MY BLOG  November 15

How to get a response from a CEO

What happens when the head honcho gets put on blast

by Dean Ferraro, EA

A few day ago I needed some printer paper. 

While out running errands, I stopped by my local Staples store to grab a ream of it. As soon as I walked in, front and center, was a pallet of copy paper for $3.99 (with some fine print attached to it).

Does fine print infuriate you? It makes me frustrated. It means I am subject to something else in order to buy something. Great way to make a sale, Staples.

I leaned in a little closer and read the fine print. $3.99 after Easy Rebate. I guess Staples assumed I knew what an easy rebate was. When I tried to check out, it became obvious I didn't.

The poor guy who rang me up insisted my paper cost $8.74. I insisted it was only $3.99, that taxes hadn't gone up that fast since Obama took office (or had they?) and there was no way it could cost $8.74.

I politely asked what was needed "to get the $3.80 rebate"?

The cashier stated that once i handed over my name, address, and phone number I could get the rebate. However, he also informed me the check would be mailed at a later date (so I couldn't give them a FAKE address, sorry Albertson's loyalty card program).

At this moment, with a line of customers behind me, I felt pressured.

Pressured to get on with the sale, hand over my personal details, buy an over-priced ream of printer paper and wait for a check for $3.80.

I declined and walked out.

After wasting 15 minutes, not buying a ream of paper, back to square-one, I decided someone at Staples needed to hear about my experience.

I think the "Easy Rebate" is a customer data collection scam. They give you a paltry $3.80 off if you provide your name, address, phone number, blood type, marital status, and political party affiliation (well maybe not the last three).

I am not a fan of giving away my information to buy something, privacy in our country is under fire, and felt this easy rebate setup was saying my personal information was only worth $3.80.

"Boom! I have an idea!"

Back into the store I went, I snapped a quick picture of the display for proof. Then I was off to Google, looking for the CEO of Staples' email address. 

In 0.000345 seconds (Google is fast!) I found CEO Ron Sargent's real email address at Staples.

I once heard if you want a decision made fast, talk to the gate keeper. Mr. Sargent would qualify here.

The title of my email was: Bait and Switch Tactics have sent me to Walmart.

Ouch! If there is one way to get a CEO's attention, it is to highlight his company's failure to keep customers away from the monster of rock-bottom pricing, the leader of marketshare in retail, WallyWorld. CEOs take that stuff personally.

Here's an excerpt from the email:

As a Kings fan, it kind of makes me bummed that your name is all over the rink they play in and you demand a customer's name and address for a paltry $3 rebate. It's a sad day when marketing techniques such as your "easy rebate" program are used in a futile attempt to get customer data. Using that data with the hope of growing quarterly earnings with it, to satisfy the Street. I highly recommend marketing guru Seth Godin as required reading. You have lost my business as of today. I'm sorry for that.


I got a call from the Staples GM of my area, Will, who was a very nice guy, listened to me and agreed with my points about the easy rebate program. He said that their CEO got my email and heard my message.

He agreed that he didn't like giving out his information for purchases, too.

Will reminded me that his local in-store-manager could have taken care of my issue. My reply to him was that I like talking to CEOs since that is where the real change in an organization can take place.

I told manager Will I purposely jumped the chain-of-command since as a customer, I am at the top of it and can speak directly with the man in charge. Remember: No customer, no business. 

Will offered me a $20 gift card at Staples and hoped that I would do business with them again. My hope is that my customer feedback will give Ron Sargent, CEO and Staples a chance to reflect on what customers really want: lower prices and less invasion of privacy to get them.

Result #2:

I still bought a ream of 400 sheet Georgia Pacific printer paper from Walmart for $2.50. God bless America.

Interesting Side Note:

Ask my mom about the time she casually said, "that Taco Bell didn't taste as fresh as Del Taco" to David Novak, CEO of Taco Bell while she checked him in to his flight at John Wayne Airport. That one comment sparked a "Freshness" campaign three months later with the slogan "if you don't like it, we'll eat it." My mom doesn't like to take credit for the change at Taco Bell but I firmly believe she was the cause of it.

Thanks, Lou DiGiandomenico for showing me that real customer feedback is a good thing.