Wednesday, December 12, 2007
After explaining his store's rigid, customer unfriendly exchange policy, the department store manager told me he had nothing else to say and asked me to leave. Having been reasonably polite and decidedly professional in what was an absurd situation until that point I then lost my cool and called him "a jackass who would rather follow the rules than actually help his customers."
My mild insult, delivered as I was walking out of the store, was in my opinion well-deserved and much tamer than what I wanted to say. Though I tend to not insult people I disagree with, I have little tolerance for a so-called manager who enforces policies that fly in the face of logic. I'm also wildly and borderline violently, intolerant of businesses that make rules which punish loyal customers.
I landed in this situation because I had made the grievous error of attempting to exchange an expensive coffeemaker purchased the previous day which had a broken part. Though I had thrown away my receipt, the store was able to tell from the bar code on the product, that the item had, in fact, been purchased from them.
Given that I wanted to exchange my broken, clearly unused coffeemaker for the exact same model and the store agreed they had sold the original item to me, I could not see any reason why this transaction would not take place. Unfortunately, this particular chain has a policy where they do not accept any exchanges or returns without a receipt over $20.
A dishonest person would have simply bought a second coffeemaker, swapped out the broken part and returned the now damaged package for a full refund. Not being a criminal, I attempted to correct my problem honestly and assumed that any reasonable store would accept an exact exchange for a broken item it had sold.
Reasonable and big business, however do always not go hand in hand. And, while a no returns without a receipt on items over $20 might sound excellent when presented in a board room, in practice this is exactly the area where a store manager should be able to use some judgment.
While I can see why offering cash refunds without a receipt might lead to con artists taking advantage of the store, it's hard to see how an equal exchange could be part of a scam. While I know there are some bad criminals out there, I think even the dumbest among them would not consider exchanging something for the same thing as a particularly good crime.
Customer unfriendly policies like this might help the bottom line in the short-term, but creating bad-will among loyal patrons can only hurt in the long run. This particular chain might be popular and trendy at the moment, but, depending where you come from. Bradlees, Caldor, Ames and Lechmere were all once riding high.
Ultimately, the manufacturer of the coffee maker sent me the replacement part and about four weeks after I bought the machine, it made its first cup of coffee. Though four weeks seems like an unreasonable wait for a beverage, the bigger problem is that between me and the store manager only I accept that I did something wrong.
Nobody should call someone a "jackass' for simply doing his job even if the rules put in place by his superiors force him to behave in a manner that would deserve that insult. The store manager, however, is not without blame as he should have responded to a reasonable request with more tact and worked with me to come up with a reasonable solution.
The chain, however, carries the most blame as its corporate bosses have let bureaucracy and rules ruin its relationship with a loyal customer. The customer may not always be right, but when he actually is, he deserves better treatment than I got.
Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. His new book, a collection of columns, "Easy Answers to Every Problem," can be ordered at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. Daniel B. Kline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.