The other day, I called AT&T to tell them I had an error on my bill. The service rep told me she couldn't reverse the charge due to the billing cycle but she would be happy to give me an hour of free long distance for the next 6 months. I thought this was interesting for two reasons. First, it was nice that she could make a decision and take care of my issue without transferring me around the world and second, I ended the conversation with a feeling that I got something "extra."
Would you ever consider giving your employees the same power to resolve a client issue? Imagine what could happen in your firm if you set specific criteria for employees to work with so they could promptly resolve a problem. What if they became responsible for the time they bill clients? Would it alleviate wasted time talking to several managers and the client if there was an issue with a bill? Probably.
So what would it take to make an empowerment program work? It takes commitment and consistency. You have to be specific about how much "freedom" your staff actually has to make decisions. When should they call for reinforcement? You also have to be prepared to ride out the "learning curve." If your people make a mistake (and they will), you can't crucify them for it. If you do, they will be scared, not empowered. Focus on the result you want and how they can get there.
Empowerment works kind of like Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams. If you believe they can do it, they will come to believe they can do it, too.