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Growth Comes From Innovation

by Todd Saunders, VP of IT, Turning Stone Resort Casino September-2016

Growth comes from innovation–and in the service industry, innovation is best driven by the people you know best-your customers.

These individuals can be your organization’s most critical innovation asset-they have already invested in your company, know your systems–and have a wish list they would love to see fulfilled that could make your business better.

"Growth comes from innovation–and in the service industry, innovation is best driven by the people you know best-your customers"

In our work to improve the guest experience and build loyalty at Turning Stone Resort Casino, we have integrated digital tools into the process, relying on our Information Technology Department to glean insights directly from our customers. When implementing new growth strategies, those insights now work in tandem with our long-standing values and beliefs–which come from the Oneida Indian Nation’s longstanding heritage and tradition.

Oneida Indian Nation Representative and Nation Enterprises CEO Ray Halbritter instills the Oneida culture in his leadership team to help guide our business decisions–and, as he so often notes, Oneida custom is to treat guests in your home like family. In practice, this means that when we apply these standards to our guests, we are focused on listening. That focus helps us determine our guests’ needs and provide innovative solutions to make them happy and comfortable.

Ray has always told us to act as though we have a competitor right across the street. This guiding principle has served us well in a region where we have always faced significant competition–and it has ensured we are providing a comprehensive entertainment experience for our guests, an experience that is head and shoulders above the rest. It has also prepared us for the inevitable new growth of the gaming industry, already in the works in New York State and our surrounding areas.

Our most elaborate project to date, a $15 million upgrade which included the transformation of the casino gaming floor and the implementation of a 360-degree loyalty program has allowed us to better personalize the gaming experience for each guest. The catalyst for this overhaul was guest feedback.

Guests were frustrated with having to wait in long lines to add money to their account to play machines–and they found it overly burdensome to use two different cards for free play and rewards.

Thanks to their feedback, we developed strategic, cost-effective solutions-we replaced the account-based cashless system, and we launched a new casino and slot management system to move to a ticket-in-ticket-out solution. Guests are now able to insert cash directly into the machines, significantly minimizing wait times. Rewards and cash play were also streamlined onto one card to simplify accessibility to guest incentives. Moving forward, we also added powerful systems that enabled the functionality necessary to create our industry-leading 360-degree loyalty program entitled TS Rewards.

These reforms exemplify the symbiosis between our values, our business and our embrace of growth-oriented innovation-Our commitment to listening to our customers made us able to hear a key suggestion born out of guest frustration–which then became a massive overhaul that has led to increased benefits and a better experience for Turning Stone guests. Each improvement opened the door for yet another possible guest service enhancement. By the time the transformation was complete, more than a dozen technology system additions were implemented, creating a comprehensive entertainment experience.

Our guests can now earn points for all purchases at our resort–not just gaming wagers. These efforts are enhancing the guest experience to create loyalty. Now, more than 200,000 new members have joined TS Rewards and slot revenues have increased by more than 10 percent.

With the addition of this 360-degree loyalty program and the extensive guest data that it provides, Turning Stone is now better positioned to personalize each guest experience. Which leads me to the next way to facilitate innovation and growth–embrace the intelligence culture.

In the process of investing in systems that help us listen to our guests, we have also seen an additional corollary benefit – we are constantly learning as much as possible about our guests.

As an example, our TS Rewards loyalty program allows us to see where our guests are spending their time, money and rewards. Rewards are honored at 259 POS locations throughout the resort and company enterprises, allowing guests to earn, as well as spend their points at more than 20 restaurants, two spas, nearly a dozen entertainment venues, 15 retail shops, five golf courses and Turning Stone lodging locations, including three hotels and an RV park. We know if loyalty members like to golf, get pedicures at the spa, or prefer to dine at our tavern or Asian restaurant.

Carded guests are also eligible for special offers including comps, discounts and experience events, such as VIP parties. That is where what we do with this information becomes so important. By collecting specific details about our loyalty guests’ experiences, we are able to better target our outreach efforts, offering guest incentives tailored to their specific preferences.

These customized incentives are an important part of our extensive guest communications–another piece of the puzzle in our quest to drive innovation and growth. Turning Stone reaches out to guests through direct mail, electronic mail and via social media platforms. Turning Stone is now mailing and emailing substantially more offers and incentives than ever, and doing so with a more strategic method. By listening to our guests and embracing the intelligence culture, we have been able to create a comprehensive entertainment experience tailored for our different types of guests–whether they enjoy gambling, golfing or any other activity offered at our resort.

Through effective and customized guest communication we are able to connect with these guests in a meaningful, interactive way that shows we are listening. This fact, coupled with our launch of the most comprehensive guest-reward program in New York, is allowing Turning Stone Resort Casino to lead the way in gaming innovation and growth in the state, as well as remain a top tourist destination in Central New York.