Service Lessons from a Speeding Ticket

I admit I was driving 70 mph!  It was a bright Sunday morning and I was driving on a four-lane highway in a rural area with not car on the road.  Without warning (and without any change in the setting), the speed limit dropped to 45 mph.  I missed it.  It was obviously some local small town’s way of funding their budget---a speed trap with the speed limit sign.  But instead of the local sheriff, I met a state patrol car.  When he suddenly slowed, crossed the medium and quickly pursued me, I realized the error of my ways and pulled to the shoulder.  I withdrew my license and insurance proof and waited for my “whoopin!”

The officer reviewed my identification and calmly asked, “Mr. Bell, is there an emergency I need to know about?”  I was flabbergasted!  Instead of the anticipated, “Do you realize how fast you were driving?”  I got a sincere, non-judgmental assumption that an emergency must be driving my decision to drive 25 mph above the speed limit.  He was polite and courteous...and, above all confident.  And, the impact on me?  I was completely honest about the error of my ways and he wrote out my speeding ticket that carried a hefty fine.  I wrote a thank you note to the highway patrol, specifically complimenting this officer.

Stew Leonard, Jr., CEO of the famous Stew Leonard’s Dairy Stores is fond of saying, “Is the customer always right?  Of course not!  Our job is to make the feel right.”  The state patrol made me “feel right” even though I was dead wrong.  He did it with his “innocent until proven guilty” assumption.  He completely reframed what could have been a negative encounter by focusing on me and my circumstance, not on the rules and his authority to enforce them.  How can you make your customers “feel right” even if they are sometimes completely wrong?”

© Chip Bell Group, 2023.  Courtesy of John R. Patterson (  Permission is given to download and distribute this article as long as it contains this copyright notice.