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ANATOMY OF A REFUND

Updated: Jan 22

It's a jungle out there, but you can do this.



Never get out of the boat... without your warranty, a

notebook, and a few hours to spend on the phone.


I recently bought a new pickup truck. (See THE ART OF THE PICKUP, Part 1 & Part 2.) Out of a level of affection I've never before experienced for a motor vehicle, I named her Bianca. And as if Bianca were a cherished mistress, I've lavished expensive gifts upon her-- protective undercoating, glossy clear-coating, a spray-in bedliner, a fancy custom-made fiberglass bed cap...


...and a steel grille guard:



At their most useless, grille guards are merely macho-looking headlamp eyeliner, like the warpaint occasionally worn by football players and pro wrestlers--


R.I.P. Former WWE World Champion The Ultimate Warrior.


And yet grille guards do serve a practical purpose. Deer strikes are common out where I live, and-- due to unprecedented supply-chain disruptions-- the wait for repairs and/or replacement parts (like, say, a new radiator) might extend to multiple months. With a grille guard in place the poor deer is just as dead, but the vehicle remains fully functional.


My grille guard arrived by a special freight carrier with a lift-gate. It took me about fifteen minutes just to remove the protective wrapping that covered every inch of the tubing and was secured with perhaps a full case of professional-grade packaging tape. After a brief examination I determined that no, I could not possibly install this myself as suggested in the company's literature. (I don't have a hydraulic lift in my garage, after all.) However, the fellow from whom I ordered my fiberglass bed cap was a professional installer of truck components, and he agreed to install the grille guard for a reasonable fee when my cap arrived from the manufacturer.


When the call from the cap guy came, we exitedly dropped Bianca off in the morning for her makeover. My phone rang a few hours later. "Your cap's all set. But there was a... an issue with your grille guard. You might need to send it back to the manufacturer."


My heart sank. I was suddenly out of the boat in the depths of the dark and unmapped jungle... and the adventure was underway.


* * * * * * *


My grille guard is designed to be held in place with six brackets; five of them fit properly, the cap guy explained, but the uppermost driver's-side bracket could not be installed because the holes on the tubing for that mount were mis-aligned. I took multiple evidentiary photos and then sat down for what I knew would be the first of many phone calls.


I contacted REALTRUCK, the distributor. After locating my order and listening patiently, they declared it a warranty issue and referred me to STEELCRAFT, the actual manufacturer.


I navigated the STEELCRAFT thicket from one desk to another across several time zones until I finally got someone with both the knowledge and authority to discuss my issue with me. I emailed him detailed photographic proof of the problem along with contact information for the professional installer who spotted the problem. As we conversed, I gently poked and probed the situation from a variety of angles. This fellow at STEELCRAFT eventually explained that the grille guard was shipped to me either from REALTRUCK or directly from STEELCRAFT... he had no way of knowing without researching the matter further. That gave me a sudden inspiration:


"The product arrived very well packaged and securely wrapped. Tell me-- do you wrap them right at STEELCRAFT, or would you have sent it to REALTRUCK unwrapped?"


"Either way, we wrap them for shipping here," he answered. I realized before he did that I had him trapped.


"So... whether it came from REALTRUCK's inventory or directly from you, it would have been wrapped at STEELCRAFT?"


"Yes."


"And so if had shipped to me from REALTRUCK, they would have had no way of seeing that the holes you drilled and tapped were mis-aligned?"

I know... I should have been a lawyer.


Long silence.


"You, or I should say your company, made two mistakes," I continued. "One of your laborers used a template or maybe a stencil to spot the holes to be drilled, and he or she didn't align it properly. It happens sometimes. But then, what's worse, whoever at STEELCRAFT is in charge of inspecting the work of your laborers failed to inspect this unit before having it packaged and sent out. Am I right, or am I missing something?"


This fellow at STEELCRAFT then abruptly switched gears. "You'll have to take that up with the distributor you purchased it from. We don't deal directly with customers." With fresh coffee and a fully-charged phone & headset, back to REALTRUCK I went.


The folks at REALTRUCK were stunned that STEELCRAFT kicked me back to them; I wasn't. They were somewhat at a loss as to how to resolve this, so I gave them a little guidance--


"I know that YOU are not personally responsible for this problem. I'm not angry at you or anyone else. I just want this issue resolved. I am a patient person, and I know that you need a reasonable amount of time to resolve this. But just so you know who you're dealing with-- I'm a truck driver, and two weeks ago someone road-raged me... blatantly and unsafely. We were on a busy interstate, and he slowed down to 20 MPH right in front of me... close enough to make whatever passive-aggressive point he wanted to make, but also close enough that I could read his vanity plate. After a few minutes on the Internet I now know his name, his address, his profession, his job title and workplace, his phone numbers, everything. I have a photo of his house, and I even considered sending him a Christmas card, but decided not to. I'm not trying to frighten you, but I want to assure you that I never, EVER let certain stuff go."


"Wow."


"And you should also know that I am an experienced writer. I've written over a hundred magazine articles for actual money, and I'm considered articulate and expressive. I got an email from your company a while back requesting that I review my experience. I'm refraining from writing it until this matter is closed. I promise you that no matter what happens, I will give you a 100% honest review... and that if this matter is not resolved in what I consider a fair and reasonable manner, I will take the time to write an EPIC review... something that people will enjoy reading and sharing... a review that might well go viral, bacterial, and maybe even FUNGAL."


She took a deep breath and assured me that they would do everything possible to resolve this as fast as possible. They were very, very sorry for all the trouble and inconvenience. I promised to keep in touch.


I phoned REALTRUCK a few days later. This was indeed a warranty issue, they had decided, and they are taking the matter up with STEELCRAFT. It might take a while, but I could rest assured that REALTRUCK was committed to resolving this. (I learned long ago to NEVER "rest assured" of anything.)


I gave it another week. REALTRUCK was deeply apologetic-- it seems that they submitted the warranty issue to the wrong company. The would re-submit it immediately.


I gave it another week. No, they said, it would have been impossible to submit it to the "wrong company," because they only deal with one grille guard company. They would look into this as soon as they got off the phone. Apparently they actually did, because I got a call from a higher-up in management, who promised that a new grille guard was forthcoming. They would give me the tracking # as soon as it was available.


The next call? REALTRUCK was sorry to report that STEELCRAFT does not, nor did they EVER, manufacture a grille guard designed to fit my truck. (WTF?) Now I was, I must confess, a little mad. I let them know that my patience for nonsense and stalling was nearly exhausted, and that my next call would be to American Express to request a full refund. Oh, it must've been a misunderstanding, they said. I soon got an "issue resolved" email from REALTRUCK assuring me that my new grille guard does indeed exist and is on the way, and that I should "field-destroy" my mis-manufactured unit by "crushing, denting, or scrapping" it. Call me superstitious, but I decided to wait a little on that step.


Then, without explanation, REALTRUCK informed me that a full refund (rather than a new grille guard, as previously promised) was forthcoming. Good thing I held off on that "field-destruction." I responded by requesting another two Benjamins for the installation I had paid for. ("You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." --Wayne Gretzky) Nope... sorry, but they don't cover installation, they said.


And so, Dear Readers, for only the cost of installation my beloved Bianca now has a grille guard that looks perfectly good and will likely work perfectly well should the unfortunate need arise. I am the only one who will know that only five of the six brackets are in place... and I hold out the possibility that I can somehow fabricate the sixth bracket myself.


Having suggested in the subtitle above that you, my Dear Readers, can do as I did in resolving matters like this, here's a list of lessons I've learned and applied toward securing refunds when appropriate:


ALWAYS, ALWAYS PAY WITH AMERICAN EXPRESS WHENEVER POSSIBLE.

And NEVER pay with PayPal if you can avoid it. Amex steadfastly stands behind their card members in disputes like this. Using Amex is like having a feared lawyer with whom no one cares to tangle.


BE RIGHT.

It should go without saying, but I will anyway-- before picking up the phone, make sure you've re-read the instructions, done everything properly, inquired of friends and family, and in short done everything possible to make sure that your complaint is truly legitimate. Also, familiarize yourself with the company's refund policy and the warranty. This will immediately separate you from the plethora of shrieking Karens out there.


REMEMBER THAT "CUSTOMER SERVICE" DOESN'T EXIST TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS... THEY EXIST TO MAKE YOU STOP ASKING THEM.

Your initial phone contact might be with a customer service call center completely unconnected to the actual business in question. Their job, it often seems, is just to get you off the phone... to make you feel like you've accomplished something, or simply vented as needed. This is just the first in a series of steps to a solution... don't let them get you off the phone without giving you the name and number for the next step you'll need to take.


TAKING NAMES IS MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN KICKING ASS.

DO NOT EVER yell, scream, verbally abuse, or threaten anyone. (Note that the only "threat" I made in this tale was my promise to author an honest review.) The person on the phone is simply doing his or her job and is most likely not in any way responsible for your problem. Be nice; mention repeatedly that your gripe is not with them, but with the company. You might even earn yourself some helpful sympathy. DO, however, keep a notebook... and whenever such information is available, write down the name, job title, and direct contact number of every single person with whom you speak. Record any and all specific promises they make, i.e., "We'll call you by 5:00PM today," "We're processing your refund," etc.


FIGURE OUT WHO IS IN CHARGE.

As you climb the stairs from the first Customer Service contact toward the C-suite, you'll eventually find someone who has the actual authority to solve your problem. It might be helpful to make a company chart with all the names, job titles, and direct extensions you've been recording in your notebook.


BE PATIENT, BE PERSISTENT.

I convinced the aforementioned two companies early in the process that I was in this for the duration. Refrain from demanding and expecting immediate results.


And finally, this might seem counter-productive, but--


TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY TO HAND THEM A SMALL VICTORY, IF POSSIBLE.

My request for reimbursement for the installation was two-fold, and a win-win: If they had agreed, I would've happily pocketed the $200... but they drew the line and said no, which gave them a small victory and maybe put this issue to rest without leaving such a sour taste in their mouths. Who knows? I might need to deal with them in the future. I even replied to their email denying reimbursement for installation costs-- "I understand, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask. Thank you for your company's courteous attention to this problem and your efforts at resolving it."


I'm even inclined write them a nice review.



NOTES:


"Never get out of the boat" is a line from APOCALYPSE NOW after Willard and Chef get out of the boat in search of jungle fruit and get attacked by a tiger.






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