Virtual coupons give Brian a real-world headache

So you know that feeling you get when you are 100 percent satisfied with your dining and/or shopping experience at Twin Ports restaurants and/or department stores?...

Brian Matuszak
Brian Matuszak

So you know that feeling you get when you are 100 percent satisfied with your dining and/or shopping experience at Twin Ports restaurants and/or department stores?

What's that, you say? You say you haven't felt that in quite a while? Well, me neither! (Just to be clear, when you say that, we are still talking about dining and/or shopping experiences, right? Good. Best to avoid the awkward Fred Willard jokes for now.)

Quality customer service seems to be going the way of all obsolete technology. Sure, rotary phones, 8-track tapes, and Barbara Reyelts were entertaining while they lasted, but now are good for only a cheap laugh in a weekly humor column. But I feel that mission statements such as "Putting The Customer First" and "Thirst and Ten Hot Dog & Shot Specials" should be timeless and not allowed to dissolve into meaningless platitudes.

To be clear, I'm not talking about every local business. I have had nothing but exemplary service at several Twin Ports establishments, and I've chronicled those in past columns. But lately, I seem to be running into a spate of subpar performance and I feel it should be called out. My inner attorney voice doesn't want me to give specific names, but astute readers may pick up on some subtle K-lues.

With an economy that's more sluggish than a Carlton County attorney's reflexes, you would think that merchants would do their best to get you through their doors and, once inside, that they would exhibit stellar service in order to keep you there. For the most part, that's true. We're usually met with smiling faces from the courteous staff. But where we've run into some snags the past few weeks is when we've tried to use our online coupons. These are discounts that are sent to us via email from various businesses. You go online and sign up for their email list, or, as in the K-razy case of a famous department store chain, you can receive a reward from a nationally recognized credit card company in the form of an electronic gift certificate to be redeemed at the Mart in question.


Now, online coupons are a brilliant concept. You don't have to waste all those precious marketing dollars on I-35 billboards that no one can see through the sheer number of orange construction cones blocking them. You don't have to purchase radio ads slapped together by full-time "professional" announcers who could potentially mispronounce the name of your business and cause you thousands of dollars in inadvertent FCC fines. (This may be why Shopper City went under years ago.) And you don't have to justify the cost of a full-color advertisement in The Woman Today on paper so shiny it can cause blindness. Online coupons avoid all those marketing pitfalls, but they have their own set of potential problems. Mainly, your uninformed staff.

The last three times we have produced our online coupons, the reactions from the sales clerks and/or wait staff followed the same basic pattern:

Reaction #1: "What, now? An online coupon? What, now?"

Reaction #2: Employee takes the coupon with an arched brow and examines it as if it were a radioactive, counterfeit $30 bill.

Reaction #2A: Employee casts accusatory glances our way across the top of the coupon, looking at us as if we were radioactive, counterfeit $30 bills.

Reaction #3: "I've never seen any of these before," delivered in a condescending sniff, followed quickly by "I'll have to talk to my manager."

And the results?

One restaurant manager told the waiter what was going on and we eventually had no trouble using our coupon. (Grizzly's rules!)


One restaurant manager wasn't there, so the waiter went to the bar manager, who also seemed puzzled. They did finally agree to give us partial value for the coupon, but why not give the customer the benefit of your doubt? Spiff us the lousy dollar off everything we ordered, like the coupon indicated we should get. Believe me, if I were going to go to the trouble of falsifying a coupon for your fine restaurant, I'd make it for better stuff, like free appetizers and foot rubs.

And a person at the department store in question basically accused us of trying to scam them and treated us very rudely, so we haven't been back since, which was probably not the desired result from corporate headquarters when the blue light bulb went off in their heads and they declared "Let's do online e-certificates!"

If only they hadn't sent that information to West Duluth via carrier pigeon.

Brian Matuszak has been demanding and difficult since February 2008. He is the co-founder of Renegade Comedy Theatre, and founder of Rubber Chicken Theater, which does, in fact, have online coupons and welcomes you to use them for any upcoming production. But they're good for ticket discounts only. Foot rubs are extra.

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