Whatever happened to ‘customer service’? New columnist weighs in with her experience. Do not mess with MLH

BURLINGTON, ON  August 3, 2012  When a company employee makes an obvious error, who should absorb the cost of that error – the company or the customer? This situation is all too common these days with the customer generally footing the bill for a company’s mistake. Whatever has happened to ‘customer service’?

On July 25th, at 3pm, I went into a ‘full service’ gas station in Burlington Ontario to get gas. The attendant, who I have dealt with over a number of years, said ‘how much?’ As per usual, I said “$20, and can you check all the fluids? Thanks.’. He nodded. I then opened the gas cap lock. He put the nozzle into the tank and walked up to the front of the car. I unlocked the hood from inside the car. He lifted it up and checked the oil, the power steering and the window washing liquid. He came around the corner of the car and said, ‘You need power steering and window washing fluid’. He then quickly switched off the gas. It had reached $61 dollars.

I got out of the car and went to the trunk. I retrieved my left-over stock of steering fluid and washer fluid and handed them to him. He said, ‘You owe $61 for the gas.” I looked at him, and said, ‘No I don’t.  I owe $20 for the gas that I ordered.” He stood holding the two bottles, unsure.  The nozzle was still in my car.

I took the two bottles from him, went under the hood and added the fluids myself. I then went into the manager’s office. A young man, the ‘new’ manager, was on the phone, so I waited. He put his hand over the receiver and gave me the ‘what’s up’ look.  I said, ‘I ordered $20 worth of gas, but the attendant, in error, filled it up to $61.” He gave the ‘one minute’ finger and went back to his call. I waited.

Twenty dollars was all our columnist Margaret Lindsay Holman was prepared to pay for the $20 worth of gas she ordered.
What would you have done?

As I had left my wallet on my car seat, I returned to the car to get it, and said, on route, to the attendant who was soon filling up another car, “I am prepared to pay $40 on a $20 order, but as it was your error, you have to absorb the difference.” He didn’t say anything, knowing full well he was in the wrong.

The young owner/manager came out a couple of minutes later and said to me, ‘You now have the gas in your car, so you have to pay for it.” I repeated, I only ordered $20 worth of gas, not $61 worth of gas. He said, ‘In principal, you have the gas, and you’ve got to pay for it.” I answered, “In principal, the customer ordered $20 worth of gas, not $61 worth of gas”. He said NO, ‘Pay Up’. I said NO. I’ll pay $40 only. He said NO, ‘Pay Up’/ I then said, NO, I did not order this gas, so siphon the extra out’. He said ‘Alright, move your car over to the garage’. This terse dialogue happened in a matter of nano-seconds.

I moved the car and waited to see what would happen next. The owner/manager disappeared into the garage bays.

An older guy came out and tried to argue that ‘everyone’ makes mistakes, and that a reasonable person would understand that and just pay the difference. I said I fully understand the mistake, and that I was willing to pay $40 on a $20 order, but that the attendant had to understand his mistake too.

This guy also said NO. He then took the car into a car bay.  I waited. Five minutes later he took the car out and parked it. He said this was going to take more time then he thought to calibrate the exact $41 extra of gas and that this whole business was going to cost them money. I said, yes, this wasted time was also costing me money. I stood by the car. Waiting. He went back into the garage.

Another five minutes passed. He came back out and said, would you settle on $50 for the gas?  I thought about it. We’d been at this for nearly a half hour, and it was clearly going to take that long again, so I said ok.  I gave him $50 cash and left the lot with $61 worth of gas on a $20 dollar gas order.

And yes, this is very much about the principal of the thing. Customer Service should mean something. I have been a frequent and, until now, very satisfied user of this garage. All has been fine to date with no complaints, and yet, with this error, I am supposed to absorb their mistake? I don’t think so. The likelihood that I will use this garage is very slim. I have no hard feelings toward the attendant himself, it was an honest mistake, and he knew he had made it. Where it went wrong is that his boss, the owner/manager, should have covered his error, instead of ‘forcing the issue’ back onto a regular paying customer.

Here’s the added conundrum. What if I only had a $20 bill in my wallet?  What then?

Should I be expected to go to the bank? Should I waste MY time to cover THEIR error?

I don’t think so.

Thoughts welcome.

Margaret Lindsay Holton is both an environmentalist and an acerbic social activist.  She is an artist of some renown and the designer of  a typeface.  She is also a photographer and the holder of opinions she will share with you in an instant.  Welcome her as an Our Burlington columnist who will appear once every two weeks.

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