February 12, 2009

Unseasonable weather across the globe, windstorms, tornadoes in the Plains states and Hawai'i, a heavy and highly unusual snowstorm stranding travellers in Great Britain and western Europe, wildfires and an ever deepening drought in Australia, ever worse unemployment figures (again, globally), a satellite crash in space (not for the first time in history, although the first time that it has resulted in destruction of both satellites): it has been an uneasy couple of weeks.

Amid all this, two very small, but curious, stories of customer service.

For the first, a dining-entertainment business had run a pre-Christmas advertising campaign which promised a 20% gift certificate bonus to a cash card of three-digit value, those gift certificates to be valid only during the month of January. Turns out those gift certificates were also to be interpreted as discount, not as equivalent-to-cash (for the purpose of purchase only) -- although nothing of this was mentioned in the original advertisement. It is the only dining establishment in the entire area to have offered a seasonal promotion for purchasing a high-value cash card, then built in a dodge. (Its required pre-purchase to be eligible for the bonus was also the highest in the area.)

For the second, in a huge grocery chain which sees itself also as department store and bank, a discounted product had mis-scanned as full price. Upon my pointing it out, the cashier checked with her manager what to do, and the manager told it to her correctly, per store policy: give the mis-scanned product for free. But then the supervisor turned up after she had laid down the telephone and overruled the manager, insisting on charging the full price. "You could have swapped the tags," he said, and even the customer in line behind me laughed when I said simply, "Try it." He did. He could not, not without ripping them -- but he did not back down either.

So I let the price stand for then and went to the customer service desk instead: and there the supervisor and then another manager insisted that the full price must be right. As it happened there was an identical product on the shelf, and it too showed the discounted price -- which was the only reason my word that the marked price was the correct one ended up being accepted at all. And even then, while I was standing in front of where the store policy had been glued to the counter, the manager chose to ignore it even after it was pointed out to her, not by me, but by a different customer. It was too surreal, so at that point I let it be.

In the first case, the difference would have been equivalent to $5; in the second, it came out to less than $1.25 when I dropped it.

In a time when one would think every retail business would be trying to hang onto every one of its customers with care, it seems some still prefer to hang onto every dime ... whatever the cost.

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