The Empty Cup

How an empty cup helped shape our company’s mission
By Ron Crowl
October 13, 2015
THE TALK... | Sales & Marketing

As a teenager, I was lucky to get a summer job at a local amusement park in the food service operation. This job and an awkward learning experience during it would help define my business philosophy and my company’s mission statement years later.

Prior to my first day of work I attended an orientation for working in the food stands. Among some common-sense rules, one required an explanation. The management counted drink cups every night to determine how much product was sold. If the remaining cups did not match the amount of money turned in, someone was either stealing money or giving away drinks.

My first day, I was working alone in Kiddieland, which was the worst assignment I could imagine. A man pushing his daughter in a stroller approached the drink stand with his wife and son. He asked for a cup for the drinking fountain so his daughter could take her medicine. I explained politely that I couldn’t give away empty cups and that he would have to purchase a drink.

He didn’t particularly like this answer and asked again if he could have a cup. My only thought was that, if I gave him the cup, management would think I was stealing. I firmly told him that I could not give him a cup.

He reached into his pocket, threw some change on the counter and yelled, “Give me a drink!” He then turned around and emptied the drink onto the ground, spraying his wife and the little boy. The little boy was crying, the wife was yelling and I was wondering why I couldn’t have just given them the cup.

A short while later, my manager visited my stand with another worker in tow, who would be my replacement. The manager led me to a bench and asked what happened. I explained the man’s request for the cup and why I didn’t give it to him. The manager’s response might just be the best business advice I have ever received.

“Rules are meant as guidelines,” he said. “But some situations require us to do certain things outside the guidelines.” He also told me that it was my personal responsibility to make sure my customers remained happy.

And that’s what led to the following mission statement: “Our mission is to provide the best products, service and support to each and every customer—every single day.” The principle here is universal, whether you’re working for an amusement park, a window company, or a supplier to the industry.

Does your company have a customer-centric philosophy? Do you empower your employees to make judgement calls that may break rules but reinforce your mission statement? Share your thoughts by posting a comment, review the results of this week’s poll and/or email your thoughts. 

Survey Results for 10/14/2015 :

Does your company empower its employees to make judgement calls based on each customer?

All employees can ensure customer satisfaction, even if we have to adjust the rules.





Employees have leeway to adapt for certain situations, but must abide by some hard-and-fast rules.





Only upper management can make the call to make exceptions to the rule.





 Ron Crowl is the President & CEO of FeneTech.