The Ultimate Solution For Keeping Retail Bathrooms Clean


Hello shoppers… 


None of us like to go potty using any potty other than the one our bum has become most abumstomed to i.e. our toidy at home. 

That’s as cool as the other side of the toilet seat – if we’re right there.  

But put us on the road, six cups of coffee and 37 miles away from the familiar “feel” of home “plate,” and our options narrow: 

1. Hold it till we get home. 

2. Use a coffee can in the car, like I had to, until the age of 6. 

3. Use a hidden tree, like I’ve been doing since some point after that. 

4. Use a public restroom. 


Retailers tremble at our shopper’s propensity to select the last option, especially if it’s theirs. 

"Pleeeze don't pick number 4! Purty purty purty pleeeze, with sugar on it!"


John Wykoff, a national marketing consultant and sales trainer (and no relation to the man in the above photo) put it succinctly, in an article for, The Little Detail That Matters For Small Retailers: 

“Women frequent a restroom twice as often as men. Women over 20 and those who have had a baby frequent restrooms even more often. Women are very sensitive when it comes to the cleanliness and supplies when they use a restroom. If the women’s restroom is not up to her standards she will NEVER come back to your store. Women control 85% of all discretionary dollars spent in the US.” 

That’s why. Dudes will go about anywhere, and do. But if Mom, wife, girlfriend, grandma or sis think the ladies room is a gross-fest, it’s game over, and they’re gone, for good. 

We have fewer issues with a dirty bathroom when its our dirt, in our bathroom. 

But our standards, regardless of gender, are much higher when we’re soiling on foreign soil, along with hundreds of other soilers.   

The most common places we potty away from home are, reasonably enough, those that are most convenient: convenience stores. 

But that easy access also creates a massive problem for CS owners, managers and employees, who have to try to keep up with our bladders and colons.  

As Dean Martin sang, Ain’t that a kick in the head – with “head” in this case supplying the one guffaw in this post. (Click this sentence to see why the previous one is funny, and so am I.)  

This head-kicking point was dramatized in some of my Secret Shopper reviews, which uncovered some less than stellar bathrooms. (Click below to read more.) 

Kum and Go Pt 1   Kum and Go Pt 2  

Casey’s General Stores  

Auto Repair Shops 

So what’s the ultimate solution for keeping retail bathrooms clean, since that was this post’s headline? (I have to stop being this funny.) 

I stumbled upon it last week, while vacationing in Milwaukee. (Click this sentence to see why the last one isn’t funny, but is extremely interesting.) 

On our way back from catching the last of two baseball games at beautiful Miller Park in Milwaukee, my buddy and I stopped in Dodgeville, Wisconsin (pop. 53,595 + 2, briefly) to gas up and, sure enough, make more room for more diet soda drinking along the 230 miles still left till terra Central Iowa firma. 

We pulled into a Kwik Trip. While my friend pumped the gas, I headed to the men’s room inside the store. 

As I entered, I saw this sign on the wall – and immediately knew I’d found a great work of customer service art. 


Here’s why this sign rocks: 

1. Holding owners accountable: There’s no question in our consumer mind, based upon this extraordinary sign, that a specific someone, somewhere, is looking out for our best interest. In this case, the particular someones happen to be the owners of the entire Kwik Trip franchise – over 400 stores in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and growing.  

Now that’s customer service.  

2. Holding managers/employees accountable: If you’re an employee at this Kwik Trip store, do you want to be the one who gets pulled aside by your manager, who got the call from their regional manager, who got the call from KT corporate, which may have come directly from Don and Steve and Zietlow, for all we know, telling you that a customer called and complained about a dirty bathroom, during your shift? 

I suspect that most of the Kwik Trip store employees will do whatever it takes to make sure those calls and conversations, never take place. 


I have no scientific research to back up my supposition. But I’m a guessin that Kwik Trip bathrooms are consistently clean, whichever one you go to, to go.  

Every business owner commited to great customer service, should follow their lead – especially convenience stores.  

Because whether you’re a busy retailer trying to keep a bathroom clean, or a full bladdered consumer in search of one that’s not dirty, a simple sign seems to have provided a solution for you both. 

Or you can toss a coffee can in your car. You make the call.


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.     


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog  

Click to email Jonnie ( 

Phone: 515-480-4190   


Enjoy Great Customer Service In – Milwaukee?


Hello shoppers…  


"And here's the 73rd pic of Grandma pretending like she's biting into the world's largest pecan, in Brunswick, Missouri!"



There’s nothing worse – other than going through hernia surgery post-op , taking a drink of milk when you get home from the hospital that’s two weeks past code, dropping the rotten gallon milk jug on your big toe, or trying to write an email to your local grocery store to complain about the unexpected curds, and noticing your home internet service is down, where it stays, for a month,  than suffering through someone else’s vacation photos.  

So let’s look at some of mine from last week. Yeaaaaaaa!!!!!  

The purpose, in this instance, is purely scientific: to demonstrate that I didn’t overspend for my $250 Blackberry, and to show photographic proof of the surprisingly high level of customer service experienced last week while on a 2-day vaca-stay in Milwaukay.  

That’s right. Milwaukee. The one in Wisconsin.  

"Hey kids, who wants to spend our summer vacation where Laverne and Shirley live?!"


No one vacations in Milwaukee. Not intentionally.  

“Hey Bianca ! Where are you and Emmerich vacationing this summer?”  

“Oh Porsche, listen to this! We were thinking about staying at The Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi in mid-June, The Puri Le Mayeur Villa of the Tugu Hotela in Bali in early July, and closing out the month with two days at the Milwaukee Airport Motel 6.  

“You lucky sausage!”  

Which is what our hotel room kinda smelled like. I’ll pop the casing on that one shortly.  

Milwaukee doesn’t show up on CNN/Money Magazine’s list of the top 100 best places to live in the US in 2010.  Our own Ames, Iowa is 9th. West Des Moines is #75.  The first Wisconsin town to appear is Waukesha, at #50.   

Okay, so this is a list of cities with populations under 200,000, and Milwaukee has 604,477. But you can see what I’m getting at.   

There are also the  Milwaukee jokes – about their excessive drinking, their penchant for ranch dressing, sausage and cheese, their weird accents, their insanely cold and snowy weather, their cannibals (Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, who lived in another Wis town, but close enough) and their baseball team (The Brewers):  

The Milwaukee Brewers’ Prince Fielder says he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Milwaukee. Mainly because it’s the only city in America where he’s considered thin.  

Jokes aside, The Brewers were the main reason I and a good friend schleped the 375 miles up the I-35 north corridor, across Highway 20 east, up Highway 151 north and across I-94 east, to The South Airport Motel 6, in the first place.  

The Brew Crew and my beloved Cincinnati Reds were polishing off the last two games of a three game set at the beautiful Miller Park, and it was the closest the 2010 version of The Big Red Machine would get to Central Iowa.  

If you’re a sports fan, you can forget the Five Pillars Of Great Customer Service: The greatest smile, greet, engage, thank and follow-up you can experience is when your team wins.   

Yet as a wonderfully surprising bonus, the staff at our Motel 6 got things started on a winning foot.  

Sure, the room smelled like a weekend with a just released Lindsay Lohan, and okay, the bathroom door came off in my hand. (Travel tip on the dope rhyme: ask for a room other than #227.) 

But the front desk ladies both smiled as I entered the front office, were extremely courteous, addressed me by my first name as they handed me my two door keys, and remembered it, and greeted me by it the next day, when I checked out.  

That ain’t bad for $49.99 per night, plus tax.  

Living up to the promise of their marketing: Behind that unassuming front entrance lies great customer service


It also isn’t too shabby for $30.23 – the amount it took to fill up at a Milwaukee Kwik Trip (which should not be confused with the other Quik Trip chain, which sounds eerily similar). 

In fact, at each of the four KT’s we visited those two days (in and out of Milwaukee) the clerks smiled easily, greeted heartily, engaged thoughtfully and thanked thankfully. (There’s one exceptional KT stop in particular that I’ll tell you about in tomorrow’s blog.)   


There was great - and unexpected - customer service at these stores


The great customer service continued at Miller Park.  

The parking lot attendants smiled and said “Hi!” and “Welcome to Miller Park!” as they took my seven bucks, and waived us through.  

Joel (and I’m guessing at his name because I forgot to ask), a young man selling game programs at a kiosk inside the stadium’s entrance, kept the happy mojo going, with a smiling “Hi!” and engaging way of explaining the difference between a game program, which was free, and a Brewer’s 40th Anniversary Program, which was free plus $10.  

What’s a baseball game without 5,230 calories? Not one!  

It was on to the snack bar, where Bob (and I’m guessing at his name because etc etc blah blah), who was on active duty, and volunteering as a food server, greeted with a huge grin and a “Welcome to Miller Park! Can I get ya a cold one?”  

My gut didn’t mind the closed-ended question. Here’s 12-75. Hand me seven pounds of nachos and a 5 gallon Brewer souvenir cup sized diet Pepsi, please.  

Nachos are naturally smiley


The fans in the stands were happy, too, even as their Brewers team got walloped 10-2 that night, and 12-4 the next afternoon. 

No one got rowdy. No one got stupid. In fact, even as the Reds put a hittin hurtin on Brewer’s pitching, fans sitting around us were smiling and laughing, and extremely engaging, asking us where we were from (Iowa) and what we did (television stars).  

"Did I mention that I co-anchor the TV-8 news in Des Moines, with Kevin Cooney?"


Could all that uber-friendliness have been the cold-filtered malt, yeast, hops and barley talking? Sure. The feet of the beer vendors barely touched stadium concrete, in three and a half game-long hours, each day.  

But 9,999,999,999,999 bottles of beer at the park, doesn’t explain everything…  

The sausage race sausages were smiling...


The cameraman was smiling...


My friend Matt (kinda) smiled - and he NEVER smiles on camera


The employees and fans and people in and around Miller Park and throughout Milwaukee were as nice and engaging to us as you could possibly imagine.  

I drove to the 26th largest city in the country, seeking baseball victories – and came back an even bigger winner, from having met the wonderful people who inhabit the picturesque place its indigenous Native Americans called Millioke, meaning: Good Beautiful Pleasant Land.  

They were (W)right. 

The only joke I’ll tell about Milwaukee from now on, is the one on me, for not going there sooner.  


That’s one even Miller Park smiles at – if you look at it just right.  


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.     


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog  

Click to email Jonnie ( 

Phone: 515-480-4190   


The Smile Project Winner #5: Meet Jim Kidd


Hello shoppers… 


"Welcome to raTget"

(Click picture to find out what “raTget” means.) 


A tourist’s trip to London usually involves a visit to Buckingham Palace, where attempts are made, sometimes successfully, to get one of the otherwise stoic Palace guards to laugh. (Click inside these parenthesis to read a clean but funny top 10 list of “Things You Don’t Want To Hear At A Tattoo Parlor,” that will make you laugh.) 

A shopper’s trip to Hy-Vee Convenience Store on Mills Civic Parkway usually involves a visit to the check-out counter, where any attempt to get the jovial Jim Kidd to frown will be an utter waste of time. 

Stop in and try it. I (fresh-baked) double dutch (cookies) dare ya. 

It will be particularly difficult now that Jim has been officially declared winner #5 in The Smile Project.  

As soon as I stumbled through the entrance to the Hy-Vee Gas Station at 665 South 51st Street in West Des Moines on Monday afternoon, temporarily blinded by the twinkle reflecting off Jim’s constantly exposed toofers, I figured we’d have a winning grin. 

All Jimmy had to do was keep his chortles super – charged, until I grabbed a snack and sashayed towards the counter…  

47 seconds and a counter-clockwise jaunt around the convenience store later, Kit-Kat and Diet Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi firmly in hand, Whoomp! There it was! The big ole grin of big ole Jim!   

As he smilingly scanned my Kit-Kat bar, Jim said, with a voice that must be what Santa Claus sounds like if he ever stayed long enough to chat on Christmas Eve, “These are really fresh. I just put them out.”  

He could have told me they’d been air-dropped out of a helicopter that left Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory earlier that morning, and I’d have believed him.  

I quickly whipped a twenty and a fiver out of my wallet’s secret IN CASE OF SMILE compartment (To paraphrase Foghorn Leghorn, fortunately I keep my money numbered, for just such an emergency.), put the cash on the counter, and told Jim why I appeared to be overpaying for my candy bar and soda by $21.89. 

“You gotta be kiddin,” Jim Kidd(ingly) said through a smile that did the seemingly impossible, and actually increased in size. 

He turned and looked behind him at store manager Mike Barger, who was watching and listening in, wearing a pretty good-sized grin of his own. 

“Is this legal?” Jim asked the boss. 

“Sure it is,” Mike smartly replied, without feeling compelled to crack open the Hy-Vee manual, under Weird Blogger: Contests.  

I asked Jim what his title was. Before he could answer, Mike chimed in: “Chief smiler!” 

That’s a management position, Michael. Jim, I’m thinking that’s at least a 40% pay hike. How about you?? 

Jim told me he’d managed quite well in previous customer service positions, but that “this” – meaning “this greet for show, smile for dough” dealio – was something new. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” he explained. 

It hasn’t happened to anyone, Jim, other than the smiling 4. (Click this sentence to read about winner #1.) (Click this sentence to read about winner #2.) (Click this sentence to read about winner #3.) (Click this sentence to read about winner #4.

Now watch, and enjoy, winner #5. 



Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.     


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page  

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog  

Email Jonnie at:   

Phone Jonnie at: 515-480-4190   


Secret Shopping KCCI: Lessons Learned From Iowa’s Customer Service Leader


Hello shoppers…  

If I asked each of you to make a list of businesses that offer great customer service, I’d bet you dollars to blog posts that “KCCI” would appear way down the list – as in, “not on it, because that’s stupid.”  

That’s reasonable. KCCI isn’t a mall, a store, a kiosk, a lemonade stand or a station wagon full of puppies for sale in a Walmart parking lot. If they sold women’s separates at KCCI, you’d think we’d have seen Stacey Horst in a The Horst Collection soft focus TV ad by now. 

I’m not even sure they have trinkets to pimp or give away at KCCI’s front desk, like little Weather Beacon Key Chain Flashlights that shine red, white, green and blinking lights, or With Love, Andy Garman autographed hockey pucks, or Karlin Covers Iowa State Map Puzzles, with each county piece embossed with a caricature of Steve’s head, wearing a huge grin beside a word bubble filled with some folksy greeting, like “How y’all in Chickasaw!” or  “What up, Winnebago!” or “You’re all-righta, Ida!” or “Keokuk, you suck!” to see if anybody’s paying attention. (The entire merchandise list can be found by visiting, which doesn’t exist.)  


(I’m just sayin…) 

Too bad they’ve never asked me about this.  I could have made The Hearst Corporation hundreds.   


Imagine KCCI hotdogs, hand sanitizers and lawn fertilizer. Picture KCCInn and Suites, KCCiPods, KCCi-Ci's Pizza...


After last week’s extraordinary experience at the KCCI studios, I’m revising my own list of places where the service is boffo, and putting the TV station up near the top-o.  

Before you start writing your own smarty pants list titled, Rumps Jonnie has kissed and put “Kevin Cooney” in 1st, let me say, Cooney-gorically, that you’re right.  

Actually, Kevin started the smooch-a-thon by calling me Thursday afternoon. He was very kind, and complimentary of The Unsecret Shopper blog, which he said he’d been reading for months. I extended my sympathies. Then we agreed to get together and do an interview for his Sunday Newsmakers show.  

The show was taped on Friday and aired on Sunday. I had a blast, and hope no one who watched was permanently injured. Litigious inquiries can be submitted by visiting…oh never mind.  

While the show is over, and Kevin’s out searching for his next news maker, what hasn’t stopped, for me, is everything else that happened around my thankfully limited time on camera.  

I’ve been on TV before, and not America’s Most Wanted. Being shot (again, not AMW) is fun, exciting, something cool to share with friends, family, trainees, managers and business owners who will most likely never get to experience the thrill of the glare of studio lights and television cameras.  

But it was the peripheral stuff, the stuff before and after the shoot, that’s stayed with me. What I experienced in those moments is worth retelling here, as it is, in most ways, a blueprint for how retail businesses should be doing their business.  

Let’s use the four of the five great pillars of customer service that I use in training – smile, greet, engage and thank –  as a template, to see how KCCI did, just like I was going there to shop for a Kurtis Gertz Bobblehead.   


Imagine this, bouncing on your car dash


1. Did they smile as I entered?  

Linda, the KCCI receptionist, hit me with a cheek to cheek grin that barely fit her face, the moment I walked through the auto-sliding KCCI building front doors. How often do you get that as you enter an office, a store, any business?  

2. Was I greeted as I entered?  

Quicker than you can say, “We’ll be right back with John Mclaughlin’s hotter than a sweatband in a fireman’s helmet forecast,” Linda blurted out, “Hi! How are you?” and meant it.  

Can you remember the last time you were greeted like this, upon entering a business?  

3. Was I engaged?  

As soon as Linda got off the phone, she started asking me about the warm day outside, and talked about how much she was looking forward to being out in it, after work.  

Again, think about your retail day – the convenience store clerk, the car salesperson, the bank teller. How often do any of these people, ask you, about you, and tell you about themselves?  

5 minutes later, I got a second helping of smile/greet/engage as Kevin approached, hand outstretched. “Hey Jonnie, how are you? Great to finally meet you in person!”  

He led me to a conference room, where we had the most wonderful conversation about KCCI.  

Kev and I talked about the station’s history, about past personalities, about their recent reunion, about who showed up, who couldn’t make it, and who had passed on. He described his early days as a young reporter, plopping himself down in TV-8’s anchor chair in 1982 and staying there for 30 years, about the on-air staff who had come through their doors since – those who were happy broadcasting campers, and those whose personalities didn’t always mesh with management.  

I reminisced about playing tennis with the late Paul Rhoades (who passed away in 2007) and once serenading the still quite alive Kathy Soltero, who now sells real estate in Colorado. I told him the story of walking up to the entrance to the old KRNT TV studios one cold, dark winter morning to tape a Church Of The Air show featuring my hometown Cambridge Baptist Church, and being scared out of my 8 year-old Buster Browns, by a huge hulking backlit figure, who turned out to be the gentle Russ Van Dyke, KRNT’s famous backwards temperature-writing weather guy.  

I’d see the exact same image again, a year later, on the movie poster for The Exorcist – a connection that Russ would have hopefully laughed at, as Kevin certainly did.  


My kid version of Russ Van Dyke, minus the creepy music and elevating bed


Kevin’s engaging ways continued, as he introduced me to Ron, the show director, along with the teleprompter operator and another person working on the floor, whose names I obviously don’t remember, but whose smiling faces and laughter, I’ll not soon forget.  


I broke two of these. Estimated replacement cost for KCCI? $8,888,888.88


After the shoot, Kevin continued the full court engagement press, giving me a mini-tour of the facility, and introducing me to staff, like news director Dave Busiek, who I’d never met and who was wonderfully engaging and gracious, and Dana Cardin, who was just as nice but couldn’t quite recollect that we’d met before, during a story he shot during a morning radio show bit I did in the mid-90’s, involving racing rats, frogs, dogs, pigs and disgruntled postal workers, to determine who would win that next day’s Iowa-Iowa State Football game.  

ISU won 3 out of 4, and got crushed the next day, 27-10.  

4. Did they say thank you?  

Kevin, Dave, Dana, the floor crew, Linda, were all thank-you machines, expressing their gratitude to me for coming in, and for not being potty-mouth on-camera.  

Smile, greet, engage and thank – the entire staff at KCCI, did it all. Name the staff, and the business, who does it at all.  

Yet, if I’m going to evaluate KCCI on a “retail” basis, we can’t forget 5. The bathroom…  


The irrefutable potagraphic evidence


It was spotless. Do TV people even have bowel movements?  



Sure, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch – perhaps even one as big as The Weather Beacon is tall (200 feet) to talk about KCCI as if it plays in the same sandbox as Hy-Vee, Home Depot and Best Buy.  

Yet consider this: Just like the stores that sell salad dressing, shingles and CD’s, KCCI also has a commodity to sell  – its personalities, and its programming.  

We “buy” by tuning in. The “money” we spend is Nielsen Ratings, which KCCI NewsChannel 8 has dominated for over 30 years. Those ratings translate into real cash, that advertisers – like Hy-Vee, Home Depot and Best Buy – spend (and a lot of it) to have their ads air, during the highest rated local news in the country.  

There are multiple layers of “customer service” being offered here by KCCI, along with tremendous ratings and revenue success. Are they related?  

Viewers obviously enjoy the smiling, greeting, engaging “Fantastic Four” of Kevin, Stacey, Kurtis and Andy. I was in broadcast-hog heaven, being engaged by Kevin and the rest of the KCCI staff. NewsChannel 8 generates high ratings and massive revenue for the station. Is all of that, just a coincidence?  

Perhaps Kevin Krause, the Senior VP of Marketing for Kum and Go, said it best, when he told me that “A store’s customer service rating has a direct correlation to that store’s revenue. The higher the ratings, the higher the revenue.  

Working for a Convenience Store leader, one Kevin knows it. Working for Iowa’s News Leader, another Kevin does it.  

Now let’s hope business owners are tuning in, and get it.  


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT. Email Jonnie at  



The Unsecret Shopper Doesn’t Go Shopping – And Finds A Smile (Project Winner)


Hello shoppers…

This particular space, on this particular day and at this particular time, is traditionally reserved for the semi-agitated (fully agitated, if it’s about raTget) evaluatory musings of your friendly neighborhood Unsecret Shopper, in the form of a detailed Secret Shopper review of a randomly selected local business.

With our nation’s birthday so close you can taste it (I’m tasting grilled burgers and brats with double slices of melted real, sharp cheddar cheese, sitting atop bakery-fresh buns, loaded down with all the fixins and parked in their summertime reserved space, alongside their dear friends – homemade potato salad, baked beans, Ruffles potato chips, AE Chive and French Onion Dip and hand-cranked homemade ice cream, all consumed under a shaded picnic table, assisted by 189,320 suddenly appearing out of nowhere flies – how about you?) however, I thought it might be an appropriate time to put down the uber-critical attitude, move slowly away from the ‘puter, and take a blogging breather from busting on good, hard-working folks, just because they don’t cough up a smile within 1.4 seconds of my appearance. (That program will return at its regularly scheduled grumpy time, next Thursday.)

In its stead, this week? Admittedly, nothing was coming to mind (probably cause me mind was on fooooooood) until 9:37pm last night.

That’s when I stood at a check-out counter at Dahl’s Foods, 5440 NW 86th Street in Johnston.

I’d just placed my reasonably priced package of whole baby-bella mushrooms on Dahl’s trademark crazy-cool semi-circular rotating check-out counter, and was watching it slowly being transported towards a set of obviously skilled, scanning hands, when I happened to notice they were connected to the arms, which were attached to the torso, atop which sat the head, which possessed the face, upon which appeared the most beautiful, warm, unwavering, pleased-to-be-checking-me-out, nobody-has-any-business-being-that-happy-that-late-at-night smile, of Beth – who immediately rescued me from painful writer’s block, by becoming The Smile Project winner, #4.

Instead of trying to explain to Beth why I was about to hand her $25, I tried to explain to her boss, Store Director Kenny Kane, why I was about to hand one of his employees, $25.

As Ricky Ricardo once said, he didn’t need much ‘splainin.

Kenny, in fact, had read the Secret Shopper review of the Dahl’s on E.P. True Parkway, and so was familiar with my blog.

“Didn’t the night crew do better than the day staff?” Kenny asked.

Somewhat pensively, I replied, “Uh, yeah.” I hope you’re not married to someone who works there.

Apparently he wasn’t, because he didn’t punch my lights out. Instead, Kenny was lights-out gracious, even finding another employee to take over for Beth, so I could give her the good news, and the cash.

She accepted both with an even bigger smile, if that’s possible.

What Beth represents – to Kenny, her co-workers, the customers she serves, and all of us – is all the possibilities that come with being happy, and choosing to serve that way.

Thank you for making that choice, Beth. This is for you.

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT. Email Jonnie at

A Death In The Family: Emmie, Dr. Bolser And The Power Of Customer Service


Hello shoppers…

Is there any customer service that makes us feel less like a customer, than what we receive during our greatest moments of crisis?

The police officer that responds to our 911 call. The ER doctor who stabilizes our child’s vitals. The psychiatrist who talks us off the ledge. It is their job to solve our problem. Yet it is their humanity that lays its warm hands upon us, quelling our fear, stilling our heart, easing our pain. In these critical moments, they are not employees fixing what we bought. They are heroes, saving what we love.

One that couldn’t be, was the much loved Emmie.

Late Friday night, at Iowa Veterinary Specialties, a 24-hour animal hospital on SW 63rd Street, I stood beside Lorri, a beautiful friend, while Dr. Karl Bolser, an incredible veterinarian, tended to Emmie.

She’d suffered a paralyzing seizure, an hour earlier.

I carried her limp body into the Clinic, where a concerned receptionist checked us in to an exam room. We were joined shortly by Dr. Bolser, who was greeted by tear-stained faces and heavy hearts.

Dr. Bolser, who neither one of us had met, listened intently while we described what happened, nodding his head as he looked over Emmie. After we finished, he tenderly offered his prognosis, and our possible options.

I’ve met and worked with many skilled, compassionate vets over the years, bringing them injured dogs, diseased cats, crushed turtles, colic horses and sick ferrets.

Yet none of them was the equal of Dr. Bosler. His humanity ruled the room, larger even than his technical skill as a vet, which appeared sizeable in its own right. I’ve never met a veterinarian who possessed such an amazingly kind nature, wonderfully gentle spirit and warm nurturing demeanor. 

It was a moment, with two heartbroken people and a suffering dog, which demanded all three.

Before Friday’s sequence of events, the 12-year-old German Short Hair had lived a good, happy, relatively healthy dog’s life.

Emmie had been raised as a puppy by Lorri and her children.  She’d been turned into a skilled hunting dog but exclusively outdoor pet by Lorri’s husband, then been set free many years later, as had Lorri, by her courageous divorce. To celebrate, Lorri brought Emmie inside, to stay, where all dogs should be allowed to live, play and dream, to love and be loved, as not a dog at all, but as the shortest, hairiest member of the family.

The first time I met Emmie, I felt something less than adoration.  She expressed her joy at seeing a new friend pull into her driveway, by running up to my six month old Prius, crashing her large paws onto my driver’s side door and happily digging her happy claws into it, which immediately diminished the car’s value by $2,362.09.

Several weeks later Emmie was a bargain, costing me just eight bucks in what would be known as The Pasta Incident, when a very silly blog writer left two quarts of expensive gorgonzola pasta from Gateway Market in his Prius’ backseat “for just a moment” while he ran in the house, returning way too long later to find one empty container and one full dog, with a cheesy ring around her snout.

There was Emmie’s silly hound dog barking when you barked back equally silly at her, and her low guttural moan when you softly rubbed her belly, making you want to rub it all the more, which was certainly her point. There was taking Emmie for a walk, and your sore arm asking, “Who is walking who?” There was the late afternoon sound of opening the fridge, signaling Emmie that it was “ham treat” time, which would send her lumbering into the kitchen, her long toenails making the most annoying clicking sounds, followed later by another annoying sound, signaling the release of her room-clearing ham-gas, that was certainly Emmie’s revengeful way of saying, “THAT’S what you get for yelling at me about my toenails!”

There was her wonderful obedience, as she’d always go into her crate with a simple “Kennel, Emmie” voice command. There were her hilarious summer stare-downs with nearby laughing rabbits, who would toy with her, as they knew exactly how far Emmie could reach before her shock collar was tripped by underground fencing. There was the beauty of the smile you were sure you could see on her face every time you let her in from going potty, thanking you for freeing her from a lifetime spent outside, and allowing her to call the inside of your home, her home, too.

A final moment of freedom was now coming, for Emmie.

Lorri and I asked Dr. Bolser to leave the room, where we then spent a few minutes talking about Emmie’s options.

Yet looking at Emmie as we talked, her eyes still rolled partially back into her head hours after her seizure, her breathing coming in occasional shallow gasps, her legs splayed and nearly unable to support her weight, we both realized that there were not several options for Emmie, but just one.

Several minutes later, Dr. Bolser returned, syringe in hand, assistant by his side.

While Lorri and I wrapped our arms around Emmie, Dr. Bolser gently inserted the needle into her arm and depressed the plunger, releasing the tranquilizer into her vein. We held Emmie and whispered I love you’s into her ear, as her head slowly slumped down to the metal examination table.

15 seconds later, it was over. “She’s gone,” Dr. Bolser said, softly, lifting the stethoscope from Emmie’s chest.

And so she is.

It is never easy to lose someone you love, especially when the loss is stark and sudden, as it was with Emmie. Yet we understand the rules going in, that each living thing that we love is mortal, governed by the rules of God, who will call us home on a day and at a time of his choosing.

As Emmie was called home on Friday, all of us who were left behind, who were touched by her, feel a little emptier today without her, and we grieve her loss.

Yet in the process of losing her, we have gained something, too.

It is the beautiful discovery of a very special man, who likely doesn’t consider himself special at all. Yet Dr. Karl Bolser’s incredible warmth, compassion and gentility will remain in our hearts forever, wrapped around the memories of Emmie, who now runs free.

Go chase the bunnies, sweetheart.


Emmie     1998-2010

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am on 1350 KRNT. Email Jonnie at


The Death Of Billie Sue Mafuta


Hello shoppers…

Today we acknowledge, with great sorrow, the passing of one of the all time customer service greats – and of one of the great icons of our time – Billie Sue Mafuta.

Hers may be a name you do not know.

You remember – as we all do – where you were, the moment you heard about the great tragedies of our time;  Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, the passing of Elvis, the Challenger explosion, the collapse of the World Trade Center. These are times and places and events seared into the flesh of our souls, captured forever inside our consciousness.

Billie Sue Mafuta’s death, in retrospect, has been not a blip on our radar.

Yet considering her incalculable impact – not only in the retail sector but in all aspects of our lives – the news of her passing should have for us the blunt force trauma delivered with other tragedies that have befallen us, and as with each, a piece of our sense of our own invincibility and indomitable spirit, ripped from us and left behind – deep in the water under the U.S.S. Arizona monument, aside the graves of Kennedy and The King, buried inside the Space Shuttle’s twisted rubble and among the ruins of the towers.

How could the loss of Billie Sue Mafuta – customer service maven, icon of retail success, mover, shaker and molder of the marketing world – go so unnoticed?

To trace the reason why, let’s revisit the earliest moment of overwhelming national grief and loss, that some of us now alive, lived through and can recall.

December 7th, 1941.


Billie Sue Mafuta, even then, was considered a customer service wiz, a marketing architect who created a blueprint for how counter clerks and salesman and employees in the public eye, should engage consumers. Her power was revered and her influence, immeasurable.

Both would be gravely overshadowed by news that Sunday morning of an attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor.

Yet even as we were thrust into the horrors of  war from our own shore, Billie Sue’s impact – in stores and restaurants and churches and places people gathered –  remained strong, and important.  

The war ended. Billie Sue Mafuta survived, and thrived. As a nation, we breathed again.


Then, perhaps our single moment of greatest national tragedy – the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The transformative light of hope we had looked to, was extinguished – in its absence, a slow national descent into darkness.

From that infinitely resonant moment forward – through Vietnam and the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, through rioting and war and Watergate, through the chaos and madness and societal change and cultural awakening of the 60’s and 70’swe would never be quite as happy as we had been, or thought we were.

And the once vibrant nature of Billie Sue Mafuta – her ability to engage, to brighten, to electrifywould also never be as it once was.

To August 15, 1977 – and the death of Elvis Presley.

The voice of a treasured national icon, whose life and history traced our own, was forever silenced. The influence of Billie Sue Mafuta, already waning in retail circles across America, continued to fade.


Then, 1987, the Challenger explosion…

and 14 years later, the terrorist attack on our country, and the collapse of

the Twin Towers.


The war in Iraq followed, as did mounting disillusionment and distrust of our government, religion, our society and each other.

Until today – and the horrible news of the death of Billie Sue Mafuta.

To read about her, to see her image – in old newspapers, history books, black and white pictures and news footage – is to be reminded not only of her immeasurable impact on the retail industry, but of her influence on all of us, everywhere.

All we have left is the words – Billie Sue Mafuta  which one can purposefully utter slowly into a beautiful smile, allowing each consonant and vowel to tickle and tease the tongue, sliding down its length, resting briefly at its tip, then leaping into space, as a sonnet’s notes might be catapulted from the diving board of a piano key’s hammer, into the ears of the intended recipient, fortunate enough to be in the wake of the waves from the poetic resonance of those words…

Billie Sue Mafuta.

As we look back over the decades of tragedies and unrest that have befallen us who are alive and reading this –  as a country, a planet and a people – our greatest challenge, our most profound struggle, now comes with the responsibility of  keeping our emotional heads above water, and attempting to keep our Billie Sue Mafuta alive.

In spite of it all – perhaps, even, because of it all – we must remember her.

And so, today, please take a quiet moment, and reflect upon Billie Sue Mafuta.  Perhaps by doing so, you can summon a life’s moment from memory – 40 years ago, six years ago, a year ago, yesterday – when you reveled in the joy of what you had, not preoccupied with the sense of what you had lost – and let a beautiful smile, come to your own face.




B I L L I E   S U E  M A F U T A


A  B E A U T I F U L  S M I L E


1940 – ?


If Billie Sue Mafuta is still alive in you, share her with someone today, whose Billie Sue Mafuta appears dead, and gone.



Shop happy. Serve happy.🙂


P.S. “Billie Sue Mafuta” is not a person. “She” is an anagram, for “a beautiful smile.”



Jonnie Wright is a customer service trainer and evaluator, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of “The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show,” Saturday mornings 8-9am on 1350 KRNT. Email Jonnie at