Employee “empowerment” has been a part of the business vocabulary for a few decades now.

The term generally means giving team members the authority and the power to make a decision on behalf of a customer, typically one who has had a bad experience. Probably the most famous hospitality industry example of this is the Ritz-Carlton “$2,000 Rule,” whereby every Ritz-Carlton employee can spend up to $2,000 per incident, no questions asked (without getting a manager’s approval), to rescue a guest experience.

Over the years, I have witnessed a number of examples in the gaming industry where frontline employees were “empowered” to make a decision and yes, even spend some company money, to benefit a guest. I’m going to share a few of those more recent gaming “guest saving” attempts now.

The first example is very recent and involved a room reservation that I had at a client’s hotel. It was for a specific tower and a specific room type. Upon my arrival, I was told that I did not have a room for that type in my requested tower. It took 15 minutes to get my situation handled, which created a backup at check-in. But the congenial hotel desk clerk was clearly empowered to deal with this snag and proudly gave me (and each of the other check-in guests who had to wait) a complimentary breakfast buffet for the next morning. The “comp” had a 24-hour expiration time and did not state the food outlet where the voucher could be used.

My second example of employee empowerment occurred at a Reno area casino bar where my wife and I like to play video poker. Well actually, we like to drink the premium merlot that they serve only at the bar and that is sometimes complimentary. At this same bar, we have had bartenders tell us at different times, that they didn’t have it (they did),  we didn’t qualify to have it or we could get it but would have to use our points (or cash) to pay for it. But in this empowered employee example, one bartender always and cheerfully serves us the premium wine, comped, when we play, no questions asked. I’m not sure if our $5-$10 tip each time he serves us factors into his empowered gesture.

My third example of an empowered casino employee happened earlier this year at a casino restaurant where, believe it or not, they served 10 prompt and tasty meals to our party of 11, totally forgetting my 8 oz. filet mignon. Having gorged on appetizers already and not wanting to impact the other 10 guests’ dining experience, I asked the friendly server to not bother bringing my steak late. When the check came, it came without a charge for my unserved steak and a nicely cooked and bagged filet mignon to “take home and enjoy,” with the server’s compliments and sincere apology. This was an empowered employee who made a $39 decision on behalf of a steak-less customer.

Over my four decades in this business, I have countless other employee empowerment stories, all done a little differently, with varying levels of effectiveness. Even at their worst, these “ownership” stories from well-meaning casino employees, trump every other instance where a team member wouldn’t or couldn’t, act positively on behalf of a guest. I have way more examples of those situations. You know, where the team member has rules to follow and guest be damned.

After a lifetime of seeing mostly unempowered and the occasionally empowered employee responses to guests in the gaming industry, let me leave you with a few suggested Tips to True Empowerment:

  • If you can’t give the employee the ability to give something of value to the guest, don’t bother empowering them. Empowerment = Trust.
  • Rather than a standard empowerment/recovery tool (e.g. a free buffet), think how you could customize a response. “What could I do to make you happy?”
  • Make sure all employees are proactive when a guest has a problem and are empowered to offer a solution (of substance) before a guest complains.
  • Internally circulate what actions empowered employees took to make a guest happy. It will point out common service and operational issues, and allow you to celebrate your best problem solvers.
  • Don’t ever sweat however much the employee spent to make a guest happy, if it was within your standard guidelines.

Empowered employees are difference-makers for your guests. Appreciated and encouraged empowered employees are even better.