Never Let the Customer See You Sweat: The Lesson of the Hot Dogs

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I have been fortunate enough in my career to have started not one, but two, award-winning companies. And something I learned early on is that in the face of a potential work crisis, it is absolutely necessary to remain calm. Take a step back, take a look around, and never let them see you sweat. Even when you are literally sweating profusely!

My first company, founded in 1988, was called Capitol Concierge. We provided on-site Concierge services for 80 office buildings throughout the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. You would be amazed at the things that I had to do when we were starting the business—as it was a Concierge business, we did anything and everything a client wanted (as long as it wasn’t illegal or immoral).

One afternoon, we organized a baseball themed event complete with a lobby ballpark “weenie roast” for the building owner and the 500 tenant guests. We had a professional hot-dog cooker delivered to cook the hot dogs. It was identical to the hot-dog cookers you see at the ballparks, and was a very integral part of the event! We had hundreds of hot dogs that we put on the hot dog cooker…and they never cooked. It was less than half an hour before the event started and the main attractions—the weenies—weren’t ready for primetime!

The reason I bring this story up is that in this situation, it would have been very easy to freak out, start crying, and run for the hills. Or worse—let the client know that there was a problem before it was absolutely necessary to get them involved. However, I took a step back, and entrusted a few of my trusted colleagues to help me figure out a way out of this mess!

Well, it turns out that the sky wasn’t falling, even though I could have sworn it was! In the basement of the building there was an industrial-sized coffee urn that wasn’t being used. So, we filled it with water, turned it on, waited for the water to boil, and then started dumping hot dog after hot dog into the urn to cook. Once they were cooked, we returned them to the hot-dog cooker and no one was the wiser! As a matter of fact, more than one person said that they were the best hot dogs they had ever tasted!

It was hard to keep my cool while I was standing over a coffee urn filled with boiling hot dog water, and I’m sure that my client did a double-take when I came back into the room smelling like a hot dog factory with my hair dripping from my face. However, I did whatever it took to make it right for the client, and learned that indeed there is always a way to get the job done.

In case you were wondering, the client did renew our contract, and we did hold another weenie roast for them the next year.

Article previously published in Tory Johnson’s “Fired to Hired”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mary Naylor
Mary Naylor is the founder and CEO of VIPdesk, a pioneer of premium home-based contact center solutions and Concierge Services. Founded in 1997, VIPdesk has a client roster of more than 40 blue-chip clients with over 10 million customers. Prior to founding VIPdesk, Mary founded Capitol Concierge, a corporate Concierge service located in Washington, DC. Started with just a $2,000 loan from her mother, Mary grew the company into the nation's largest corporate Concierge service with tailored programs serving over 80 commercial office buildings.

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