YEARS ago… I worked at an oil change center. One of those places where you drive your car in and they change your oil for 20.00 and then try to sell you all sorts of other repairs. I case you’re wondering, no it’s not a scam. 99% of the time you DO need those extra things, you people neglect your cars something awful. Anyway I was working at this particular garage because a friend of mine bought it and was trying to really turn it around and make a go of it. He was one of those larger than life types. Big and loud and boisterous. He could sell ice to an Eskimo. You know the type. I learned a lot from him. I was still basically shy and introverted…I still am when I comes right down to it but from him I learned how to shift into a different gear. I learned …not exactly confidence because I was always supremely confident…but learned it was okay to be confident outwardly, that it was necessary even. Being outgoing and ferocious in social situations, while not my natural state was an invaluable tool from then on out. Eventually…I grew to like it and it became a genuine part of me. It was always probably part of me but it took knowing him to really get me comfortable being that way.
Anyway, like I said he had bought this place and was trying to train the people who worked there some basic customer service skills. If you don’t know any business owners you may be one of those people who view all business owners as geedy and only caring about the bottom line. I’ve known more than a few business owners and most of them are not like that. They own that particular business because they enjoy it, they enjoy providing that service ,and genuinely care about their customers or at least out of pride of what they built, want people to get their dollars worth. If they didn’t own that particular business they would probably be doing the same thing as a hobby. Their business is important to them and they are proud of it and want people to know that. So the service and customer service they give IS actually the bottom line for them. Ripping people off or treating them badly is bad business.
So…as I say his first goal was to get all these grease monkeys to understand that the customer is a person, he didn’t walk into your living room..he walked into a business…so you shouldn’t sigh and act like they are bothering you or interrupting what you are doing. You should be friendly and outgoing and grateful that they are spending their money on what you do. Many hours of side by side training on customer service was put into these people. Some of it by him, some of it by me, basically just focusing on making the customer seem like they are welcome and equal. Seems like it shouldn’t be something you’d have to teach right? Like…we’re all just people trying to get through the day ain’t we?
I remember about four weeks into this grueling choir it seemed like they were finally getting it. Don’t be a dick when they come in, don’t be a dick when they ask for something, don’t be a dick if they say no to something. Things seemed to be on track with a bump in the road here and there. Getting to that point was like trying to teach a four year old how to open a milk carton at lunch time. The first couple of times they mush up the laminated cardboard edges so bad that you have to pry it open with a fork but eventually they get the basic skill of pulling the corners back and pushing in to get it to pop open the triangle shaped opening.
One afternoon he and I were in his office. The office had a door that opened right into the garage and he kept it open so he could hear the interactions between customer and employee. While we were sitting there a heated argument sprung up seemingly out of nowhere between an employee and a customer that the tail end that we hear went like this…
customer- I …don’t..CARE!!
employee- well fuck you!
customer – FUCK YOU ( get’s in car slams door screeches tires all the way out the garage)
Employee – (shouting out the door) ASSHOLE!!!
I looked at the owner who raised his head up from the paper..looked into the middle distance, and calmly, disconnectedly even, said ” that wasn’t handled properly” and then slowly closed the office door and went back to reading the paper. It took a few hours before it dawned on me that this was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. I’m sure I’m not convening it properly because, well…sometimes you do just have to be their. The reason you rarely laugh as hard at a movie or a show as you do among your friends is that the best jokes require build up, a “long con” if you will. The layers of background and personality all lend to giving a punchline more impact. You’d have to have been part of the weeks leading up to the incident to really get caught flat footed by the wisdom of his strategic surrender in that particular incident .
I remember it because it was funny but also because in the days and years that followed I envied him for this. I envied his ability in that particular clusterf*ck to just realize…there was no teachable moment, nothing to be gained by going over it. Sometimes tempers flare and that’s that. Sometimes someone makes a giant mistake and there’s nothing to be done about it. Sometimes you make a giant mistake and there’s nothing to be done about it. He was a very outgoing person and it was easy for him because he had a positive view of things because he had the ability to have a giant negative incident happen and just move forward and not give it another thought. Not every incident has to be dwelled on and wrung out. I kinda wish I had learned that from him instead of salesmanship. ..I might have a successful life instead of a successful business.
…okay fine…here’s a better story.
He also bought a Dairy queen sometime after that and we had to do the same training. I was there alone closing the store with a portly black woman in here late teens /early twenties. . If you haven’t seen how the “soft serve” is made, it’s like this- There are 20 pound cardboard boxes with liquid soft serve goo in them, kinda like the “box of wine” you see with the little spout and all that. The spout plugs into a tube and the tube goes into a machine that freezes it and squirts it out at the spicket at the front of the store in the form of delicious soft serve ice cream into a cone. You’ll have four or five boxes of this stuff in the walk in cooler along with the one that is plugged in…when you run out you plug in the next box. Well a kid ordered a cone and I turned the spicket and got nothing. Normally I would have the lady I was working with change over the boxes but she was AWOL. Fine…I’m sure I can figure it out myself. I went in back and opened the door to the walk in cooler. The one 60 watts light bulb reviled the portly woman standing there, she had turned slightly to see me …not startled really but more of an apprehensive and territorial look on her face ..she had the tube from the box of liquid chocolate goo in her mouth and she was sucking the goo straight out of it into her mouth. Much like my friend some months earlier…I simply closed the door. The image haunts me to this day.