granting customer wishesShould we do more to empower the people who work for us? I thought a lot about this question a few weeks ago when I attended a conference. Before entering each session, organizers had staff scanning badges. The reason was two-fold: 1) to track attendance at each session and 2) to ensure only registered attendees entered.

One night, I headed to an evening reception. Now, these receptions haven’t been badged events in the past, and I was leaving afterwards for dinner off site, so I didn’t even think about bringing my badge. But there they were — staff with their scanners. I debated heading back to my room to get the badge, but the elevators were crowded, and I didn’t plan to stay long. I thought for sure showing an email with my event registration would suffice. It contained the same bar code that appeared on my badge.

No dice. No badge, no entry. It wasn’t the end of the world, and I just headed to dinner early. But as I walked away, I wondered how they handled everyone else who showed up without a badge. I knew I wasn’t the only one who thought the receptions didn’t require a badge. How many people got turned away and sent back to their rooms?

What if conference organizers had given the badge scanners some leeway? What if they’d said, “We haven’t scanned badges before, so we expect some people will show up without them. Go ahead, let them in, and remind them they’ll need a badge next time.” Or, “If people can show they’re registered in another way, go ahead and pass them through.”

Instead, the badge scanners’ hands were tied. With only one option available, there were only two outcomes, one positive and one negative.

We’ve all seen something similar happen many times, and each time it does, I think it’s a missed opportunity. An opportunity for the employee to shine, an opportunity for the company to make a good impression, and an opportunity to deliver a memorable experience for its customers.

Good policies and standards are needed within any organization, and of course, we benefit from having a strong framework to deliver consistent service. But what do we stand to gain if we give the people who work for us real power to act in our name?

Think about Nordstrom’s policy: “Use your best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.” Over the years, they’ve built an extraordinary reputation for customer service by relying on this policy, and I think it’s served both customers and employees well.

Perhaps you can’t get to this point overnight, but I want you to imagine the small steps you might take to head in that direction.

What can you do today to empower your employees to deliver the service I know want your customers to receive?