Lee Ashby, Product and Engagement Consultant, Antiblanks (previously Customer Engagement Development Manager The Stars Group, PokerStars)
Gaming is a constantly evolving industry that has had to adapt to both regulatory change as well as the change in consumer habits and behaviours. I’ve been lucky to have worked in both real money gaming, experiencing the poker boom and the emergence of in-play and mobile betting, as well as social free-to-play gaming which has now grown into a huge $80 Billion a year industry. The one constant has been the goal to create a sustainable customer experience.
If we are to make an experience that can be maintained at a certain rate or level, I believe there should be a strong foundation of non-negotiables that should be adhered to. I have three:
Care for your customer
Have consistency in your activity
Have a calendar in place
Care, consistency and calendar - The Three C’s.
In the case of customer experience, I see care as having a focus on giving the customer an intuitive experience. Customers should know where they stand, what they have to do, and what their reward is.
In social gaming there is an obsession with the first-time user experience or FTUE; this is where a game hand-holds the new user through the first session. That FTUE, to be memorable and sustainable, must entertain, inform and reward instantly. An example here could be to offer the user a three-step tutorial on how your game works, reward them for completing the tutorial and deliver that reward in an exciting animated way.
The immediate goal of that first session is a second session and the beginnings of creating sustainable behaviour in the customer. After this, each session should bring additional value for the customer improving long term retention which will drive monetisation.
The testing and optimising discipline I have experienced in social gaming should not be limited to those first few sessions. There needs to be a consistent plan to refine the user experience.
Can you reduce friction points in the experience?
Where can you reward user achievements?
How can you display progress to encourage levelling-up?
By answering these questions through continually testing and optimisation, the net result is a better customer experience that creates a more confident user, which then manifests into sustained trust and loyalty.
Care should also be a consideration for longer-term features where you’re asking customers to engage with your product time after time. That experience has to be developed and improved constantly to sustain behaviour as well as mirror the changing habits of consumers.
A great example here is Sky Bet Super 6, a feature that continues to evolve season after season by removing friction points to create a deeper level of engagement and become more viral through features such as sharing via WhatsApp.
Informing is a big part of customer care and in social gaming, tutorials are a popular way of both onboarding users as well as introducing new features. This is not “teaching to suck eggs”, it’s ensuring customers are comfortable enough to maintain that level of play.
The use of ambassadors in that information stage is a good tool to install yet more trust. For Jackpot Poker, I used poker pros in the tutorial and had them create bespoke content for the game on social media. This gave the audience continuity across two platforms and a more constant experience.
Loyalty and reward schemes are often introduced to maintain levels of customer experience; we’re keen for customers to display responsible behaviour and be rewarded for doing so. It’s important to not rush to market, the best loyalty and reward schemes are drip-fed into the player eco-system, refined and tested.
The new scheme could be replacing something that players “got” so naturally there will be apprehension. In redesigning the loyalty scheme for PokerStars free-to-play, I had to deal with a legacy scheme that was flat in structure and did not entertain on delivery. We built the new program by implementing variables that we could tweak when we began testing. This allowed any issues to get ironed out and ensured that what was delivered was an experience that could be maintained better than the previous incarnation.
If you’re going to either update an existing promotion, as with a loyalty scheme or introduce a new feature to your users, consistency is crucial to maintain the right levels of user engagement.
The excitement of a new feature can often run away with the creators, it’s easy to get carried away and make something huge and get it live as quickly as possible. A lesson I have learned in the past is ensuring that what you bring to the customers must be consistent with what they have seen before. If they don’t recognise it, they won’t use it.
This is not to say that all your promotions should be a cut and paste of what’s gone before, but there should be recognisable elements to your promotional output that are consistent. For example, have consistency with logo placement and call to action wording so your user recognises the interface.
Where else is consistency imperative?
Advertising – Are your acquisition and retargeting campaigns consistent with the homepage when the user returns? You need continuity from each source back into your product.
CRM – Does your carefully worded push notification deliver the customer to the right place in the app? This is all the more imperative knowing how disposable apps are.
LiveOps in mobile apps is a good tool to drive consistency in your marketing. LiveOps are enhancements to gameplay that are not necessary for the overall functionality of the game, like weekend promos or time-sensitive offers. They can be deployed outside of builds and syncing these with retention campaigns makes for great continuity.
Consistency puts confidence into your customers giving your promotional offering the best chance of success. If you look at long-term promotions such as the PokerStars Sunday Million, what has driven that success is a consistent message housed in strong branding, with minimal tweaks, that has resonated with the audience for more than 10 years.
Real money sports betting gives you a calendar; fixture lists, racing meetings, tennis masters, there is always something going on. Therefore, your customer experience is sustained through that sporting calendar; if you get the right offers to the right customers it should go smoothly.
Real money poker has big-ticket tournaments that have benefited from consistent branding and the opportunity for users to play offline at events such as The WSOP and the EPT.
Real money casino does not have a natural calendar- you need to get creative! I was responsible for casino promotions for SportingBet for around 18 months.
With casino, we’re often working on the same products and suppliers, so how could our slot experience to be more memorable and fun than with our competitors?
The team decided to put in place a calendar of promotions that over-arched the whole casino offering. A series of promotions that delivered extra value for players executed in a memorable way with themes and animation.
The audience responded with improved retention from week to week meaning we were able to maintain and improve play level. Exciting promotional calendars allow players to plan and enjoy their experience while getting additional value.
An even shorter execution for casino and sports can be something as simple as a deal-a-day offering. A consistent promotion each day that players can opt in to and more importantly know that there is always going to be a little value with you each day.
In social gaming, our big promotions were reliant on the actual calendar; Christmas, Halloween, St Patricks Day etc. All this was great but the goal was to go beyond
standard holidays to create challenge systems and sales which really stood out. This included Cinco De Mayo, The NFL Draft and even big TV releases - in our view, if it was in the public conversation, we should try and resonate with that in a creative and impactful way. Keep your calendar fresh and inviting and sustain that customer experience each and every time.
A couple of takeaways:
Have your “non-negotiables” and stick to them for a sustainable customer experience.
Care for your customers through simplicity of features and promotions. Is the promotion obvious and clear?
If you’re bringing a customer to your product, make that experience consistent and continuous. Test all the routes into your product.
Be creative around the calendar. What could you do to stand out from the competition and what can you sustain over a long period of time?