Strange situation... what could I have done differently?

Because the day after Thanksgiving was kind of slow last year, I decided to give an agressive offer for a select group of customers. I offered a FREE Large Pizza to all of my customers that had previously ordered online with me (about 328 of them). It was in the spirit of giving and I wanted to give a special thanks to those customers. I also figured if I could get an extra 20 customers that day, I would be happy.

Well, about 5:00, the online orders came rolling in. The offer read like this: “Get a Free Large Pizza with any purchase of $20 or more. Cannot be used for Specialty Pizzas. Toppings extra. Must be ordered online using coupon code BLACKFRIDAY”.

We got a bunch of redemptions and everything seemed fine, until we got to my last one. The last guy, instead of entering in the coupon code, added a comment “Use the Black Friday discount towards my purchase.” He ordered an XL Specialty Pizza with two additional toppings (total $27.45). My cashier, put his order in and just added a Large Cheese Pizza to his order (no charge) thinking that was what he meant by his comment.

I get a call from my delivery driver saying that the customer did not get his discount. I looked and saw we discounted the entire cheese pizza. I called the customer to let him know that we did this. He responds, “I wanted you to deduct the price of the large cheese pizza from my total; not add a free cheese pizza.” I politely let him know that the coupon specifically said that it could not be used towards a specialty pizza. He says fine and hangs up.

About 15 minutes later, I get a call from this customer. He tells me that he no longer wants to do business with me because I don’t bend the rules for good customers. I’m dumbfounded. I tell him I’m sorry, but explain to him why I put these guidelines in place. He tells me that we should have recognized that he was a regular and bent the rules anyways.

Afterwards, I looked and it was true. He is one of my better customers; #12 in the last 6 months (spending almost $400 since July).

That night, I wrote him a letter telling him that I appreciate his feedback and was sorry for the confusion. At the end, I included a $12 gift card and told him that there were no strings attached to this offer. Yes, I gave in because I don’t want to lose him as a customer.

But to be totally honest, part of me wanted to call his bluff. While I was writing the letter, I was thinking to myself… where’s the appreciation from the customer for giving him a free large pizza. Would this have even been an issue if I didn’t give him such a great offer? Sometimes I think some people are so self-absorbed that they don’t see the good side to anything.

I know we operators encounter these types of incidents all the time. Would you have handled it differently?

Your situation is why I try to avoid coupons. You will always get someone who wants to bend the rules to fit their fancy. I have seen some coupons like yours also include NO SUBSTITUTIONS or COUPON MUST BE USED AS INTENTED.

On the other hand I recall going to a fastfood store that, rather than worry about what the coupon said, assigned a dollar value to each coupon and as long as the minimum value required to redeem the coupon was reached the coupon was valid. In the case you mentioned he would have received a credit up to the value of the coupon that would still have him pay at least $20.

Did I mention I don’t like coupons?

I think you handled it quite well. Better than most people would have. You shouldn’t dwell on what had happened. Can’t learn from you mistakes if you don’t make them.

stevo is right. You did fine dealing with an unreasonable customer. Your offer was a free large pie not a $12 discount!

There is a motivational speaker for businesses that has a certain saying “give them the pickle!”

If you’ve not heard this man talk, the morale of the story is that a customer would dine in his restaurant, getting a sandwich that always came with a pickle.

If memory serves me correctly:

The store started having some issues, so cut back on giving out pickles with the sandwiches, and the customer got angry about not having a pickle because the store wouldn’t bend and give him the pickle he was always used to getting, and they ended up losing the customer for life…and he spread the word, too, resulting in more lost customers.

I know that if you bend to each and every customer, you’re going to lose money. But, you really didn’t bend, per se…and yes, I do believe you had an advantageous customer, even IF he/she is a good customer.

If I was a store owner, and I’m not, obviously, I would be more concerned about losing the dependable client base than I would be the “fly by night” customer who maybe orders once a month or every few months.

If you still lose the customer, well, you can’t say you didn’t try your best to rectify a situation that you couldn’t have foreseen happening…and you’ve also learned a lesson about yet another way a customer will bend a coupon, and you can be ready for it next time.

Now, if any of that made sense…great. LOL

Ok, I’ve been drinkin again… So… My theory is the real problem here is the whole coupon thing. Leave it for the large chain with the guy dressed up as a slice jumping up and down trying to get people to buy there “Pizza?” for $5. Why would you? Sure, I will every now and then give a good customer a free order or 50% off. Blows there mind. Send out or flyer a coupon to all or even a select group and there is nothing special goin on. Nobody feels special in a group. Great intent, wrong outcome. Put your prices up and never discount your food, a number of things will happen… Those customers that only order your “special” or “coupon item” will quit calling. Your volume will drop. Thus your delivery times will drop. Your customers will be happier.You will make more money. Actually not a theory (seeing as I did it). Seeing as the economy sucks etc now is the time to put up your prices. Mr and Mrs cheepo customer are not calling as much. New customers are coming off spending two or three times the dough to go out for supper. Pizza at home is CHEAP for them. They will gladly pay. I’ll quit ramblin now.

I think you handled it well. I certainly would not have expected his reaction. People misread coupons all the time but I’ve never had anyone go negative on me.

I think you blew this one. Why? For the reason you stated above. How can you not have a phone next to a POS terminal, or within 10 seconds of one? You should have pulled up his name and order history the second the complaint came in and satisfied him right then and there.

Was he wrong?

Hellz yes

Did he deserve the discount?

Technically, Nope, but you should have given him it anyway. He is worth it. Even a $20 discount is only 5% of his sales over the past 6 months. Well worth it.

Why would he bluff. Customers are generally not the most intelligent, and the idea that the customer is always right is about as relevant to business today as the Reagan administration.

Count it off to being stupid (on his part), and keep him happy. The chances are high he didn’t bother reading the coupon.

This is SO true…if our PJ turned away all of the orders we get on large 1 toppings that just want extra cheese as the topping when our coupon says “excluding extra cheese”, we’d be in the hole!

We got a bunch of redemptions and everything seemed fine, until we got to my last one.

Hi pizzafanatic,

I don’t know how many of your coupons were redeemed that night, but if you only had one that was a problem I’d consider that a successful night. Try to focus on how much extra money you made thanks to your promotion instead of the one misunderstanding that cost you $12. In the long run you’ll make that lost money back from that customer because you made him happy in the end (whether he was right or not).

Remember that it can cost two to 10 times more money to get a new customer than to keep an existing one. You definitely did the right thing!!!

Liz Barrett, editor-in-chief
PMQ’s Pizza Magazine

Funny we had a customer last night order 2 Family size pizzas (15") and when the girl asked for the money she gave one of our Loyalty cards where they get a free LARGE (13") ‘Currambine Special’ pizza once they have filled all 10 spots on the card. They get a spot filled for every $20 spent. The customer wanted to pay for one pizza and the other one for free using the value for that order to complete the card, even thought the conditions state “present FULLY COMPLETED card for redemption when ordering”. She wanted to use the value of this order to complete the card to get the free one.

Our girl correctly pointed out that the free one was for a large and that the card must be fully completed first, but also used her discretion to over-ride the last condition to apease the customer. The customer was a little miffed at not getting a Family size pizza saying “we always order Family size, so why don’t we get a free Family one?”. Our girl then pointed out that it clearly says FREE LARGE on the card and on the front page of our menu and that the redemption was on dollars spent and not on size ordered. The lady accepted this and said she better read the conditions more carefully next time. Funny thing is she has redeemed theses cards before getting the large one so she might have been trying it on this time around hoping someone woould slip up and give it to her.

I think some customers “act naive” testing the water to see how far they can go to get something for nothing. It’s the manner in which it is handled that deems the outcome. Our girl this night did a fanastic job addressing the situation retaining the order and the customer while adhering to the conditions of the card. She used judgement to accept the current order to complete the card so as not to aggrevate the customer who was declined something more than she was entitled to.