Focus on the Actual Experience

Have you ever had an amazing experience, but couldn’t quite put your finger on what it was that made it so special? You may remember the obvious things, like an exceptional meal, superior service or beautiful scenery, but what was it that made this experience stand out among all of the others? Come to find out; there is a certain science to designing a happy experience.

Dissected into three phases – anticipation, the experience itself, and memory, we now have the basic recipe for happiness. In Part I of this article, we discussed how to build on customers’ anticipation to pave the journey to happy. In Part II, we will explore ways to enhance the customer experience in the actual moment.

An Engaged Player is a Happy Player

Staying present, focused and engaged may sound like advice best dispensed in the yoga studio, but it is just as applicable when talking about customer experience. Our minds are constantly tempted to wander, easily distracted by sights, sounds, and smells, but studies have shown that a customer who is fully engaged and immersed in whatever they are doing, are enjoying happier experiences. So how can we ensure the maximum engagement and interaction?

Heat maps tell us where to place games on your floor. We know which games are cranking. We know who is playing the games. ere is much to be said about the draw of brilliant game design, but could there be other, subconscious factors at play? Data tells us a lot about the customer’s gaming preferences and habits, but when we compare this data to the environment where the games are played, we gain even further understanding as to what contributed to customer engagement. What color are the walls in the area where games are “hot?” How high are the ceilings? Is it a more private space or open? For example, data has shown that skilled-based games do best when set in a designated area for gamers.

We want to provide the best experience for our players, and we now have the tools available to tell us precisely what that is, even when our customers aren’t necessarily conscious of it. Data, when used correctly, tells a detailed story of our customer that can give us insightful information when approaching design. Helen Keller said, “ e best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” I believe that we, as architects, have neglected this sixth sense when approaching design, but that data may be just the tool we need to help unlock it and enhance engagement (see my article on designing for the senses).

So Little Choices, Oh So Happy

There was a time when offering endless options to your customer was the only way to go; think of the extensive, twelve-page Cheesecake Factory menu or the 27 varieties of Crest on the shelves at your local supermarket. It’s easy to point out the absurdity of this choice-overload from these examples, but the truth is, we humans think we want it and are subconsciously drawn toward more choice.

However, research over the last 10-15 years has unveiled that as the number of options increases, the level of certainty people have about their choices decreases. And the anticipation that they will regret their choice increases. is “Paradox of Choice,” as coined by psychologist Barry Schwartz ( paradox_of_choice), causes stress-inducing anxiety as the pressure of making the “right” choice creates a decision- making paralysis. On the other hand, by limiting the number of options offered to consumers, studies show they are not only more likely to make a purchase, but more satisfied with their choice and therefore more likely to purchase again. So the key is to focus choice, but in a way that does not feel limiting to your customer.

Think of this in terms of your property’s restaurants. Yes, you want to offer a select variety of cuisines, both quick service and sit-down, but you also want to give constraints by limiting the number of menu items at each concept. Offering a small variety of distinct restaurants with limited, non-similar menu items will leave the diner feeling confident and satisfied with their choice. You can’t be all things to all people, so embrace the uniqueness of what your property has to offer and build a distinction in your brand around that uniqueness.

Placement of these restaurants is also important in limiting choice. You don’t want your players spending time agonizing over which restaurant to choose. Placing your restaurants in strategically located pockets helps decrease the “where should I eat?” paralysis. e data can help here too in discovering the dining trends with different players. If you plan on opening a new concept, survey your customers and look at the data. You may think you know what they want, but often a simple survey can be the difference of a failed concept and a success. It’s about giving direction and personalized constraints based on research and data, easing that decision-making stress and ultimately giving a happier experience.

I’m Kind of a Big Deal

It’s nothing new to say that people love feeling special or superior. is is one of the things the gaming industry does best, after all. In terms of designing happy though, what is it that makes a person feel special? We may not like to admit it, but the truth is we are all biologically hard-wired to strive for superiority within social settings.

Soul Cycle, the indoor cycle phenomenon, uses this psychology quite well. eir entrance and class times are designed so that there is an exchange between the people coming in for a new class and the people who have just finished a class. For the fresh-faced incoming group, it is motivation, a glimpse of the reward. For the exercised, sweaty group, it serves as validation of their efforts and a feeling of accomplishment – superiority.

This interaction between the validated and the motivated has design applications all over in a casino and hotel setting; from the placement of VIP areas to spa entrances and aspirational balconies. Encompass also knew this when designing the Mansion for Churchill Downs, an exclusive, invitation-only entertainment lounge for the elite. Although the entrance to the venue is hidden, the balconies are located in plain view, so that even those on Millionaires Row have something to which to aspire.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The field cannot be seen from within the field,” but that is exactly what we have been doing for years in the gaming industry; we stand in the casino and ask ourselves how it can be improved. So instead, let’s look at it from a different view. By looking at data and psychology, we find that those spaces and services that encourage interaction are those that retain player engagement. Using knowledge of human interaction to create great Experiences that will drive Anticipation and create Memories will have everyone sharing it! They will have experienced a true “Design for Happiness.”

Originally published in Raving’s Strategic Solutions Magazine, April 2017