This past Christmas season, I had an unanticipated but nonetheless humbling experience, which began while reading the back of a Pop-Tarts Box. I discovered that it was possible to order customized boxes of Pop-Tarts (of almost any flavor) with a personalized message on the box, plus a picture. I know. I could hardly believe it myself. So, of course, it only seemed natural to purchase two of these trinkets of seemingly endless possibility as Christmas gifts for two of my brothers.
Some brief backstory: my brothers and I are huge into film and TV quotations, and have been regularly known to have whole conversations consisting almost entirely of lines from movies or TV shows. In particular, we have a penchant for reciting lines from all seasons of either Arrested Development or Community.
Thus it seemed fitting for me to cite for my brothers’ yuletide gifts a scene from a Christmas episode from each show, one of which happened to contain the ‘f-word’. This was half the point: the shock of seeing a seemingly innocuous Pop-Tarts box with an emblazoned banner of profanity across the front was too good to pass up. And what’s more, the website actually allowed me to make it! No correction. No censoring. I was able to purchase my comically crude, customized toaster pastries packages without any hassle.
But, as you might expect, some problems arose when I received the following email:
Unfortunately, we’re not able to process your order as it was sent, due to the content of the item. It’s important to have fun when personalizing your box of Pop-Tarts toaster pastries, but we don’t want to leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth with inappropriate words or images.
Please send us a different image or let us know that you would like your purchase refunded.
Some more backstory: historically speaking, I have always let ‘the Man’ go unstuck-it-to in situations like this. Even when I’m in my ‘rights’ as a consumer to demand recompense, I have almost never put up a fight. I’m the type of guy who won’t return to the fast food restaurant if they short me half of my order even if they charged me for all of it. Even if I’m still in the parking lot, more often than not, I’ll just go home and eat whatever’s in the bag.
For whatever reason though, in the case of these Pop-Tarts boxes, I decided that it was high time I took a stand. Now, it’s true that there was no disclaimer whatsoever at any point in the ordering process regarding discretion of content; it is also true that I had purchased both boxes several days before I received the notice that inappropriate content would not be printed. However, though these were the grounds upon which I battled the customer service representative of PopTartsWorld.com via email, I think the only reason I chose to fight was to see if I could get my way—and because I just never had before. It’s not like it didn’t cross my mind that they’d have rules against printing vulgarity on their products, but I decided (though I maybe only half-believed it) that I was entitled to something because of the error of a ‘corporation.’
I began my first assault with bulleted points, succinctly firing my frustration at their negligence. I concluded this email in bullet four, taking my allegiance to their pastries hostage and listing my demands:
…4. I am incredibly irritated with the process of this purchase, and, as a customer and consumer of your products, demand to have the cost of my order refunded, in addition to receiving the customized box with the above stated revision….
But, as if we were having a simple, civilized discussion, rather than the duel I intended to incite, Customer Care sent the following reply:
Good afternoon Jacob,
I am very sorry for the inconvenience. However, we are not able to print this custom box or the one that you wanted to have revised.
There are certain guidelines we have to follow and using the F-word is just not something we are willing to place on our product.
In the future if you would like to place an order that meets our guideline, please feel free to do so. If you have any further questions on what you can have placed on the box, please let us know and we can help you out before you place an order.
Have a wonderful day,
So I fired a few more rounds, using condescending bolds and italics in bullet one to emphasize the sovereign uprightness of my complaint (it should be noted that I did not consult my wife about any of this until after the fact):
1. I would like once again to reiterate that nowhere in the process of customizing a box on your website does it indicate the screening of messages. There is a disclaimer under “Photo Tips” regarding the content of uploaded pictures, but, if I understand correctly, it is not the picture that is considered questionable in my order. It cannot possibly be complicated (at the very least) to put a disclaimer on the website that is clear and easy to find, indicating that inappropriate messages will not be processed. This could have saved me (a paying customer) much time and frustration. You must understand that it is the principle of poor communication, and thus poor customer service, that has me upset, not simply putting the f-word on a box of toaster pastries….
But Customer Care, gracious yet unwavering, replied in straight text:
Good afternoon Jacob,
Your order has already been fully canceled and refunded. If you would like to place a new custom order on our website, please feel free to do so. If you choose to place a new order you will have to pay for the product.
As stated before, there are certain guidelines that we have to follow.
Have a wonderful day,
Perhaps it was Customer Care’s unyielding grace that wore me down. Perhaps it was God’s steady conviction breaking through my stubborn lines of defense. Perhaps it was the fact that I finally talked to my wife Steffeny about my senseless ‘war’ on PopTartsWorld.com. Really, I guess it was all three. But my heart in the matter completely changed, and I felt foolish and guilty, wrong to have needlessly attacked someone I didn’t even know over something I didn’t even care that much about, simply because I thought in some way that I deserved it.
My last email was unloaded, no bullets at all:
This will seem a complete shift in gears, but I apologize for this thread of emails. While it is true that this process has been irritating, my behavior has been absolutely inappropriate.
I think because I felt that I was in the right (and because my default response to situations like this in the past has been simply to take what I’ve been given and grumble to myself), I just wanted to see if my griping would (for once) result in my favor. I’ve worked in retail long enough to know that most people react in these occasions by complaining until the other party (usually a customer service representative, such as yourself) relents to their demands. And, if they complain, petition, or tantrum long enough, most people seem to get what they want—often more than what they wanted originally. I’ve never been one of those people, and this just goes to show that maybe it’s a good thing I haven’t.
All that to say, I’m sorry for acting like a self-entitled child and being ugly to you the past three days. A lot of people think that because they’re dealing with a “company,” there aren’t any human emotions involved in the exchange, so they go for the jugular. Maybe it’s no sweat off your back, but I personally struggle not to take work-stress home with me, and I have a hard time not internalizing such interactions with people. I’m sorry if I’ve been a reason to dread going to work.
I, of course, understand the concept of content guidelines and honestly am not surprised that this was the result of my order. I also understand that you are simply just doing your job—and you’re doing it well.
I still intend to order another (appropriately) customized box (because it is just an awesome idea), and I will also be watching my bank statements for the forthcoming refund.
Thanks for living up to your job title (honestly),
P.S. This might sound like complete nonsense, but you’ve been a channel of the Holy Spirit’s conviction in my heart this week, truly. So thanks, especially, for that.
No worries. 🙂
Have a wonderful day,