Back Page: Soft Serve, Hard Lessons

In a new book, a pharma executive recalls what he learned behind the counter of a family Dairy Queen
Jul 01, 2006

Bob Miglani, senior director, public affairs, Pfizer
At first glance, you might think Bob Miglani comes from a pharma family. He and both of his younger sisters began their careers as sales reps after college. But behind their success in big business lie formative experiences at the Dairy Queen stores owned by their uncle and parents, who are immigrants from India. Even today, Miglani, whose fulltime job is in Pfizer's public affairs department, spends some weekends serving cones at the family business. In his new book, Treat Your Customers: Thirty Lessons on Service and Sales That I Learned at My Family's Dairy Queen Store (Hyperion, 2006), Miglani, 36, shares the core values that work in small business and corporate America.

Pharm Exec: How did you come to write a business book based on your "other" career at Dairy Queen?

Miglani: I wrote it because as business people, we need to get the basics right, which is something we've been missing for a long time at the front-line level. Second, at the corporate level, in these very large organizations, we need to rediscover what it's like to be with the customer.

Was there an event that got you started writing the book?

My sisters and I were trying to convince my mother to sell the store and retire, since she was getting older. But Mom insisted that she wanted to keep working. She said, "I get a lot out of it. Look what you three got out of it!" And we said, "What do you mean? We just worked for free for you for all of those years and missed a lot of baseball games and July 4ths." And she told us, no, we were all successful at our jobs and doing well because of the experience we got at Dairy Queen.

I thought about what my Mom had said, and I realized that I had a lot of Dairy Queen things in my tool bag that I had been applying over the years. That's when I started writing.

You wrote a book of aphorisms, like "The Cherry Is Always Free." Which one convinced you that you could reach a larger audience?

I think it was "Once In a While, Taste Your Own Ice Cream." My background is in sales. For me, it's always been about engaging the customer to really know how you are doing. When I moved into corporate headquarters, I realized that not many people had direct contact with customers. In a small business, you have to see your business from the customer's perspective.

Do you have another favorite?

"Always Replace a Dropped Cone." It's the right thing to do, even if you didn't drop it. It's about sacrificing short-term cost, which is so marginal, in favor of customer relationships. If a small child drops a cone and starts to cry, the mother feels like she has to come back in and get another one. If you give it to her for free, you win her over for a long time. In large organizations, we often just look at that first up-front cost. We forget about the "halo effect" we might have on the future relationship with that customer.

How do these lessons translate to pharma?

"Always Replace a Dropped Cone" is about integrity. If there are enough people screaming about an issue, then we need to do something about it. Do the right thing, even if it means we have to sacrifice short-term cost.

In general, we might require more employees to work directly with customers. Or we might bring the customers in and have a customer roundtable. We need to go back to the basic core values that made American business great. It's no accident that Warren Buffett bought Dairy Queen. It's all about the customer, and small businesses get it right.

lorem ipsum