Customer service actually means serving customers

Sometimes the problem isn’t without, sometimes it’s within

The loss leading flyer was in my mailbox. It was for a store one town over, a store I might have stopped by twice in the ten years that I lived where I currently do. Of that store I bore no animosity, it just wasn’t very convenient, and it wasn’t very interesting.

Until I noticed that they carried my wife’s favorite wine, and it was deeply on sale. And, in addition to the sale, if I bought six bottles there was a further discount. It said so right on the flyer! Double score!

I scheduled my daily chores/outing around swinging by that store. Now I am familiar with the discount/loss leader proposition. Typically, something is given at a deep discount in order to convince you to check out all the other offerings. The hope is that you will be so impressed that you will either buy something else, and/or become a regular customer.

We are people of habit. That’s why there’s “comfort food,” and why drinks like the old fashioned have been around for over two centuries. Both are good, and both are recognizable. Author Benjamin Alire Sáenz once posited that “change is overrated” and in spite of all the media making big noises about every new thing, it’s the tried and true that tends to stick around. Hamburgers might have goat cheese and pickled daikon on them these days, but underneath it all they are still just hamburgers. And old fashioneds are just whiskey, bitters, and sugar, but I digress.

My new experience began with promise. The wine department was easily found and there was signage everywhere about the sale. It appeared that this chain of supermarkets had modified its approach. It was no longer broken white Formica tile and fluorescent lights, now it was warm wood and muted colors. Certainly, it felt more contemporary.

I located the wine I was interested in, but unfortunately there were only four bottles. I looked in the cold case, on the endcaps, and on the shelves. Four bottles. After a few minutes of looking, I decided to do what any reasonable person would do. I asked for help. Well, not asked exactly, I simply pushed the lighted button that had “Help” printed right on it.

A few minutes later a man approached me.

“Yes?” he asked.

“I was wondering if you had two more bottles of this wine,” I asked. “So I can get the discount?”

“Do you order wine here often?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Do you shop here often?”

“No,” I said again.

“Well let me show you something.”

“OK,” I said.

He took me over to the empty slot that I had taken the four bottles from.

“I already looked there,” I said.

He held up his hand.

“See this number?” he said pointing at the last digit on a nine number SKU underneath the shelf space that had held the wine.


“It’s a 2,” he said. “If the number has a 2, that means I order on Tuesday for Thursday delivery.”

“OK.” I responded, wondering where this was going.

“If it’s a 3, then I order on Wednesday for Friday delivery.”

“OK, but do you have two more…” I began but did not get to finish.

“Today is Thursday,” he said interrupting.

“All I need is…” I attempted to interject.

“You have now emptied my shelf,” he said. “So now I don’t have any of this wine for the rest of the week.”

“Look, I just want to know if you have two more bottles, so I can get the discount,” I said, now pointing myself, at the tag next to the SKU number that he had pointed at, a tag that  clearly read “buy six bottles and get an extra 10 percent off.”

He shook his head.

“I am trying to educate you on how this works,” he said.

“Do you have two more bottles or not?” I finally asked, tiring of the whole interaction.

“We don’t keep wine in the back,” he said.

“Maybe we can ask the manager,” I said.

“I am the manager,” he replied.

Later when I was standing in line, that manager came up to me with two more bottles of that wine.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-The devil may be in the details, but hell is in the explanation.

-In customer service, “let me check” solves a world of problems.

-“Those who seek power are often unworthy of that power,” once wrote Plato.

-Customer service is about customer service, the minute you lose sight of that, you aren’t fixing the problem, you are the problem.

-If I did live in that town, and I did shop at that store, I probably wouldn’t anymore.

-Alire Sáenz ended up writing children’s books. Maybe he was on to something.