Costco, good customer service?

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Good people with personality matters

I had one of the most unexpected customer service experiences at Costco today. Let me set the table on this one.

My wife and I have been card carrying Costco members since 1995. Last year when I decided to transcend to an independent investment advisor, Costco convinced us to upgrade to a business account. We bought two laptops and three printers there in the last year for our business. We have bought our printer ink at Costco ever since.

Costco just sent us a volume rebate cheque that can only be used against a future purchase. My wife went to buy some ink for our printers but was told that I was the principal on the account and only I could use the rebate against a purchase. As far as we are concerned we are joint owners, but we are told that since my name was first on the 1995 application form, I am the principal. It didn’t matter to them how we run our business, we had to change our roles to suit their rules.

Off to Costco I go

So I made a special trip to Costco to take care of this purchase, only to find they have decided since last week not to carry this ink cartridge at this store. It took three employees and 20 minutes to answer this. They pointed out I could buy it on Costco online, but could not use my rebate cheque against an online purchase. I was told this happens all the time. Since I was there anyway I made a purchase of a couple of personal items and as I was checking out I asked to talk to a manager. I don’t usually bother as I find I just leave more aggravated, but wanted to be heard this time.

I knew I was wasting my time but wanted them to know it cost me all this time, it’s not how my wife and I run our business and we are extremely dissatisfied -  and still didn’t have the ink. I also wanted to point out that two printers that they were still selling had signs on them directing purchasers to buy the exact same nonexistent ink cartridge at this store. He let me know the decisions about what was on the shelves doesn’t happen at the store level and he would pass along my thoughts and feelings. You could see the frustration in his face.

The twist in the plot

Just as I was about to leave he surprised me with something he could control. He arranged for me to get cash for the non-cashable rebate cheque. He smiled and suggested I should buy it online from Costco. Good for him, as he did it in such a way that it could have been tongue in cheek. He read me perfectly. This is that something that none of the drones in head office could have done but would probably think there should be a policy and procedure that can cover this.

I have worked for institutions that paint their front line people into a corner (in fact I just left one for that reason) and know the frustration of arbitrary rules and regulations that fly in the face of good customer service. As I stated, I was genuinely surprised and have just ordered the ink from Costco. It is because someone cared, used his own initiative to use a power they gave him to rebate at the right time, but more importantly did something about it with charm and personality.

He somehow put a friendly face to the faceless Costco conglomerate for me.

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