This article was originally published on March 22nd, 2007 at americanchronicle.com
A few days back I wrote an article on something that happened to me on my birthday with Best Buy and a gift card I received. I have never received so much response to an article. When I first sat down to write about my experience, it was not my intention to become a type of Don Quixote. I am now under the delusion that maybe something I’m doing will actually help to make the world a little better, a little nicer, a little more chivalrous. It seems that some people don’t care and others wish to have their concerns addressed but don’t know where to turn. The latter get very angry and frustrated. I thought I could use this space to share some of the response I got to my story.
One gentleman wrote me an email calling my concerns ridiculous. He asked me what right I had to expect cash for my gift card and what I felt should be the refund limit on the card. He then informed me that there are far more grievous problems with gift cards such as expiration dates and balance reduction over time so my complaint was extremely foolish. My verbatim reply is below:
Thank you for responding to my article. Feedback is always welcome. You ask a poignant question that I think deserves an answer. What right did I have to expect a cash return on my gift card? And interesting query. Upon reflection, I realize I wasn't thinking about my rights at the time I inquired about the change. I also really didn't think about my rights when I tried to get my money back for the merchandise. I wasn't even really thinking about my rights when I wrote this story in the first place. I was simply relating an episode in my life as honestly and objectively (albeit from my point of view) as I could and unveiling it as it happened. I didn't think I had claimed that I had a right to expect a cash return on my gift card, but I guess my actions could be taken as an indication that I felt I had a right to expect cash. I suppose we have the right to have expectations no matter what those expectations are. Just because we have expectations does not necessarily mean they will come to pass. As it was, at the time of the incident, I thought my wife had paid for the gift card with cash because that is her usual modus operandi. My expectations certainly were not met. In the long run, I guess Best Buy had the right to refute my expectations and they exercised that right just as I exercised my right to ask for what I felt I was due. As explained in the story, when it was explained that they had to put the money back to her credit card I accepted that and took the necessary steps to make sure that happened. I guess what I was really expecting was some good customer service, someone to listen to me and take care of my needs. I've always been taught that the customer is always right and to strive to make sure he's happy. I think that doesn't apply anymore in today's world. I have gotten a lot of feedback since this article has come out and I now realize that Best Buy simply does not care about the customer. As for how much I think the cash limit return on the card should be, 100% sounds good to me. The important thing should be that the customer has a good experience and you have won a customer for life. I have a story that was related to me about that too. Thank you also for the information about the cards losing their value and expiring. I had no idea that was the case. Yes, that certainly would have been a shame if I had waited, or lost the card and then found it again only to find that it had expired. That would certainly be a situation much worse than the one I experienced. You ask why companies should issue a card at all? Perhaps they shouldn't. I know I prefer cash and perhaps many people do but don't say so just to be polite. But, my opinion aside, the company should issue cards as a courtesy to the customer and in hopes of gaining new customers. They should not impose draconian rules upon those cards which would only serve to anger a potential customer, especially in this day and age when everyone has a platform they can climb upon to tell their story. I am sorry you feel my complaint was foolish, perhaps I am just a fool for questioning the rules. Perhaps from now on when I feel I am getting taken advantage of I should just keep my mouth shut. More likely I will continue to relate episodes of my life to anyone who is willing to read them. Thank you again for your interest.
Another gentleman told me to grow up, reminded me that retail workers make little money, and called me petty, a slovenly middle aged pseudo elitist and a schmuck. I guess he feels that because retail workers don’t make much money they are incapable of providing excellent customer service. I didn’t mean to imply in my article that I found fault with the employees of Best Buy. On the contrary, I think they were just being good little soldiers and obeying the orders of their superiors. I blame Best Buy’s policy makers, the ones at the top. As for being petty, according to a Fox News report dated Dec. 18th, 2006, Best Buy reported $43 million in gains from unused gift cards. I wish I had $43 million, then maybe I wouldn’t be so slovenly and could in fact be a real elitist. And talk about petty, Best Buy couldn’t dip into that $43 million and give me $8.49 change? If that’s not petty I don’t know what is.
Yet another gentleman informed me of a time when he had received a $25 gift card from Best Buy and they had refused to give him around $2.00 in change that he had coming to him. This was some time back and he has refused to step foot inside a Best Buy store since. He then went on to tell me a story about a gift card he had received from a small pet store that sold tropical fish. Since he keeps tropical fish and they’re hard to wrap, he felt that was a good application of a gift card. He went to the store and bought a couple of fish, but not enough to cover the entire amount on the card. The owner of the store asked him if he wanted the balance on the gift card or if he’d prefer it in cash. He told me the amount wasn’t much, around $10, but he took the cash. He continues to use that store for all his tropical fish needs even though they may sometimes charge more than a big chain pet store for certain supplies.
There were a few people who realized this article was more than just about the money, that it was about customer service. They related to me their own stories of poor to no customer service at Best Buy. One woman informed me that she had bought a new laptop computer from them for $900 with the new Windows Vista operating system installed on it. She took it home and discovered that it wouldn’t work with the software she used to conduct her business. This made the computer useless to her. She took it back to the store to ask if she could get the operating system replaced with one that would work and they told they could do that for a rather large fee. She then asked if she could return the unit seeing as how it was no good to her and get her money back and they told her they could do that for a $250 restocking fee. That's $250 they wanted to take from her without giving her anything in return. This was within a couple of days of her buying the unit. Angry and frustrated and finding no satisfaction with the so called customer service at Best Buy, she left the store with the merchandise she could not use and swore to never shop at Best Buy again.
One gentleman informed me of a situation he had with a PDA he bought at Best Buy. He told me that while it was in warranty the screen went bad and was somehow out of sync. He had bought the extended warranty. He took it back and they told him it would take them 45 days to repair it. He informed them that he used the unit every day and asked if they could exchange it for him. They informed him that wasn’t their policy. He asked if they could give him a loner for the 45 days that they would have it and they told him that wasn’t their policy. He finally gave in and let them take the unit. When it came back 30 days later he went to pick it up (surprised that it had arrived early) and found that it was not fixed. He asked if they had checked the screen and they said they had, then he showed them that it was still bad. They then told him it would take another 45 days for it to be fixed. He told them no, that he wanted an exchange. They said they could do it now but that his model was obsolete and he’d have to pay more for the upgrade. He wouldn’t take the deal as he liked the model he had and did not wish to spend more money. He finally gave up and walked out of the store with the defective unit, never to return.
Yet another gentleman bought a mini disc player as an open item from a Best Buy store. He was told it was working. When he got it home he found it was not. He tried to return the item to get his money back but they would not allow it. It wasn’t their policy. He is yet another customer Best Buy has lost.
I could go on, but why bother. Best Buy’s customer service policy seems to be no customer service. Whatever happened to “Satisfaction or your money back.”? Whatever happened to “The customer is always right.”? There is a nice story that was related to me to show us all that even in this day and age that there are still places where good customer service does exist.
A gentleman told me that he was in an Oberweis Ice Cream store one morning to pick up an ice cream cake. The price of the cake was $34. He was paying with a credit card. The card reader was having problems communicating with the authorization center. He offered to pay with another credit card, but the cashier told him it wasn’t the card that was the problem, it was the communication between the store and the authorization center. He waited for twenty to thirty minutes for the problem to resolve itself. Finally, the cashier told him to just take the cake for free. He was flabbergasted. It was a fairly expensive cake. He offered to come back and pay later. The cashier told him no, that she was the manager and it was her right to use her discretion to give him the cake. Now there’s a company who knows what customer service is all about. They realize that with good customer service they will gain a customer for life. They understand that the sacrifice of a relatively small amount now will pay big dividends in the future. That man is likely to go to Oberweis from now on for all his dairy needs.
I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations due to the last article. I’ve discussed everything from how a younger generation has grown up not knowing what good customer service is and so they don’t expect it to how people have become sheep and just accept things the way they are and do as they are told without question. I think that sometimes we as consumers don’t realize just how much power we have. If we don’t like how we are treated at a store, we shouldn’t shop there. It’s that simple. If we want excellent customer service, we must demand it. If one has a bad experience in a store, it is appropriate to tell as many other people about it as possible, otherwise no one else will know or care. Similarly, it is also important to let people know about the good experiences you have and recommend those stores that provide good customer service. This is how we can make the merchants hear us and listen to our needs. The same can be said in other areas of our lives. As a people Americans seem to just accept political corruption, poor representation and even outright criminal activities. This will continue until we demand change and stop putting politicians in office from parties we know are corrupt. We as a people, as a community and as a nation have the power to change the environments in which we do business through the positive action of refusing to do business with those that mistreat us. It is time to start practicing this idea.