Advancing Customer Experience in an Ever-Evolving Hospitality Sector

Saverio Scheri, COO, Agua Caliente Casinos

Saverio Scheri, COO, Agua Caliente Casinos

Nearly 38 years ago, I began working in the hospitality and gaming industries, specifically in gaming. In that time, I have seen a lot of things and the most important thing I have been able to witness and be a part of is the advancement of technology in the hospitality and gaming businesses.

It is funny when I started in the information technology department, we were always instructed not to let technology drive the business, but rather the business drive the technology. That was all well and good in the 1980s, and possibly even the 1990s. Nonetheless, once we passed the 2000s, it began to invert and the technology really did drive the business, because the technology started to allow us to do things we could not even possibly imagine before that time. Joining a loyalty club and making bookings while on another trip someplace else, sitting by a pool, transformed the way we do business. That is currently occurring and will continue to occur. So I think it's been exciting to watch that inversion and now to appreciate all of the new technology, to see how we can embrace it and build businesses to support it.


We now have technology that allows us to make the most of the opportunities—where guests can spend more time and remain longer while they are at the property and encourage them to visit us again. We can perform a push instead of waiting to mail them something to invite them back. We can send them a text message, not even an email, but a text message, which is instantaneous, and they're virtually forced to look at it, as opposed to an email, which is a poll with here. Then, once they're on property we leverage technology and lots of different ways to make their stay with us a memorable one. And that is what we aim for: to provide the best possible guest experience. And we know we can accomplish it with a great product or accommodation, a good restaurant, and exceptional customer service. We let guests use as much or as little technology as they wish while making bookings and on the property, whether it is with reservations, an agent, or a casino host. And because I can create an experience, that's how we'll be able to provide the ultimate guest experience. 


The biggest hurdle today is getting in the right technology. We frequently discuss how we would like to provide a specific technology, such as a messaging platform or an app that would allow our customers to become more engaged with our property. As there is a lot of canned software available in the market—apps that you can buy—getting them right on the property is the biggest challenge. These apps may not always offer the experience that we desire. As a result, we frequently have to either customize a product or develop a solution from scratch for our customers.


One must identify a company or organisation that shares their goal, which is easier said than done. Having worked on the other side of the fence as a consultant, I can tell you that vendors will often say what you want to hear to make a sale. But what you actually need to do is cut through all of that and figure out what that company's vision for their product is. And then ask yourself, do you have the chemistry, do you have a relationship with the people in the firm to make this work? Because there will be a lot of effort on the other side, after you sign the contract, to install it, possibly customise it, and then support it. Then it has to evolve because by the time you have finished all of that and start deploying this solution, you're probably already behind the curve and will need to start thinking about modifications to make to keep up with what your customers will demand.

"However, I Believe That Firms Who Can Adapt Well And Have A Good Team Will Be A Little Bit More Nimble And Successful In These Types Of Circumstances"

We decided to invest our resources, both financially and in terms of people, in developing technology that would enable us to better understand these customers and their habits and behaviours to continue to attract them. Because once things started to open up again postCOVID, their previous options would become available, and they might decide not to return to our resort and instead spend their money elsewhere. Hence, we are working on technologies that will allow us to be really smart about how we analyse our consumers' behaviour and market to them in a way that will keep them coming back. Our ultimate objective is that they will try their luck in the casino, but it is not as important to us as simply getting that client back. Because there are plenty of other things we may have them spend their money on, such as the restaurant, hotel, and especially food and beverages.


A project that we are working on is creating a data lake that will allow us to do a lot of traditional data mining that a resort and casino would do for their customers. We are building a new way to look at this using a combination of algorithms, artificial intelligence, and even bots to gain intelligence about our non-traditional customers and use that for our marketing ability. That is something I have been spearheading over the past six to nine months, and we are very excited about what it is going to offer us— both non-traditional and traditional clients.


Perseverance, I believe, is the key to success. Many people come in to try their hand at working in the hospitality or casino industries and do not give it a real good chance. You are not going to come in and start at the top, or even close to the top, right? We all begin with an entry-level position, and that is how I began my career. And a lot of people don't want to give it the time it needs to develop, which I think is critical to being able to establish a career and be successful, and it's the same with anything, you have to dedicate yourself to doing it. It bowls down to this: if you enjoy it, it should be something that you can do for a long time and that will allow your career to take off on a path that will lead you to the top.


I used to think I could foresee how things would end out before we got COVID. And I don't believe anyone can anticipate how things will turn out in the future. However, we must try our best since it is our obligation as leaders to do so. The one thing I take away from what we have gone through with COVID and how we have emerged from it is that we really have to be prepared for anything. No one could have imagined we would go through something like this, and no one was prepared for it. However, I believe that firms who can adapt well and have a good team will be a little bit more nimble and successful in these types of circumstances. As a result, I'm motivated to work even harder to build a team capable of handling every obstacle that comes their way.

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