Some background: About an hour before the party, I stopped by my local Dairy Queen and purchased an ice cream cake for $27. From there, I drove it to Saddle Rock Gymnastics and placed it inside the party room’s freezer. Within 45 minutes, my daughter and 13 of her friends arrived at the facility and were lead through a host of activities in the gym for the next hour.
Per the instructions on the container, about 20 minutes before the girls entered the party room, my wife removed the ice cream cake from the freezer. Within 30 minutes, the girls had entered the party room and were seated around the table, eagerly anticipating a slice of Dairy Queen ice cream cake.
About that time, my wife attempted to cut into the cake with a serrated stainless steel cake knife. Remarkably, she was unable to penetrate the frozen cake. Her father then attempted to cut the cake without success. Our quick-thinking nanny then heated the blade with a lighter but it still would not pierce the hardened cake. Although a tight fit, the cake was pressed into a microwave in hopes of softening it enough to serve the girls. This too was unsuccessful.
By now, the cake had been out of the freezer for 50 minutes and still was unable to be served. Since our group’s allotted time in the party room was coming to an end, my wife regretfully shared with the girls that there would be no birthday cake.
No cake served at an 8-year-old birthday party? Say it isn’t so!
Later, my wife and I returned to Dairy Queen with the frozen block of cake, explained what had happened, and requested a refund. (We based our refund request on the fact that Dairy Queen had delivered a cake at noon with instructions to “store frozen” and “place at room temperature 15 to 20 minutes before serving” that we were unable to serve two hours later due to it being frozen solid.)
The young manager we spoke with denied our refund request citing Dairy Queen’s non-refundable cake policy. Although I disagree with it, the policy is in place to protect Dairy Queen against fickle consumers who may disagree with the shade of red used in the cake’s decoration. Our issue was different (we were unable to consume the cake because it was frozen solid) and should have been handled differently.
Had I picked up the cake the day before and stored it overnight in my own freezer, I would have attributed the mishap to my freezer being too cold. But I didn’t store it overnight—Dairy Queen did. It’s clearly plausible that the cake was stored in conditions that were colder than intended but the manager would not consider this possibility. When my wife asked him for the name of his regional manager, he said, “She doesn’t like us to give out her contact information. Let me take your information instead and I’ll pass it on.”
This is telling. Here you have a situation where a loyal, well-intentioned customer has detected a problem and chooses to bring it to leadership’s attention and, rather than capture the feedback and improve, the executive prefers to insulate herself by discouraging contact. It’s no wonder the disempowered manager we encountered had no authority to refund the purchase price of the cake.
If anyone from Dairy Queen takes the time to read and consider this post, before you congratulate the manager for “saving” the company $27 by adhering to policy, read up on customer lifetime value (CLV) and consider the fact that I live 4.3 miles away and have four young children who love ice cream. If “saving” $27 costs you $2,700, it’s not an effective policy.
And recognize the fact that, regardless of demand, individual customers are irreplaceable.
December 11, 2012 update: Yesterday, I received two calls from Carolyn at Dairy Queen headquarters. In her voice mails, she expressed genuine interest in me, my daughter’s cake-less 8th birthday party, and resolving my problem. We connected earlier today and she was as delightful as her voice mails conveyed. She listened, collected a bit more information, committed to follow-up with the franchisee involved, and offered to send me a gift card that would more than offset the refund amount requested. I couldn’t have scripted a better resolution. Now, instead of associating my negative experience with Dairy Queen (while driving past…), I’ll reflect on my call with Carolyn and may just stop in for a Blizzard.