(WARNING!!! – Viewer discretion advised – The following article contains some emotional and violent subject matter. If you are uncomfortable with such reading material, please stop reading and click away from the page. Your continued reading is an acknowledgment that you are fine with this type of content and agree to take full responsibility for any personal emotions that result from it.)
After a stent of being homeless when I first arrived in Las Vegas, Nv. In the 90’s (I’ll write more about that at a later date), I got back on track securing a position as a graveyard bartender at the Winn Dee Bar & Cocktail Lounge in N. Las Vegas, Nv.. Later that year I quit and was hired to manage 2 call centers, which I wrote about in the following article: What I Learned While Working With The Rapper Candyman (Candell Manson) In The 90’s.
Today, we are going to learn some customer relations and business tips by reflecting on my time as a graveyard bartender.
The Winn Dee Bar & Cocktail Lounge (at least back then) was considered a hole in the wall dive bar. 95% of the customers were bikers and Mexican mafia/cartel, the jukebox only played country music at the time, and all I had for personal protection was a baseball bat with the word “Thumper” written on it in black permanent marker.
I worked hard to make sure all my customers were happy and treated everyone with the same respect. Every night at the end of my shift I would go through the tips that came in every color of the rainbow (Ya, your worst thought about that reference is probably correct – drug related). I generally threw them away or left them for the next shift in case they wanted anything to do with those types of gratuities.
Read the above two paragraphs again and try to visualize that setting.
Got the image in your head? Good, let’s continue.
Working the graveyard shift I encountered a lot of situations that most people may have had a panic attack over just thinking about, but I’m going to just reference one of them today.
One night (around 1am) a gentleman came into the bar demanding a drink (He was obviously already intoxicated), but had no money to pay for it. Using my cunning skills as a bartender, unlicensed bar psychologist (It’s ok to laugh at this one), and customer service representative, I politely reminded him that our policy would not allow me to serve him a drink without payment. After all, we were a business.
The gentleman became livid almost instantly and threatened to grab an Uzi from his trunk outside if I didn’t comply with his demands. For those of you unfamiliar with an uzi, here’s a picture:
Image Credit: Source
On that side of town, with the type of crowd the bar attracted, you take threats like that seriously! Nervous and unsure how “Thumper” would compete with his uzi, I stuck to policy, apologized for the inconvenience and expressed my appreciation for him understanding my situation as an employee with policies to follow.
He snapped, said he would be right back, and darted for the door.
Within seconds, one of my regular patrons (We’ll call him “Anonymous”) leaned over the bar and said “Don’t worry Eric, we’ve got your back” and winked. He let out a whistle and half the bar stood at attention as he gave hand signs and instructions (quickly). Like a well oiled machine, anonymous patrons sprung into strategic action and moved to different parts of the bar (one on each side of the door, 3 playing defense bar side between me & the door, and 2 stood next to me in case the first 2 lines of defense failed).
The gentleman re-entered the bar with the uzi in his hand (He was apparently serious). The 2 anonymous patrons on either side of the door grabbed his hands to hold the firearm down as the 3 defensive linemen rushed in to disarm him.
Once disarmed they ushered him outside and I was never bothered by him again. I would rather not think about what may have potentially happened when they left that night. In those days, in that area, with that type of crowd, the police were rarely called and things were handled according to street law. Most the anonymous patrons wanted nothing to do with law enforcement being around.
What we can learn from this experience
There were some clear takeaways from all this that can benefit just about any business, however, some of them you may not have identified, so I’ll cover them all below for you.
- As a customer service representative for your company, you will learn very quickly that you won’t be able to please everyone. Some people are just not receptive to policy/rules no matter how nice you are when explaining them. There are going to be times that you get yelled at, threatened, or even (Like in my case) a gun pulled on you. Learn from it and move on. Don’t let it demotivate you or get you down. Keep helping people!
- When your life is threatened or you are confronted with a deadly situation like I was, be sure to contact the local authorities and file a report once you’re in a safe place or when the threat is gone.
- Your life is more valuable than a product. If there is no other way to resolve the matter peacefully and a client/customer intends to do harm to you unless you give it to them, just give it to them and then contact the authorities with all the evidence so they can be prosecuted. (Unless you’re hard headed like I was and stick to policy no matter what. If you do this, be sure you have a good attorney and strong strategy driven defense to back you up)
- Like with any business, if you respect your clients/customers and provide them with optimal support, you just might find that when/if things get bad for you, your clients/customers will rally up shoulder to shoulder with you to help you through your hard times. (This is more common with smaller companies and mom & pop operations that still make genuine connections and don’t treat people like numbers.)
- Teamwork is essential. Trying to go it alone can sometimes result in very bad outcomes. Know when you need to recruit help.
- Clear and effective communication (Like with the group of anonymous patrons at the bar) is critical in resolving problems effectively in every business. Make sure your team is on the same page and sharing notes.
- Listening to your customers/clients problems and offering solutions or free advice (Like with my unlicensed psychology sessions as a bartender) develops a strong bond. One that stimulates repeat and referral business, or that can even save your life one day.
- Whether your business is the equivalent to a dive bar or a 5 star cocktail lounge on the Las Vegas strip, it’s essential that you put policies and safety guidelines in place to help employee’s and managers navigate through situations like the one I encountered safely.
- When a stressful situation emerges in your business, stay calm, collective, and troubleshoot your options before spontaneously engaging the situation and making matters worse. Most mistakes happen when we don’t think things through or lose our cool and make an irrational decision out of fear, stress, or anger.
Life and business are too short. Don’t go through either one half-cocked or irrational. When times get rough, take a moment to process what’s happening, calm yourself down, and then approach it with a level head using logic.
Don’t just randomly network, make sure that every hand you shake and every person you talk to understands that you’re looking to build genuine relationships and establish partnerships with solid foundations, not just to sell them something.
Remember, when you help others, you are actually helping yourself. Even if there was no deal closed or money to be made from the experience, you’ve created an ever lasting impression and bond with someone that they will likely never forget.
Stay transparently true to yourself and others!
Happy business building everyone.
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