WHILE VISITING MY mother, I walked along my old paper route. It made me wonder: Which customer am I?
It helps to have a little background on these long-ago entrepreneurs. Paper carriers were independent contractors with the local newspaper. We were given a territory—the route. We purchased the papers from the newspaper company and then delivered them to our customers. Every other week, we would also go around to our customers and ask for payment for the preceding two weeks. When they paid us, we gave them a tiny, preprinted receipt.
Of my 60 customers, I remember only two clearly. Neither was really a bad customer, but I remember the two extremes—my favorite customer and the one that caused me headaches.
Mrs. Kramer was my favorite customer. She was almost always home when I was collecting money. She usually rounded up her bill by a quarter or 30 cents. If she was going out of town for a few days, she would pay two weeks ahead. When I next collected after her return home, we’d settle up the difference for the days she was gone.
Mrs. Kramer always asked how I was doing in school or Scouts. On winter days, she would offer me hot cocoa. I never took her up on the offer, but it was nice knowing she was thinking about me. In December, she usually gave me a tip of $2 or $3.
My least favorite customer was the doctor. The doctor’s family was seldom at home. I often extended them credit for eight or even 12 weeks of newspapers. Even as I waited to collect from the doctor, I was paying the newspaper company. When I was able to collect, we settled up for the exact amount due. In December, the doctor would usually give me a $10 tip—by far the most generous of my customers.
From a total dollar perspective, I probably got more money from the doctor over the course of a year. But from a cash flow perspective, Mrs. Kramer was a more reliable customer. I had many good customers, but only one who took an interest in me—a young paper carrier.
I’m sure that both the doctor and Mrs. Kramer were loved by their families. I doubt either of them based their perception of themselves on what a young paper carrier thought.
But it did cause me to think about which type of customer I want to be. My barber, snow shoveler and lawn service may not remember me 43 years from now. But if they do, I’d prefer to be remembered as a good customer who was grateful for the service they provided—and as somebody who took an interest in their life.