Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Right Way and the Polite Way

In many places around the online couponing world, I've read stories about people who were out using their coupons and they ran into a problem, despite the fact they were following the rules. Unfortunately, many of these stories end in "and I stood there and told them I was right and they had to fix it now. It took us 20 (or more) minutes at that register, but I got my discount!"

Every time I read this, my heart breaks a little. While they were right and they got the deal they came for (which I applaud) most of these stories talk about holding up lines, fighting with managers and calling corporate because they aren't getting what they want.

What they don't realize is that this display of being "right" is going to cost something both to them and to the other couponers who shop at that store. Right now, stores are very wary of couponers, making sure we aren't cheating the system. Most of us aren't, but they still watch couponers like a hawk. And every time we make a big fuss about our coupons, it becomes a problem for everyone else who uses them.

So what's a couponer to do? We want to get great deals and when the store doesn't know the policy or isn't following it, we have to speak up. But we also need to be polite about how we do it, so that when the whole thing is over, the situation doesn't leave the store feeling cheated or that couponers are "bad".

1. Carry the coupon policy with you. This may sound silly, but one thing I find over and over is that the cashiers and managers don't always know the coupon policy, especially if it has changed recently. Having a copy of the latest policy with you will allow you to show the cashier/manager what the policy exactly states.

2. Use Nice Words. I know this sounds silly, but simply using words like please, thank you and I'm sorry can go a long way. On the other hand, swearing or demanding they do something will go a long way in the other direction! Be kind and use nice words.

3. Warn People. One thing I try to do when I've got a lot of coupons is tell the person directly behind me before they unload their basket and tell the cashier at the beginning of the transaction. This lets people know you may take a little longer than normal. Most people don't mind, but I find letting them know makes people more patient.

4. Escalate if needed, but be Polite about it. This goes again with using nice words. If the cashier is not following the policy or giving you a problem, then ask for a manager. Don't demand, ask. When you get a manager, explain the situation but don't start pointing fingers. Remember, I statements go a lot farther than You statements.

5. Take it Away From the Customers. This one I use when the problem becomes long or requires someone higher than the manager to step in, like corporate. If this looks like it won't quickly be solved, ask politely about taking it to a guest services area or someplace that other shoppers won't be held up as much. This cuts down on the embarrassment factor for everyone. Calling corporate, to be honest, is saying "I know I'm right and I am willing to go to great lengths to prove it." If you are getting to that point, you are often cutting down a manager. Don't do it in front of the people below him or her and don't do it in front of customers. This only hurts them and adds to the reputation of "bad couponer". Instead, ask to speak privately about the situation so that they are not being embarrassed in front of their employees and customers.

6. Remember, these are people too. The cashiers and managers are doing their job but they aren't just the person you see with the name tag on. They have lives and sometimes the stuff in our lives effects our jobs. The cashier who gives you a hard time might be in the middle of a divorce. The manager who won't accept your coupons might be having a hard time with their kids or parents. Treat them with respect and know that the problem is not you but something outside. What if the manager has had corporate come down on them because a few bad coupons slid through? We can't see all of the details in this moment, so try to remember to give them grace, patience and understanding.

7. Know When to Quit. Ask yourself, is it worth it? Is $50 worth of groceries for $2 worth spending an hour in the store fighting about it? Is $100 worth of groceries for $1 worth knowing that you will be carefully scrutinized every time you walk into that store? Is $200 worth of groceries for $10 worth knowing that now every couponer this person runs into will be treated poorly because of the image you have projected? Sometimes, you just have to give up. Go to a different store. Try again another day. Rework your transaction if possible.

I'm not saying we should always give in when the cashier says "NO." But the best way to catch flies is with honey, not vinegar. Being polite and kind will go a long way for you and for the next couponer who checks out.



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