“It was 1989, my thoughts were short, my hair was long.” Well, at least 2 of those things were true: It was 1989 and my hair was long, but my thoughts have never been short, especially when I decided I wanted to get a part time job at the age of 15. For the record, before I go any further with my actual topic, although somewhat mythical in nature, I believe I am well within the 30 second rule to avoid any copyright infringements on the use of lyrics from Kid Rock’s song, 1989.
That summer, I would learn two valuable lessons. The first from my mother and the second from the owner of Dairy Queen where I worked in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I worked at the downtown location, which was on Queen Street, next to the Memorial Gardens where the Soo Greyhounds played, across the street from the city transit terminal, down the road from the Greyhound bus terminal, and a short walk away from The Station Mall. You probably get where I am going with this – it got busy sometimes.
One of those busy times came on a night when the Greyhounds were playing, and fans would spill out between periods to come buy ice-cream. That coupled with pre-orders from the local Fire Hall, which was also a five-minute walk away, and traffic from the mall closing made for a line-up that went out the door, around one side of the store, and well down the street. It was also a night when there was supposed to be two of us scheduled and of course by me having said that you’ve probably surmised that there was only one person to service customers that night – me!
THE BOSS COMES IN
As a fifteen-year-old with the keys to the store, the task of serving all those people seemed insurmountable as I went from dipped cones to blizzards, sundaes, parfaits, hot dogs, and things on the menu I was sure I’d never made before. I was trying to serve as many customers as quickly as possible because that is what I though the measure of good service was: quantity and speed. Then, as I was ringing up the till, I saw her – the owner of the store, standing at the end of the counter as she’d come in from the back door. She watched me finish the transaction and then she called me over. Please keep in mind this conversation happened about 30 years ago, so there may be some variance in my recollection.
“Your counters are a mess. There is strawberry, blueberry, and marshmallow sauce all over the place,” she said in a surprisingly calm and quiet voice.
I thought she was going to be angry with me, but she wasn’t. She was waiting for me to respond, but I remember not being certain of what exactly I should say or do. I muttered something like, “It’s busy and they just keep coming.”
A short pause as she looked at the counters. The customers were watching. She leaned a bit closer and whispered, “They’re here to buy Dairy Queen. Would you want to be served from those counters”?
THE LESSON LEARNED
She didn’t have to say anything else. I understood. At fifteen years old, I got what she was saying to me. I walked up to the next customer, and I said, “please give me a moment to clean-up my spills so I may better serve you.” The customer nodded and not a single sigh was heard from any of the customers as I wiped the counters down. The owner didn’t stay to help me that night and I managed to get through the long line-up that came to conclusion about fifteen minutes after our normal closing time as I served everyone in that line.
What the store owner was saying to me that night, now decades ago and that I still believe to be true is that the customers were there because they had made a commitment to the brand (Dairy Queen), already having decided that they were going to make a purchase. My Owner/Manager wanted me to focus on the post-sale even before the transaction was complete because consumption of the product also meant ownership. Those two variables (purchase and ownership) formed the basis for delivering on the Customer Experience. The value of owning a product of which they had a certain expectation based on their experience during the sales wooing made cleanliness and quality a more sought-after measuring stick than quantity and speed. I remember that I didn’t have a single complaint that night from those customers and maybe that’s why she felt confident to leave. She let me finish the job on my own, without any panic in her voice or in her footsteps as she walked away, quietly teaching me a life-lesson that I can lean on professionally all these years later.
By the way, the other thing I learned from my mom that summer was when she said, “If you start working now, you’ll never stop until you retire.” So far, she’s been right because I went on to work multiple jobs throughout my school and professional life.
Thanks Mom. Thanks, my Dairy Queen Owner/Manager.
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