O’ Mexico

A while back I took my family on a vacation excursion through fabulous Mexico. The trip was a tranquil, pure, heavenly dream. I was excited to leave work behind for seven full days of rest, relaxation, sun, surf and margaritas. I would say I was successful in leaving work behind for the most part, but at times my mind did wander toward the casino business. (For the record, if anyone tells this to my wife, I will totally deny it.)

I’m a total tourist when traveling abroad but am also blessed with street smarts, so naturally I carried no worries in tote on this trip. This was a mistake. Upon landing in Mexico City to connect with a flight to Cancún, I was met square in the face with my first real taste of feeling alienated within an environment. Where Cancún is Americanized and English friendly, Mexico City offers no such luxury. I really should have been better prepared to handle any circumstance, but hindsight wasn’t going to help us find our connection. My Spanish is extremely limited, but my feeble skills were all we had. I approached a uniformed gentleman at one of the terminal desks.

“Hola,” I said, a good start to the conversation. Then I eloquently proposed my foreign-tongued question:  “¿Me gustan las rosettes de maíz?”

Yes! I nailed that phrase. We’d surely be pointed toward our connecting gate, or so I thought. I later found out my brilliant “question” meant I like popcorn. My idiotic phrase provided a more clear understanding toward the disgusted man’s ranting response, which included only one word I recognized—gringo. The language barrier left me feeling outcast and alone in an unfamiliar environment. Departing Mexico City was a major relief.

The rest of the trip was magnificent, but the Mexico City fiasco provided an excellent opportunity to evaluate the situation as it applies to the casino business. Is there a language barrier within our casinos that suppresses our best guest service efforts? I say there is. I’ve been trying for some time to persuade our casino to offer English as a second language classes to our employees. I’m sure we aren’t the only department within our casino, or the industry, hindered by language barriers, so this topic is worthy of dissecting.

Language barriers present two distinct problems. First, guest service is compromised. Guests become frustrated when their needs are not understood, and rightfully so. Hidden within lost translations are missed opportunities for the casino. I truly enjoy a dealer’s pleasant smile, but when I’m attempting to convey a point and am not understood, a real problem exists. Clear communication is a vital portion of guest service. It’s not the employee’s fault, but it is an issue that warrants resolution by the casino organization.

I have heard of gaming venues that issue ultimatums: Learn the language or move on. How is that positive? Does it assess the true issue and the employee’s worth to the organization? Is it ethical, or even legal? The answer to all of these questions would appear to be no. Some of the most proficiently skilled dealers we have are from different backgrounds, and their potential is great. The issue is not about these dealers being good enough; it’s about making everybody’s experience more rewarding and taking care of the guest.

Equally troubling is the casino that does nothing about language barriers. Leaving potentially great employees in idle states of progression hurts the employee and the organization long term, because the guest’s needs aren’t being met to the utmost capabilities. Casinos have an enormous obligation to their guests. Building employees through the creation and development of communication bridges serves the best interest of all parties, especially those of our valued guests. This reason alone provides the merit of developing in-house or resourced English as a second language training programs.

Second, employees harboring language barriers are greatly hindered within their everyday efforts to perform their duties to the highest standards. I was totally exhausted from encountering communication problems during an hour-long flight delay. Can you imagine the efforts exhausted by employees of foreign descent on a daily basis? These people are truly amazing, and it’s our responsibility to provide them all the tools to be successful within their professions at our casinos.

Employees possessing the gift of foreign language and the potential to become fluently bilingual offer casinos opportunities to serve a more extensive variety of guests. Creating lists of employees skilled in different languages can prepare a casino to assist a variety of guests, which is an extremely positive segment of an operation. Right off the bat, employees with knowledge of a different cultural dialect make a casino operation more versatile, creating a wonderful give-and-take opportunity for the casino and those employees. Starting with a positive offers empowerment to employees who often feel insecure to begin with, simply because of language. Empowered employees become strong employees and excellent ambassadors of casino service.

Now, I’ve heard rumblings even within my own department that some of these exceptional dealers take offense to the idea of language programs—not all, but a few. Developing more fluent communication skills is not about these dealers not performing well enough. They are enormous assets and have skills I would love to incorporate into my life. Being bilingual is an amazing accomplishment that I highly respect. Becoming more fluent simply assists their goals toward making the most of financial opportunities (toke-wise) while assisting the guest at a higher level. Developing communication skills is a win-win proposition for everyone. So if common sense makes me prejudice, then I guess I’m guilty, but my intent is not prejudice. Prejudice to me would be not looking out for everyone’s best interest or not creating a fair opportunity for all. Developing communications assists everyone—the casino, the guest and the employee. The largest overall benefit is to the employees, as they gain life skills that will also reward them outside of work. Is that prejudice?

Training for English as a second language should be a staple of every casino’s employee development program. Although the percentage of employees with language barriers may be small, even one dealer makes a difference. A blackjack table has seven seats for players. A dealer usually works 40 minutes on, 20 minutes off, which equals about five hours of dealing per shift. A dealer’s job is one of intense concentration combined with high-level guest service efforts, and we’ve noted that the dealer’s job is much more difficult when attempting to battle a language barrier.

What effects does this have on the casino operation? Utilizing the bare-minimum numbers, on a busy night the dealer can have all seven table positions filled. Over five hours of dealing, that’s potentially 35 different guests. Strong communication offers casinos an in-house style of marketing that creates return guests. If communication barriers happen to provide undesirable experiences to those guests, under the old marketing adage that one bad experience can travel sevenfold by word of mouth, those 35 unhappy guests could potentially put off 245 would-be future guests. It’s amazing how one dealer can possess such strong potential, isn’t it? Six percent of my staff has some form of communication gap interference. If a casino can add 6 percent to the patron headcount or 6 percent to the overall profits, that’s considered good. Why isn’t 6 percent worthy of instituting advanced communication training programs for employees? Every employee is an important asset of the casino operation. By providing assistance and breaking down language barriers, we effectively support the employees, the guests and the casino. This makes English as a second language classes a worthwhile and intelligent investment.

Every employee matters, and a casino’s attention to details will set it apart from the rest. With the choice of gaming venues becoming larger and larger for our clientele, casinos that pay attention to detail will create environments that will set them above the rest. Employees are a casino’s most valuable asset today. Make sure those assets have all the tools they need to create success for your casino.

As managers, we sometimes take for granted the challenges our employees may face. Remember: Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. After experiencing a mile traveled by employees of foreign cultures, I have a newly rekindled respect for anyone facing language barriers. I conclude this article by offering the rest of my limited Spanish-speaking repertoire: ¡Adiós, amigos!

Leave a Comment