I've had a day now to get over the emotional impact of the latest in my Disappointing Lack Of Customer Service experiences.
I've already decided to call it the Ace Hardware 'Unhappy Birthday To You' Gift Card Incident.
I'm still feeling the disbelief, confusion, the insult, and the -- no other word for it -- humiliation.
I'm sure that someday I will shop at Ace again. In fact, I'm morally obligated to now, for reasons you'll soon learn. But will shopping there ever be the same? I doubt it. I'm now a dissatisfied customer, and it's going to be extremely hard to re-satisfy me.
But worse still, I'm that Internet Age phenomenon that any retail establishment dreads the most: a dissatisfied customer using social media, putting the company name out there in a negative light for all search engines to find.
It all started (cue flashback music) a week or so ago when an Ace Birthday Gift Card arrived in the mail. How very nice, I thought. This is a great marketing initiative to get existing customers back into the store and reinforce their repeat shopper status.
What -- doesn't everyone think like that? Oh wait, I guess I should explain for those new to this blog that I have spent years designing sales training and customer service training programs, as well as training programs that support marketing campaigns. So I guess when I get a gift card in the mail, I do react a little more analytically than the average consumer.
But when it comes to redeeming that card, I am every inch the penny-pinching female head of household that Ace thinks I am. And Ace has been doing its research.
Besides just winning a top industry customer satisfaction award (see this recent news article), Ace has really been trying to innovate and grow their appeal to women (for an example, see this recent news article). I do appreciate the way my local Costello Ace Hardware in Levittown hosted a Ladies' Night last fall. I shop at Ace because I get a totally different feeling than when I shop at Home Depot. I like the scale of the store -- cozier, not cavernous -- and I like the knowledgeable people who can explain DIY stuff to me without making me feel stupid. They really ARE helpful hardware folks.
At least that's what I thought till yesterday.
Oops, we've somehow gotten out of flashback mode. Sorry. To return to my story (cue music again): the gift card offered $10 off a $35 purchase if redeemed in my birthday month (July). What made it even better was that I already had a $5 Customer Loyalty card from a previous shopping trip. So I, ever thrifty, made a list and hit the Levittown location yesterday morning. I roamed the well-proportioned and uncluttered aisles with my perfectly-sized, not too gigantic, female-friendly shopping cart. I appreciated the nicely-organized displays which made me feel empowered, not assaulted. I made my selections, carefully counting their cumulative cost to make sure it was over $35.00.
I then took my seven assorted items to the check-out counter, happy with my deals and my double-whammy discount.
That's when it got kinda weird.
First of all, Deadpan Girl was my cashier. I wish I had caught her name to add it to this narrative, but truthfully she acted nameless. As she beeped my UPC codes, I brightly looked for some kind of an emotional connection that would match my happy in-store experience so far. Nada. She was that clone we all get from time to time, that young bored thing who, if not actually chewing gum and rolling eyes, gives one that distinct impression. I might as well have had an emoticon ring me up.
Pulled down a notch from my hardware nirvana state, I stolidly waxed businesslike and pointed out to her that I had these two discount cards I was using today. She received them with an expression that looked like " :[ " . They got beeped, my stuff got bagged, and my credit card got scanned. I could have been at a self-serve checkout for all the inhuman lack of interaction that took place.
Then I looked at my receipt. I noticed that the $5.00 from my Customer Loyalty card had been subtracted from the total in eye-catching red ink, but there was no corresponding $10.00 subtraction from my Birthday Gift Card. Double-take. Nope, not there. Deadpan Girl was waiting for me to leave. "I don't think the $10.00 was taken off," I told her, handing her the receipt. She scanned it with this expression: " :* " . "I'll have to add it up," she said, and made a feeble, 10-second attempt to do so. "I can't do this," she informed Clone # 2, the other checkout cashier, and turned away from me to flag down a man wearing a white Ace manager's shirt.
Manager Man came up, looked at the receipt, and turned to me without a greeting. "It took the coupon, because see here at the bottom, it says, 'You Saved $15.00 Today," he told me, pointing to a legend emblazoned at the bottom of the receipt. "That's the $5.00 for one card, and the $10.00 for your other card. They both got scanned."
Disoriented by now, off-balance, and feeling vaguely like I was being accused of being an idiot, I thanked them both -- for what, I don't know. Then I took my bags of stuff and my receipt and beat it outta there.
I got as far as the lawn furniture display in the entryway, and stopped. I looked at the receipt again. I may not be the best at numbers, but that total was still too high to have had a $10.00 chunk taken out of it. I sat down on a demo patio loveseat, took out a pen and pad from my pocketbook, wrote down the prices, and added up the receipt -- twice. Then I swept back into the store and approached Manager Man.
"Please add this up again. It doesn't seem right," I said. "I don't think my Birthday card actually took. Which doesn't make it a very happy birthday," I joked, trying to give Manager Man a little window of levity through which he could attempt to do relationship repair. He didn't jump at the chance. Sighing, he took the receipt again and stared at it. No other communication came from him for about 30 seconds.
I persevered. "Maybe since the total went below $35.00 when the other card was used, the Birthday card discount didn't qualify...?" I prompted, trying to sound like I was somewhat savvy and understood that this was a reasonable hypothesis that might indeed happen sometimes when two different types of pricing discounts battled it out inside the hard-coded logic of a point-of-sale computer system.
Manager Man gruffed out a grufflike sound. Still not looking at me -- I don't think he ever looked directly at me -- he said, "Well, some of what you bought was on sale, and the offer is good for regular-priced merchandise only."
"Oh!" I sputtered, now understanding that I was being accused of being, not a mere idiot, but a criminal. I was trying to scam Ace out of $10.00 worth of already-low, sale-priced pricing.
What did I want, for them to just give me the whole store? Who did I think I was, trying to pull off a con game on their computer? Didn't I know that they would catch me red-handed in the end?
"I didn't realize it only applied to regular prices," I said lamely.
Manager Man didn't respond.
"I would have liked the cashier to tell me that... before she took my card... and now it's no good," I went on, in the same mystified tone of voice that I used some years ago after seeing The Lake House, when my friend and I were walking out of the movie theater, trying to reconstruct what had happened in the final scene and why Sandra Bullock couldn't have warned Keanu Reeves earlier about the car accident. (By the way: NEVER rent The Lake House.)
"Oh, we'll give you your card back," Manager Man said, making it sound sinister. He turned to Deadpan Girl. "You got your cards?" She fished in her drawer and gave him a rubber-banded stack of cards. He thumbed through them and found mine. Then he drew an X through her cross-off and made a cryptic notation with his marker before wordlessly handing it back to me.
I looked at my mangled Happy Birthday Gift Card. "So I guess I can use this again if I come back to this store?" I asked, again attempting to help him finish the story and deliver some vestige of customer service, instead of forcing the customer to deliver it to herself.
"Yes," he said.
I had a pen, too. "So you're name's Andy?" I had noticed his name tag, finally. I started to write his name on the card.
"My initials are on there," Andy said, not quite surly, but close, as he indicated the ambiguous scrawl he had just made. He apparently thought I was being a drama queen at this point.
"Okay!" I crumbled under his self-righteous demeanor. "Well, thanks!" And I stuffed the receipt and the card into my wallet, thinking, I NEVER WANT TO COME HERE AGAIN.
But I will. Oh, I will. Exactly one more time.
And I will find $35.00 worth of regular-priced merchandise to buy. Heaven knows, my house is falling apart, and it probably needs $3500 worth of stuff from Ace Hardware. But I will perambulate my shopping cart around Levittown Ace Hardware's carefully curated displays, calculator in hand, and I will find exactly $35.00 worth of anything I need that's not on sale.
Then I will go to the checkout and dare Deadpan Girl and Manager Man to just try and keep me from having a Gosh Darn Happy Birthday.
Helpful Hardware Folks, maybe. Helpful Cash Register Transaction Folks, not so much.
Moral of the story:
Retailers and other service industries: does your floor staff have the tools and training they need to:
- figure out and apply your company's promotions;
- decipher your point-of-sale system's messaging;
- do basic math, when necessary, to check the system's pricing?
More importantly, are they adequately trained and incentivized to give great customer service, every time?
Because messy blog posts like this can happen as a result of that one time that they don't.
Are your client-facing people authorized to do service recovery -- and are they required to do it with an apology, and a smile?
I swear to you, even with all the other bungling, if I had gotten either one of those, Ace Hardware, I would not be writing this now.