In Spring 2007 I coached a youth baseball team in Provo, Utah. My wife Whitney and I had just started dating and she helped me out. When the season came to a close, the City of Provo expressed gratitude by giving me a $10 gift card to Ben and Jerry’s.
The following year Whitney and I, now married, found the gift card and decided to go out for ice cream. We jumped in the car and headed to Ben and Jerry’s, only to learn that it was no longer in business. Unfortunately, there were no other shops open in Utah.
Time passed and we forgot about our gift card. We moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, got jobs, had kids, and continued on with our lives.
In 2014, after completing my first year of business school at BYU, we headed to Scottsdale, Arizona to visit my parents. Completely out of the blue, Whitney did a quick Google search and found a Ben and Jerry’s nearby. Almost by fate, there was a shop just a few miles from where we were staying.
We jumped in the car and started the short drive, joking that almost seven years later we were finally going to use the gift card.
But it wasn’t to be. We walked around the entire strip mall and found no sign of Ben and Jerry’s. After asking around, we learned that it had also gone out of business.
A few months later we were in Valencia, California, visiting Whitney’s parents. We tracked down a Ben and Jerry’s shop nearby and planned to stop by after a movie. Having been fooled twice already, we called in advance, just to make sure it was still operating.
Whitney and I ordered our ice cream and handed the gift card to the store owner. He inspected the card for a few seconds, then told us that our card wasn’t valid at his store. “You’re kidding me,” I said. “What do you mean it isn’t valid?”
We were told, in a rather rude voice, that this particular card could only be used at the store where it had been purchased. “You don’t understand,” I tried to explain. “That Ben and Jerry’s is in Utah. And it went out of business years ago.”
“Not my problem,” he said. “Now please, I have other customers to help. Do you want to pay with cash or card?”
As I pleaded our case, Whitney noticed a stack of gift cards, identical to the one we had tried to use, on a shelf behind the owner. She pointed this out to him, and he only grew more obstinate.
Frustrated by how poorly he had treated us, we handed him back our ice creams and walked out. Once again, our goal of redeeming a simple gift card had been unsuccessful.
I figured it was time to throw in the towel, but Whitney wasn’t ready to give up. She decided to write a letter to Ben and Jerry’s Corporate office.
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc.
30 Community Drive
South Burlington, VT 05403-6828
Santa Clara, CA 95050
To whom it may concern:
I love ice cream. So, having a gift card to Ben and Jerry’s was very exciting for me. After moving a couple of times, we finally found a shop that was in business. Unfortunately, the owner turned us away. He said that they ‘do not use those kinds of cards anymore’, and only the new cards were valid.
We were very bothered at this treatment, as the gift card does not have an expiration date. and the owner confirmed that they once used these kinds, and there were still a stack of these on his shelf. In short, my husband and I were treated poorly.
We promised never to go back to Ben and Jerry’s because of this treatment and policy, as we had an honest gift card with no expiration date and were unable to use it.
So, we are left with a genuine $10 gift card which was given to us and we were excited to use, but are now unable for no logical reason. Enclosed is the gift card which I have carried in my wallet for years. I would appreciate an updated gift card in the amount of $10 to replace this ‘outdated’ card.
To Ben and Jerry’s credit, within a few weeks we received a new gift card valued at $10. With that card was a letter apologizing for the hassle this may have caused.
Last Saturday, Whitney and I decided it was time to give it another try. We found a babysitter for our two kids and with great anticipation headed to the Ben and Jerry’s in downtown San Jose.
We walked into the shop and were immediately greeted by a friendly, energetic young man. There were no other customers in the store, so we had plenty of time to make a decision. Whitney got Chocolate Fudge Brownie and I ordered The Tonight Dough (starring Jimmy Fallon). Everything was going smoothly.
The moment of truth came. Whitney handed him our gift card, and after a few seconds he apologized. The card wasn’t processing and he would need to call his manager. He invited us to start eating while he figured out what was wrong.
We found a table and started enjoying the ice cream. After a few minutes I glanced up and saw the young man still on the phone. Several customers had since walked into the store and were waiting in line.
After finishing our ice cream, we noticed he had ended the call and walked to the counter. He told us that he was unable to process the card, but his manager had told him not to worry about it. We thanked him for his kindness and walked out the door.
So, what’s the purpose of this story? That if at first you don’t succeed, you should try, try again? That shortsighted store policies can drive frustrated customers to share their poor experiences with others? Or is the lesson that if you write an articulate, level-headed letter to a company, they’ll seek to right what’s been wronged?
I’m not quite sure. But after carrying that gift card around for years, I’m grateful we could finally enjoy a scoop of ice cream and a laugh. Almost a decade later, the journey was complete.
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