A colleague and I recently were speaking about my past industry role, working in the Digital Sports department for a major betting and gaming company in the UK. As I started explaining the business’ massive commitment to a consistent and optimised digital customer experience, my colleague interrupted me:
“But for a product like a bet, does the customer’s experience really matter? Won’t they likely place it regardless?”
What may surprise you is that customer experience and indeed CRM are both major priorities for betting and gambling companies, and that industry leaders in betting and gaming (as in retail, utilities, and numerous other industries) have learned in recent years that championing these business principles is a critical vehicle for growth. Indeed, with “products” that are literally indistinguishable except perhaps by price (and often minutely at that), gambling companies must depend on these tools as their key differentiator. After all, ultimately there is little loyalty to the bookmaker or the product itself. It is all about the experience: the ease, the speed, the excitement, and yes, of course, the win!
The Advent of Online Betting-and the Inherent Challenges Within
Recent estimates from Global Reviews place the value of the sports betting industry at £650 million in the UK, covering a customer base of over 2 million people. Globally, the BBC values the industry at anywhere from $700 billion to $1 trillion (though this figure includes illegal markets, mostly in Asia). With most companies offering similar markets (the term used to refer to product ranges), and competition meaning that the breadth of product offerings is only going to grow, the only way to lead is by providing the fastest, simplest, and most engaging customer experience possible—and leveraging that experience to drive a fulfilling and loyal customer relationship.
In recent years, traditional high street bookmakers like William Hill, Gala Coral, and Ladbrokes have been significantly challenged by the successes of newer, often digital-only firms, who moved more quickly to build their online capabilities and to create an online brand to attract and engage their customer base. Where betting on sport used to be a thoroughly in-store “experience,” almost always including an illegible bet slip scribbled in a sticky-floored shop, as in most industries, consumers became accustomed to the ease and simplicity of betting online, and the market saw an influx of new types of customers who enjoyed the anonymity of placing bets in the privacy of their home.
The popularity and proliferation of opportunities to ‘bet-in-play’ has compounded the demand for a streamlined and robust customer experience. Betting in play is the ability for a user to place a bet, typically on dynamic odds, during a match. As a rule, these customers demand quick navigation, dynamic and engaging content, and fast performance times in order to successfully process their journey.
Building an ecommerce platform which can support sports betting, however, is not without its own unique obstacles. In an industry where each price (odds) change is, in essence, a new product, bookmakers have found that they must also develop a robust architecture beneath in order to support the massive amounts of information being driven through. Maintaining a system of this size over time, whilst keeping up with innovations in software and hardware, has proven to be a serious challenge for some of the original brick-and-mortar behemoths and a major opportunity for smaller organisations. Additionally, traditional technology suppliers, from programmers to testers, often do not understand the nuances of betting customers versus traditional retail customers, further complicating the ability to offer an optimal digital experience. As a result, many betting shops have chosen to keep their digital development in-house.
Bet365, founded in a car park in 2000, is a prime case study of the success of smaller digital betting firms with a dedication to a positive online customer journey. An online-only organisation with an internal development capability, after only 14 years, Bet365 is now active in 200 countries, taking in bets over £26.5bn and revenues of £1.37bn. Bet365 was one of the first firms to invest in cloud technology to support the exchange of betting, pricing, and real-time match data in order to provide a quick and easy bet-in-play experience. More recently, they’ve introduced the ability for live streaming, allowing a user to watch the action—and ideally the win—whilst at home or on the move, conveniently with a betslip and cross selling opportunities located on the same page. Other firms, like UK leader Paddy Power, have harnessed social media channels to encourage brand recognition and drive and eclipse traditional market leaders.
The innovation is not limited to online bookmakers. In my native country, the USA, where gambling is mostly limited to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and casinos scattered across Native American Indian reservations, CRM and analytics have been employed to transform one of the industry’s leaders into a loyalty powerhouse. Harrah’s, which operates casinos and hotels across the country (with a primary spot on the Vegas Strip), is well recognised for their dedication to analytics, manifesting itself first in targeted CRM, pricing and promotions for their customers and ultimately pervading the organisation through to analytically optimised HR practices. The work Harrah’s has done to encourage loyalty has been recognised by Harvard Business Review as a key example of innovation in customer relationship management, and their continued success demonstrates its long term value.
The betting and gaming industry is no doubt controversial and riddled with complexity. But there can be no question that this unique and profitable industry leaves organisations absolutely in need of dynamic and progressive transformation in order to retain and grow their customer base, and that they are a prime case study for the success offered by dedication to a strategic customer experience model and a dedicated and personalised CRM function.
Additional reading on Harrah’s use of analytics and CRM:
Davenport, Tom and Harris, Jeanne. Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press, 2006.
 BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/24354124