You will know the Secret when you can look into your customer's faces and understand when your casino has made people truly smile.

I approached the casino front entrance of a tribal gaming client. The name of the casino and the reason for my being there are not important to this story.

As I stepped under the porte cochere and was about to reach for the heavy gold door handle and enter the casino, I noticed an elderly Native American gentleman seated on one of those front door benches where people generally sit to wait for their car to be retrieved from casino valet parking.

As I glanced at the man, he gave me a warm, knowing smile and motioned me to come over to where he was seated. Upon approach, I started to introduce myself, but he stopped me in a polite but firm manner.

“I know who you are,” he said. “My tribe spends a lot of money with your company. I’m not sure if you have been worth it. And if you have, I’m not sure my tribe knows how to take advantage of what you have brought us.”

I certainly admired his directness. After a few words, I discovered the tribal elder’s name. I asked him what he was doing sitting at the casino entrance. It was clear he was not waiting for his car to be delivered to him.

“I watch,” he said. “I watch people come into our casino. I watch them leave. I look at their faces. That is how I know what kind of job our tribe is doing with our casino.”

My fascination with the tribal elder was increasing. I asked if that was all he did, look at faces, or if he read any reports, or talked to any managers, or walked around the casino looking at what kind of service the tribe’s casino employees were providing guests.

“I don’t have to do any of that,” he explained. “I just look at their faces. To see how close we are to the Secret.”

“The Secret?”

“Yes, it is the tribal elders’ casino not far from here. We have discovered the Secret. We keep trying to bring the Secret to our tribe’s main casino, this casino. But they won’t listen; they think we are crazy. Too many consultants like you, telling our people something different. Everything but the Secret.”

I thought about stammering back something about my consulting company being different. How we cared. And listened. But instead I asked the tribal elder if he could take me to the tribal elders’ casino where I could see the Secret.

“No,” he said, “it is only for tribal elders who are wise enough to see what a casino should really be like. Not like all the others. Besides,” he went on, “even when people have seen the Secret, they don’t know what they have seen. They don’t know what to do with it. They see the pieces; they don’t see the whole. And they don’t see the faces, especially the faces.”

Now I just had to learn about this Secret. I poked and prodded. I explained that I, too had sought the Secret, what makes a casino, all those other casinos, a raving casino.

The tribal elder held firm. I sensed although he sympathized, although he could tell that I was a fellow seeker of the Secret, that he felt I was not yet ready to see it. Or hear about it. Still, I pushed some more.

“Young man,” the tribal elder finally said, “I could tell you all about the Secret. I could share with you the promotions that are done on the casino floor of the tribal elders’ casino. I could show you how we feed all of our tribal elders as they play. I could point out how all of our managers and employees touch the experience of all of the tribal elders when they are there. I could explain how our managers value their employees and how they help them be successful. But those are just details-every casino looks at details.”

“But I will tell you this,” the tribal elder went on after a long pause, “you will know the Secret when you can look into the faces. The guest faces. The employee faces. The leaders’ faces. Your own face.

“You will know the Secret when you can look into those faces and understand when your casino has made people truly smile, not because you have touched their pocketbook, but because you have touched their lives.

“And when you can look into those faces like that, young man, maybe then I’ll take you to the tribal elders’ casino to see the Secret up close. That, and when you are also a little older. You need a little more grey.”