Target Customer Service SucksIn his epic tome, The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferris tells how he gave his customer service representatives the authority to solve any problem if it cost less than a specified dollar amount. This not only freed up Ferris, but made for happy customers.

Target (Orem, Utah) could learn a lesson from Ferris and Sonic Drive-in (American Fork, Utah).

A few months ago, my husband and I were on our way to a performance. On the way, we made a mad dash to the Sonic in American Fork, Utah. We ordered some fairly healthy (by fast food standards) food at the drive-through and headed out.

When we arrived at our destination about 20 minutes later, we pulled out our dinner — only to find that we had been given someone else's order. And it wasn't remotely healthy. We had a bag packed with enormous burgers and fries.

The next day, we called the establishment to explain the problem. Without hesitation, the manager asked us to please bring the entire family back for a free meal. Sam warned him that we have six kids. No matter, bring them all in.

A couple of weeks later, we took him up on his offer. For a mistake worth a few dollars, the manager paid us $50 back. And gained life-long customers in the process.

Fast forward to last week.

Sam and I went to the Target in American Fork to look at some green stacking sling chairs that were on sale. We are trying to furnish our deck and porch and I loved these cute chairs. When we got there, the chairs were out of stock. We drove to the Orem Target. They were also out of stock.

We spoke with a very helpful employee named Ethan. He scanned the bar code and said he couldn't tell when the chair would be back in stock, but that we could get a rain check. Great!

First, he tried to figure out how to do a rain check in the garden furniture area. When that didn't work, we followed him to the front of the store with another employee following us. They stopped and tried to create one at a cash register. When that failed, we followed him up to the customer service desk.

After a few minutes, he handed us a small ticket. He had written his name, the $19 price, and a code number in the boxes at the bottom. He said, “Here's your rain check. Just call and give them the number on the bottom and they will tell you if the chairs are in.”

I put the ticket in my wallet and we left.

Tonight, we were in Orem and decided to drop by on our way home to see if the chairs were in stock. I pulled out the ticket and only then did I realize that the ticket he gave us says to take it to a cashier to print out the rain check. In other words, apparently it wasn't a rain check, as he had said, it was a receipt for a rain check.

When we arrived at Target tonight, we immediately took the ticket to a cashier and explained the situation. She sent us to the customer service desk. (Or perhaps I should — as Dave Ramsey does — call it customer no-service.)

We explained the situation to the woman at the customer service desk. She scanned the bar code on the ticket and printed out a rain check. We pointed out that the price on the rain check was the higher price of $25, rather than the sale price written on the ticket. She said that sometimes the other employees “don't really know all the things we do up here.” She thought he probably thought that was all he needed to do.

She told us she didn't have the authority to override the default, but that someone else could. She called a woman on her walkie talkie and then said, paraphrased, “I don't know what she'll do. She'll either have a code or she can make a note so when you come in, you can say who you talked to and that it is already approved.”

Brenda S., the Guest (No-)Service Team Leader, came to the customer service area and heard the story yet again. She asked how many we wanted. I told her we wanted ten chairs. She said that she couldn't approve that. She said that the rain check price was set in the cash register at corporate and she couldn't do anything. Again, we explained that we had been acting on the assumption that the Target employee was giving us correct information and asked that the store correct the employee's mistake.

Brenda answered, “I can't because then it would be a loss to the store, not to corporate.”

“In other words, I should take the loss for the employee's misinformation, not the store?”

Bottom line, rather than fix a $50 employee mistake, Target pissed off a formerly loyal customer.

Compare, please, Sonic's $50 fix to Target's $50 refusal. I can promise you that Sonic will make far more from us in the long run — and Target will lose in the same fashion.

Update [June 6, 2012]: Right after I wrote this post, I also wrote a letter the Target store  where we had the negative experience. I just got a letter from Tyler Burrows, the Executive Team Leader over Guest Experience. In his letter he apologized for our experience and acknowledged that proper procedure had not been followed in our case. He noted that the Guest Service Team leaders have the discretion to resolve problems, which should have occurred, but that further training has been given to prevent future problems.

To top it off, he sent us a gift certificate for $50 — which will cover the difference between the cost of the missing rain check.

While we did not have a positive experience at Target last month, the management's willingness to resolve the matter changes the situation. Thanks to Tyler Burrows for taking customer service seriously — and for bringing loyal customers back.