The Customer Is The Defective Blower

, , , , , | Right | May 14, 2019

Two days ago, an elderly customer came into the farm store I work for. He approached the information desk and explained that he had bought an inexpensive, single-stage snow blower from us the previous fall — it’s September now. By all indications, it had worked well for him last winter, but when he brought it out of summer storage a few days ago, he claimed it wouldn’t start for him. In spite of the fact that it never snows in lower Michigan until at least late November, he seemed stressed to be left without a functional snow blower in early September. He even made reference to the fact that it probably wouldn’t snow for “a couple more weeks” but he wanted to be prepared.

I never make assumptions about anyone’s mechanical ability, so I started with the basics, making sure he knew how to start it. He seemed a bit foggy on how to use the key start. I made a few suggestions, and he thanked me and left to give them a try. A couple of hours later he was back, rolling the blower in question through the store to the information desk. He said he still couldn’t get it started and wanted to have us run it through service.

Our store doesn’t have an in-house service department, but I assured him I’d happily run it over to the local dealer we use for this type of thing the following day. He quizzed me extensively on what I thought the problem might be. People always try to get a down-to-the-dollar quote on repairs before the item goes in for service. I told him I couldn’t be sure until we got an estimate from the service center, but that we would call before going ahead with the repair.

I took down his information and promised I’d be in contact as soon as the unit came back from service. Later that same afternoon, I was in the back room with the blower. Call it being soft, but I really wondered if it wasn’t just a simple starting issue. I got the impression the guy didn’t have a lot of money, and I would have felt bad if he got charged a shop labor rate of $70 an hour for not knowing which switch to flip, knob to turn, or something simple like that. I primed the machine a few times, grabbed the starter rope, and pulled.

To my shock, it fired right up and ran perfectly. I shut it off and repeated the procedure… several times. Each instance, it started on the first tug. Happy for him, I called the man and said his blower was all ready to go. Inexplicably, he wasn’t thrilled. He said it never started for him, and wanted me to still take it to the service center for a “checkup.” I didn’t argue; it was his money. I was just trying to save him a few bucks. I did, however, explain that since the unit was running perfectly, there really wasn’t anything to fix. He still expressed his desire to have it looked at. I told him I would.

I went to lunch after that, and upon returning a half hour later, I found him standing at the desk waiting for me. He wasn’t very direct with what he was saying, so it took me a minute to figure out that he was having second thoughts about having it taken in for service. I took him in the back room and, to put his mind at ease if he decided to take the unit back home, demonstrated how easy it started.

Again, instead of being happy that his blower was running like the proverbial fine Swiss watch at zero cost to him, he mumbled something about giving us some money back so “it would be worthwhile to us.” I didn’t follow and asked him to elaborate. To put it simply, he now wanted to return the blower and get his money back!

Store policy states that gasoline-powered sales are final. We will stand behind the unit 100% for warranty service, but once a customer has used an item, we can’t take it back. To make matters worse, even if I had the authority to override this, the blower was covered in mud and barn dust and looked as though it’d had a few foreign objects run through it. There was no way this thing was re-saleable.

I explained this, and he threw a fit, telling me what “poor business” it was, and that he wanted to speak to my boss. I told him the policy wasn’t mine; it was mandated by the owners of our chain. After telling me several times that “the other guy who works here” would have given him his money back, he changed tactics. He told me to sell the unit for him and just give him the money. I explained that we’re not a consignment shop. I recommended Craigslist or even our store message board.

He was furious, explaining again what “poor business” we were conducting. I kept trying to steer him around to the fact that there was nothing wrong with the blower, but he avoided the facts and continued to rant about how unjustly he was being treated. Eventually, I was forced to pose a question: What store would allow a customer to return a year-old, dirty, used unit that still functioned perfectly, for full credit?

After getting nowhere with the guy, I gave him the store phone number and told him when the store manager would be in. He walked away, grumbling under his breath. I promptly dialed the store manager’s cell number and explained what had happened. To my relief, he posed the same question I had to the customer and told me there was no way we could take the unit back.

Every time I try to do someone a favor, it ends up like this. Maybe someday I’ll learn!

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