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How to Get a Refund

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The following is a true story that demonstrates how to get a refund. It also provides an example of what I think is a trend of more dishonesty and poorer customer service in many major corporations. I think you'll be shocked by the way Federal Express handled customer service in this case.

It started on September 8, 2009. With a four-ounce jar of cream that was meant to help circulation. We needed to get it to a family member in Ecuador, and fast. Not only was it difficult to find there, but we couldn't even find it where we live. After returning with it from the closest larger city, we brought it to the local shipping store that handles Federal Express packages, and paid $136 to have it arrive in Ecuador in two days.

The important part here, as you'll see, is that everything we were told indicated it would be with the recipient in two days. It was in Ecuador in two days, but then sat in customs as my wife repeatedly called to hear again and again that it would be just a couple more days. Days turned into weeks.

On September 30, long after the need for the cream was past, Federal Express charged our family in Ecuador $15 to come and get it. That charge was presumably mentioned in the small print somewhere, but we didn't know about it, and in a country where the minimum wage amounts to about 80-cents per hour $15 is meaningful. At this point I had enough.

I called Federal Express here in the states and started with, "Hi, I don't want to be rude, but I will be getting a refund before this call is over, so can you get me someone who has the authority to do that?" The woman on the phone assured me that she could help, and proceeded to tell me that the customs delay was not their fault and therefore we didn't qualify for a refund.

"Let me make this as plain as I can," I told her. "It is not your fault that customs is slow, but it is your fault that you didn't mention this possibility. Certainly you have run into this many times, and it is important information for the customer. We paid for two-day delivery, were never told anything to indicate that it would be longer, and would not have used the service if we new it might actually be 22-day delivery. In other words we didn't get anything near what we paid for. Now, can I talk to a manager?"

She put me on hold and a few minutes later came back to tell me that yes, it wasn't our fault that they were short on customs agents (not my point at all). A refund could be issued, but she could only send it to the shipping store that processed the order. It would be better to go there and get the refund, she said.

At the shipping store the clerk said she heard something about the matter. I told her about my call to FedEx and that "she told me to come here to get the refund."

"She who?" the clerk asked.

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize I would have to take names. But I guess I should." I pulled out a pen and some paper. "What's your name, and what's the name of the owner of the store and his phone number?" She told me.

She called the owner, who first said a claim would need to be filed, then decided that the clerk should call Federal Express. She photocopied my receipt and wrote my number on it, promising to call after she resolved the matter. Then, as I was leaving she added, "But if they decide that it was something beyond their control-"

"Then we will still get a refund," I finished. "We will talk to whomever we need to or file in small claims court against your company. Don't take it personally, but you would feel the same if you spent $151 and got nothing close to what you paid for." She agreed, but still didn't seem inclined to help.

As I drove home I realized that a refund was never authorized and the the woman at FedEx. It seemed that her purpose was entirely to give me the run around in the hopes that I would drop the matter. No, if you think that's a pretty awful way to handle customers, wait until you hear what happened next.

At home, I decided to call FedEx again, thinking they could authorize a refund and call the store directly. I spoke to a different woman this time, and forgot to get her name once again. She was very nice, and after a minute or two said she had just credited back my credit card with a refund. Matter resolved - or so I thought.

A moment after hanging up the owner of the shipping store called. I thanked him for the call and told him that FedEx just credited my card.

"I don't see how that's possible," he said. "We don't ever give them your card number. We don't even keep it ourselves after the charge goes through."

"So she outright lied to me?"

"I think so."

He then let me know that it is normal for it to be several weeks to get through customs, but that the package was in Ecuador in two days. I was starting to feel like I was talking to insane people. He asked if we had ever shipped something overseas.

"No, and that's the point isn't it. You know about these delays, but we didn't. Everything we were told indicated we were paying for a two-day delivery. I suggest that you inform customers that there is no such thing. And who cares if it reaches the country in two days? In what way is that relevant to anything? If it went for a cruise around the world for two weeks and then was delivered it would have been faster. The bottom line is that we didn't get what we paid for and were never told we were paying for something else."

I was much more polite than my select quotes might imply, by the way. At some point he seemed to realize that if he were in my place he would feel the same way. He called back an hour later to tell me that FedEx decided to refund the money as a "courtesy" even though we don't technically qualify. He seemed surprised and mentioned that normally it's almost impossible to get a refund even when a package is severely damaged.

I'm sure FedEx still doesn't get it. They might claim it was the fault of the store, but the store is acting as their agent. They need to tell their agents to notify customers of possible and especially normal delays. The "fault" of the delay is irrelevant if not mentioned as a possibility at the time of payment. Suppose you had flowers delivered for a birthday and they came three weeks late. Would the cause matter? Unless the flower store notifies customers "you will still be charged if our driver gets lost and delivers dead flowers three weeks later" (or at least some generic disclaimer), you would expect a refund.

As an aside, I have to say that I've noticed more and more dishonesty as a "normal" part of many businesses in recent years. Nonetheless, it was still shocking that two employees of FedEx told me blatant lies. I wonder if this is tolerated in the company - or maybe encouraged?

How to get a refund:

1. Make it clear that you deserve one.

2. Be persistent (two hours was worth $136).

3. Be polite, and attack the stupid ideas, not the people.

4. Put the person you are talking to in your shoes.

5. Make it politely clear that it will be much more trouble and expense for them not to continue fighting you than to just get it over with and issue that refund. Make it clear that you are committed to your goal and have unlimited time.


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