them interested.
3. You Are Not the Only Game in Town
There are a lot of options in Las Vegas: casinos, shows, nightclubs, shopping malls, restaurants … If you don’t like one ‘all you can eat’ seafood buffet, you can be assured that there’s another one just across the street. Most of what is there is a testament to mediocrity; it’s all just okay.
For the burgeoning entrepreneur, there is a great deal of opportunity in a market saturated with barely passable product. We made our decisions based around two factors: price and quality, and those two elements tended to shift depending on the scarcity of what we were after.
For example, a bottle of domestic beer at the New York Hotel and Casino costs $7, compared to $4 for the same product at Harrah’s. New York is a much nicer place, but not nice enough to justify paying an extra $6 a round for the exact same bottle, so in this case the lower quality venue won out.
Conversely, rather than paying $35 for a 24 hour all you can eat pass – arguably a good value considering that it was unlimited – we would have rather paid triple that over the 24 hour period to eat better quality food and avoid waiting in lines. In this equation, quality is prioritised over value.
Know your visitor and what is important to them and make sure you understand your niche. If you are charging more than your competitors, you better offer increased quality to justify it; or your brand needs to be valuable enough that people are willing to pay for the luxury of the association.
You are not the only game in town and chances are, I can find your product or service elsewhere. Position yourself accordingly and don’t make me work too hard to figure out why I should spend my time or money on your website.
4. Be Transparent
I’ve always read that Las Vegas casinos tend to offer visitors a lot of freebies like drinks and snacks because they understand that they will make the most profit from gambling. They want to make you comfortable enough to keep spending your money where they get the most mark up.
Maybe this philosophy has shifted due to the recession, because this was not our experience at all. We found that at every turn we were being ripped off. A good example is the lack of ATMs on the strip that don’t charge an exorbitant premium to customers taking out money. Most ATMs inside casinos charge a whopping 20% on each withdrawal – to take out $50, you pay back $10. The really sneaky part is that this information is relayed to customers via small print on the machines; it would be very easy to miss. We searched up and down the strip before finally coming across an ATM in a pharmacy that charged a flat fee of $2 per transaction. It wasn’t easy to find as even when asking for directions in our own hotel, we were led on an endless search for bank machines that didn’t seem to exist; it really felt like their intention was to lead us astray so that we would give up and pay their ridiculous premium.
I’m sure this tactic makes short-term business sense. Many visitors likely use ATMs without reading the fine print – they probably use them and use them until they get home to find that they’ve been charged a lot of money for the privilege of spending their money in a casino (in addition to whatever money they’ve lost gambling). But how will they feel about it? How will they feel about the hotel – likely the one they stayed in – and their experience?
Or, if they are like me, after searching for a more reasonably priced machine, will they feel like returning and spending more money in the venue that has just tried to rip them off? Probably not.
The surcharge seems ridiculous, but it’s not illegal and businesses in Las Vegas have the right to charge what they want. But as a customer, what makes me angry, what is unforgivable, is the deception; and business who engage in underhanded practices don’t deserve my money. Transparency wouldn’t make me any more likely to use the ATMs with the 20% surcharge, but I would be less likely to think I am being taken for a ride.
None of these lessons are ground breaking and they probably only apply to those who are looking to develop long-lasting relationships with visitors rather than quick financial gains.
Do you have any lessons to add to the list?