What I learned from my first job: Don't shake the milk

By Beth Caron

Great Clips VP Michelle Sack learned an important lesson from her first job as a waitress: Don’t give the customers something they don’t want.

Do you remember your first job? Chances are, you have good memories from it and also some memories that are best filed under “experiences I’d rather not repeat in life.” Regardless, first jobs can have a powerful and long-lasting effect on our future work. In a previous post, I shared my story about first-job life lessons learned as a berry picker. Since then, I’ve asked several people at the Great Clips corporate office to share their stories, too.

Here’s one from Michelle Sack, Great Clips Vice President of Franchise Services and HR.

My first job was waitressing. I was in high school and the mayor’s wife owned the restaurant. The mayor was also my history teacher. Can you tell I grew up in a small town?

When a guest at the restaurant would order a glass of milk, I would shake the jug before pouring the milk into the glass. For some reason, I thought the bubbles made it look fancy. Unfortunately, the guests disagreed. They thought the bubbles were from improperly cleaned glasses, and the soap residue was creating bubbles. Some of the customers actually   spread the rumor that the owner was using dirty glasses.

Oops! I was fired and got a solid C in history that year. (I have no proof these two things ARE connected, but it is a great way to explain a less-than-spectacular grade in history class.)

What did I learn (beyond the obvious)?

1. Think about how you can make the customer experience more special.

It must be in my DNA to believe customers want a great experience, and, even better, an experience that’s personalized just for them. As a waitress, I was looking for something I could do to amp up my service. Why I thought shaking the milk to create bubbles was a great way to add value, I’m not really sure. But, c’mon, it is fancy, right? Which leads me to the next lesson.

2. Consider how the customer may interpret that special “added value.”

The biggest lesson I took away from this experience and something I use in my job today is this: Providing a great experience to the customer isn’t about what makes you happy; it’s about what makes them happy. And, if you listen carefully, they’ll tell you what that is. In the restaurant, customers wanted high quality, freshly made food brought to their table quickly. When I delivered on those expectations—and more often exceeded those expectations by delivering great service with a smile and a good attitude—my customers were happy. What I thought was added value wasn’t something the customer wanted, and in fact, was misinterpreted. In other words, no need to shake the milk.

3. Find a job where you can use your strengths.

Clearly, waitressing wasn’t the right job for me (and I have so much respect for servers who have a true gift for working in the restaurant industry). Eventually, I did find a job where I got to use my strengths for giving personalized, efficient, friendly service to customers: I became a hair stylist! That career choice helped me realize and develop other strengths—I moved into salon management and eventually the Great Clips corporate office where I get to do what truly inspires me: helping others succeed.

Fast forward to today—how do I apply these lessons to my current job?

LESSON 1: Make it special.

Fortunately, my mistaken idea about shaking the milk didn’t burst my bubble for providing a great customer experience. As VP of franchise services, I get to work with Great Clips franchisees who want to make their customers’ experiences special. We provide great training for both franchisees and their salon employees so they can deliver a great haircut and make it personal, positive, and proficient. If a stylist can get a genuine smile from the customer before the cape comes off, I guarantee they will be back! 

LESSON 2: Focus on what the customer wants.

Great Clips isn’t a full-service salon. We don’t do color or mani/pedis or waxing. We do haircuts. Why? Because Great Clips customers have told us what they want, so that’s what we focus on—no-appointment convenience, great value, friendly service, and a commitment to making sure you walk out of the salon looking and feeling better than when you walked in!

LESSON 3: Use your strengths.

This is a lesson I am fortunate to use every day because of the rewards and challenges of my job. Even better, I get to apply this lesson to the salon owners I work with, each of whom brings unique strengths to their organization and the Great Clips brand. I love getting to help them leverage those strengths to build their legacy business.

There is one more lesson from that first job I use almost every day: Before I pour out a glass of milk, I shake the carton. Who doesn’t love those fancy bubbles?

My thanks to Michelle for telling us about the lessons she learned from her first job. I’ll never look at a glass of milk the same again. What’s the life-changing lesson you learned from a first job? I’d love to hear your story. Give me a call!

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