Customer Service & Ice Cream

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My first job wasn’t very fancy. I was fourteen years old, I had just moved in with my father, and I scooped ice cream for $2.35/hr.

The pay was below minimum wage, but the owner of the ice cream store didn’t question my age and I didn’t question the cash payment every Friday afternoon. It was a simple arrangement and I needed the money. I hustled like hell to earn it.

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I worked about 20 hours/week at the ice cream store. It was a sweet job, both literally and figuratively, but I dealt with all kinds of customers in very weird situations. For example, we didn’t have a public restroom.

One customer said, “I have really bad diarrhea.”

I said, “The toilet is in the back. Here’s the key.”

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Looking back, I don’t know how anyone trusts a young girl with his franchise and his money. For so many reasons, it wasn’t a very safe situation. I was 5’0″ and I didn’t weigh more than 100 lbs when I started that job. I could barely see over the counter.

The best advice I was given by the owner was this:

If someone gets belligerent, offer more ice cream.

Believe me, that advice came in handy on several occasions.

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So I was struck by a passage in the book Linchpin where Seth Godin touches upon the intellect of the American worker AND basic customer service principles. Godin tells you go to McDonalds and eat half a Big Mac and half a chocolate shake. He then instructs you to put the remaining burger in the shake, go to the counter, and demand a refund because you have a burger in your shake. You’ll probably get one.

That’s supposed to enrage you.

Anyone who hasn’t worked in fast food — especially a privileged person who hasn’t had to deal with drunk customers, bullies, and freaks of human nature — would see the refund as an act of surrender. I see the refund as an act of self-preservation. Who puts a burger in a shake? Only a drunk or a crazy person. Give that person a refund and get him the hell out of your store.

Consumerist regularly publishes a list of crimes committed at fast food restaurants across America. People are jerks, and it has nothing to do with the abdication of common sense by the American worker and everything to do with a customer who winds up at fast food establishments and makes a ridiculous and unfair request of someone who earns $7.00/hr.

(Or $2.35/hr in 1989.)

Next time we jump all over the workforce for being brain dead or disempowered, let’s think about why people are really working and why they make certain choices. If there’s a choice between my safety and a free scoop of ice cream, you can have as much ice cream as you want.

If Godin wants to have a discussion about the devolution of the American customer — and why certain people behave a certain way to those who aren’t in power — I’d love to have that discussion. I would also like to talk about why people are willing to work for $7.00/hr.

I think those are more thoughtful discussions.

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