When garbage collector Phil Koreski turned one morning last month into the Kirkland, Wash., townhome complex that he has serviced for two decades, what he saw nearly took his breath away. There, hanging on a gazebo in the middle of the complex was a sign that said, “Phil — Thanks for 20 Years!” In the gazebo itself were many of the complex's residents, along with a hearty array of cookies, sandwiches and coffee.

You see, after making them feel special for so long, Koreski's customers had decided that it was time to make him feel special as well. To celebrate the anniversary of his taking over their route, they threw him a party. “The whole thing blew me away,” says Koreski, who drives a semi-automated side loader for Allied Waste Services of Bellevue, Wash. “It just overwhelmed me.”

To state the obvious, residents honoring their garbageman in such a way is at the very least highly unusual and perhaps even unprecedented. (The event was deemed unique enough by local newspapers and radio and television stations that they ran stories on the party.) But, as his customers and employer attest, Koreski is an unusual employee.

“Phil treats his customers like family,” says Nels Johnson, municipal affairs manager for Allied Waste Services of Bellevue. “He gives them lots of individual attention.”

“He knows his customers' birthdays, buys them presents, and he knows all their kids names,” says Anthony Illingworth, Koreski's supervisor.

According to an article on the party in the Seattle Times, one housebound resident of the complex “used to count on [Koreski's] weekly visits. Koreski would knock on the front door and stick his head in, just to say hello and see how the man was doing.”

Another of the townhouses' residents can't push his cans to the curb for pickup, the paper says. No problem — Koreski goes into the man's garage and picks them up.

“I'm service-oriented,” Koreski says. “If you're not, you don't want to be in this job. That comes natural for me.” He adds that a newspaper route he had as a teenager taught him the importance of practicing good customer service.

Those in the solid waste industry often feel — legitimately — that the important job they perform goes unappreciated by the public at large. Therefore, it's nice to see a worker get such positive and heartfelt notice from his customers.

Koreski also demonstrates the goodwill waste firms can generate simply by making sure their employees interact with customers in a pleasant and helpful way. If that isn't a reward unto itself, at least think of it as an investment in your firm's future. As Koreski says: “That's where your paycheck comes from — taking care of customers.”

The author is the editor of Waste Age