First Line Manager: Some Customers Deserve Peanut Butter
I realized early in my career that some customers are different than others. These are special customers and regular customers. I first believed that all customer’s should be treated the same, with the same service and courtesy. None were above others, customers were customers. Then something happened that changed my mind.
I, as the restaurant of the Ramada Inn Downtown in Tuscaloosa, came to realize that some customers are special. A group of customers ate lunch each day in our restaurant. These customers were the leading businessmen in the town. These customers ate at a special table for them in the middle of the dining area, eight chairs around a double table. On the table was a jar of peanut butter, these men would put this on crackers to eat while they waited for their lunch. I did not know about the jar of peanut butter. This was the only table with a jar of peanut butter. One day Gladys came to me and said, “you need to order a jar of peanut butter.” Of course I asked “why?” She said the special table was out. I promptly told her, “we do not have a jar of peanut butter on any other table; I am not going to purchase any for that table. All our customers are the same.” Wo unto me. The waitresses and bus help took up the money to purchase the jar of peanut butter. They did not speak to me for about a week. I violated their idea, these men at that special table deserved peanut butter. The next time the jar ran out, I purchased a case of peanut butter. They were right, these men were special customers; they deserved peanut butter. They ate at our restaurant every day. They gave the restaurant an air if importance in the community by eating with us.
I took this memory with me to the Admiral Benbow Inn in Birmingham. We had special customers, I formalized the process. I established a commercial rate for these repeat customers. These customers gave us their information on an application form; then, they received a discount card. I created a booklet with the names of these special customers at the front desk. They received a discount on the published room rate. We treated them differently. These customers deserved a little peanut butter.
I went to work for Ecolabs in 1976; again I carried the idea about the special customer with me. In Starkville, Mississippi, I visited the Ramada Inn restaurant monthly to supply the detergent to their dishwasher. That is the only business I had there. One day the maintenance man and I were discussing a problem, very lively. In came the owner of the motel, a local veterinarian. The owner thought I was not giving his maintenance man the courtesy he deserved. He told me to get out of his motel. The maintenance man quickly told the owner how I had helped him solve several problems. I knew right off, this owner deserved peanut butter. Each month I mailed him a report on my visits. After a few months I stopped by his office. He said he wanted to give me the rest of his detergent business; the Bonanza restaurant, a downtown restaurant, and the laundry business at the hotel. Because I realized he deserved peanut butter, I received all of his detergent business. In the long, I got the peanut butter.
As a front line manager, I have some employees that feel the way I did, all customers are the same. I have explained the peanut butter story to them. They seem to get it, there are some customers that are special; because, of who they are, who they represent, or they are regular customers. There is the key. These special customers create a repetition for your business. They represent more than a onetime purchase; they create a lifetime of value for your business. They deserve peanut butter. It is your responsibility as a first line manager to make sure your employees understand this concept. They must give these customers a little peanut butter each time they serve them.