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Customer Poker 6

Customer Poker

In the poker game of life, it’s not so much about the hand you’re dealt but how you play it. Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on the bad hand, we fail to see the opportunities for playing our hand differently that are right under our noses.

Recently, I visited a Denver restaurant with my niece Kit and her husband Jeremy. It was a wonderful environment that had a very cool vibe and great food. The server, who I’ll call Sheila, fit the environment perfectly. She was fun, knowledgeable and made us feel right at home — like we were part of the family.

Just before we got up to leave, Sheila asked Kit how tall she was. Since Kit is only five feet tall, this was not only an odd question, it could have been interpreted as rude — similar to asking a woman about her age, or when her baby is due when she’s not even pregnant. But since Sheila had been so much fun, we took the question in stride and weren’t offended at all. Kit proudly declared that she was “five feet nothing.”

Sheila pumped her fist and said, “Yes! Score!”

Now let me say that I am quite proud of my acute observational skills and in this situation, I quickly surmised that something was going on behind the scenes. This was not just a friendly conversation nor was Sheila an inquisitive server who was overly curious about a customer’s lack of height. No, we had stumbled into a culinary twilight zone.

So, I subtly tried to get to the bottom of the situation by saying, “Why in the world would you ask that?”

Somewhat sheepishly, Sheila said, “Well, the servers are involved in a game of customer poker. Different customers represent different cards. For instance, a woman who is over 21 years old and is five feet tall, or under, represents a queen. So I just got dealt a queen! Earlier a man with a mustache wearing a sweater vest came in. That was a king. A baby that doesn’t cry is an ace. And so on. Then, at the end of our shift, we see who had the best poker hand for the night. It just makes the job so much more fun.”

OK, so this is brilliant.

The game not only values the uniqueness of the customers, it gives the servers a way to enjoy their work, especially when things get busy, stressful, or most importantly, boring.

It reminded me of a bank where the tellers were particularly challenged by some very demanding customers who never seemed satisfied. The branch manager dealt with the tellers’ low morale by creating a weekly cash award for the teller with the worst customer. Once the awards began, the tellers were no longer upset by demanding customers but were excited when one came to their window. It’s a wonderful strategy because it not only improved morale, it totally changed how the tellers dealt with difficult customers.

The key for these kinds of practices is to make sure they are implemented with respect and never at the expense of the customer. In our situation, Kit was delighted that her height, or lack thereof, helped Sheila get a better poker hand.

Have you ever done something like this in your work environment? If so, please let me know. I’d love to share your ideas with others.

If you haven’t, consider how you might make the routine, mundane activities during your typical day more fun. Here are a few examples from other organizations:

  • One company posted a photo from the newspaper and a blank piece of paper above the copy machine each day. Then, as employees were waiting for their copies, they would write funny captions under the photos. Awards were given for the best captions and the winning captions were printed in the company newsletter.
  • One organization held a movie discussion group over lunch to allow employees to share their impressions of recent movies they’d seen.
  • Some companies give each employee one day every year to call in “well.” At the end of the year, they could also consider awarding an additional day off to the person who had the most creative use of his/her “well” day off.
  • My hospital used to hold a monthly “Laff Lunch” where we got together to tell our favorite (clean) jokes, funny stories or embarrassing moments. The room was packed every month.
  • A children’s hospital in Florida hired window washers who dressed as superheroes. The kids and the window washers loved it.
  • When reviewing medical records, some of our hospice staff would make note of the abbreviations and shortcuts that led to funny interpretations of the notes in the medical records. They would then share them at staff meetings to both entertain us and remind us of the importance of accurate documentation.
  • The receptionists in a district court clerk’s office made sorting the mail for their office more fun by hiding candy bars, toys and coupons in the mail for the person who had to sort through it that day.

These ideas are great examples of how we take our mundane responsibilities and add a new wrinkle to make them more enjoyable. Regardless of what duties you are dealt, you can determine the cards you play. Spend a little time strategizing, as the servers at our Denver restaurant did with customer poker, and I’ll bet you, too, can have a winning hand.


  • Karen says:

    used to offer “Lavendar aromatherapy time outs” with staff when they needed a respite break from difficult patients/families ;
    (was good for me as well), we would sniff lavendar oil on a tissue together as we addressed and discussed our next steps
    I also left a Lavendar plant outside my door, with a note for all to please take samples of the leaves to either rub in their hands and sniff or just sniff as needed/prn —the staff loved these special time-outs and enabled me to keep on top of things as well:)

  • Pam says:

    We used to have a “screw up award” where I worked. It went to the person who was brave enough to try something new to improve things at work and sadly, even if it failed, they received the award for trying to be creative and innovative. People were proud to get the wooden plaque, embelished with a giant screw of course, to show they tried!

  • sherry says:

    I work in a busy hospital unit, and I put a happy face on my scrubs and on the window of the employee restroom. The goal was to smile at everyone…the doctors, other nurses family members patients…and to see who would smile back at you.. Just the act of smiling makes the body think its happy, and other employees were laughing by the end of the day! It mad the day go faster, and it was fun to try to make the grumpy doctors smile!!

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