A real-life case of annoying a VIP – namely, me

— “ThinkGeek Loyalty Program Terms”: CLICK HERE for the latest news on this case

If you were a doctor and a bit lazy, who’s the last person you’d want as a patient? Another doctor, right? The physician-patient isn’t going to be fooled by your excuses or explanations, so you’d be smart to actually do your best – at least with this ONE patient, don’t you think?

So you have to wonder what is going on at a company called ThinkGeek – an online biz that sells cool things like T-shirts with a “You are here” sign, pointing to the Earth’s location in the Milky Way galaxy,  a pizza cutter shaped as the Star-Trek Enterprise, and a Batman ice cube tray. These folks also sponsor special events, such as their famous Bacon Day:

They’ve got a loyalty program, too, and guess which VIP they really pissed off by the way they administer this program? You got it. C’est moi (Thomas, that means… forget it).

So first let’s look at the program. Customers accumulate points for every purchased item, and can eventually apply these points to buy a wide range of their products – with a few limitations:

  1. Points can only be used on the next purchase
  2. Each points-purchased item must be associated with another real-money purchase
  3. You can’t buy more than one points-purchased item per order (normally not a problem, except customers end up spending more on shipping than if multiple points-purchased items could be included in a single order).

Okay, I’m not a retail CRM expert and I’m guessing you’re not, either. Otherwise we would have had normal lives and no reason to enjoy websites such as ThinkGeek. But I am sure you can already spot the problem here: The reward for loyalty is not only limited, but also aggressively requires customers to increase purchase volumes. That might be okay, but it amplifies the cost of shipping, which no one like to pay for. It leaves a sour aftertaste to the entire experience.

So what happened with me? Here’s what I wrote to them in advance of my trip to the U.S., where they are based:

“Hiya Geeks,

I have been a customer for few years already, with several orders, always made to a friend or a relative within the States, as I live abroad.

Now I am traveling for business, and wanted to redeem my points in exchange for few cool items (on top of additional purchases, of course), but I can only add 1 item per order batch.

Can you please consider a one-time dismiss of this term? It will assist me a lot, and not only because I will end up paying less for delivery. It’s just much easier, especially considering the fact that I visit the US only once every 10 years or so – that’s it.

Let’s be honest, I will buy the items anyway, but it would be great to feel appreciated, if you can allow me to add several GeekPoints items within a single delivery.

Many thanks in advance, and hey – you are doing a hell of a job.”

The auto reply was sent few hours later (Ticket #DZI-91643-712), stating that an answer should be provided within 1 business day.

Two days later, I received this odd message that is officious in one paragraph and then chipper-happy-friendly in the next:

“Thank you for contacting ThinkGeek!

I apologize but that is nothing something we can override. Customer Service Monkeys are not able to alter or adjust point redemptions for customers so we wouldn’t be able to make the accommodation for you.

Should you have any questions, comments, or concerns, our army of Customer Service monkeys are merely an e-mail or phone call away!


Your Customer Service Minion Overlord”

Ha-ha. Really cute with the “Customer Service Minion Overlord” title, but if they’re so charmingly non-corporate with their titles, why are they taking such a formal, corporate approach to the issue? That’s what you call a branding failure – when your behavior is not in line with the image you’re hoping to create in the customer’s mind.

From a CRM perspective, can’t they bend a rule once in a while? It’s not like they are going to lose money – my shopping cart of more than $150 in items was already packed and ready to be ordered. All I asked for was instead of being restricted to the one freebie they’d allow me to include three freebies (say that 10 times really fast!) in the order this one time.

Think about what would happen if your VIPs actually had to comply with all the obligations and terms of your program – no exceptions! That’s right – soon you would have no VIPs. The general principle of successful CRM is that as long as you increase both the lifetime and the value of your end-user, you’re heading in the right direction.

So I sent a second request:

“I respect the fact that as a rep you probably have less tools to deal with such a case, but can’t you please escalate it? Again, it’s not like you are going to be losing money or anything – I am going to have a purchase of $150-$200! What you can lose, is probably loyalty, which might worth a lot more than that…”

This time, the firm reply came quickly:

“Being a Minion Overlord, I’m actually part of the supervisory staff here at ThinkGeek. I’m not quite sure how the system allowed you to enroll in the program; however, it is only suppose to allow enrollments for customers who reside within the United States or Canada. So technically you shouldn’t even be able to accrue points. I apologize if this is not the answer you are wanting; however, we are unable to override that request.”

Fantastic, isn’t it? Not only can they not help at all, they even question the legality of the points that I as their customer have already earned! From their point of view, that’s pretty much the end of the story.

Well, some people don’t like to be placed in certain situations, and I’m one of those people. My response:

“Got it.

So let’s make it easy for you – in order to prevent such an anomaly in which a reckless customer collects points in mischief, I will stop being a customer.

Please show yourself the way out of my life.”

Next the Minion Overlord issued a response that sounds like his title is not meant in jest, and the minions in question are not ThinkGeek staff but customers:

“Once again, I do apologize; however, per the terms of the Member Agreement this information is all listed. Upon the enrollment into the program, you were referred to this same page to ensure you understood the terms and conditions. You may review it by visiting the link provided below.


If you would like us to delete the account and Geek Points enrollment, simply let me know and I will be happy to accommodate.”

Okay. They’ve won. They’ve shown who has the bigger monkey.

Is that the end of it? No – we can all be monkeys in service of a greater Overlord: The Overlord of Treating Customers Well! Here’s how you can help our cause. Link to this blog post on ThinkGeek’s Twitter account (https://twitter.com/thinkgeek) as many times as possible.

Use this link in your Tweet: http://bit.ly/TqtIuT, and let’s see if we can get one of their PR people to actually try to resolve this.

After all, their products are unique, so it’s a shame we cool nerds can’t enjoy the buying experience, knowing we won’t be appreciated for our business. If retention-wise it’s less than perfect, it can’t do the trick for us – hot geeks or not.

PS: We are going to Vegas! And you are not. HA! Oh, you are? Let’s meet!

— “ThinkGeek Loyalty Program Terms”CLICK HERE for the latest news on this case

About iGamingCRM Blog

Shahar Attias, CEO www.hybridinteraction.com "Care to Make it Interesting?"
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