Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Customer, The Coupon And The Quest For Courtesy

I have a fairly high level of tolerance. But take me beyond that point, and I sink my teeth in and I won't let go. Until the matter is fairly and properly resolved. For me.

Most people don't like to see a person get bashed for no reason. And that truism extends, especially, to consumers.

Today, I had a moment. And rather than slink away with my tail in between my legs, I have decided to take action. I sincerely hope that this story is read by a good number of the citizens in Bozeman, Montana.

Do your magic, googlebot.

Here's what happened:

Late this afternoon, I walked through a heavy snow shower, to a nearby grocery store. I planned to make a purchase and redeem a coupon for a free cup of Yoplait yogurt.

I belong to an online club that sends out free samples and coupons to its members. The club snail-mailed me a paper coupon for one free cup of Yoplait yogurt.

The coupon includes three bar codes, my name and address and an embedded hologram. And the provider agrees to cover up to 79 cents on the product. I was happy to provide any extra pennies on the yogurt.

(Now, I can't do anything about the young man and his woman who nearly ran me down with their shopping cart when a new checker lane suddenly opened up. Their cart was loaded down with groceries and my little red basket only carried a package of hot dogs and the aforementioned cup of yogurt.)

I handed the coupon to the checker, who wrinkled-up her nose and sneered at me. Then she said, "We don't accept these coupons. The kind of people who bring them in...well, the coupons are usually fake."

I stood there and asked, "Say what?"

The store manager was standing down at the end of the next check-out stand, bagging groceries. The checker handed the coupon to him, he looked at it, shook his head and handed it back to the checker.

"No, we won't take this," he said and gave me a look like I was trying to rob the store.

The checker handed me the coupon and snatched the cup of yogurt out of my other hand.

Snow melted and dripped off of my hat as I stood there and wondered what evil spell had curled itself around those people.

It wasn't about the yogurt, at all. It wasn't about the coupon, either. What prompted those people's reaction to me...ran far deeper than a cup of cultures or a piece of paper.

I was suddenly reminded of the song, "Meeting Across The River" by Bruce Springsteen. And you will either get my meaning here or you won't. (post story continues below this video):

I took my bagful of hot dogs and walked over to the manager.

"You're the manager, right?" I asked him.

"Yes." He replied.

"Well, come on over here, I want to talk to you for a minute." I said.

We walked over to the nearby customer service desk. I thought that was appropriate.

"Okay, let me explain something to you, Sir." I said.

"I got a receipt from this store and on the bottom of it was the URL of a website. The receipt stated that I could send in feedback and maybe get a gift card." I continued.

"Yeah." responded the manager and the expression on his face began to change.

"Well, I sent in the feedback. And they responded with a request for me to be a secret shopper and send them back a report about this store...and judging by the way that I was just I know why."

I turned around and walked out of the store.

As I walking home, I turned on my Walkman (yes, I actually own one of those radio antiques) and a beautiful song filled my ears. Perhaps it was a message from the cosmos or maybe it was one of those mysterious coincidences.

I don't know. You tell me. (post story continues below this video):

When I got back to the motel, I called two other popular grocery stores in the area. I told the person that answered what had happened to me at the first store. Both of the people at the two stores that I called said that they would have accepted the coupon without hesitation.

Why didn't the first store take it then? Why were they so rude to me?

Ask the bit players in Bozeman.

I followed-up the phone calls with an email to the main store which is based in Chicago, Illinois. I tried to locate the local, district manager but I was unable to find that person either in the phone book or online.

So the email went straight to Chicago. I hope that they answer me. And I really hope that they contact the store here in Bozeman.

Tomorrow, I'll go to one of the other stores and give them the coupon. Then I'll eat the yogurt with a big smile on my face.


siriunsun said...

Back in my retail days, I always found that making the customer happy not only saved me a migraine and made me a friend, but brought more repeat business into the store. Sounds like being headache-free, having more friends, and making more money isn't a goal for everyone.

If anyone who worked for me had snatched anything out of a customer's hand the way the yogurt was snatched out of your hand, I'd have fired them.

Ruthie In The Sky said...

Thank you, siriunsun, I appreciate your comment.
From the moment that the checker implied that I was trying to rip-off the store with my "fake" coupon...I knew that things were not going to go well.
You notice that I was rather cryptic in places and did not spell-out any of the reasons why the store did not comply with my request.
I have decided to let the reader figure it out. "Because they're assholes" is a good start but it goes much further than that.
One of the drawbacks of reality TV (and I love the reality of "Lizard Lick Towing")is the fact that those shows oftentimes show customers in a bad light. The underlying message being that all customers are really unreasonable people who should be dissed at every open opportunity.
That particular store already has a local reputation for being "snobby." I found that out from other people before this incident ever took place.
The store staff looked at me as if I was trying to get something for nothing. But, it obviously was not Dannon's intention (or General Mills, which is the parent company)to put either the store or myself in a negative position.
And, I did make a purchase (the hot dogs) so the store had no excuse for refusing the coupon. (But that is not the main reason why they didn't.)
Nor is the store in a precarious, financial position. I looked them up online and discovered that the store made a clear profit in the millions of dollars last year.
But the majority of the customers who shop there are what I refer to as the "Birkenstock." It is a play on the brand name of a sandal that is commonly worn by granola-crunchers who never actually get their fingers dirty.
(That is not to say that all people who wear high-priced sandals walk around in them with their nose in the air. They just don't generally like Clampetts like me.)
Oh well. I still like yogurt.

siriunsun said...

Business from ALL of the customers, those who wear Birkenstocks, and those who wear flipflops, is what keeps any retail business going. Sure, having customers can be a pain, but try going without them!

The coupon was probably something that was a little bit different than what the cashier was accustomed to. She's lucky she lives in a place where she can expect the same language to be spoken by every customer who asks her for something!