The market hasn’t reached perfection yet!

Personalized content is highly relevant

The Deputy Executive Director of Liga Stavok, Maxim Afanasyev, tells us about his professional path, the relevant market requirements and what part exclusivity plays in business.

There are those who are of an opinion that all bookmakers have pretty much the same product, no matter who the company is. Do you agree with that?

Well, it’s hard to say. I would agree that the main products are really similar. It’s very hard to show something out of the ordinary there. The product that bookmakers have to offer is essentially just facilitating the placing of a bet. So there is not a big difference between bookmakers today. But if we look back around 10 years ago, we can see that then companies were different.

For example, there were companies that had some markets priced up with 10%, 12% or even 15% of margin. And then there were those who made the same lines with only a 2% or 3% margin. In this case you can see that the difference was big and obvious. Now however the market is more balanced, but some bookmakers can be more aggressive than others.

The margin is on average about 4% to 5% at the main bookmakers now. The difference between them and the 2% to 3% ones isn’t big and I don’t think it plays a significant role. The bookmakers’ product is differentiated now by the additional services they can offer. These features can potentially play a great role.

Why is that?

Customer services and various other “add on” services have existed for a long time. I started my career working for the British bookmaker Coral. It’s Ladbrokes Coral now. It was 2009, and I was about to start working as a cashier in a London retail shop. All new employees were gathered for training. When the training session was over a manager came up to us and said: “There are many bookmakers in England, we all have the same product, only names and customer services are different”.

It was then that I realised how a company can beat the competition with better customer service. It’s been many years since that moment, but I think that statement is as true now as it was then. Only customer service has changed itself, I think that it’s become too digital.

There are occasions when a company will make something innovative but the others catch up to them quite fast. That’s why it’s very important to create and sustain a service of high quality. To create it you should ask several questions: How do you communicate with clients? How do you welcome them? How do you involve them in playing? Are you happy for them when they win for the first time? How do you encourage them? What kind of bonuses do you promote? And so on. It’s a huge area for all the teams within a bookmaker to think about.

What kind of services can help you to stand out in the market? Which ones do you think are the most promising?

There are many side services such as match centres, live match trackers, video broadcasting. A bookmaker now can offer more than 300 broadcasts per day. You’ll never find so much sport on TV even over a whole month.

The sport bookmakers broadcast is cool exclusive content that unfortunately you can’t choose who you buy it from. Just one particular provider will have rights to that broadcast. We have to integrate with our video content providers and manage the process to make sure that a correct broadcast is attached to a correct event. Some of them can be connected automatically, but for the others we need to do it manually.

We have our own video department in order to check the quality of the broadcast. Sometimes providers have problems with footage freezing or they can confuse which event is which.

Statistics are important too. We create special pages to help customers to choose their bets. It’s an interesting area to look at. We had a few statistics at the beginning and then all of a sudden we had too many statistics. Too much is not always good. When clients see a lot of information they can get confused, and in this case the statistics are no good to anyone.

Now what we aim to do is to pick up the most interesting information and to show only this to the customer. Some have even gone further by showing tips from time to time.

What is the difference between your VIP service compared to others?

It already differs a lot. We have many advantages like cashback, welcome bonus, bet with no risk, better odds, and we also automatically grant VIP to those who have the same status at another bookmaker. The only thing they need to do is notify us about it.

Are there any technological advantages for VIPs?

No, there are almost no differences except for a personal VIP room and a more personal service. VIP customers have their own managers that will answer any questions. Even if the question is not connected to the bookmaker directly. We’re ready to help the client with everything, for example to reserve a table in a restaurant or to call the taxi.

There’s nothing special technologically. It’s about a more “human touch” which is so appreciated today. I guess you know perfectly well how hard it is to reach a live operator when there are so many robots in support. Sometimes even if you reach a manager you will get answers only to a very tight range of questions.

What kind of problems do VIP clients usually report to the support?

I don’t have precise statistics. They often ask to get money back in controversial situations, for example, when a VIP bet was lost due to VAR or a referee’s mistake. If we speak about non betting things, they also ask us to buy plane tickets, tickets for a football match or ask to reserve a table in a restaurant.

There was once a case when a client went fishing and his car broke down. He called us to ask us to call for a tow truck. The VIP manager found where the client was by using coordinates and directed a tow truck there.

How did you find yourself working at a Coral bookmakers in London?

I studied for a master’s degree in London. I had begun studying in Saint Petersburg Technical University. It was the engineering department where I studied how internal combustion engines work. I joined an experimental group there and moved to London for a year.

Studying in London didn’t mean that I had to be present in the University every day. So I could do whatever I wanted in the spare time. This is the difference between the European and Russian educational systems. In Europe only you decide whether you really want to study or not. This makes you grow up faster and become more dependent on yourself.

I had a lot of free time and I got bored. I like it when I’m busy. The student visa I had allowed me to work 40 hours per week. So initially I became a waiter.

Going to a restaurant in England is a specific event. People like to communicate there a lot, especially with the waiters, even if they’re working. These aren’t just routine questions, sometimes they asked me what I did in the city, what I studied, what kind of plans I had.

Once I was serving a table and started a conversation with Coral managers. When they were about to leave they asked me what my salary was. It was £5 or £6 per hour. They thought for a moment and then said to me: “Listen, we pay a bit more. Why dont you come to our company”.

I went for an interview a couple of days later and began working as a cashier. I mostly received bets on greyhound racing and horse races. That was the beginning of my path in the bookmaking business.

So when you got back to Russia had you decided that betting is more interesting than engineering?

Well, it was an quite unusual thing that happened. London holds a gaming exhibition which is called ICE every year. I knew nothing about it back then although it had already been running a few years and was a large and cool event. My visa was about to be expire, I got my diploma and I was thinking on whether I should stay in England or get back to Russia. I made a decision that I would stay if I could find a job. Otherwise I would leave for home.

I was told about the exhibition. It was 2010. Right after the moment that casinos were banned in Russia. I decided that if I would meet someone from a Russian company I would apply for a job.

I printed a pile of CVs and came to a large pavilion. When I came by companies stands everyone would think I’m a customer and start to tell me about their products. But I interrupted them and said that I was looking for a job. Many were surprised saying that they weren’t searching for anyone. Then I started to promote my CVs.

I didn’t really believe that it would work. I got back to Russia. The local bookmaker Liga Stavok reached me after a couple of months. They got my CV somehow. They told me that they were looking for the people with experience in the betting business. That’s how I got to the company.

Can you recollect your thoughts when the Coral managers offered you the job? Wasn’t the thought of working in betting off putting for you? 

No, I had no negative feelings about it. Just the opposite. It seemed interesting to me. Especially the technical part. I’ve been working in betting for 11 years and the interest is still the same. Especially now when you can see all customer’s clicks, all movements on a website, all searching history. When we sum up our knowledge and technologies to improve the content I really enjoy it. Especially when I see the result.