Sometimes Complaining Works

Sometimes it works to be a complaining customer.

First let me give you some background. It has been a regular practice for truckstops to give truck drivers free coffee when they purchase at least a minimum level of fuel, most times around 50 gallons. This free coffee extended all the way up to filling the half gallon thermos I cart around.

About a year ago or so some truckstop chains tried to change this tradition and add coffee as a profit center to their operations. One chain, Pilot, has introduced "upscale" coffee selections to what they offer, I guess in an attempt to compete with Starbucks or something. Along with this change they also started offering "Driver Payback Points" at 1 cent per gallon of diesel. I will observe that this change was probably greatly appreciated by truck drivers who do not drink coffee since these points could be used to purchase anything in the store.

A few months back Pilot also raised their price for thermos refills from $1.39 to $1.49 (before taxes) which further irked me. You see, I probably average about 100 gallons when I fill my tanks. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but the average is probably somewhere close to 100 gallons. This means that the driver payback points did not cover my thermos refill even when the price was $1.39 let alone after the increase. I wanted my free coffee back!

When I was headed for home last month, on May 23rd, I stopped in at the Pilot in Greenville, VA. While completing my transaction, including paying for my thermos of coffee, I started giving hell to the poor gal who was manning the register about how I wanted free coffee back. The gal tried to give me the corporate line and tried to explain the advantages of the change, but to her I must have seemed unreasonable. I was having none of that and continued to insist that I wanted free coffee. Finally the poor lady had enough of my shit and told me that the corporate regional manager was on the premises and he was the one I really needed to take this up with. I said great, just point him out to me while thinking "Great, somebody with some clout. I'd prefer speaking with the "national" manager, but if the regional guy is all that is available, that will have to do."

The gal introduced me to the regional manager and I immediately launched into him with my concerns. He tried to explain the reasoning behind the changes. I told him, that as a customer, I was not happy with the changes, that his competitors, such as Petro, Loves and Flying J still gave free coffee to truck drivers. The manager explained that while the competitor's coffee might be free, it was "bottom of the barrel" when it came to coffee. I replied "Bullshit. There is nothing wrong with their coffee. I do not want Starbucks coffee. I want a good, fresh jug of traditional American coffee and I want it as cheap as possible. You can't get cheaper then free."

The manager thanked me for voicing my concerns, and I thanked him for hearing me out. I then went back to my truck and broadcast on the CB. "Here's your chance fellahs. The regional manager for Pilot is on the premises. I gave him an earful of how I wanted free coffee back. You might want to take the opportunity to voice your complaints as well."

After a few days at home, I headed back out on the road at the beginning of June. My first fuel stop was again at a Pilot. Prominently displayed, where truck drivers could not help but notice, was a sign announcing the cost of refills of thermoses had been decreased to 99 cents. Part of the sign was the statement "Good coffee is not good enough."

Could my complaint have yielded results so quickly? Nah, I thought, I had only been home for about 8 days. The sign announcing the change was one of those slick, professionally printed signs. Certainly they could not have decided on the change, gotten the sign designed, printed and posted that quickly.

But one nagging thought I have is that I doubt the regional manager would not have dropped a hint to me to watch for changes if the changes were already in the works. While he might have been sworn to secrecy or something, I doubt he could have resisted the temptation to inform me that changes I would be pleased with were coming.

For those of you who are traveling this summer, and who need a jolt of caffeine to help you keep your eyes open while you travel, let me key you in where to get a good, fresh, cup of coffee. Pull into any truckstop where the diesel fuel islands are bustling or who's parking lot is full of trucks. Truck drivers drain the coffee pots so quickly, no matter the time of day, that the coffee you draw will then be sure to be fresh and not have been sitting there baking for hours at a time. These truckstops also rarely leave the pots empty so that you have to wait for it to be brewed. They know the sooner they can get the truck driver back into his truck and pulling out of the fuel island, the sooner the next truck can start filling up his tanks, and that is where they make their real money.

Every Pilot offers a selection of various coffees. Choices include the House Blend (my favorite), Pure Columbian (which I find pleasing but still avoid because I do not want to get spoiled. It is not available everywhere), Arabica Dark Roast (which I find unpleasant, I think it is the dark roast, because Arabica standard roast is pretty good) and Kenya King (which I have not even gathered the courage to try).

If a fresh cup of "traditional" coffee is all you desire, you can't go wrong with stopping at a T/A, Loves, Flying J or Petro. One warning about the Petro's though, if you want to ensure it is fresh you will probably have to take a walk to the diesel fuel island building which will be apart from the main building. Also do not be intimidated by the "industrial size" vat you will come to at the Flying J. I guarantee you it will be good and fresh. As for Loves, their coffee is 100% Arabica beans, but with a standard roast. Some of the T/A (Travelcenters of America) are starting to offer a selection of various coffees, however I am uncertain whether or how it will take for this to spread to all T/A's. Independent truckstops vary with quality and price. Some offer a great coffee for free still, even without purchase, but some of them want an arm and a leg to fill your jug. But if you do not know ahead of time it will be like playing roulette.

For those of you who are addicted to Starbucks, go ahead and feed your addiction. I know I avoid the Beckley, West Virginia service plaza on the West Virginia Turnpike (unless my thermos is already filled) because when Starbucks moved in the reasonably priced coffee moved out. You used to be able to get a thermos full of Maxwell House there from Burger King for a reasonable price until they opened the Starbucks. I walked up to the Starbucks and they wanted something like 8 bucks to fill my thermos. I told them they could keep it because it couldn't be that good!


Blogger mab778899 said...

I came across this blog during a search and as a Truck Stop manager,I just had to respond, despite the fact that this blog is over 2 years old.
Truck Stops across the nation started offering a free standard size cup of coffee with a diesel fill up (some with a 50 gallon purchase)as a courtesy to the drivers patronizing our stores.Soon,almost all the stops offering this "perk" started experiencing drivers straying from the standard size cup offered to the largest cup to many drivers bringing in a very large thermos(somtimes carrying 2 or 3 with them)all expecting/demanding that any and all coffee containers brought into the store be filled for free.Many employees that tried to explain or enforce the standard size "free cup of coffee" program were often met with verbal abuse and threats of all kinds/types.What started out as a small perk(outside of the free shower that almost each and every driver with a 50 gallon fuel purchase is given along with points that can be used on and toward store purchases)turned into a program that many took advantage of and those same ones that took advantage are now angry that it has either been stopped altogether or there is a charge now for more than the standard cup.What would happen if you walked into any other store and bought $50.00 dollars worth of merchandise and demanded/expected something free each and every single time?-Nothing except you would probably be asked to leave the store for behavior issues alone.Truck Stops are a business, that for some reason, people are always expecting something free from.I spend ALOT of money at Wal-Mart every year and have never been given anything for free.Same principal-think about it.
I hate to burst your bubble ,but your complaining and behavior did not cause any company to change a coffee program in a 5 day period.Any new program of any kind that starts(now matter how small or trivial it seems to the customer) is planned out from top to bottom months in advance-It takes that long to do it.Mangers are advised not to discuss any new program,ect. before the actual start in case of delays,the program being changed or scraped all together.If you tell just one customer about any upcoming program and if that program falls through for some reason,that one customer will be sure to make that store and its employees miserable for a very long time to come.That is why that manager didnt tell you about the coffee changes and was able to "resist" doing so.
In that search for the best places for fresh coffee you really missed the mark.A busy fuel island is one of the last places you are going to find the freshest of coffee.Since gas sales are a total wash for anyone selling fuel(as the profit from the actual fuel sale is very small to say the least -has always been that way and always will)we are in no way in a huge hurry at getting those trucks fueled up and out for the next truck to pull up.Our profits depend on INSIDE sales not those that come from the pump.Showing a customer where an item is located,explaining a product/sevice that is offered,cleaning a restroom,ect will come first over making sure that the coffee(which most wiil expect not to pay for..for some reason )is fresh.Free does not mean the best and usualy isnt.
The freshest coffee is what you make yourself...threats of taking your business elsewhere usually only end up making yourself look bad and employees dreading to have to wait on you and wishing that you make good on the threat and dont return..

10/06/2008 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...

Ridiculous, so truck stops do not make any money on fuel purchases? Then how come your truck stop chain offers me huge discounts on fuel purchases if there is no money to be made on it?

Please tell me exactly which truck stop you manage so that I can avoid it. Evidently you do not value my business and you hinted that you would rather not see customers like me inside your facility. OK, I'll take my as much as 300 gallon at a time business elsewhere since you do not want it.

I am fairly certain you manage at either a corporate (non-franchise) TA or Pilot. I'll just head for the closest Petro (aligned with TA but all franchises) or Loves in your area. They give me discounts on fuel, free showers, loyalty points AND roll out the red carpet with free coffee. If you do not want my business, they do.

By the way, I have high expectations of what I mean by free coffee. My expectations qualify for being labeled an abuser by you. I typically carry two half gallon thermoses in with me after I fill up my fuel tanks. I do not object to having to pay for the second, but most times have no problem getting both filled for free where free coffee is offered. You see, I typically do not fill up until I need over 200 to 250 gallons of fuel at a time. Most times I hear something like "No charge. You have a good day and hurry on back."

Now you see why so many truck stops and truck stop chains are having financial problems. They're willing to hire managers that chase away customers. They hire managers who think there is more profit from charging for two thermoses of coffee then comes from selling 250 gallons of diesel.

10/04/2009 06:56:00 AM  
Blogger Little David said...

I can't help but double post/comment. I really want to know exactly which truck stop this lady manages at. She states that "...we are in no way in a huge hurry at getting those trucks fueled up and out for the next truck to pull up."

I have plenty of options from truck stop chains offering me huge discounts. To get at this cheap fuel I am willing to endure moderate lines however if the lines are too long I will go elsewhere.

I want to know exactly which truck stop is encouraging long lines. The one that this lady manages. I'll be more then happy to take my 250 gallon purchase somewhere else. I want to get in, make my purchase and get out. If the management is motivated to make me wait in line to make my purchase, I want nothing to do with them. Oh, I also want free coffee.

10/04/2009 07:33:00 AM  

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