I’m one of those people who will pay extra for a product at a store where I know I will receive good customer service and I’m lucky that most of the time I can afford to make that choice. There are times, however, that because of finances, I and others, are forced to find the cheapest or best value for the product we want to purchase and not for the service received.
There is a small gas station not far from where I live where the gas prices are regularly a few cents more than the price at the corner convenience store and where the items inside the little store are also more expensive too. Yet, even though several new convenience stores have popped up around this store, all providing much cheaper items and gas, this little gas station store is still thriving.
Exceptional customer service, that’s why.
When you go to this little store, the owner himself will greet you at your car. He or one of his employees will pump your gas for you, check the air pressure in your tires, check your oil and fluid levels, and wash the front and back windows of your car, all at no extra cost. If you want to enter the store you can, but you can also ask the clerk or the owner who pumps your gas to bring you back whatever you want and they will bring it to you, take your money and bring you your change, all why the gas is being pumped. You don’t even have to get out of your car!
I don’t go to this store because I’m lazy and don’t want to get out of my car, though. I don’t go to this store because I can’t pump my own gas or buy my own products. No, I go to this store because the people who work there treat me and their other customers as valued customers, important, dare I say, even special. I like feeling as though I matter as a customer. I like the personal touch that this store offers, and for all those reasons, I don’t mind paying a few cents more to be treated with dignity, respect, courtesy.
I suppose I had come to take this good customer service for granted, until last month, when money became tight for me, and I was having to struggle to pay a mountain of medical bills I had not expected, and I had to start cutting corners wherever I could. That’s when I decided that saving a few pennies at this point, in order to keep my lights on or put food on the table, was more important than customer service.
So I made my way to a convenience store on the corner of a busy intersection in my town. This store regularly has the cheapest gas prices, sometimes by as much as 9 cents a gallon, in town. They also have 18 gas pumps and a convenience store inside too. So I pull into the parking lot, which is crowded and not well laid out, and I have to wait in line behind a line of cars just to pull up for my turn at the pump.
I finally get to a pump and I get out of the car, open the gas cap, put the nozzle in, and push the button to select the fuel and I wait. And I wait. And I wait…and wait…and wait. The pump never authorizes.
Okay, so I go inside, stand in line behind five other people and wait until it’s my turn at the register. I explain to the clerk how I wanted to fill up with gas on pump six. She said that the pumps are all prepaid, so I would have to pay first. I explained to her that I didn’t know how much gas I wanted and I would be paying with a credit card. She said that wouldn’t work, because I had to pay in advance.
So I offered to give the lady my credit card to hold while I pumped the gas and that I would then come in and pay out, thinking that if she had my credit card, she knew I wasn’t going to leave. The clerk said, “No, I can’t do that,” and then started to ring up the purchases the man behind me had set on the counter.
I moved a bit between the man and the clerk and said, “Excuse me, I’m not finished here. Why can’t you do that?” The man behind me was amused, but I wasn’t.
The clerk said to me, and I quote here, “Because your credit card might not be any good.”
By this time, I figured there was not much more I could say and I wasn’t going to change this woman’s mind, so I decided to play a little game. I said, “Okay, I have 10 dollars in my pocket, but I want to run this on my credit card. If I were to give you the 10 dollars, would you authorize the pump for me, and then when I pump the gas, I’ll come back in here and you can run my card and then give me my ten dollars back?”
She said, “We don’t give cash out to people on credit cards, but we have an ATM right here in the store for your convenience.”
For my what? Convenience? Yeah, my ‘convenience’ had already flown out the window. So I went ahead and had her authorize the pump for $15.00, figuring the car would hold at least that much, and gave her my credit card to run. She took my card and ran it through and then finished waiting on the man she had already started to ring up before she finished my transaction.
I mentioned this to her, but she said that since she’d already rung up some of his things, she couldn’t charge my gas on the register until she finished his. Okay, so I waited. She finished his transaction, and he winked at me and said, “Good luck,” as he was leaving the store.
The clerk then turned back to the credit card machine, looked at it, and then started waiting on another customer. All the while, I’m still standing there. She waits on two more customers before I finally ask her what the problem is. She said, pointing to another clerk behind her, “He’s on the phone and the credit card machine won’t connect until the line is free.”
Sigh! Ah, okay. Let’s not interrupt his phone call to actually do some work at his job.
Eventually, he did get off the phone, my transaction was complete, and after I had already signed the receipt, she said, “Do you want to purchase a discounted car wash with your gasoline today?”
I just smiled and walked out the door and pumped my gas.
I suppose that saving a little money might be worth it to some, but I’ve come to realize that my time and being treated with courtesy and respect is worth a few extra pennies too, and no one checked my oil or fluid, washed my windows, or told me to have a nice day.
Perhaps little ma and pop stores are mostly a thing of the past, and have given way to the larger corporate stores that can afford to slash prices, but they also slash customer service along with it. Until people realize that sometimes, in fact, most of the time, good customer service, service with a smile, and good store policies are worth a few extra bucks, the large conglomerates and super stores will continue to thrive and more and more small, independently owned ma and pop or family run stores will continue to suffer.
I, for one, intend to continue to give the stores who treat me as a valued customer my business, even if it means that I might have to pay a bit more for service. Remember the old adage: you get what you pay for you – and realize that this means a lot more than just the product you purchase.