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Refund Explosion - The Night
Rick Archer Went Vesuvius
April 30, 2000

Not everyone thinks the SSQQ Refund and Credit Policy is Fair. 

Over the years there have been several occasions where our students have argued with us over our Policy.

Probably the most famous fight over money occurred back in April 2000. Let me warn you this is not the best story to read if you enjoy seeing me look good.  This argument was definitely the low point of my entire business career.

The Couple Who Asked for a Refund Half an Hour After their First Class Ended.

Introduction

For many years, the SSQQ House Policy on Refunds was "Ask for your Refund Before you leave the building. Once you leave the Building, we will give you Credit, but not a Refund".  We had this policy posted from 1980 to 2000. We assumed everyone knew this meant to ask for Refund during class or at the very end of your class as you were leaving.

However, if you read what it says literally, it means as long as you are in the building that first night, you can ask for a Refund.  This is the story of how a couple of students exploited that loophole and made me furious in the process.

As I near my 30th year in business, I can only recall getting in a serious argument with a customer one time. 

However I didn't just lose my temper; I completely exploded!!

 

Let's Start AFTER the Vesuvius Event

We will start the story with this email that was sent out one hour after the incident to a group email list. The list contained the names of over 50 SSQQ Country-Western students on it, the studio's "In-Crowd" of the day.

From: Kathy Rivera and Roshan G
Sent: Sunday, April 30, 2000 10:37 PM
To: Tonia Bagley and 50 other SSQQ students
Subject: SSQQ Customers - Please Read - Thanks

Hi, 

Some of you may not know us, but I think we took Advanced Western Swing with most of you. Up until tonight we have enjoyed greatly our time at SSQQ. But an episode tonight changed our minds. We hope you will take the time to read what happened and rethink giving your business and hard-earned money to this man.

Kathy and I started to take Ghost Town 5 tonight (Sunday). We decided at the end of class that it was kind of crowded and that we wanted to take private lessons with Marty Shea instead of continuing the class. So, after class we went to talk to Marty to set up lessons and find out what we needed to do. Afterwards, we found Rick to try to get a refund on the Ghost Town class.

His behavior was outrageous. We found him in the office. Kathy explained to him that we decided we wanted to take private lessons and we were wondering how to get our money back for the Ghost Town class (as most of you know, the policy is that you cannot get your money back after the first night).

His FIRST response was to scream at us, "C'mon guys, class ended 30 minutes ago." He then said something about not having music and went into the party room. When he came back, he asked us "what our deal" was.

We then explained again, and Rick continued to yell. He finally took us to the front room (Room 6) where you pay and tried to read off the posted sign which says that you can not receive a refund after the first night. We explained to him that it was the first night. At this point, he started to yell at us and threatened to call the Bellaire Police. He continued to scream at us and finally ended up throwing all the money in his pocket on the floor after slamming his CD case on the table.

He finally counted out my refund and told Kathy to count her money from the money lying on the floor, all of this while screaming at the top of his lungs. He then went back to the office, and I went to talk to Marty.

Rick came back to me and started yelling things that I do not want to repeat in this letter, let alone things I would ever say to any one of my customers. I tried to look for Kathy on my way out, but Rick continued to yell at me. I found her outside in tears - she later mentioned that she had feared that Rick might strike her in his ridiculous and unnecessary rage.

I know many of you are faithful customers, but I would like you to reconsider the next time you open your wallet to this man. I know many of you were there, so you possibly already heard what happened. Anyway, we will miss taking classes with you all and with Marty and Kimberly, but there is no way that either one of us will give another penny to this man who could treat his customers so poorly. Kathy and I will be looking for another place to take lessons, so if you are interested in joining us, please let us know. You can email me at "xxxx@Rice.edu" or Kathy at "xyz@Rice.edu". Also if you want to ask me for more details about what happened please feel free to call me (Roshan) at xxx.xxx.xxxx.

Thanks for your time and sorry about this long email. We hope to hear from you.

Roshan and Kathy

I was unaware of this email until someone on the list forwarded it to me.  Here was my reply:

--------Original Message---------

From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2000 11:41 AM
To: K Rivera, Roshan K G
Subject: I am sorry

Kathy and Roshan,

First of all I would like to say I am sorry I lost my temper last night. I was out of line.

There is no question about it - I snapped. I was so mad at you I could barely see straight. The reason I was angry with you was that I felt you clearly took advantage of my studio.

I don't think you were entitled to a Refund. I still don't. Class had ended 30 minutes earlier. The spirit of the rule is to make up your mind while class is in session or immediately afterwards. You came to my place of business, you took my class, and judging from the moves you were practicing after class, you appeared to appreciate what you learned.

You basically appeared to want something for nothing.

I might add, Roshan, I see you take liberties with facts. If you are going to do a hatchet job, you could at least invoke a sense of fair play.

For example, I see you have complained about the room being crowded as your reason for wanting your money back. Please. Your class was put in Room 1 - the biggest room we have. There was plenty of room. If you were so upset about the crowded conditions, why didn't you get your money back at Break? Or why didn't you come to the office after class was over? Instead you and Kathy stayed in Room 3 and practiced the moves from your class.

The truth is you only wanted your money back after you decided 30 minutes after class ended to switch to private lessons instead.

I felt taken advantage of.

I might add, Roshan, that I lost my temper when you ordered me to give you a refund whether I liked it or not. You got right in my face and told me you weren't leaving till I handed you your money. Yes, that is when I lost my temper. No one likes being pushed around, Roshan, especially not by a big guy like you. I threw the money on the floor instead of shoving you in the chest to get you to back off.

Then I picked the money up and you both got your refund. It wasn't pretty and I am not proud that I lost my temper at you.

Roshan, I am sorry I lost my temper. I have heard you are actually a nice guy. I am usually a nice guy too, but you were quite effective at getting under my skin. I might add you raised your voice too. Your advantage was that you had Kathy to calm you down plus continue the argument while you regained control. In sports that is known as "2 against 1". Nice job of tag team wrestling.

Now Roshan, please spare the stuff about Kathy fearing I might strike her. You are again playing to the crowd. I never threatened her. It was you I was mad at and you know it.

Now that I have had my say, I would again like to apologize to both of you for getting as angry as I did. I agree I was over the line.

I would like to add that if you will forgive me, you are welcome at my studio any time. And if I ever do see you again, please allow me to shake your hands and tell you in person I am sorry for my poor behavior.

Rick Archer

Kimberly Lopez had just finished her first night as a Volunteer in Marty Shea's Ghost Town class.  She also happened to be on the Group Email List. Here is what she had to say to me after she read my apology to Roshan and Kathy:

--------Original Message---------

From: Kimberly Lopez
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2000 2:48 PM
To: "dance@ssqq.com"
Subject: I am sorry

Rick -

I had on my "To Do" list to butt-in and drop you an email about this incident. Last night was the first time I had an opportunity to help out in Marty's class. The class was excellent so I am glad that Roshan and Kathy did not have any complaints about Marty's instruction.

I think your analysis about switching from groups to privates is accurate. They should have asked earlier. I can't imagine how many different personalities you must have to deal with at the studio, but I wouldn't worry too much about it!!

Kimberly Lopez

 

The Inside Story - 5 Years Later
Rick Archer, 2005


As I write about this incident five years later and bring up the memories, I still feel the anger, I still feel ashamed of myself, and I still feel deeply humiliated.

As with any story that has two sides to it, there was an important subtext to this story involving two students waiting for a private lesson that was not mentioned in the letters above.  As you will see, their presence had a lot to do with my lack of patience that evening.

The Argument took place back in April 2000 at 9:30 pm on a Sunday night. 

Roshan and Kathy - whom I had never met before - had taken Marty Shea's Ghost Town 5 from 7-9 pm that night.  Practice Night had begun about 9:10 pm.  I had been watching this couple all evening because they had not paid for Practice Night.  Instead they moved into Room 3 and practiced their Ghost Town moves as well as chatted with their instructor Marty Shea.  Frequently Marty showed them what they were doing wrong on a pattern and coached them on how to improve.  I rolled my eyes at Marty because I ask my Staff to refrain from teaching at Practice Night.  However it is too picayune a rule to actually bother to enforce.

However I was growing increasingly irritated at the couple because they still had not paid for Practice Night.  I had a pretty good vantage point for what they were doing because I was collecting Practice Night money in Room 2 right next door to Room 3.  However I didn't confront them a second time because I was suddenly preoccupied with an unexpected problem.

My extreme behavior will make a little more sense when I explain about the young couple sitting on the couch.  I had first noticed them when I first started collecting the Practice Night money. I had never seen them before so I assumed they were waiting for a teacher to give them a Private Lesson.  These were the days before Hall Monitors and I had my hands full running Practice Night practically by myself.  My attention quickly left the couple on the couch as I went about my duties of collecting money for Practice Night while another instructor cooked the popcorn and opened up the drink room.

Our system for collecting money in 2000 was to get everyone to pay their way into Room 1 first, then the money collector would move into Room 2 to collect the $3 cover charge from any latecomers.  I went to Room 3 to ask Roshan and Kathy for their money, but they said they weren't going to stay so I backed off. It is my policy to give people five minutes to make up their minds, then go ask them again.

After ten minutes of collecting money from everyone, I turned my attention back to the young couple. They were still sitting there on the couch in Room 2 and they were looking pretty worried about something. I approached them and discovered they were indeed at the studio waiting for a Private Lesson that night. 

They were getting married in six days. They were in trouble because they had waited till the last minute to learn how to slow dance to the first song at their wedding.  The problem was that their instructor had not shown up!  To make things worse, they were leaving on a plane for their wedding in Michigan the next day.  They were up a creek without a paddle!  No wonder they were worried!

This was their one chance to prepare.  First I tried phoning the instructor. I went in the office to call her, but got no answer.  Now I was frustrated because I knew the only instructor still in the building who knew how to teach Slow Dancing that night was me.  Unless I wanted to be a complete jerk, they were now my responsibility because I was their only chance.

This same instructor had pulled a similar stunt recently. I was standing in the office fuming to myself at being forced to clean up for the instructor's negligence when I heard a knock on the door.  I said, "Come in" and that's when Roshan and Kathy entered the office to ask for a refund. They said they wanted their money back so they could use it to take Private Lessons from Marty, the instructor who was their Ghost Town teacher and the same man who had been giving them extra coaching during Practice Night.

I was definitely caught off guard. No one have ever waited this long to ask for a Refund before and their reason for wanting their money back evoked no sympathy. 

In my mind, they had taken an entire evening of class and had enjoyed every minute of it. Typically Refunds are given to Unhappy Customers, not two people who had obviously benefited from the class!  Furthermore they had avoided paying for Practice Night even though they received half an hour of extra coaching from Marty on a pattern that had given Roshan difficulty. It was while Marty was helping them that they decided they liked Marty so much it would be more fun just to take the lesson directly from him and skip the Ghost Town class. So now they demanded a Refund!

I looked at the clock on the wall.  It said 9:40 pm. I was frustrated because the woman I had hired to handle Refund problems had left the studio over half an hour ago!  Now here was another headache to deal with that was someone else's responsibility, but had fallen to me instead because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

I didn't not like their request at all. I thought they were trying to take advantage of me. Furthermore I was deeply preoccupied with my need to get to the Wedding Couple which meant I wanted to get this over with quickly.

As Roshan pointed out in his letter, I was indeed curt. I said something like, ""C'mon guys, class ended 30 minutes ago."  Then before the conversation could go much further, I excused myself for a moment to go to the DJ booth to get my CD collection of Slow Music for the Wedding Couple. 

I did this to buy some time.  While I was gone, I collected my thoughts to see why I felt so angry.

Why had they waited so long!?  If they had simply asked for a Refund at the end of the class like EVERYONE HAD BEEN DOING FOR TWENTY YEARS, there had been a woman sitting at the Front Desk waiting to process refunds.  They would have gotten their Refund automatically. 

When I returned a minute later, they were still there waiting for me and so was the Wedding Couple sitting on the couch 15 feet away looking distinctly uncomfortable at the sight of the three of us standing their arguing.

I had a bad attitude. I was definitely not in the mood to argue about a Refund for a class that had ended 30 minutes earlier. I impatiently explained that my Registrar had been there until 9:10 pm, but that she was gone now. That was the cutoff. They would either have to finish taking the class or convert their money into Credit to be used at a later date.

This is not what they wanted to hear. Roshan and Kathy weren't in the mood to take "No" for an answer.  Roshan is a very big man, perhaps taller than I am. As I moved to go to the couple on the couch, he blocked my path. This allowed Kathy to continue to argue with me.

When Kathy tired, then Roshan started to argue with me. The entire time this Wedding Couple was staring at me in horror.  If the SSQQ Story ever becomes a hit TV series, this "caught between a rock and a hard spot" moment will make a good scene, believe me.  I was fit to be tied!  Each time I finished answering one person, the other came at me with another point or argument.  This two on one stuff was wearing me down.

I could feel my frustration rising rapidly. This was turning into a Royal Impasse. Do you ever ask yourself, "If I had to do it over again, what would I have done differently?"  Even today I honestly cannot think of a way out of this trap other than throw in the towel early and get on with it.  But then that isn't my nature, is it? 

On the one hand, I had this couple demanding a Refund 30 minutes after class had ended. The Registrar lady with the cash box had long since left the building.  These people were unwilling to disengage until they had their money.  It was obvious they were going to argue until I gave in.

I was impatient because I was in a hurry to help the Wedding Couple. But I didn't want to give in!!

I was astonished at Roshan and Kathy's nerve to stay for Practice Night, not pay, practice their moves in Room 3, get what amounted to a Private Lesson from Marty, then suddenly demand I give them their money back for a class they obviously had thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from.  Their behavior really had my dander up!

On the other hand, I knew that every minute I stood there arguing with these Rice graduate students, I was keeping the Wedding Couple waiting.  My guilt was kicking in from the other side of my brain. I wanted to start their lesson because they were deeply worried.

Finally I seized on an idea - why not show Roshan and Kathy the Refund Rule in writing?  I knew we had the Refund Rule posted on the wall in Room 6.

I led them to Room 6.  The rule clearly stated "Ask for your Refund Before you leave the building. Once you leave the Building, we will give you Credit, but not a Refund".

My tormentors actually smiled when I pointed to that sign. They had me now. Kathy said, "Well, what's your point?  We haven't left the building!!"

I said the rule meant that once the class had ended, their chance to get a Refund had passed. This is when the argument heated up past the point of no return.

Roshan and Kathy took turns shooting holes in this argument.  "We don't care what you say it means. We can read and it says "left the building!!  Why won't you honor your own words?"

This is also when Roshan got in my face and said he wasn't leaving the building until he had his money. I said he had better back off or I was calling the Bellaire Police. Kathy got right in behind me and started needling me how I wasn't good for my own word, that I was a greedy arrogant jerk who didn't have the guts to admit when I was wrong. She called me a hypocrite who pretends to care about his customers, but in reality just wants to hang on to every last dime.

That did it.   Roshan was in my face, Kathy was calling me a corrupt businessman, the Wedding Couple was looking frightened out of their wits, and the Refund Policy on the wall had proven to be of no help. There was no end in sight.  I hated giving in to these two people!  Then I snapped.

I went Total Vesuvius.  I had about two hundred dollars in my pocket collected from Practice Night. I grabbed the whole wad out of my pocket and threw it on the floor. "There's your goddamn money. Take it all. I don't give a D___!" 

There were one dollar bills scattered everywhere. Kathy bent down to retrieve her share of the money, but Roshan told her to step back.

Roshan got right back in my face and said, "Now pick it up, Rick.  Pick up the money and count it out.  Count it out very carefully and give us the correct amount."

Seething with anger, I got down on my knees and collected the money as they stood above me. The symbolism of victory and defeat was not lost on me. I counted the money and gave it to him. 

They accepted the money and left.  It was not a pretty sight.

After they left, I gathered myself and went into another room to teach the Slow Dance lesson.  They were petrified of me for some time, but eventually relaxed enough to learn what they had come for. I think at one point we even shared a laugh. I was in the building till nearly Midnight working with them.

The next morning I was greeted by Roshan's poison email. Obviously he intended to rub salt into the wounds.
 

THE FINAL WORD

First, I learned the hard way not to lose my temper like that ever again!!  

My behavior was unprofessional. Till the day I wrap up my career I will remain deeply embarrassed by my total loss of control.


Second, I learned to write the rules better!

Today thanks to the legacy of Kathy and Roshan, you know the exact reason why we use specific times for our Refund Rules.

To my surprise, there were no obvious consequences or fall-out from the email hatchet job.  I suppose sharing my side of the story plus my apology managed to cauterize the bleeding and limit the potential damage.

I never heard another word about the incident from anyone. It was like it never happened.  I wish it hadn't.

 

Refund Stories

These articles deal with the ground rules, history, philosophy of the ssqq refund and credit policy.
Deal is Deal
 
Covers the reasons behind the Refund Policy and lists situations
Explains why Group Class Tuition cannot be switched to private lessons
Electronic Transactions
 
Discusses Online Registration and the difficulty of Electronic Transactions
Explains how to handle Double Charges and has the Courtney Walsh Story
Exceptions
 
Talks about our Credit Rules
 
Exceptions Overview
 
Talks about the History of our Credit Rules
 
REFUNDS
 
Home Page for Refunds. Covers the specific Refund Policy
 
Refund Arguments
 
A serious look at 5 case studies from 2005 that explains
why we will no longer even discuss Refund issues
Refund Defeat
 
Must Read for anyone frustrated with the ssqq refund policy.  At least you
can read with satisfaction about the only couple to ever win a refund argument
Refund Overview
 
How other dance studios handle the Refund problem
plus the real-life experience during a ski vacation that shaped our policy
Refund Struggle Easily the best article of the bunch. Two MBAs squared off in a battle royal over
$46 in 2005.
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ