Big Bet On Customer Loyalty - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
03:06 PM
Tony Kontzer
Tony Kontzer

Big Bet On Customer Loyalty

Companies use real-time information to identify and keep their best customers

When people are having a good time in casino cities like Las Vegas, seldom do they want to play at just one venue. Harrah's Entertainment Inc. has helped keep visitors from straying by using loyalty cards and analytics software. Now the company is looking to raise the stakes of those efforts by using its IT systems to let it identify, track, communicate with, and reward its customers while they're playing in its casinos.

While the plan may seem slightly Big Brotherish, Harrah's says it's simply an effort to keep its loyal customers happy and, in some cases, boost the spirits of someone whose luck has run dry. Three years ago, Harrah's began distributing its Total Rewards cards to people who visit its 26 hotel-casinos in 12 states. After sidling up to a slot machine or gaming table, customers slide their cards in a reader, which awards them a credit for every $5 or $10 spent. That credit can be redeemed for food, shows, and room discounts.

Harrah's CIO Tim Stanley

Harrah's rewards good customers to keep them from going elsewhere, CIO Stanley says.
Harrah's plans to add real-time capabilities to the system to get rewards in customers' hands more quickly. That means a regular customer on a losing streak might get a message on a slot machine's card-reader display that he's just been awarded a $20 credit to help regain some of those losses. The objective, Harrah's CIO Tim Stanley says, is to stop good customers from leaving the premises for a competing casino. "And the more you play with us, the more we know about you," he says.

Harrah's goal of developing tighter relationships with its customers isn't new, but its real-time approach is. "If you're not able to make a real-time decision about who the best prospects are and how to best match your resources with those prospects, then all is just about lost," says analyst Denis Pombriant, principal at Beagle Research Group.

Getting closer to all its loyal customers--whether they're silk-suited high rollers or jeans-wearing lever-pullers--is a big priority for Harrah's. The growth of family-style casino-resorts has forced those in the business to compete aggressively for even the quarter-slot players. "There's a heck of a lot more low rollers out there than high rollers," Stanley says.

For Harrah's, this effort includes building customer profiles, such as how often a customer frequents a casino, what games he's likely to play, and even his gambling ability, using some basic predictive-analysis modeling and business-intelligence software from Cognos Inc.

Data collected at card readers is loaded into the casino-management system, essentially an enterprise-resource-planning system for casinos, and is then passed on to an NCR Corp. active data-warehousing application. The data warehouse performs analytical functions, such as determining what games are most popular on the floor, which may prompt the casino, for example, to alter the mix of machines.

Once all the data is gathered, it's run through analytics software from Cognos, which generates detailed reports. These are used both by the system for automatic rewards generation to individual players and by managers who can use the information to grant cash, VIP club access, and other rewards to particularly lucrative customers.

The technology is already in place to send messages on card readers back to customers, Stanley says; the next step is to have his team write some new business rules for its casino-management and analytics software to make the real-time capabilities happen.

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