An Impromptu Lesson


Last night Carina had a girls-only party for a few friends. One of these friends – a new mom of only a couple months – respectfully requested that the event be adults-only, too, so that she could enjoy making complete sentences, and possibly use profanity. So it was my responsibility to get the twins out of the house for a bit.

I took them to Gameworks, at Easton, for which I had a coupon: purchase $10 in credits and get $10 free. I even had an old Gameworks card handy, so I’d only need to buy one card (one for each of the kids – I learned long ago not to try to share these cards) - and be out about $11. Or so I thought. (cue dramatic music)

The young girl working the counter dryly informed me that my card had expired, and that I’d need to buy a new one. I was surprised, as I’d never known these cards to expire. Suspecting some nefarious plan to bilk customers out of more money than necessary, I asked her if the card listed an expiration date anywhere on it. She skimmed it, and said “No”. I politely said that if the card did not list an expiration date, then it was bogus to claim that it expired. At this point, Tyler asked what “bogus” meant, which I quickly explained. “I’m not buying a new card if this one doesn’t clearly explain the conditions on which it depends. I’ll be happy to wait to speak to a manager about this,” I told the clerk.

The twins grew impatient, and urged me to just give in and buy a new card: I already needed to buy one for one of the girls, so what did it matter if I had to buy another one? I calmly explained to the girls that it was my money, and I wouldn’t throw it away just because the store made up a rule that my card had expired. While waiting for the manager, I carefully read the fine print on the back of the card. To my surprise, there was an expiration clause (which the clerk must have skipped over): cards expire one year from the date of last use. So, it was plausible that my card was in fact expired, although I’m fairly sure I’d been there some time in the previous twelve months. I asked the girl at the counter if she could tell when my card was last used, but she demured that she could not. I’m curious how they expect to enforce a 12-month statute of limitations if they can’t track the same…

The manager finally came forward, and was a friendly young fellow. I explained that I didn’t want to pay for a new card when no one could prove that this card was expired. The manager told me that if it were up to him, he’d give me the card, but the system applies a certain number of credits to each card as it is assigned for use, and there’s no way to override that. So if the manager gave me the free card, he’d be giving me some modest number of free credits, which in turn could be used for stuff inside (like the photobooth, for example) which would cost the store money. Fair enough, I can buy that explanation, even if I’m not particularly thrilled about it. The manager went on to claim that the set of cards like the card I had brought with me had been rotated out of service last Thanksgiving, so they were over a year old. (It didn’t occur to me at the time that even though the card might be over a year old, the “twelve months from date of last use” could well be false, if I had been there in the previous 12 months…)

I agreed to purchase the new card to replace my old one, plus a new card. The manager agreed to transfer and split the balance ($22!) from the original card onto the two new cards. Finally, I presented my coupon to the manager, and said I wanted to buy $10 worth of credits for one card and get $10 free on the other card. To my surprise, the manager told me to keep my coupon, and he gave me $10 worth of credits for free when I purchased $10.

During this whole exchange, I was taking time to explain to the kids that it was important that you A) not throw money away, B) not be afraid to ask questions about things that don’t make sense, and C) ensure that you get the satisfaction that a customer deserves. The girls paid attention more than I expected them to, despite their squirmy anticipation to just get in and play games.

Once inside, we had a ball. The girls played a lot of air hockey, and not to my delight not a single fight broke out! Usually such competitive games are met with poor sportsmanship on behalf of the loser (no doubt fueled by the boasting from the victor); but last night the girls were genuinely having fun together. We played the three-story balloon game, the signature centerpiece of Gameworks, too, and had a great time. I was worried that one (or both!) of the girls would freak out as their chair climbed and fell, but both of them handled it well and enjoyed the game. Tyler pulled out to an early, aggressive lead, but I was able to clinch the victory from her at the last minute. She giggled almost the whole time she played. As we exited the playing area, Tayler said emphatically “That was intense!”

On the way home Tayler said “Dad, I know why that guy gave you free credits. It’s so you’ll come back.” I agreed wholeheartedly, and said that as a result I was very likely to return to use my coupon (which expires at the end of the month). I explained that the manager did the right thing: he explained the policy to me in a way that I understood, and he went out of his way to make sure I was satisfied. By losing a little money now, he’s ensured that I’ll come back and spend more money with them in the future. The girls chatted for a bit about this, and it was clear that the lesson had sunk in. As the conversation was wrapping up, Tyler said earnestly “I bet that guy would make a good friend!”

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