Coffee Talk: The Unicorn Employee

Coffee Talk: The Unicorn Employee

Can you imagine having the kind of employee who would solve a coffee cup lid shortage problem on their own when corporate couldn't or wouldn't?

Every so often, I encounter a situation outside of collision repair that nonetheless can provide a good lesson for those firmly entrenched in the auto body world. Last month was one of those situations.

I was ready to pull in to my local McDonald’s on my way to work to pick up my usual, a large black coffee, but imagine my surprise when I found that the restaurant was closed due to construction. My Monday was not starting off well … and I won’t even mention what happened later when a giant, lifted pickup truck nearly took off my front end as it recklessly swerved in front of me to go around a slow driver in the speed lane.

So I decided Plan B would be to visit the BP a block away to get my caffeine fix. I’d never gotten coffee there before, but it was just like the other gas stations: a central coffee station with every conceivable coffee you can think of, hot and ready in plastic urns. There were also cups of various sizes, sugar, cream and all that … except lids. Where were the lids? Hmmm. All I could find were plastic soda lids, not the specialized coffee ones with the little slit allowing you to sip but not burn yourself. I looked up, down and everywhere until I decided, well, no lid, too bad.

When I went to pay for the coffee, I asked the cashier about the lids. 

“Yeah, I’m sorry, truck didn’t come and deliver them,” she said apologetically. “It’s been happening for a while. I’m just a lowly peon, you know how it goes, and there’s nothing I can do. All we have temporarily is those soda lids.”

None of these replies solved my problem. And when I saw the coffee sloshing around in my cup and envisioned it decorating my cup holder and car, I went back and got the soda lid anyway, figuring I had to cap the cup somehow. But BP not having the correct coffee cup lids effectively rendered the coffee useless and should have theoretically halted sales to zero (unless you had your own mug to fill) because again, you really can’t drink the coffee without them.

So I got back in my car with my soda lid coffee and decided I’d sit for a while and take the lid off and sip the coffee until the level went down far enough where it was no longer in jeopardy of spilling. Then I thought: No, I’ll just sip it and put the lid back on and start driving, then take the lid off every time I want to sip.

On that longer-than-usual 40-minute commute to work, I got to wondering whether the employee really was a “peon” and the coffee lid fiasco was truly out of her control. And I thought, if she’d known of the problem for some time, she could’ve bought some lids herself and brought them instead of watching exasperated customers leave without their coffee. But who would go to such an extreme? The kind of employee you would love to have, that’s who.

You could easily see where it’s not their problem, and why should they fork over their hard-earned cash for something the company should take care of? But what if — just what if — you had the kind of employee who took matters into his or her own hands instead of rendering fresh, hot coffee completely useless and risking the wrath of customers who swore to never come to BP again? I can’t even say I’d do it — purchase lids on my own because I couldn’t stand to see hardworking people come in for their daily joe and walk out disappointed. But imagine the kind of employee who would. They do exist out there, and they’re the ones who inspire motivational speakers to go on half-hour-long speeches about customer experiences they had that they’ll never forget. Maybe you already have one; I hope you do. They may just be the unicorn.

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