The customer is queen
I have a little raggedy gas stove in our kitchen, which is connected to a big gas container. Every couple of months the gas will run out, inevitably in the middle of cooking. Then we have to unhook the container and drive to a gas station to exchange the empty bottle for a full one.
This seems like a pretty straightforward process, and went smoothly for the first year or so. Then, one hot dusty day not too long ago, the bottle was empty after only two weeks! Right away I was angry, because obviously we were sold a bottle that was not completely filled. We went to the gas station where we always buy it and spoke to the staff there. They explained that since it is not them who fill the bottle, and since they just work there, there was nothing they could do. We should just buy a new bottle and take our chances. WELL. Before I could give them a piece of my mind, Male reminded me that we did not have a receipt that showed date of purchase. I was peeved, but ok, we bought a new bottle (about $28!!!), and I held on to the receipt.
Like clockwork, about two weeks later the bottle ran out. I was ready for them this time: I had the receipt. Male was in Timbuktu, and that actually suited me: he just does not have the same sense of entitlement that I have after having shopped in the USA for 23 years: I am the customer, therefore I am queen, and that’s all there is to it.
Armed with that belief (who says I don’t have any?) I returned to the gas station. I had the same conversation with the workers there as before, but this time I asked for the manager. He was not available, so I left my card, and they promised to call me when the manager was there. (They did call me, but just to say ‘Hi!’, not because the manager was there.) I refused to buy a new bottle, and instead I went to that gas station every day for four days, always with the empty gas bottle in the car, when finally one day I coincided with the manager …
I drew first. I began by recounting what loyal customers we are, and that we choose to take our business to that particular station because we trust the brand name (TOTAL). We were very disappointed when we discovered that twice in a row we had purchased a faulty product. I was there to allow him to rectify that situation. He responded with the predictable we-do-not-fill-the-bottles-we-just-get-them-delivered-so-it’s-not-our-fault. Then came his generous offer: but he would be happy to sell me another bottle!
This was not going to be easy, I could tell, but I had been preparing for this moment for four days. I strategically moved over a bit, and now we were standing in the full sun. The sun did not bother me, but I could tell that my adversary was beginning to wilt. I started again, telling him a bit about how I, his customer, do not care where the bottle comes from or how it gets there, that my only agenda was to get my $28 worth of gas! (I was still quite polite, but increasingly with effort.) And that, by accepting delivery and selling the bottles, they assumed responsibility for the product. And, anyway, if not, they needed to inform their customers that they do not assume responsibility. And if they did not assume responsibility for their product, why would I frequent them? And furthermore, I personally do not like to gamble, and I never do, so why would I start gambling with bottles of gas: full or not??? Also, if they have a problem with the supplier, they need to resolve it and not pass the problem on to their loyal customers. And while we are on the subject of loyal customers: we were prepared to stop frequenting that particular gas station if we felt that we were not being awarded good customer treatment. So there.
My strategy was working, it seemed: I was watching the sweat beads pool on his forehead, and the sweat run off his temples. Exasperated he asked me what it was that I wanted. (How do I shut up this crazy white woman, he was thinking.) I told him that I wanted a new, full bottle for free. Duh!!! He looked at me like I was out of my mind. I looked at him like that was the only way I was going to shut up and go away …
They loaded the bottle into the back of the car. He wiped of his sweat, and we exchanged the usual Malian pleasantries that precede one’s departure. I was smiling all the way home, having scored a small victory for all customers in Mali.