The Power of the Internet
Over the past month and a half, I’ve had two occasions where I directly experienced the true power the Internet gives us as consumers.
The first incident had to do with getting Christmas lights installed on the house. In our old home, the house was single story with a relatively low pitch roof, so I had no problems installing lights myself. However, the house we live in now is two story and with a high pitch roof, so with the decision of wanting to keep the ability to walk (by not falling off the roof), I chose to pay for installation last year. The company I chose was a recommendation by a neighbor, and had already done several homes in the neighborhood. The deal is, you purchase the lights once and pay for install and take down. They will replace bulbs and store your lights for free and subsequent installs are cheaper, paying for labor only. Sounds great, right? Anyway, they came out, did their thing, were a little late and had some broken bulbs in the yard, but no big deal….all was good.
Christmas time rolls around this year, it’s the first week of November, I’m at UDS and my wife gets a call from the company about re-installation. The price quoted was a bit higher than I expected, given it was just for installation and take-down, so I told my wife not to get them..deciding that we should shop around. Now there is some discrepancies with the details of the conversation, but I was told that this was done…cool. A couple weeks roll by, and I’m sitting in my home office…making Ubuntu kick ass for the cloud, and I notice a truck pull up, with some men and Christmas lights in the back. Now knowing my neighbors were getting lights installed and that I wasn’t, I paid no mind and continued working….until I heard a ladder being placed against my house and saw a man with lights in his hand in my yard. I quickly ran outside and told them I hadn’t requested lights this year, and there must have been a misunderstanding, he was fine with it and moved on to our neighbors house to install their lights….everything going fine so far.
Later that evening, my wife gets a call from the owner, asking if perhaps his guys went to the wrong house for our order. She explains that she was under the impression that because she never gave him a credit card number, and he never called back to confirm install, that there was no installation occurring (for the record, apparently they had called and left a message that they were coming to install lights that morning, but neither one of us were home, and I hadn’t noticed the message indicator on the phone). The owner then proceeded to say he understood and that he normally charges $50 for a travel fee, but would cut us a break for $25. Uhh…WTF?! Why am I being charged for his mistake? Especially when he had to come out any way for the neighbor’s house. Well needless to say, I called him back expressing my dissatisfaction with the charge, and that I wasn’t going to pay it. The owner proceeded to tell me my wife had agreed to the visit (no proof of course), that he was trying to run a business and he lost money by us cancelling a slot he could have filled, and that it was “only $25”. At this point, my eyes go green as I begin to Hulk out and I tell him that:
- I trust my wife and you never sent an invoice, email, or letter confirming the purchase (leaving a message on the day of the visit doesn’t count with me, sorry)
- You were already coming to our neighborhood, so you lost 30min at most…of which I was sure he could fill due to the “backlog and crazy rush” they told me they had…hence the pressure to install early.
- If it’s “only $25” then he didn’t need to bill me for it.
Then I hung up, reaffirming that I was not going to pay a $25 visit fee. Still livid, I then posted this to facebook and decided to let my opinion count..on Yelp:
“Christmas Guys are crap. I ordered lights last year, and their install crew arrived late and left broken bulbs all over my property. They called back this year to re-install my lights for $350…not even $50 less than the 1st installation, that supposedly included purchase costs of the bulbs. My wife told them we’d think about it, they went ahead and scheduled the install. Luckily I was home, and told the crew I didn’t want the lights and they proceeded to install on the neighbors 3 doors down. Josh calls us that evening saying we owed a $50 trip fee, for service I never confirmed…claiming he lost business because of the cancellation. I told him I wouldn’t pay it, and then “reduced” it to $25…and said it was a small fee, so I told him if it’s so small, he doesn’t need it from me. To top it all off, I never received the lights I supposedly purchased.”
After posting, I saw a couple other dissatisfied customer posts, and then felt a bit stupid for not checking Yelp! last year…before purchasing, but oh well. So, then I tell myself, that I’m going to find a better deal. Well that didn’t work…one company damn near doubled the price and would store them in my attic. The other took days to call me back, wanted to charge me about $100 more, and I had to lease…yes LEASE the lights.
Just when I had given up hope, my wife got a call from the owner of the company. Apparently, a store he had setup a deal with decided to cancel the contract after seeing my post on Yelp!…justice!!!! Of course now he wanted to “work something out”, in exchange for a follow-up posting. Long story short, I got lights (at a reduced cost) and he got his follow up post. Had he simply said “sorry for the misunderstanding” in the first place, I would have eventually come back to him anyway…avoiding the conflict, the negative posting, and the loss of his contract (which I really do hope he got back).
The second occasion involved my hotel registration at the Sheraton Boston hotel for the LISA’12 conference earlier this month. I registered for the conference and used their code for hotel booking online, saving %30. The original stay was 4 consecutive nights, and payment was pre-paid, non-refundable….makes sense to me. I then reduced my stay to only 2 of those same 4 consecutive nights, again using the online booking system. I expected no refund, and only changed it because I didn’t want my room given away for arriving 2 days late….figuring they might even be able to sell those freed 2 nights to someone else. Well instead of just reducing my length of stay, the system decided to not only keep my $829.99, but charge me an additional $455.28, pre-paid, non-refundable fee for those 2 nights…uh, WTF? After receiving my credit card statement and noticing the double billing, I went online and opened a ticket in Sheraton’s online chat system and had the following conversation with “Laila S.”:
ROBERT WILLIAMSON: I changed the check-in day for a reservation at the Sheraton Boston Hotel. The original reservation confirmation # was 655169251, with a prepay charge of $822.99 for 4 nights. The revised reservation confirmation # was 205201294, and a prepay charge of 455.28 for 2 nights. My credit card ended being billed a total of $1200+ for just 2 nights, and I wanted to know how to correct this, seeing how I did not *cancel* my reservation, only changed the check-in day. Laila S.: Thank you for using Click to Chat, my name is Laila. Laila S.: I am delighted to assist you today. One moment please. Laila S.: I apologize for the delay and appreciate you patience. ROBERT WILLIAMSON: sure, no problem Laila S.: Are you okay to keep holding while I investigate this further? ROBERT WILLIAMSON: sure Laila S.: The first reservation you had was for a Standard Room and the reservation you have now is for a Junior Suite. A Junior Suite is a upgraded room so the rate is typically more. ROBERT WILLIAMSON: the lady at checkin said the upgrade to the junior suite was complementary...as I have the original online receipt showing a standard room ROBERT WILLIAMSON: the issue is that when I changed my checkin days online, the system cancelled my original...charging me a cancellation fee Laila S.: Ok. Thanks for clarifying. Whenever you re-book or change the dates for any reservation the rates and availability are subject to change ie increase or decrease. Laila S.: Prepaid reservations are fully prepaid, non changeable and non refundable. ROBERT WILLIAMSON: hmm...so basically Sheraton charged me twice for the same stay. ROBERT WILLIAMSON: I can understand paying more to extend my stay...but I paid more to shorten it? Laila S.: You got charged for changing a fully prepaid - non refundable non changeable reservation. Laila S.: Most prepaid reservations can not be changed and if they are you are charged a forfeiture amount. ROBERT WILLIAMSON: ok. I understand, though I'm pretty sure this is policy is criminal, but I guess I'll have to speak to my lawyer on that. Thanks
Now of course the lawyer thing at the end was bullshit, but hey…I was pissed, so why not throw it in. Anyway, as with the previous incident, I let my frustrations be known…and I posted to Twitter…several times:
— Robbie Williamson (@undacuvabrutha) December 22, 2011
— Robbie Williamson (@undacuvabrutha) December 22, 2011
I could have just said that I would be 2 days late, avoiding the $455.28 fee. Preferred guest my ass…never staying at #starwood again.
— Robbie Williamson (@undacuvabrutha) December 22, 2011
Minutes later, I received this tweet:
@undacuvabrutha We saw your tweet & would like to help. Could you follow us & DM us w/ your stay details so we can follow up w/ the hotel?
— Sheraton (@sheratonhotels) December 22, 2011
Long story short…I got the full $829.99 refunded back! For the record (and I told Sheraton this), I didn’t have a problem with the stay being non-refundable, and would have accepted them keeping the full 4 night amount of $829.99 for the reduced 2 nights of stay. However, taking the money for the full stay, and then taking more for the shortened time is effectively double billing, which I suspect is illegal in Massachusetts, as in most, if not all, states. I suggested that perhaps the policy be amended, such that the time of stay for pre-paid, non-refundable bookings can be shortened at no penalty, but there is no reduction in what the customer has already pre-paid.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.
The Internet gives us a way to voice our opinions…in social status updates, online reviews, blogs, mailing lists, etc. Don’t discount the power it gives you, when you feel you’ve been unfairly treated or slighted in anyway. With that said, never forget that with great power comes great responsibility, as you could end up being in the wrong, and by making a public statement about it, open yourself up to embarrassment and beratement. In both cases, my intention was never to take away business or harm their images….I just wanted to be treated fairly…ethically. So in both instances I promptly made it clear in my tweets and Yelp! posting, that the respective business had done the right thing….because in the end, I feel that’s all we really want…for people and businesses to do the right thing.