Ensuring our customers are at the heart of our decisionmaking is crucial to the Company’s strategy. Understanding their changing needs and behaviours helps us to ensure that our offering remains current and appealing.
In addition to hosting and serving our customers each and every day, we regularly, and formally, engage with them through quantitative and qualitative research to seek their views, opinions and insights into how we can improve our product, services and user journeys and experiences to better meet their needs and wants. We also proactively communicate to, and interact with, customers on the topic of safer gambling.
During the past year consumer research has provided key insights that have underpinned changes to the customer proposition within Mecca venues, the further development of the Grosvenor One omni-channel experience and new products such as new electronic roulette terminals and game content in Grosvenor and new online products such as Premier Bingo Jackpots, Perfect Strategy Blackjack and the new Mecca content management system and front end web and mobile interfaces.
The Board has monitored the delivery of safer gambling initiatives through the safer gambling committee (please see page 102) and also via reports and presentations from the chief executive and from other members of senior management.
Updates on customer insights from ad hoc and ongoing research initiatives were discussed by the Board in the context of key transformation initiatives. A specific example is the recently opened Pier Nine in Brighton. This new casino concept has been developed from insights derived from quantitative and qualitative research within the local Brighton catchment area. Branding, design, floor layouts, the food and beverage offering, graphic styles and customer language were drawn from, and tested in, consumer research. Further quantitative research was carried out post opening to understand how well the concept met customer needs. This was discussed and reflected on by the Board and influenced decisions regarding further development work to enhance the Pier Nine casino.
Our focus during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has been to ensure that we provide additional protections for vulnerable customers. During the lockdown, the Board received updates on, and discussed, communications and engagement with our customers. Customers have also been at the heart of our planning for reopening. We undertook quantitative research to understand customer sentiment, which provided a good indication of how likely they were to return and the key concerns that we needed to address to encourage them to visit once able to do so. The research highlighted a need to focus on reassuring customers of the safety measures that we have put in place and informed both our operational approach and communication plans. Our reopening plans were discussed in detail by the Board and by the COVID-19 sub-committee of the Board that was specifically set up to support management in developing and reviewing such plans and associated reopening challenges. Post reopening, all social channels have been monitored to gather feedback on how our actions are meeting our customers’ expectations, and regular customer surveys are in place to understand how well we are delivering and to identify any areas that we need to address from a customer perspective.
We depend on the passion and commitment of our colleagues to implement our strategy and ensure our customers are served in the best possible way. Engaged colleagues are the best ambassadors for our business.
Our people are the heart and soul of the business and central to its success. We ensure there are ongoing forums throughout the year that enable the exchange of opinion between employees and the sharing of views with the executive and with the Board. We use monthly Town Hall meetings, which are broadcast to all locations around the world via the web and are available for subsequent review, as a means to communicate with our employees and encourage their participation. The chief executive responds to live questions in the Town Hall meetings. We also conduct a twice-yearly employee opinion survey against which we track sentiment and the engagement of our colleagues.
Properly incorporating our colleagues’ views into Board decision-making is essential to the culture change programme that forms part of our transformation. During the year, the Board gained an understanding of the views of our people through visits to our offices and venues (please see page 84), Board presentations, reports from the non-executive director responsible for workforce engagement (please see page 85) and reports from the executive directors and Group human resources director. The results of employee feedback, obtained via the use of employee opinion surveys, were also shared with the Board. The Board approved a new confidential whistleblowing hotline during the year, to which all employees have access.
During the COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent reopening of our offices and venues, the Board and senior management were acutely aware of the need for continued engagement. New social media forums were established for Grosvenor and Mecca colleagues to express views and share news. These also became useful for explaining furlough arrangements and the latest government guidance during lockdown. Importantly, colleagues were kept out of furlough in order to ensure that the business was able to maintain regular contact with those colleagues who had been furloughed, to check on their welfare and wellbeing.
We engage with the communities where our customers and colleagues live and are committed to making a positive contribution. We rely on a strong, positive connection with local communities.
Community links are as important to Rank and its people as they are to our customers. Our venues are community hubs in which people spend leisure time and engage and interact with other customers and with our colleagues. The strength of our business is in part due to the long-term trust and relationships which exist between our colleagues and customers, who very often will have known each other for many years. During the year we were delighted, with the help of our customers, to continue to support the Carers Trust.
Regular updates were provided to the Board about initiatives adopted by Rank that affect local communities and the impact on local communities is considered by the Board within its decision-making. For example, the Board was actively engaged in the decision to introduce local community bingo rooms on Meccabingo.com during lockdown so that Mecca’s customers could meet online, play free bingo and chat with colleagues from their local venue.
The Board, executive and our colleagues were proud to participate in specific initiatives during the COVID-19 lockdown including providing meals for emergency service and NHS workers, support for local vulnerable people, free car parking facilities for NHS workers and many other activities to ensure that we were contributing to the national effort within our local communities.
Regulators and legislators play a key role in shaping the gambling landscape and an ongoing open dialogue is essential to ensure we better understand the expectations underpinning regulation and that regulation is founded in an understanding of the customer. Unintended consequences of regulation can adversely impact our ability to offer the best experience to our customers.
Throughout the year, we have continued to build relationships and ensure an open dialogue with regulators, government officials and local authorities. Regular meetings and communications take place between our compliance team and the UK Gambling Commission, as well as with other bodies by whom we are licensed. In addition, during the year, the chief executive has engaged with MPs, peers and government officials, including appearing before the House of Lords Select Committee regarding the social and economic impact of the gambling industry. We have actively participated in submissions for calls for evidence and consultations with the UK Gambling Commission and are active members of the Betting and Gaming Council and the Bingo Association.
The chief executive and director of public affairs provide regular reports to the Board on regulatory and policy-related matters. A particular focus has been, and will continue to be, the UK Government’s forthcoming review of gambling legislation, the first review since the 2005 Gambling Act.
Significant communications from regulators in relation to our operations are discussed at the audit committee in line with its responsibilities and the executive directors also update the Board as relevant. In addition, the safer gambling committee assesses delivery of compliance with the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice and safer gambling initiatives through the submission of, and subsequent delivery against, the UK Gambling Commission’s Annual Assurance Statement
Following the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, we have held meetings and/or corresponded with Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”), HM Treasury, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (“BEIS”), Public Health England, devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales and the Home Office in our efforts to present the impact of the closures of our venues on our stakeholders, and our reopening plans. This included hosting representatives from Public Health England, the Cabinet Office and the DCMS at one of our Grosvenor venues in order to demonstrate the safety measures that we have implemented.
The Board is committed to maintaining an open dialogue with our shareholders and ensuring that it has a deep understanding of their views.
We adopt a proactive approach to investor relations. During the year the executive team held numerous shareholder meetings as part of a comprehensive programme of regular contact and consultation.
During the year, the chair met with several of our larger shareholders following his appointment to enable him to understand the views held on a number of important considerations for the Board. In addition, the chair of the remuneration committee carried out a consultation process with our larger shareholders on the proposed new remuneration policy published in the directors’ remuneration report.
Key shareholder publications during the year included the annual report, the full-year and half-year results announcements, various trading updates and other press releases. The AGM provided the opportunity for the Board to engage directly with shareholders and enables all shareholders to vote on Company resolutions.
Our communications with shareholders increased during the COVID-19 lockdown in order to ensure full transparency around the impact of lockdown and the closure of our venues on the Company’s financial position.
We have more than 900 suppliers, ranging from small businesses to large multinational companies. We aim to operate to the highest professional standards, treating our suppliers as key business partners and operating in a fair and reasonable manner.
We have a dedicated procurement function which engages with our suppliers with the aim of optimising the way that we work with them. We build relationships regionally and locally with our suppliers to better understand the markets from where we source products and services.
Arrangements with major suppliers are approved by the Board in line with our delegation of authority. In addition, the Board approved the Group’s Modern Slavery Statement, which can be found here, and confirmed that it was comfortable with the Group’s procedures to prevent bribery.
During the year, we continued to build our strong and effective partnerships through regular communications, the benefit of which was evidenced during the COVID-19 pandemic when the business was able work with many of its partners to ensure a pragmatic approach to the challenges being faced by us and them. We also worked with our suppliers in support of the national effort including the provision of food and delivery services for meals for emergency service workers. This approach to supplier management during lockdown was reviewed by the Board by means of reports from the chief executive.