THE FIRST FRED
Make each day your masterpiece.
óJOSHUA WOODEN, father of John Wooden
I first met a "Fred" just after purchasing what I called a "new" old house. Built in 1928, the house was the first I'd owned and was located in a beautiful tree-lined area of Denver called Washington Park. Just days after I moved in, I heard a knock on my front door. When I opened it I saw a mailman standing on my porch.
"Good morning, Mr. Sanborn!" he said cheerfully. "My name is Fred, and I'm your postal carrier. I just stopped by to introduce myself-- to welcome you to the neighborhood and find out a little bit about you and what you do for a living."
Fred was an ordinary-looking fellow of average height and build with a small mustache. While his physical appearance didn't convey anything out of the ordinary, his sincerity and warmth were noticeable immediately.
I was a bit startled. Like most of us, I had been receiving mail for years, but I had never had this kind of personal encounter with my postal carrier. I was impressed--nice touch.
"I'm a professional speaker. I don't have a real job," I replied jokingly.
"If you're a professional speaker, you must travel a lot," said Fred.
"Yes, I do. I travel anywhere from 160 to 200 days a year."
Nodding, Fred went on. "Well, if you'll just give me a copy of your schedule, I'll hold your mail and bundle it. I'll only deliver it on the days that you are at home to receive it."
I was amazed by Fred's conscientious offer, but I told him that such extra effort probably wasn't necessary. "Why don't you just leave the mail in the box on the side of the house?" I suggested. "I'll pick it up when I come back into town."
Fred frowned and shook his head. "Mr. Sanborn, burglars often watch for mail building up in a box. That tells them you're out of town. You might become the victim of a break-in." Fred was more worried about my mail than I was! But it made sense; he was the postal professional.
"Here's what I suggest, Mr. Sanborn," Fred continued. "I'll put mail in your box as long as I can get it to close. That way nobody will know you're gone. Whatever doesn't fit in the box, I'll put between the screen door and the front door. Nobody will see it there. And if that area becomes too full of mail, I'll just hold the rest of it for you until you come back into town."
At this point I started to wonder: Does this guy really work for the U.S. Postal Service? Maybe this neighborhood had its own private mail-delivery system. Still, because Fred's suggestions sounded like a terrific plan, I agreed to them.
Two weeks later I returned home from a trip. As I put the key in my front door lock, I noticed my doormat was missing. Were thieves actually stealing doormats in Denver? Then I saw the mat in a corner of the porch, concealing something. I lifted the mat and found a note from--who else?--Fred! Reading his message, I learned what had happened. While I was gone, a different delivery service had misdelivered a package sent to me. The box had been left on somebody else's porch, five doors down the street. Noticing my box on the wrong porch, Fred had picked it up, carried it to my house, attached his note, and then tried to make the package less noticeable by placing it under the doormat.
Not only was Fred delivering the mail, he was now picking up the slack for UPS!
His actions made a huge impression on me. As a professional speaker, I am particularly adept at finding and pointing out what's "wrong" with customer service and business in general. Finding examples of what's "right" or even praiseworthy is much harder. Yet here was my postman, Fred, a gold-plated example of what personalized service looks like and a role model for anyone who wants to make a difference in his or her work.
I started using my experiences with Fred as illustrations in speeches and seminars that I presented across the United States. Everyone wanted to hear about Fred. Listeners in my audiences were enthralled, whether they worked in the service industry, at a manufacturing company, in high-tech, or in health care.
Back home in Denver, I occasionally had a chance to share with Fred how his work was inspiring others. I told him one story about a discouraged employee who received no recognition from her employers. She wrote to tell me that Fred's example had inspired her to "keep on keeping on" and continue doing what she knew in her heart was the right thing to do, regardless of recognition or reward.
(continued on next page)
The Fred Factor
by Mark Sanborn
Copyright © 2004
by Mark Sanborn
Currency a division
of Random House
MARK SANBORN is an international known author, motivational speaker, and the president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio for leadership development. He gives nearly one hundred presentations each year on leadership, team building, customer service, and mastering change. Mark and his family live near Denver, Colorado.