The Early Bird

There was only one person in the waiting room when I arrived. I was thankful for that. A trip to the doctor’s office is bad enough. A crowded waiting room filled with sick people makes it much worse. I checked in and took a seat. The other person in the room was a boy about 12 years-old, Maybe 13. He had a spiral notebook and a cell phone in his lap. I was there to have an earache checked. I had no idea why he was there. Soon, he picked
up his phone and punched in a number.

“Hello, Mr. Studt,” the kid began. “My name is Jimmy. I represent Clean Cut Lawn Service, and I was wondering if I could provide you with a quotation for your grass cutting this coming summer?”

His voice was pleasant, unusually calm and professional for someone his age. Really a likable kid, I thought. He finished his pitch and received a response from the person on the
other end. Then he spoke again.

“Oh, I see. So you’re quite happy with your current service and not looking to make a
change. Well, thank you for taking the time to speak with me and have a good day.”

Interesting, I thought. He showed no signs of discouragement and once again looked at
his notebook. In just a few seconds, he was putting in another phone number.

The person was named Lampl this time, but, unfortunately, the result was the same as
it had been for the first call the kid had made. A woman by the name of Olson came next. Ms. Olson was a little more abrupt than the other two, but the kid stayed calm and composed. I was starting to like this kid, but by now, I was also starting to feel sorry for him.

“Hey, kid,” I said, “Maybe it’s too early to call people about their grass-cutting needs for
next year. Maybe you’d get a better response if you waited until March or April.”

“Thanks, Mister, but you can never get started too early. And besides, haven’t you
ever heard that it’s the early bird that catches the worm?”

I wanted to tell him that, of course, I’d heard that old worn-out saying . . . maybe
1,000 times or more. And it has bothered me for as long as I can remember because my position on the early bird thing is that the early bird can only successfully catch its meal if
there is a corresponding early worm. Unless of course, you believe that worms follow a different schedule than birds altogether. I believe that most worms actually are nocturnal and are underground long before the earliest of birds arrive. So, my premise is that the only way an early bird catches a worm is if the worm is actually running late. I have felt this way since I was about this kid’s age. I’m convinced that others must have reached this same conclusion, but I have never felt comfortable enough to openly admit it until now.

“Listen, kid,” I said to ease his pain, “you can cut my lawn this summer if you’d like. I usually do my own cutting, but maybe it’s time to turn the job over to someone young and energetic like you.”

“Well, to be honest, Mister,” the kid replied, “I don’t know if I can squeeze you in this coming season. I’m pretty full right now.”

“But wait a minute,” I said, taken aback by his response to my generosity,
“I just heard three people in a row turn you and your Clean Cut Lawn Service
down. If you were full, why were you calling these people to get them to let you cut their lawns?”

“Well,” he answered, exposing a bit of a sly smile, “my company is actually
called, and those people I called are already my customers.”

“Kid, you’re confusing me. So why were you calling them pretending to be
someone else?”

“To see if they are happy with their present supplier . . . me,” he fired back.
“You see, I know it’s much harder to get a new customer than to keep a current
one. And while my tactics might be a little sneaky, I just wanted to make sure
I’m doing my job to their complete satisfaction. If I ask them in person or send
them a postcard, they will always tell me they are happy because they don’t want
to offend me. I have found this approach is the better way to go. I also know there
is always somebody who will be cheaper than me, so it’s important that I offer
quality work and a very high level of customer satisfaction.”

Wow, this kid was really something, and I had to give him credit. He truly recognized the importance of customer satisfaction. While his methods were a little unusual, in his way, he was measuring the level of his performance relative to his customer’s point of view
and level of expectation.

“You know, Kid, I really like you, and you’re pretty sharp for your age. But I
need to straighten you out on this early bird and worm thing. You see, an early
bird can only catch … ”

“I would love to be straightened out on that, Mister, but I got more calls to
make so if you don’t mind, maybe another time.”

You know, come to think of it, I like cutting my own grass.

Lyle R. Hill is president of®, an information portal and job generation
company for the glass industry. Hill has more than 50 years’ experience in the glass
and metal industry and can be reached at

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