Two Recent Consumer Experiences

I wrote several blog posts recently about organizational transformation efforts at Zappos.Com. I figured I should check out their customer service so I ordered a pair of casual shoes. I really liked the shoes and wore them often for about 10 weeks. But when I turned them over I saw that the heels of each were coming apart.

The online instructions were clear and easy to follow. I boxed the shoes up and sent them—postage free–off to Zappos. Two days later, I received a cheery email telling me that the package had survived its travels and that my credit card was credited the full amount of the shoes.

A typical customer service email from Zappos:

Hello Tom, Thank you for contacting the Zappos.com Customer Loyalty Team. My name is Lui, the Comics Guy, and I’m happy to help you today. On behalf of the whole Zappos family, you are very welcome! We like to consider ourselves more of a service company that happens to sell different products. It is our goal to give you the best shopping experience you can find. We are happy that you are happy! Thank you for being an awesome customer and taking the time out of your day to share your kind words with us. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any questions, concerns, or Super Villains that need stomping! For now, I must go back to my secret hideout, to keep watch over everyone, protecting them from evil-doers and delivering happiness to all the citizens of Zappos City! Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you, we’re here 24/7. Have a super day!

I will visit Zappos.Com again.

About the same time, I ordered a $1.00 look at my credit report at Experian.com. The process went well and I got my look at my credit report. My credit card was charged appropriately. I liked our transaction. A week later, I noticed a charge for $21.95 from Experian for a “credit tracker.”   I hadn’t knowingly ordered anything from Experian.

I went back to Experian.com and found the fine print—right under the link (above the link would be a better place for consumers) I clicked to order the $1.00 credit review. I had unwittingly become a trial member in something and had a week to cancel my online order or I would be charged $21.95 each month for my permanent membership.

Perhaps this is just an example of buyer beware. Technically I had ordered the product and Experian had provided it to me. Maybe I should just chalk it up to experience and be more careful reading the fine print. But I felt scammed: the fine print was in a small font and it was easy for my eye to miss it as my attention focused on the large link pointing to get your credit report and FICO score. Once I clicked, I moved to another page. In hindsight, I was also suspicious about not receiving any information during the trial week. When you join up with something on the Internet, you always get a ton of emails telling you about your new product. But not this time. I imagined they didn’t want to alert consumers that they had become members of something for fear they would realize their mistake and cancel. But they were sure quick to bill me $21.95 as soon as the “free trial” expired.  I wasn’t alone: I found hundreds of complaints about the same issue at http://www.consumeraffairs.com/privacy/experian.html

My wife and I had to search the Internet to find an email for Experian customer service (from a site that helps people cancel services with Experian). I wrote and cancelled my membership. I also asked that my credit card be credited for the purchase I had not wanted, didn’t know I had made and hadn’t ever seen. They didn’t reverse the charge. What reputable company would not immediately refund the price of a minor product purchased in error by an unwitting customer who didn’t want or even receive the product? Only a company who wants the $21.95 more than they want a relationship with the customer.

Experian violated our new relationship.

I disputed the charge with my bank and asked if I could block Experian from making charges to my account—as I don’t trust them to cancel my membership in whatever club I had joined.

I like to be treated with respect; I don’t like to be treated with disdain. I will be saying nice things about Zappos for a long time and I will buy from them again soon. I will be warning others about Experian. I will not do business with them again.

My letters to the Better Business Bureau and to the Minnesota Attorney General are ready to go into the mail.

We do what we can.

Hiking the Sonoran Desert

Alone in the silence, I understand for a moment the dread which many feel in the presence of primeval desert, the unconscious fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they cannot understand, to reduce the wild and prehuman to human dimensions. Anything rather than confront directly the anti-human, that “other world” which frightens not through danger or hostility but in something far worse—its implacable indifference.
Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Click on images to see a larger photo.

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My Big Brother–A Good Person

My father lived with quiet dignity. Scott Heuerman

Life changed in a moment for my brother Allan and his wife Phyllis on April 19, 2015.

Driving home from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport after a three-week trip out West, the anticipation of almost being home ended for Allan and Phyllis when their car was rear ended, pushed across the interstate freeway and rolled on its side in the median. It took a rescue squad 45 minutes to cut them free from their totaled car.

After five hours in an ER, there was good news: Allan had a bad cut on his hand and two broken ribs. Phyllis had bruises and a headache. But there was also bad news for Allan: X-rays found enlarged lymph nodes and lesions in several places.

The weeks that followed were difficult: invasive tests that failed to locate the cancer, ambulance rides to emergency rooms for a fall that broke his ankle and another fall that required stitches in his forehead and on his face. Surgery to remove a lesion that had traveled to his brain from some unknown place elsewhere in his body. Then he contracted pneumonia.  I wanted to protect him from pain and fear but I couldn’t.

Phyllis needed help and I set out for Maryland. Not fond of airports or airplanes, I drove. I would be there in less than two days. I was about two hours from the hospital when he left us on July 2, 2015—unexpected until near the end. Phyllis and his children—Scott and Susan— were at his side. The cause of death was pneumonia brought about by cancer of an unknown origin.  We had talked on the phone the weeks before and I knew he loved me and he knew I loved him.

I felt angry at the unfair decline and loss of physical control that humiliated Allan. Allan was a good man: kind, caring and compassionate—a model for everyone who knew him. He deserved better from life and from death.

Why did this horrible sequence of events happen to him? No reason, just random biology. Nature is without values. Being a good person must be its own reward.

My daughter wrote to me from Minneapolis: “I am so sorry. Allan was one of the good guys.”

I thought about Allan often during his last weeks and in the days before his funeral. I thought of what a good guy he was: humble, gracious and soft-spoken. I remembered as a young child, Allan would make up scary stories and tell them to my younger sister and me in the upstairs back bedroom of my grandpa’s home and country store. He scared us and we felt excited. And we loved him for it.

I was about 9 or 10 and Allan was home from college. He gave me a dollar to go to the movie. The movie cost $.15 so I had $.85 to spend, which for a kid with a sweet tooth was easy to do. I got home and Allan said, “Where’s my change?”

Oops, the thought that he would want change back had not entered my mind. I said, “I dropped it in Lake George on the way home.” He let my preposterous fib pass and didn’t say another word.

As adults, we lived far from one another. Too much time went by without seeing one another and I regret that. As we got older, Allan and I went to Africa together on a photo safari and traveled and photographed together out West and in West Virginia.

As the years passed, we visited more on the phone and via email. We saw each other almost every year thanks to Allan and Phyllis who worked hard to keep the family relationships together.

At the end of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” an aged Ryan visited the grave of the soldier played by Tom Hanks, who had saved him. Ryan was an average man who worked, raised a family and lived an everyday life. He knelt at the grave and beseeched his wife: “Tell me I’m a good man. Tell me I’ve led a good life.”

Allan was smart and had great success in his career and community. He had a gentle heart—he was our mother’s son. He was the best of us. He lived an active life until he no longer could. He was, most of all, a good person, not always an easy thing to be in our world. He and his life mattered.

My reflections on my big brother and the life he lived deepened my awareness of his spiritual essence. I feel grateful for the dignity and decency he showed us.

Phyllis described her husband as an “extraordinary, ordinary man.”

That he was.