Milton Waddams: Valuable Lessons From The World’s Most Alienated Employee and Customer


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Does anybody (besides me) remember Milton Waddams, the disgruntled, slightly off-kilter employee from the amusing, now almost cult-like, 1999 movie, “Office Space”? Milton’s role was pivotal to the final outcome of the plot; and he represents, admittedly in an over-the-top way played for entertainment, what can potentially go wrong with disaffected, ignored employees, and also angry, ignored customers.

For example, as the movie plot unfolded, Bill Lumburgh, an uptight company vice president who was the office’s senior executive, made Milton’s working life a growing nightmare. As Milton’s distress over his increasingly bad treatment grew, Bill said: “Milt, we’re gonna need to go ahead and move you downstairs into storage B. We have some new people coming in, and we need all the space we can get. So if you could just go ahead and pack up your stuff and move it down there, that would be terrific, OK?” Milton’s response: “Excuse me, I believe you have my stapler…”

Later, Milton, seemingly talking on the phone, said to no one in particular “And I said, I don’t care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I’m, I’m quitting, I’m going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they’ve moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were married, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn’t bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it’s not okay because if they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire…”

Near the film’s finale, the alienated Milton carried out his threat and set the building on fire. First, however, Milton reclaimed his Swingline stapler from Bill’s office; and, at the same time, he also stole some money left for the boss by another employee, Peter Gibbons, the movie’s hero (who’d earlier embezzled it, but, suffering from remorse, returned it). At the end of “Office Space”, Milton becomes the quintessential picky customer, while using the money he pilfered for vacationing at a Mexican beach resort. The last lines of the movie go like this, as Milton speaks to a waiter about his botched drink order:

Milton Waddams: “Excuse me? Excuse me, senor? May I speak to you please? I asked for a mai tai, and they brought me a pina colada, and I said no salt, NO salt for the margarita, but it had salt on it, big grains of salt, floating in the glass…”
Mexican Waiter: “Lo siento mucho, senor.”
[Under his breath]
Mexican Waiter: “Pinche gringo.”
Milton Waddams: [as the waiter walks away] “And yes, I won’t be leaving a tip, ’cause I could… I could shut this whole resort down. Sir? I’ll take my traveler’s checks to a competing resort. I could write a letter to your board of tourism and I could have this place condemned. I could put… I could put… strychnine in the guacamole. There was salt on the glass, BIG grains of salt.”

The customer-centricity lessons: Listen, and pay attention, to employees. Listen, and pay attention, to customers. Even the Miltons of the world.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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