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Calvin Ayre

Rock-a-Bye Baby - Corporate Culture and Customer Service

13 October 2004

I can seldom attend any industry function these days without being asked for my insight into the marketing machine. While I do admit that we focus very hard on all the fundamentals germane to any industry's world-class marketing machine, my best and most accurate answer to this is sometimes surprising. My standard answer is to take half your current advertising budget and spend that money on improving your customer service. I am convinced that serving your customers properly is, in fact, the only true driver of any business success.

However, I usually never have the opportunity to expand on this or really explain my thinking in this area. I have touched on this in previous articles, but will elaborate more now.

It flows from a core philosophy within the entire group of companies that there is a hierarchy of importance that is actually an inverted triangle, with our customers at the top and myself at the bottom.

This is an idea we borrowed from a company that most would consider to have a world-class corporate culture: Nordstrom. Since its opening back in 1901, and despite its growth over the years, Nordstrom remains committed to the simple idea of earning the trust of its customers, one customer at a time. In other words, I personally serve the interests of everyone in the organization. I believe that if we are to offer world-class customer service, the right corporate culture must be strongly held by everyone on the team - starting with myself.

You will see some of this in action if you ever attend a group staff party or event. I am intimately involved in all aspects of the planning and management, I am always the first one to attend, and I stand outside and personally greet everyone on our team as they come in the door. I consider these parties a gift to the team from myself personally and the entire organization, so that way everyone who attends is, by definition, my honored guest, and I try to make sure that is exactly how they feel.

The entire process that we go through to make sure this is clear starts with how everyone is hired. It is a rare person that starts working with us who does not have as their first position a role with some interaction with the group we all exist to serve: our customers. Our decisions are based on what is best for our customers. There is no way to make decisions like that unless the decision makers work directly with the customers.

Nearly everyone in any position of management in our organization, including myself (I was the first customer service representative in our organization) and group president, Rob Gillespie, have and still do deal with customer issues personally. Even as we have grown in size to become an organization now with hundreds of employees, we are still religious in our dedication to these principles. We expect everyone at to be a customer service star, so it's usually not something that has to be said.

There are a number of other things we do to make sure that's group culture is right and consistent across many offices. (We have three now.) We have standardized polices across all offices, like our four big parties every year. One is at Christmas, of course, and one takes place during the slower summer months. But the two that really count are the spring and fall bonus parties.

During the run up to these parties every member of our team is analyzed for our company-wide bonus system and for any deserved raises in base pay. These parties are just the celebration of this process. As good as this process is for most, it can be a mixed blessing for some.

We have a team concept of "fit" that is strongly held by everyone within our organization. is a special organization to work for and unfortunately not everyone can fit into our team properly. But if they don't fit we know we are not offering our customers the quality that we demand of ourselves.

We have a rule during bonus time that everyone in the organization must qualify for a bonus or they have to be let go. On first read, some might say this sounds kind of cold hearted, but in reality it's actually a net good for everyone. The customers get the biggest win in having so many dedicated team members serving them. The rest of the team is also a big winner in having the ability to work with a group that's all on the same page.

However, it is also true that the person who is let go is also a winner in this process. These are all extremely talented individuals or they would not have been with us from the start. Now they are simply given the opportunity to go out and find a better fit, something that will enrich their lives.

Additionally, we do a number of other things that are great for creating the correct group culture and pride we all need. We spend more money on training programs than anyone else in our industry. We have libraries of books available for anyone to check out and read to develop themselves inside the organization, and we spend a lot of money on physical infrastructure to make our work space a place that everyone likes to come to. For instance, at our head office in lovely San Jose, Costa Rica, we've built a nice New York loft style staff lounge that has a glassed-in smoking area, three free Internet stations, a pool table, a poker table, a foosball table, a bar, a TV lounge, a kitchen, and three washrooms. In addition, this room has vaulted ceilings and panoramic views of the mountains and central valley (and amazing sunsets). Everyone working for us at this location is free to use anything they want, during their breaks, for example, or before or after they start their shifts.

All this feel-good stuff would not really have the desired effect, however, without a central point of reference for our corporate culture. The company mission statement provides this. Although the following was created to be an internal only document, I am repeating it in its entirety here to make sure my point is clear:

Our Mission:

To bring high quality, entertaining online gaming to everyone in the world!

Our Aspiration:

To be the best and most-loved online brand in the world!

Our Values:

We believe:

  • in a commitment to the excellence of our customer's experience;
  • that the customer experience should be fast, simple, positive and memorable;
  • in treating customers the way we would want to be treated, with courtesy and respect;
  • in always listening to our customers;
  • everyone working with is a customer service representative;
  • individuals control their own destiny;
  • that hard work is essential for success;
  • everyone should be rewarded based solely on efforts, results and attitude;
  • significant competitive advantage comes from out-innovating our competitors;
  • change is a desired constant state for success;
  • creativity is highly valued;
  • nothing comes at the expense of delivering value every day;
  • in being the lowest cost operator in our industry; and
  • in winning by being fair to everyone we deal with.

This set of principles form the shared core values of our organization across all offices, and it is the glue that holds our system together.

All of our customers have an ideal level of customer service in their heads. And that ideal is the relationship they had with their mothers as a baby. may never live up to that lofty level of service, but by knowing that the correct corporate culture based on the right core values is needed to deliver a world-class experience to our customers, we are rapidly convincing the rest of the industry--and the world--that is in fact a special organization.

Rock-a-Bye Baby - Corporate Culture and Customer Service is republished from
Calvin Ayre
Calvin Ayre