Let me take you kids back to 1999, back when your author was even more awkward than today. Yes, I assure you, it’s very possible. I was 16 years old making a whole $6.00 per hour flipping burgers and making sundaes at my local Dairy Queen.

Life was good. Dairy Queen’s business was booming and I was in the midst of a fantastic business education from the franchise owner, Gail. She was a hard-nosed lady who didn’t put up with anyone’s crap, including mine. She gave me hell on several occasions, usually while there was a cigarette burning. Hey, it was a different time. That place still had a smoking section up until about 1997. She had no qualms about smoking in the back.

Gail taught me all sorts of invaluable lessons, things I still remember to this day. “The customer eats with their eyes, dummy,” she’d tell me, “not with their mouths.” Even if a lopsided sundae would taste every bit as good as a perfect one, it didn’t matter if it looked like ass.

One I graduated to running the kitchen (I say that loosely, Dairy Queen’s kitchen back then was really a one man job), Gail gave me another invaluable piece of advice. If the front staff were busy, I should just walk out from the back and call out the person’s number myself. All that mattered that the job got done.

Excellent service

One thing Gail used to really push was excellent service. She would do things like give regulars free coffee, bring food out to people’s tables (often stopping to talk for a little while), and making sure customers were happy even if their complaints were, frankly, bullshit. Somebody once threw a messed up hamburger at her. She dodged it, made the guy another one, and presented it with a smile. And then went to the back room and probably smoked half a pack.

Maybe I was young and impressionable, but Gail’s service standards rubbed off on me. One thing I’d do fairly often is when it was slow I wouldn’t even bother calling someone’s number. I’d load up their tray and just take their food out to them. I must have done this thousands of times over the years.

I don’t remember people being particularly impressed by this, but I now know at least one person was.

It’s a small world

Long-time readers know I sold potato chips for a living from 2010 to 2013, working for the North American leader in chips. I started out as a weekend guy for someone who was planning to retire before graduating to running the whole route on my own. Let’s call him Gord because, well, that’s his name. Also, at least 30% of men in their 60s in Canada are named Gord. You can look it up if you don’t believe me.

Gord lasted about a year until I took over his route full-time. He wasn’t entirely happy with my presence at first — probably because they paid me out of his commission — but quickly realized that I was cutting his work hours down from about 55 a week to less than 40. He ended up making a little bit more per hour when it was all said and done.

Selling chips is a surprisingly lucrative job. In three years I estimate I made about $200,000 in total commissions. The first year was a little lean, but once Gord retired I had a large route to myself. Even after they split my route it was still pretty lucrative.

Let’s back up a little. Here’s how I got the job.

I saw it online and applied like about 20 other people. Since the new hire would be working exclusively with Gord, he got a lot of input in the hiring process. My name was at the top of his list. The reason? It was because 12 years earlier I brought double cheeseburgers to Gord’s table at Dairy Queen without calling his number. 

He remembered after all that time. Hell, he still brings up that story to this day.

Do the little things

The ten seconds it took me to take Gord’s food to his table might have been the most profitable ten seconds of my life. Yeah, I know I still had to work as a chip guy, but that one little action was enough to make a memorable impression, one that lasted for years. It was the difference between me getting the job and Gord suggesting somebody else.

The implications for your own life are simple. The little things matter. An employee who goes the extra mile is far more likely to get promoted. The business owner who gives better customer service is rewarded with higher prices.

This blog is a great example. I started writing six days a week in August, which bucks the trend in the industry. Most of my peers believe that writing less is the ticket, not more. But I powered ahead anyway, and I’ve nearly doubled my daily visitors in the last six months alone. It’s not easy, but I’m seeing great results. It’s pretty obvious you guys are enjoying it, too.

There’s an old expression about how showing up is 80% of the work. That might be true, but I prefer to look at it another way. If it takes an hour to do something, invest another minute or two into doing something a little extra. As long as the perk you pick matters, it’ll have a greater impact than the previous hour. It works.

As for Gail, her plan was to run the Dairy Queen as a semi-retirement project. She hoped to make a decent amount of money and then eventually retire to Hawaii. She did, but lung cancer cut her life short just a few years after she officially retired. She might be dead, but at least she lives on in a small way through the lessons she taught me.

Tell everyone, yo!