screwing up giving the customer what they want

A couple weeks back I purchased an adapter to hook an iPad to the projector at work for an upcoming presentation. It turned out we didn’t need it so I brought it back unopened to return it. It turns out the store has a two week limit on returns and I was a few days past.

At that moment in time, the clerk has a few choices:

1) Hold to policy and deny the return.

2) Cheerfully accept the return explaining how normally policy wouldn’t allow it but because it’s unopened and close enough to the deadline he’s happy to take it back.

3) Point out the deadline. Act as though I’m trying to get something past him. Seem irritated. Stare at the receipt. Ask if I knew there was a deadline. Stare at the receipt longer. Seem more irritated. Proclaim that he’ll take the item after all in a but-you-better-not-try-this-nonsense-again tone of voice.

Unfortunately, he chose #3. Even though I got my money back, I would have been happier with #1. Rigid policy is silly, but not as blatantly stupid as being condescending to the customer. The $34 will not change my life. If he had stuck to policy, I would have been annoyed, but I would have understood because I did not follow the rules clearly written on the receipt. My bad.

If he had done the second option, I would have been thrilled. I would have understood this was something special and felt like he’d looked out for me and done me a favor.

Number three though… The sad thing about the option he chose was that I’m sure he thought he was doing the second option. He did take the return. I didn’t have to argue for it. He did bend the rules for me. He also made it clear that I was a thorn in his side, talked down to me, and left me feeling a bit of an idiot.

So close, yet so far.

It makes me wonder if I ever do that to my internal customers. Do I ever give them what they want but in a way that’s difficult, obnoxious, or makes them feel like an interruption? Do I confuse solving their problems with providing great service? Am I grateful for them or do I serve them begrudgingly? Do I ever almost give great service and then mess it up at the end?

I don’t think so, but that’s not quite as important as what they think, is it?


  1. Grrrr! How frustrating – number 3 just should not be an option eh? I hope the company thinks its attitude to customer service is option 2. Maybe you should show them this tale and ask what they think? I’m crossing my fingers for cock up not conspiracy 🙂


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