Sunday, May 30, 2010
how blueberry ice cream can help you get what you want in life
Sharon and I met Don and Barb Cole when we first moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1981. Although Barb could be a little hard to get along with at times (I suspect that she may have been bi-polar), Don was a genuinely good guy.
We often enjoyed a few beers together as we puffed on our pipes, and all four us got together on Saturday nights with our church group to play “500”
Even though Don has now been gone for a number of years, and is laid to rest alongside a deer path in his native state (it’s pronounced muh -zoor - uh) I learned a lot from him over the years, and one story, in particular, made a lasting impression on me.
For years, Don worked for Texaco Oil Company, and a lot of those years were spent in the complaint department. Like Jack Nicholson’s character in the 2002 film, About Schmidt, he was a creature of habit. For at least a decade, his daily lunch consisted entirely of a cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. He was a very down to earth and humble guy, so he asked to be buried in his favorite sweater rather than a suit - and he was.
One of his relatives had a bad experience with a container of Borden’s blueberry ice cream, and was all ready to fire off a rant to the Borden Company when Don suggested an alternative: he would write the letter for her.
After years in the complaint department, he knew that the people that griped the most got the least possible response, and sometimes none at all, so he composed a letter that he felt would get better results. In essence, this is what he said:
I’ve been a loyal Borden’s customer for a number of years.
I recently purchased a gallon container of Borden’s Blueberry Ice Cream. Although the picture on the container showed thick ribbons of blueberries scattered throughout the ice cream, the carton that I purchased had thin and anemic strands instead
I’m not asking for anything at all. I simply wanted to point out that your usual standards were not up to par on the gallon of blueberry ice cream that I recently purchased, and I just wanted to call the situation to your attention.
A short time after he mailed the letter off, he got a response from Borden’s. Not only did they give his relative a full refund on the ice cream that she had purchased, they also included coupons for SIX additional gallons of ice cream at no additional cost.
There’s no guarantee that polite and well-researched letters will produce the kind of results that Don got with his letter, but it’s absolutely certain that they will produce better results than angry rants.
Cindy Miller of Equine Transportation recently wrote an angry letter to AARP because she was opposed to health care reform. Although she and her husband dropped their membership, her letter caused Sharon and I to reinstate ours. Not only did Cindy’s letter fail to stop health care reform, it also caused AARP’s membership to INCREASE rather than decline.
Using Don’s approach, I was able to convince the IRS to reduce my tax burden in 1999 by $4500. A few years later, I convinced our insurance company to pay for Sharon’s $1500 Optifast program after they initially denied her claim, and it also looks like Sharon is going to get reimbursed by the State of Illinois for the damage that the pothole in the Village of Winnetka bent her expensive alloy rim on the way to work. Her picture, as well as the story about the pothole, appeared on the front page of the Business Section of the Chicago Tribune on the morning of May 28.
The Borden Company was founded by Gail Borden, Jr. in 1857 in Connecticut as "Gail Borden, Jr., and Company." Its primary product was condensed milk. Struggling financially, the company was saved when Jeremiah Milbank, a partner in the wholesale food distributor I. & R. Milbank & Co. and the son-in-law of banker Joseph Lake, agreed to invest and acquired fifty percent of the stock. The company changed its name in 1858 to the New York Condensed Milk Company. The company prospered during the Civil War by selling condensed milk to Union armies. Borden began selling processed milk to consumers in 1875, and pioneered the use of glass milk bottles in 1885. Borden began selling evaporated milk in 1892, and expanded into Canada in 1895.
At one point in its history, The Borden Company was the largest U.S. producer of dairy and pasta products, but the company suffered some severe financial losses in the early 1990’s. By 2001, the investment banking firm of KKR had shut down all food production, and the company no longer existed in 2005.
Although The Borden Company is no longer in business, and Don Cole is no longer with us, his letter of long ago is proof that a small act of kindness can influence the actions of others years, and even decades, later.