Volume 36, Issue 2, February 2001


Early Birds and Worms
Or "Why I Like This Kid"

by Lyle R. Hill

He was a good-looking kid … 12 years old I guess … maybe 13. He was dressed for the cold weather that was still holding Chicago in its icy grip. I was sitting in the local drugstore waiting area while a prescription that was designed to knock out the lingering congestion from a month-old cold was being processed. There was a pay phone in the area, and the kid first caught my eye when he walked up to it and deposited a quarter.

“Hello, Mr. Cardullo,” 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 to do 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 the response from the person on the other end of the line. 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.”

He hung up the phone, and retrieved a new number from a pad of paper he had brought with him. He then dropped another quarter into the pay phone and made his next call. Unfortunately, the results were the same. This time, the guy was named Resnick, but the result was the same as it had been with the first call the kid had made. A person by the name of Littman came next. Littman was a little more abrupt than the first two people he had called, but the kid stayed cool and composed. I was starting to like this kid, but by now, I was starting to feel sorry for him too.

“Hey Kid,” I said, “Maybe it’s too early to be calling people about their grass cutting needs. Maybe you’d get a better response if you waited till March or April.”

“Thanks Mister, but I think 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 really liked this kid, and 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 be successful in catching his meal if there is a corresponding early worm. Unless, of course, you believe that worms follow a different schedule than birds altogether. Personally, I believe that most worms are actually nocturnal and are underground long before the earliest of birds arises. 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 the age of this kid. I’m convinced that there must be others who have reached this same conclusion, but I have never felt comfortable enough to openly admit how I feel about this subject until this very moment. But for now, back to our story.

“Listen Kid,” I finally said feeling truly sorry for him, “you can cut my lawn this summer if you’d like.”

“Well to be honest Mister,” the kid replied, “I don’t know if I can squeeze you in or not this summer. We’re really 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, then why were you calling them to get their work this summer?”

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

“Then why were you calling them? I asked.

“To see if they were happy with their present supplier … me,” he fired back.
“You see,” he continued, “I know it’s a lot harder to get a new customer than it is to keep an old one. And while my tactics might be a little sneaky, I just want to make sure I’m doing my job to their complete satisfaction. I also know there’s always somebody who will be cheaper than me, so it’s important that I offer quality work and offer a very high level of customer satisfaction.”

I liked this kid … and I had to give him credit. He recognized the importance of customer satisfaction and while his methods were a little unusual, in his own way he was measuring the level of his performance relative to his customer’s point of view.

“You know kid, “ I finally said, “I think I’ve heard of your company. What’s your logo look like?”
“Our logo is Yankee Doodle coming into town.”
“Riding on a pony?”
“No … on a Snapper riding mower.”
“You know Kid, I really like you, and you’re pretty sharp for your age. But I need to straighten you out on the early bird and the worm thing. You see ..."


Copyright Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.