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IN-DEPTH 19 November 2015
How to keep hold of customers
Julian Rogers presents expert guidance on the increasingly sophisticated workings of online gaming retention
By Julian Rogers

Esteemed marketing author Philip Kotler once declared that acquiring new customers costs five to ten times more than satisfying and retaining existing clientele. In a nutshell, keeping a firm grip on your patrons and earning their loyalty is imperative. For online gambling operators, user acquisition has long been an expensive endeavour, especially when fickle, price-savvy customers can easily have their heads turned when operators flutter their eyelids and lay out the welcome mat, accompanied by juicy sign-up bonuses and other perks. Rival websites or apps are merely a few mouse clicks or screen taps away, which means smart, targeted CRM and customer retention continue to be vital in the fight to reduce churn rates, foster loyalty and prolong players’ lifetime values (LTV) from the moment they take the plunge with their first deposit.

“Because this is a saturated market with tough competition, pretty much everybody has a high level of player management techniques,” says Hybrid Interaction founder and CEO Shahar Attias, “so it’s very unlikely someone could introduce you to a concept you haven’t heard before and haven’t tried before. CRM is endless work that needs to be done bit by bit, and when you think you are finished you discover you have to implement it in a different market or vertical. This is why it’s behind the scenes in most cases. It’s not very glamorous – it’s about focusing on the little bits and, at the end of the day, this is what makes the actual money.”

Glamorous or not, online operators today store a mountain of big data on customers’ gambling behaviours, preferences and browsing history. For instance, how much they typically stake, which verticals they bet on, which days of the week, time of the day, whether they respond to offers, how often they deposit and how much – the information is truly colossal. Then comes the challenge of putting this intelligence to work. “More and more marketers are beginning to realise that they are sitting on a goldmine of customer data,” states Pini Yakuel, founder and CEO of Optimove.

“I predict that within one to two years, customer-centric businesses will routinely use real-time personalised customer messaging. If they don't, their competition will trounce them”Pini Yakuel
“On a strategic level, effective analysis of rich CRM data allows the marketer to better understand the various personas represented by his customers, their behaviour, their preferences and their tendencies. On a tactical level, the successful analysis of CRM data allows the marketer to personalise offers and incentives to maximise their relevance to each individual customer. Not only does this help maximise customer engagement and spend, and reduce churn, but it generates goodwill, enhanced brand perception and word-of-mouth promotion.”

But despite operators being able to build accurate profiles of their customers in order to anticipate their next move, Peak Gaming Group president Rob Gallo still questions whether even today operators are putting their data to effective use with CRM. “Just because the analytics are there, I don’t know whether people are using these analytics and metrics properly to measure and segment the players to come up with creative offers. I currently have more than 12 [gaming] accounts and I still get emails for offers on slots when I’ve never played slots.” Gallo, who founded OmniCasino and Sun Poker in the early days of i-gaming, adds: “People’s ideology is ‘we have 100,000 on our database and if we email everyone and get a small percentage to respond then that’s great’. But if they just email the 10% who are strictly craps players then that would be a good offer.”

In a similar fashion to this blanket marketing messaging missing the target more often than not, there’s been much chatter in the gambling industry of late about serving up an experience geared more around the individual player. Personalisation usurps generic and a one-size-fits approach. For sportsbooks, getting more personal with users could involve customised homepages based on a player’s previous visits and bet history. Or it could mean specifically highlighting Liverpool’s odds to a user who predominantly backs the Merseyside club. If he has never placed a wager on arch rivals Manchester United, is it worth touting their match odds to him?

While personalisation has become a buzzword of late, it could be argued that the gambling industry has lagged behind the global e-commerce sites with their tailored homepages based on a customer’s previous purchases or browsing history on the site or within the app. Amazon and eBay are prime examples here. Likewise, online travel operators and airlines are particularly adept at personalisation in order to remind returning web and app visitors of previous searches and viewed pages in order to drive sales.

Likewise, being able to deliver real-time, data-driven customer marketing immediately following a particular customer action, a series of actions or scenario, is a powerful weapon in an operator’s arsenal. “Let’s say a high roller on a gaming site had a big loss,” Yakuel explains. “Retention marketers at the gaming site know from prior experience that a significant percentage of similar players experiencing a similar loss will churn. With the advantage of real-time data, the marketers can automatically serve a real-time, personalised message telling the player that the site is refunding him a percentage of his loss. Relieved and pleased, the player continues to play again and again.” This kind of real-time, personalised communication is the future of CRM, he asserts. “I predict that within one to two years, customer-centric businesses will routinely use real-time personalised customer messaging. If they don't, their competition will trounce them.”

“War is a mere continuation of politics by other means, so mobile is a continuation of CRM by other means. And those who have technological advantage are superior”Shahar Attias
Ultimately, though, it boils down to knowing your customers and tracking their interaction with your products. Certain users may log in every day to gamble. Others may go absent for months. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean they have abandoned an operator completely and churned. Attias cites tennis as an example. “Some players only bet on Grand Slam events, so you only have four of these a year. In other industries you would consider a player who hasn’t logged in for three months as a churn player or a dead account. But it’s actually fully active. If you don’t understand this then you don’t speak the language.”

Most online gamblers have multiple accounts with various gambling firms. With mobile, a player will usually have a smorgasbord of apps that they’ve downloaded to choose from. “When it’s at the tip of a player’s fingers it’s easier to lose him or her, but that also applies to desktop,” Attias explains. “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means, so mobile is a continuation of CRM by other means. And those who have technological advantage are superior. If your competition isn’t in the [Apple] App Store then you have an advantage. If your games are only HTML5 and your competitions’ games are wrapped in an application, they have won. If your product is slow or it gets stuck all the time then you can’t fight at the same level of others.”

With mobile such a fierce battleground, an invaluable CRM tool for reaching existing mobile app players continues to be push messaging – a direct-to-pocket communication channel used to coax users back to the app. That’s provided they’ve opted in to receive them, of course. However, unlike email, push never runs the risk of being ensnared in spam filters and it’s generally considered less invasive than SMS. The carrot on the stick for mobile bettors with push is usually an enticing odds boost on a particular market before a televised match is about to get underway. Similarly, a push message on the stroke of half-time can tempt armchair fans into placing a suggested in-play wager.

“What other marketing tool gives you such a direct link to customers?” says Dorothy Creaven, CEO and co-founder of mobile CRM specialists Element Wave. “TV? Print? Online? Nothing will get directly to customers the way push notifications can.” Creaven says opt-in rates generally vary from 20 to 70% but, again, it’s imperative that messages are relevant and target a particular segment of the customer base. “Some brands might send blanket push messages to a massive range of audience without any targeting,” says Creaven. “You’re crossing fingers and hoping for the best.”

Indeed, a customer who solely places a few football accumulators most Saturday afternoons probably isn’t going to respond to a push message trumpeting enhanced odds on a favourite running at Royal Ascot. This wasted push message could prompt the user to dive into the settings to switch the notifications off or, worse still, uninstall the app altogether. Instead, segmenting players based on their betting habits and messaging accordingly prevents bombarding a customer’s homescreen with irrelevant offers and calls to action.

Tracking every action within the app as a knock-on effect of a push message is vital, too. “If you don’t track it you won’t even know if they opened the push notification or even if they ignored it,” Creaven explains. “Or if they did open it, what did they do next? Did they deposit €10 and place a bet? Did they close the app or delete the app? Whether or not it was a positive effect, you need to track everything.” It means push campaigns will automatically create a mountain of data, says Attias. “But that is where BI [business intelligence] kicks in. It goes back to maintaining a sophisticated BI department that will allow you to send the right message to the right customer at the right time without annoying him.”

“What other marketing tool gives you such a direct link to customers? Nothing will get directly to customers the way push notifications can"Dorothy Creaven
On the whole, though, Yakuel suggests the differences between today’s average online customer and one ten years ago is that he or she expects brands to try to engage via follow-up marketing communications. Also, personalised and relevant promotions are no longer deemed invasive and a little bit creepy. “This means that savvy marketers, namely those who discover how to send highly relevant offers to the right customer at the right time, will enjoy all the revenue and brand perception benefits as well as a hefty advantage against competitors.”

Looking ahead, he believes we’re moving into the next generation of online CRM intelligence – “emotional intelligence”. “The big advances here are being able to discover and manage hundreds of different high-resolution customer ‘personas’ and communicate with each one so effectively that they feel like you know them personally, including their wants and their preferences. Just like the old-time storekeeper would know exactly what each of his customers want, based on when they came in, what they bought in the past, what their recent activity was and even their current mood.”

This, he says, can be achieved by micro-segmenting the customer base and using predictive behaviour modelling (applying mathematical and statistical techniques to historical and transactional data in order to predict the future behaviour of customers). “Predictive behaviour modelling goes beyond passive customer analytics by allowing marketers and retention experts to make decisions based on expected future results, rather than trying to make educated guesses based on analysis of historical data.” So, it would appear, CRM is about to get a whole lot more sophisticated and intelligent.
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