Of Donuts and Pep Boys – My Most Bizarre Customer Experience Ever!

Can you remember your most bizarre customer experience ever? Let me tell you mine.  It just happened today! There are lessons to be learned in all experiences — even the most bizarre one. After reading this, I encourage you to write your comments or share your own customer service story. 

I went to a Pep Boys car service center for routine service maintenance today. I parked my car outside and immediately proceeded to the service counter. When I walked in, there was only one service staff member at the counter and he was busy assisting another customer.  So I waited in line. Soon after, he greeted me warmly and told me that he’ll attend to me shortly. As a customer waiting in the line, it feels good to be acknowledged. After a couple minutes, it was my turn. I told the service staff member that I was there for routine periodic maintenance. He asked me for pertinent information about my car, the mileage and went on to suggest maintenance work recommended for my car. He provided me with valuable information to help me decide on a service option. After that, we chose a service package. I didn’t have to spend time giving other additional information; they’ve got my data in the system from my previous visits.

Aside from taking my car for maintenance, I had another motive for going to Pep Boys today. I needed copies of my previous maintenance service documents. My car dealer, where I purchased my car a few years ago, needs proof of periodic car maintenance for a service warranty issue. So I asked the Pep Boys service member for my maintenance records in the last two and a half years. I was impressed on how he was able to quickly pull up information and print records. He even explained to me – one by one — the types of maintenance service my car has gone through. I thought it was really impressive service—above and beyond expectations. It was so much better than I thought it would be. I was a happy customer.

At the end of that initial interaction, the service member told me that my car will be ready in 45 minutes. I normally ask how much time it would take, but this time the service staff beat me to it. He gave the promise promptly and so I told him I will come back in 45 minutes.

When I left the service center, I was their happiest customer.  I walked to the nearby Dunkin Donuts store to get myself some breakfast. I was so overjoyed with the customer experience that I even bought a dozen donuts for the service staff member who assisted me and for the other service crew working at Pep Boys. I thought it was the least that I can do to express my appreciation for the excellent service they provide their customers. If I can’t give monetary tips—for sure a dozen of donuts will express my gratitude.

While waiting at Dunkin Donuts, I wrote a tweet on my Blackberry that I intended to send shortly after I leave Pep Boys. I was tempted to send the tweet right away, but decided at the last moment to save it as a draft and wait. The draft tweet went like this:

“Today I bought a dozen Dunkin Donuts as a gesture of appreciation for the Pep Boys staff and service crew for their excellent customer service.”  (Tweet that I never got to send)

I ended up staying an hour and a half at Dunkin Donuts as I enjoyed my cup of coffee and worked on my book. I got so preoccupied with writing that I lost track of time. I only realized that more than an hour had passed when my wife called me. She was at her baby shower, was packing up and ready to go. She told me that I could pick her up as soon as I was ready. Because I was so sure that my car was ready and waiting for me at Pep Boys, I told her I will pick her up shortly. It was almost two hours since I left Pep Boys and I was promised the car would be ready in 45 minutes.

I walked back with my dozen donuts and looked forward to giving it to the staff and service crew as a token of gratitude. Opportunities to affirm service personnel for their excellent service always make me happy. I always look forward to opportunities where I can affirm people for excellent work that they do. Upon entering Pep Boys, I noticed my car was parked just outside the store, so I was assured that the service was finished and the car had been waiting for pick up all this time.  So I walked to the counter where two service personnel were talking. They were not assisting anyone but I thought they were discussing something work-related. Unlike earlier that morning, no one acknowledged or greeted me. I thought it was a big difference from that morning’s experience.

I just continued standing by the counter and observing the personnel carry on their conversation, with my dozen donuts now on top of the counter.  I didn’t say a word. After a couple of minutes, I saw the same service staff member who assisted me earlier. He walked past me and went back outside. He didn’t acknowledge me and I thought that maybe he was just busy.

I decided to just stand there by the counter and wait (ever-patient customer that I am). Finally after waiting for several minutes, one of the service personnel (perhaps realizing that I have been waiting a while) at the counter finally asked, “Has someone attended to you already?” I answered, “No, but I am here to pick up my car that was serviced this morning.” She asked for my name and immediately tried looking for my paperwork. I had a feeling something was wrong when she could not find my papers on the pile of finished work. The lady started asking around if someone had serviced an Audi. It was only then that my original service person responded and told me that they haven’t even started work on it yet.

What?!  I had reason to be mad as hell but I wasn’t. I could complain to the manager but I didn’t.  Instead, I very patiently reminded the service person that helped me earlier that he promised the car will be ready in 45 minutes. It was now nearly two hours later. As a customer, I just expected an apology and explanation. But to my surprise, he became very defensive and explained that the service crew busy servicing other cars and 45 minutes was just an estimate, not a promise. He did not apologize and was very close to being rude.

I did not argue nor complained; I just told them that I will wait. So I took my dozen donuts and sat in the waiting area. I took out my tablet and proceeded to write about my experience – most of what is written here – and waited for another 45 minutes.

It was so strange. My customer experience form earlier that morning to what happened afterwards was as different as night and day. I thought about how things could change so abruptly in just two hours — how inconsistent and how bad. But this is not the end of the story—you will be surprised at how it concluded.

My plan was to just get my car after the service, drive home, eat my donuts and post this blog. I approached the counter after 45 minutes and a different service person arrived with my car key. He sincerely   apologized. He told me that I did not owe them anything for the service and they were sorry for making me wait for so long. I thought it was a nice gesture. I surely did not expect to get something out of it because I kept my cool and did not even complain. How did they know that I was furious and so frustrated inside? I thought they read the situation well.  I also thought that the last service person I spoke with responded well and turned things around a bit.  I tried to explain to him what happened earlier that morning and even told him about the donuts intended as a token of appreciation for the excellent service I anticipated (but sadly did not get).  In the end, I wasn’t completely satisfied but decided to give the donuts to the hardworking service crew (that did the actual work on my car) and left.

As you can imagine, this was such a weird customer experience—a definite roller coaster ride. I wouldn’t wish anyone to experience what I went through today but I learned a lot. I took the opportunity to observe rather than complain. I did this with the intention of writing about it and providing customer service insights to my readers.

From today’s experience, here are my customer service takeaways:

  • Customer service delivery must be consistent. That is how you will win customer loyalty.
  • Don’t make promises unless you will keep them. Be careful of what you promise to your customer. That will create the expectation of the service. Reliability is one of the keys to any good relationship, and good customer service is no exception. Try to keep your promise or exceed your promise as best possible. That’s how you wow customers with your service.
  • When you fail to deliver, it is very crucial to acknowledge, empathize, explain and give a sincere apology. More importantly, don’t be rude and defensive.
  • When a mistake is made, customers want it to be handled quickly and to their satisfaction. They want some kind of action that acknowledges a mistake was made and every effort is being done to correct it. When you recover, you may find that your customer is even more loyal than before.  

What do you think about my experience today? What would you have felt or what would you have done if you were in my situation? Have you had the same bizarre customer experience before? Would you return to Pep Boys if this happened to you?

Photos courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

Follow Glenn Remoreras on Twitter.

17 thoughts on “Of Donuts and Pep Boys – My Most Bizarre Customer Experience Ever!

  1. Your conduct as a customer is worthy of praise, but you should have waited until the entire service was done to buy the donuts. That said what made the entire customer experience bizarre was that your expectations was raised so high right from the start. I know you all to well, you did play it calm and collected impressive. The first Pep Boy service crew personnel missed out on one of the most fundamental rule of service “Manage Expectations”

    And yeah I agree with your blooming wife, this post is one of your best!

  2. Thanks for this great post, Glenn! In a globalized market, with increasing different choices, it’s really critical to have an excellent service, and understand your customer…and as you exposed, it’s not about the big facts, it’s about that little things that make a customer feel important. If after 2 hours, when your car is not ready, the manager comes and apologizes, explain to you that they had a problem, offers you coffee, and gives you a discount for the nex time, you not only forget the delay, but also you would probably have given the donuts to them.

    And a very interesting subject in your final takeaways, that makes the difference: Communication (as you already posted some time ago). In our currently society, with access to more and more information, we are demanding data, news…every minute. And when we don’t have it, we became impatient. So in every aspect of the customer service, the communication is becomeing more and more critical, in my opinion.

    I am now turning back to this subject in my current position, in which is really complex to choose the right message, to the right people, at the right time….but let’s keep on trying!

  3. When I first learned about Glenn’s experience with Pep Boys, the first thing I realized was how important the customer service experience is. Although Glenn’s initial impression was that Pep Boys had excellent service (when he first walked into the store) and the fact that they tried to turn around the bad service (after he waited a long time for the 45-min service to be completed), I think that over-all the experience was still negative. There are two important lessons to be learned: (1) Bad service, even with previous experience of good service, is difficult to overturn; and (2) consistent good customer service is criticial.

    Not only should Pep Boys investigate this matter (and figure out what mistakes were made) but also make sure it never happens again.

    Also, I commend Glenn for thinking of giving donuts as a token of appreciation. Not everybody will go to such lengths to thank people.

    This post has to be one of your best. Congratulations!

  4. One thing I’ve noticed you’ve done is the feedback,expressing what you have experienced to the last service crew is important for them to evaluate their service, if they really value customer service. I agree when you say “customer service delivery must be consistent”, in fact it should always have a plus factor, one should have a differentiation from others may it be a service or a product. Then you can win a happy customer and a dozen of donuts! : )

  5. Glenn, look like you had an interesting experience. I had a similar issue at the dealer, when I took my car 5 times to fix a breake issue. After the last one, the mechanic (not the service agent) came to me and told me that my car was ok and he did not find anything wrong with the breaks. Then after a very bad conversation, I realize that he has been working on the front brakes instead of the rear breaks. From there I spend 500 USD in new breaks pads and now, after less than 2,000 miles, the problem came back. So it’s time to say hi again to the mechanic. I will let you know how does it goes. Regards

  6. Thanks for this Glenn,

    You know I often wonder if executive staffs ever try out their own products or services. Some get it right some don’t and those who don’t fail because of lack of consistency or forget the little things. Every time I open a Gatorade bottle I say to myself surely the Gatorade company knows that getting the top off this plastic bottle is like taking off a torqued bolt ! Great product, great distribution channels, difficult packaging.
    I have a great long term customer service consistency story to share with you. For those who work with me know that I enjoy my donuts. In fact I enjoy them so much that for the last 7 years I have bought and shared 15 dozen with my coworkers every Friday. (yea yea lots of coworkers !).
    Last year , now 6 years into this one Friday I picked up the donuts and when I got to work I found that the variety had been reduced to a very basic selection. I did not think too much about it until the next week the same thing happened. So I made a special weekend trip to this specific Dunkin Donut shop to tell the manager about it. Thinking this was simply a lazy worker who was boxing these up each week. The manager greatly apologized and said it would not happen again. The next Friday I woke up early and called the manager and asked to please look over the packing process to make sure I got a good mix of donuts. She said “absolutely Bill “. I made my weekly trek, picked up the donuts and took them to the office. When I got to the office I laid the boxes out as I always have to once again, at my amazement saw a very limited variety. As you can imagine I immediately called the store manager. She said Bill, this is how our store owner told us to package them as to keep the “good ones” for their walk in customers. Now, holding back screaming around the office I told her how disappointed I was after spending $40K in donuts with them over the past 6 years and to be treated as a wholesaler or as a disruption to their customers who buy one at time !! Go Figure !
    Needless to say I cancelled my standing order and went off to find another supplier of my donut habit. Once I did find another Dunkin Donut store (not of the same ownership) I began buying my weekly donuts. The real kick in the ass here is that when I went in the next Friday at the new store to pick up my 15 dozen the price was almost half – yes half ! The store manager told me that at this quantity I should be getting a discount. So not only did I get treated like half a customer I got over-charged for 6 years.

    1. I would do the same if I were you Bill. That was a really bad oversight from the manager of that Dunkin Donut store. Totally unacceptable! It’s unfortunate for them that they lost a loyal, profitable (they were over-charging) and long-time customer like you. Thanks for sharing this. It’s a great customer service case.

  7. Hahaha. Natawa naman ako sa comment ni Rico! Anyway, you should send this blog to the Pep Boys management. They’re lucky to have you as their customer! Happy B-day!! 🙂

  8. Actually I thought that the ending of your story would present some bizaare twist, like the first attendant suddenly taking his mask off, revealing Ashton Kutcher (or Michael V.) with the whole production crew suddenly appearing in the background and shouting, “YOU JUST GOT PUNK’D!” :). Weird encounter pare ko. I think the 1st guy has bipolar disorder. Or multiple personalities. But it was a commendable thing that you did na you just kept your cool kasi sometimes even though every customer deserves to be treated the right way, we have to remember that employees are people too, and might not be at a very accomodating mood in their jobs 100 percent of the time.

    1. You made me laugh man… I disagree somewhat to your last point there. I understand that people make mistakes and employees (like us) do have some bad day but it is not an excuse to providing bad service. The least that we should expect from companies that we pay to provide us service is to achieve their service commitment. The level of service may vary; other companies use it as competitive advantage.

  9. Thanks for the story, I enjoyed it.
    I always find that Enterprise has odd customer experiences. I wait in line (like you do anywhere) then you either wait for another person to lead you to a car, or they come out from behind the counter to help you find a car.

    That is when it gets weird. They show you the cars you can pick based on your reservation and might try to upsell you. Once you choose a car they dissapear again to ‘get the keys’. They might be gone longer if you decide to change the level of your car.

    I usually find it odd waiting alone in the garage for someone to come back. They are always helpful and never rude, but while alone I can’t help thinking about what else I could be doing. Now that I am used to the process, I don’t have any problems with it – it’s just odd.

  10. A great story, really well told! I think your takeaways are correct – consistency is really important. I’d also add “attitude” – the poor attitude you were met with in the second interaction compounded a service failure and raised your suspicions and, no doubt, blood pressure.

    I hope Pep Boys have their market sentiment senors active and come across your post and do 3 things:

    1. Write to you with an explanation, a “thank you” and a promise for future service.
    2. Contact the unit in question for some root cause analysis and remedial training.
    3. Make your post available to their entire network to help raise awareness around creating consistent and exceptional customer experiences.

    1. Hi Vaughan, I think Pep Boys is already doing your points 1 and 2, which is great. I admire companies and executives who take constructive customer feedback like this and use it to improve their service.

  11. Wow Glenn!!!!!
    It really was a bizarre situation. But there are a few things I admire! First of all, that you went and bought donuts as a token of appreciation… sometimes we forget to thank other people or even better, we forget to recognize when somebody is doing a good job. And I speak for my self. We just speak when we are not satisfied, but we have to recognize when someone is doing a good job. I have felt that personally, when I used to work, I remember how great I felt when my boss told me I was doing great…. I would forget if I was tired or if I had to work overtime to finish. And the other thing I admire is that you kept cool even tough you were “angry as hell”. I usually explode, and especially if the person is getting rude, and when that happens, you end up really angry and the other person as well.
    So thank you very much for sharing this experience… I definitely have a lot to learn about it, and I will try to follow your example!!!

    1. Thanks Nelly and Mon for commenting…

      I am realizing that maybe I didn’t get angry because I sort of gave them the benefit of the doubt that it was just an honest mistake and they were just busier than when I was there earlier that morning. I am sure others will say, no excuses, I have the right to be upset and to complain. Also I think unconsciously I decided to keep it calm and observe and see if I can learn something from the experience, because it was so weird. I let the situation play itself and right that moment when I was waiting in Pep Boys I composed most of what I have here in this post. I thought they recovered well too, considering I wasn’t complaining and they read the situation very well. These are good lessons on customer experience from bizarre situations. I think this story is a perfect case study material.

  12. I think you are the perfect customer and Pep Boys should fire that first service crew, and he actually had the guts to be defensive and rude.

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