Mathew Dickerson talks about how a simple transaction runs dangerously off the rails, all because the merchant doesn’t care about what the customer wants

I have to admit I’m on the run from the long arm of the law at the moment. I am on the run from a debt of $5 from a well-known national franchise. My wife tells me it is a condition known as Grumpy Old Man-ism. I tell her it is just frustration with businesses that don’t listen and understand what their clients want.

I can see myself telling the story to the judge. “You see, your honour, it was a testing time. It had been a long day and my child was sick and vomiting and needed to keep some liquid inside her body. I walked up to the counter of a shop in a busy shopping mall. After lining up and finally reaching the front of the line, I ordered the drinks I needed. Total cost was $11. I pulled out my magic piece of plastic that allows me to shop all over the world. You know the one – the ads tell me ‘for everything else there’s MasterCard’. Surely I can use this to pay for some drinks in a thriving metropolis.

“But no. I was told that it was cash only – but to help me out the pimply faced teen pointed to an ATM and helpfully told me that I could get some cash from there. I looked at the long queue at the ATM and the queue that had now formed behind me – and I refused.

“I checked my watch and asked the young employee if my watch was incorrect or were we in the year 2011? Surely in 2011 in a modern shopping mall in Australia I could use my plastic. So, instead of meekly slinking away to line up at the ATM I emptied the $6 cash I had in my wallet and I told the now confused underling that I needed the drinks and, if he isn’t going to accept my credit card then I can only give him $6.

“He didn’t know what to do. He looked to his fellow assistant for guidance but he simply shrugged.

I was told that it doesn’t work like that. I said that I didn’t care – I wanted my drinks and if he can’t accept payment in a readily acceptable form then he would just have to take less. The clincher for me was when I asked if anyone else ever requests the ability to pay by credit card. When he told me that ‘heaps’ of people want to pay by plastic and they tell the owner all the time, obviously to no avail, it sealed the deal for me.

“I handed over a business card with an IOU written on it for $5 and told him to give that to the owner. I am not sure if the befuddled staff member knew what actually happened but he handed me my drinks valued at $11 and I handed him $6. The crowd behind me cheered. I rest my case.”

Case dismissed!

My children were not sure whether they should roll around and laugh at my behaviour or curl up in a ball and hide from their embarrassing grumpy old dad, but at the end they asked why a business wouldn’t take credit card.

I couldn’t answer them.

I can only assume they want to keep some cash out of the hands of the tax man or they think the fees are too high. My 11-year-old hit the nail on the head though.

She said, “Dad, if they have heaps of people asking to pay with credit card then why can’t they set it up?” If an 11-year-old can see the simplicity of that, surely a business owner can see it.

It is a mistake I see all too often in business. Listen to what your client wants. In the majority, I don’t find clients are ridiculous or ask for stupid things.

The irony of the situation was that sitting on the counter of this business was a survey form and a heading that said, “Tell us what you think”. I didn’t fill it in. It was obvious to me that someone in a marketing department had suggested a client survey form was a good idea but the culture in the organisation was not open or accepting to listen to what clients really needed. It was a waste of my time to fill it in (plus I had to start running before I was arrested).

Tell me your No. 1 frustration with businesses you deal with at I will send a book on business rules to the first 20 people who e-mail me.

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