Anti-Stiff: Tipped Workers & Dealing with Stiffs

Use this powerful technique at your own risk

Despite the prevalence of tipping in American culture, the ongoing discussion about an increase to the minimum wage, and wide-spread awareness of tipped workers’ fixed wages, every tipped worker deals with the occasional stiff. This article is written for the tipped worker, and it provides a tactful method to dealing with the stiffs that you come across in your line of work. I assume herein that you do an impeccable job and communicate effectively with your customers.

If you’re reading this, I want you to dwell on that for a moment. If you aren’t doing your job well, then this doesn’t apply to you, yet. You must follow all standards of your role before employing what I’m about to tell you.

As you get to know the clientele, you’ll quickly grow aware of the stiffs among them. Your co-workers know the stiffs, as does management. However, the latter isn’t willing to do anything about it, because the mantra in customer service is “the customer is always right.”

Tipped workers generally deal with stiffs by giving them inferior service, passing the stiff to the new guy at the establishment, letting others know about the stiff, but rarely by mustering up the courage to confront the stiff. You engage in these behaviors to keep from having to endure the stiff. Meanwhile, we all want to land the customer who is known to be a good tipper – you know, the one that makes up for all the bad tippers!

The question: how to handle the stiff for the best possible outcome?
Passive-aggression is not going to work. If the customer stiffs you, it’s likely that they stiff others, too. While most people prefer to avoid confrontation, it’s the only way to turn most stiffs around.
Brief aside: can you imagine what service must be like for the customer known to be a stiff?

I came up with this one while delivering pizzas in the spring of 2014. It gradually coalesced while I was mulling over the few particularly distasteful experiences I’d had on the job.

Introducing: Anti-Stiff

The goal is to call attention to the customer’s behavior in a way that doesn’t make you out to be an entitled tip-seeker, while providing the customer with multiple outs. These word tracks can uncover the customer’s hidden objections, put otherwise lost money into your pocket, and might even provide feedback on how you can perform your job better.

I noticed that you didn’t leave me a tip.

I pride myself on delivering exceptional customer service.

Were you satisfied with the level of service that you received? Have I met your expectations for customer service? (In what way did I fail to meet your expectations?)

Why haven’t you tipped me?

This is inherently different from the question, “Where is my tip?” or, “What about my tip?” because it focuses on the customer and is a request for an explanation, as opposed to focusing on the tip. “Where is my tip?” and “What about my tip?” both come across more negatively, suggesting a sense of entitlement.

Anti-Stiff is unexpected because we seek to avoid confrontation on a societal level, and calling people out on their behavior forces them to reexamine it. It never solicits a tip. Ultimately, it’s not a pleasant line of questioning, as it places the other party on defensive. However, it works.

Most probable positive outcome: you get a standard tip from a customer who is a known stiff

Most probable negative outcome: you leave the interaction having gained insight into how you can perform your job better to the benefit of all your customers, benefitting you in turn

Using Anti-Stiff reinforces the social contract of tipping. Use it when the situation calls for it, but don’t tell your coworkers about it when you do. Because you’ve confronted a customer, you’ve engaged in behavior that most people would find uncomfortable. If anything, let them in on your secret after you’ve cashed out.

Some of you may be wondering what to do if the customer threatens to speak to your manager, and actually follows through with it. More on that, later, with a personal story involving one particularly angry customer.

Articles I read during the writing of this piece:

The Best Trick to Making Bigger Tips as a Pizza Delivery Driver

The single factor that has had the largest contribution to my pizza delivery driving success was treating every customer as if he or she were a new customer.

At Domino’s, we have a policy that whenever there is a new customer, the delivery driver assigned to that order needs to make a call to the customer before heading out the door. This serves primarily to cut down on the number of prank calls, bad orders, etc.

It’s useful: there have been times where I’ve attempted to make a delivery, only to find that there was nothing there. Perhaps the customer service representative who fielded the call misheard the customer, or keyed in the wrong number. This call is extremely important, so why not do it for every customer?

As delivery drivers, we get very few chances to make an impression upon the customer. Most drivers wait until they are in front of the customer before making their first impression. By making the phone call before going to the customer’s location, you are doubling the number of impressions that you’ve made upon the customer.

My typical customer phone call script goes a little like this…

[call connects]

Hi, “Customer?” I’m calling from Domino’s Pizza. My name is Alex, and I’ll be your delivery driver.

[wait for customer acknowledgment]

I’m calling to let you know that your order is fresh out of the oven, and I’m ready to bring it to you.

If the address is in a known business park, I’ll ask the customer “what to look out for,” and they’ll provide some guidance on finding their building

Usually, I’ll have the customer confirm the address that I have on the ticket: “I have your address as … – is that correct?”

Great, I’ll be (there / at your door) at (ETA).

See you soon! / Looking forward to seeing you!

This script sets me up for a positive interaction with the customer.

Why else is the phone call important?

Expectation management. No one likes to be left in the dark, not least when they’ve paid for service.

On busy nights, orders at our store get backed up. We are understaffed on the make line, so most everyone (drivers included) is pulling double duty. More often than not in these situations, I wouldn’t be able to make it to the customer’s door at our quoted time without seriously endangering other drivers on the road. A brief phone call to the customer telling them that things at the store have gotten a little hectic, but their food has just come out of the oven and I’m looking forward to getting it to them soon goes a long way to keeping customer satisfaction at a high. At the door, I’ll greet them and tack on a “thanks for your patience” to make clear that I understand any frustration they may have experienced during the wait.

Resetting the timer. The wait between placing an order and receiving delivery feels unbearably long for a hungry customer.

Everyone wants their order yesterday. By giving the customer a call with an ETA, the customer now has a new time to look forward. Otherwise they’re looking at the clock with the expectation that their food will be delivered at the time that was quoted during ordering. I give an ETA with a slight buffer (under-promise and over-deliver)

This also helps cut down on the number of phone calls back to the store from customers whose orders have yet to leave the building. These phone calls typically come in at our busiest times, when all hands must be on deck. My phone call helps the store maintain operational efficiency by reducing the number of interruptions that the in-store personnel must handle.

Finally, the phone call affords me an opportunity to demonstrate my professionalism and commitment to the customer’s satisfaction. My phone call separates me from the vast majority of other drivers in a positive way. This commitment to customer service is important by itself, but it also functions as ammunition in the event that I need to deploy Anti-Stiff.

Other sound bites / word tracks

Your order is a priority for me.
My goal is to provide exceptional customer service.

Goals of First Call

  • Introduce yourself
  • Verify and gain information
  • Reset timer
  • Demonstrate professionalism

Marketing & Innovation

It must have happened while I was watching The Wolf of Wall Street (one of the best movies of 2013 apparently) with my dad. The thought occurred to me (or did it happen in the movie?) that the two key functions necessary for any business operation are marketing and innovation. The balance is not important.

Stratton & Oaks was clearly a marketing-heavy firm, but there was a hint of innovation in Belfort’s ability to recognize the shortcomings of the other idiots manning the telephones and to turn this into a script designed to close the deal.

Come to find that a search for marketing and innovation brings up an article on Forbes entitled Peter Drucker on Marketing, written by Jack Trout (

Long ago Peter Drucker, the father of business consulting, made a very profound observation that has been lose in the sands of time:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only two— basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Today, when top management is surveyed, their priorities in order are: finance, sales, production, management, legal and people. Missing from the list: marketing and innovation.

Funny enough to find that not only is my casual observation a very big deal, the article also blasts the popular business book Built to Last by James Collins and Jerry Porras. You know, all that spiel about the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)? Trout writes: “The companies that the authors of Built to Last suggest for emulation … didn’t have to deal with the intense competition in today’s global economy … they had the luxury of growing up when business life was a lot simpler. As a result, these role models are not very useful for companies today.”

Woah. Deep.

Data Research Courtesy of AT&T

I last used AT&T’s wireless subscriber website to pull some raw data on my phone calls and text messages to present to a judge.

Today I visited the website and found that AT&T was still showing my water damaged iPhone 5 as my primary device. This has not been true for some time, and it appeared that I was still being charged for the data plan. A phone call rectified this issue and netted me credits that covered the erroneous data plan charges.

AT&T and every other corporation is making an effort to move away from mailing paper statements in the interests of saving money (okay, they also do this to help the environment, protect client information, etc.)

AT&T allows customers to view up to 16 months of bill and payments history through their customer web portal, but what if I was interested in getting data that went further back? Their policy states, “We will provide your past bill and payments information free of charge once a year, but there is a $5.00 fee for each additional request”.

I have a personal interest in seeing my text and call history spanning a 24 month period. To get the data that I was after, I first approached their live chat..

I informed the AT&T live chat representative that I was looking for a record of all calls and text messages for my phone line for a 24 month period outside of the window allowed by the website. She understood my request and let me know about the $5.00 fee for each reprinted bill.

Then I contacted AT&T on the phone..

The customer service representative that I spoke with on the phone placed me on hold while doing some research into my account. He stated that it would normally cost $5.00 * 24 = $120 to get the information that I was requesting, though I could probably get it for half of that at $60. Additionally, the information would be sent over in paper format, as it can’t be sent in a digital file format.

I requested that the CSR submit a complaint on my behalf and stated that it was absurd that a technology company couldn’t furnish this information in a format that I could work with immediately, and that getting this information required an outlay on my part. The CSR submitted the complaint and stated that he could get the reprints over to me for no charge.

I told him that I appreciated the offer, but that I needed to have my records in a digital file format so that I could work with them immediately. I have tried digitizing a large volume of paper in the past, and it’s not an activity that I would like to revisit, especially when an alternative probably exists.

My case might not be typical — few people, I’m sure, are actually interested in combing through their phone records to look for trends.

Yet there are cases where a legitimate need exists for an individual to get access to backlogs. In my case, I’m experimenting with data visualization to build a compelling history of events.

I am dumbfounded that AT&T’s representatives claimed that there was no way to get a digital copy of the records that I requested. If a law enforcement agency made a request to AT&T for my communications history, would AT&T send them everything in paper, with a turnaround time of five to seven working days?