Getting Ripped off at the Gas Pump and Doing Something About ItIt’s funny how something as simple as purchasing gas can turn into a challenge when the people you are dealing with are unreasonable. This is exactly the situation in which I found myself a few weeks ago when I stopped at our local gas station to fill my tank. As I was trying to use my credit card to make the purchase, a voice from the clerk inside advised me that the credit card readers were not functioning and that I would need to use cash to make my gasoline purchase. As I look back on the situation now, I should have taken my business down the street, but at the time I didn’t believe there would be any problems making a simple purchase using cash.

The gas station also serves as a mini-market, pizza maker, sandwich shop, donut vendor, breakfast burrito distributor, and oh, yes, it sells gas as a way of drawing the public in. As I entered, the clerk asked me how much gas I wanted to buy and I said I wanted to fill it up. She asked me how much I thought the car would need and I gave a guess that about $20 should do just fine. I presented her with a $20 bill and returned to my car and began the refueling process. I was only able to squeeze in $15 worth of gas and I returned inside to the counter to get my $5 change.

This was when the fun and games began. I explained that my tank only took $15 to fill up and I thought I would receive my $5 back. The clerk told me she had no way to confirm that I only took $15 worth of fuel, to which I replied she could come out to the pump and see for herself. She informed me that she was alone and that her assistant was late coming in to the store. She informed me that I would have to see the store manager in the morning and that I would have to return then.

I returned the following morning and the same clerk was present and brought the manager to the counter. I explained the situation and was amazed when the manager told me she had no way to confirm my purchase of only a $15 nor would she return the $5. I asked her if she thought I would be returning if I wasn’t owed what I considered a small sum of money. I also asked if she was calling me a liar and she had no response. I left making a comment that this wasn’t over yet. As I drove home I thought to myself how ridiculous this situation had become over such an insignificant amount, especially since this gas station was a nationally owned company and could well afford a lousy $5.

Upon returning home, I thought I would call the company, but my wife suggested that I wait a day to calm down. Heeding her opinion, I waited until the following day and went to the company’s website in search of a phone number. Instead of calling, I noticed the company had a customer service email for public use. I reiterated everything I mentioned above, left my cellphone number, and requested that I be contacted.

A few hours later I received a phone call from a person who identified themselves as a VP in charge of customer relations. I was informed that the manager of the store was standing by and that she would personally be waiting to return my $5 and offer an apology. In addition, he was emailing me a coupon for a free pizza (I had previously eaten pizzas from there, and they were not a gastronomical delight — a little too greasy for my tastes — and I am a huge fan of Papa Murphy take and bake pizzas) as well as for drinks as a token of the company’s appreciation for doing business at its gas station.

I did return to the station and was given my $5 as well as an apology. I wasn’t gloating in my conquest — in fact, it was a pain having to go through all of the hoops for five bucks.

So what did I learn from this experience? To me it was more convenient to send an email for two reasons:

  • The email provided me with proof that I had contacted the company.
  • By emailing I was able to keep my emotions and anger in check.

I also learned that big companies will listen to customers who feel they have received poor customer service on the local level.

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Sean Hackbarth