Refund Struggle
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Refund Wedding Lessons Group Discount Exceptions Exception Overview Tuition Switch
Refund Struggle Refund Defeat Refund Arguments Double Charges Switching Classes New to SSQQ


THE MBA REFUND STRUGGLE
Written
by Rick Archer in May-June 2005 with updates since then

Forward

2005 was the SSQQ Year of the Refund.  For a variety of reasons, I faced a long series of bitter Refund struggles.  I have chronicled most of the stories in my article titled "Refund Struggles". It is a very interesting article.  However clearly the MBA Refund Struggle was my toughest and most complex case so I decided to go into greater detail.  Here is the story. 

In May 2005, The Assistant Director of an Houston MBA Graduate School Program and her fiancé, a Graduate Student enrolled in the same business program, emailed to say she disagreed strongly with the ssqq Refund Policy. 

EXHIBIT A - Establishing the Credentials of our "Masters of Business Administration" Couple

In case you are curious how I know these two people were associated with a MBA program here in Houston, it said so at the bottom of the very first emails I received from them.

Ms. CV
Assistant Director of MBA Program
xx Graduate School of Management
xx University

Mr. JT
MBA Candidate, Class of 2006
xx School of Management
xx University
 

Since the University involved is prestigious and I assume both people intend to have fabulous careers, out of respect for their standing in the academic community as well as the church they were soon to be married in, I have decided to omit their names.

Otherwise any Google Search would allow this story to follow them to all ends of the earth.

Let me add that I considered these people to be very formidable opponents to engage throughout the struggle.

Now let us begin the story of the most difficult challenge to the legitimacy of our studio's Refund Policy in the 30 year history of SSQQ .


EXHIBIT B -
THE INITIAL $46 TRANSACTION

-----Original Message-----
From: Transactions@eProcessing.Com
Sent:
Sunday, May 08, 2005 3:57 PM
To: SSQQ
Subject: Approved Transaction

This message is to notify you that a credit card transaction has been successfully processed in conjunction with an order that has been placed.
Order information is as follows:
Total Amount: $46.00

Date Time Course Amount
Monday Apr 25 - May 16 7:00 - 9:00 PM Beginning Ballroom $46.00

 

ROUND ONE - The First Salvo

The Story of the $46 Refund Struggle Begins with a woman using SSQQ Online Registration to enroll her fiancé for a Ballroom course.  My guess is they wanted to prepare for their first wedding dance. This course would have worked fine except for one important problem. 

Once they read the receipt more closely, they realized the Ballroom course began on April 25 and met again on May 2. This meant the class was already half over

Their May 8 Registration would have permitted them to make only the May 9 and May 16 classes.  Realizing they could only make 2 of the 4 Monday classes, the woman emailed me to explain the problem and ask for their next option. 

Ready, Set, Go!! 

EMAIL ONE
-----Original Message-----
From: JT
Sent: Sunday, May 08, 2005 4:04 PM
To: onlineregistration@ssqq.com
Cc: CV
Subject: Need to Re-register for Beginning Ballroom classes

Dear SSQQ Dance Studio,
I am writing to request that we re-schedule our on-line registration for Beginning Ballroom dancing because I registered for a class that began April 25th. Obviously I meant to register for a session that has not yet started and would like to start my classes in May.

My Account ID is xx and the authorization code is AUTH/TKT xx and my credit card was charged $46 for a couple.
I will go on-line and see if I can change my registration without having to pay again, but would appreciate it if someone could assist me in re-scheduling our classes. Please call me during business hours at xx

My apologies for the inconvenience, but it was simply a on-line registration error. Sincerely, C and J

EMAIL TWO
RICK ARCHER REPLY:

03:31 PM 5/12/2005 -0500

Don't worry, we can straighten this out. Our May classes are actually almost over. What would you like to take in June??     Rick Archer


EMAIL THREE
-----Original Message-----
From: CV
Sent: Wednesday, May 18, 2005 4:19 PM
To: Online
Cc: JT
Subject: SSQQ Online Registration Confirmation for CV

Dear sir of madame,

It seems as though there is not a beginning ballroom class in June. Is there any way we can carry this payment to the next month that offer that class or receive a refund and then re-register at a later date? We are very interested in starting classes, but I would feel more comfortable starting in beginning ballroom rather than intermediate.

Do you have July classes?  Please advise.
CV


EMAIL FOUR
RICK ARCHER REPLY:

05:43 PM 5/19/2005 -0500

There is a beg ballroom dance class in June called dancing for cruises. It would work perfectly as your beg ballroom class since the material is virtually the same.


EMAIL FIVE
-----Original Message-----
From: CV
Sent: Friday, May 20, 2005 11:12 AM
To: Online
Cc: JT
Subject: SSQQ Online Registration Confirmation for CV

Ok. We will take the BALLROOM DANCING FOR CRUISES class on Monday nights from 7-9pm Beginning June 6th.  Thanks, C


EMAIL SIX
MY REPLY:
Tuesday, 5/31/2005
12:24 PM

Excellent. Print this email out and show it to Marla. She will issue you a receipt to walk you thru the door!


ROUND TWO - Terrible Tuesday (June 7, 2005)
One week later things took a turn for the worse. 
The Wedding Couple changed their mind about taking the course. 

EMAIL SEVEN
-----Original Message-----
From: CV
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2005 12:28 PM
To: Online
Subject: SQQ Online Registration Confirmation for CV Ballroom Cruise Dancing June 2005

Unfortunately our schedules have changed drastically and we are unable to attend dance sessions this summer.

Please refund the on-line payment of $46. My apologies for the inconvenience.

Best, CV


EMAIL EIGHT
MY REPLY:
6/7/2005
01:38 PM

I am sorry, but it doesn't do you any good to send an email. You must get your refund in person on the night of your class or before.

SSQQ Refund Policy

You may use your tuition for whatever class you wish to take in the future.


EMAIL NINE
-----Original Message-----
From: CV
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2005 2:13 PM
To: Online; dance@ssqq.com
Cc: JT
Subject: RE: SSQQ Refund Policy

SSQQ,

Considering that we were out of town and could not make the first class, I should still be permitted to get a refund today.

Usually the idea of on-line registration is to simplify the process and allow you to avoid having to show up in person to make adjustments. It appears that your refund policy is far from hassle free and I was conveniently uninformed that I must seek a refund prior to the first class until after the first class was over.

If I must cancel the transaction through my credit card company I will do so, however I think given the circumstances and lack of communication regarding the refund policy until now, it is reasonable to issue a refund.

Also if you recall, the initial on-line registration was for a class that was practically over and you maintained that the registration could only be transferred and not refunded. Again there was no mention that I had to show up for the first class to get a refund.

I can come by the studio today if a refund can be issued.  CV



EMAIL TEN
-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2005 3:41 PM
To: CV
Subject: RE: SSQQ Refund Policy

YOUR WORDS: "Usually the idea of on-line registration is to simplify the process and allow you to avoid having to show up in person to make adjustments."

MY REPLY: OnLine Registration is exceptionally hassle free. It simply doesn't allow people to change their minds. We do not give electronic refunds. We do it the old-fashioned way using card swipes at the studio.

I doubt that you care what our reasoning is, but you may read it if you wish.
Refund Overview

In particular, please read the following stories to better understand our position:
1. Overview: SSQQ OnLine Registration is Wonderful, But Stupid
2. Courtney Walsh incident.

YOUR WORDS: "I was conveniently uninformed that I must seek a refund prior to the first class until after the first class was over."

MY REPLY: That is a new one. Your reasoning baffles me. How do you expect us to warn you of our refund policy before we know you wish to ask for a refund??  The policy is posted on the Internet loud and clear. I don't know what else to do to protect you from our predatory business practices.

You may challenge the posting with the credit card company if you wish. Don't forget we get to present our side too. We currently have won two challenges and lost none.

You have a credit for a dance class. We would like to provide the service you have already paid for. I invite you to use it or allow you to give it to a friend if you prefer.
 

Let us now welcome to the story Mr. JT, Ms. CV's fiancé. 

It was at this point that I first heard from Mr. JT.  I guess he decided it was time he joined the battle since I was obstinately holding my ground. 

As you might imagine, my response in EMAIL 10 did not sit well with either person.  This was not what they wanted to hear.  They wanted a Refund.

In the late afternoon on Terrible Tuesday Mr. JT sent me the following email:

EMAIL ELEVEN
-----Original Message-----
From: JT
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2005 4:23 PM
To: 'dance@ssqq.com'
Subject: RE: RE: SSQQ Refund Policy

Rick:

I really don't have time to play your games. It is really simple.  We have paid for a service that we have not
recieved nor plan on recieving especially after the grief you have been giving my fiance.

I would recommend that you refund the money and we all walk away.

Thank you, JT

"We have paid for a service that we have not recieved nor plan on recieving..."

Of course the main reason they never received their class is because they never bothered to show up, a point JT conveniently omitted from his argument. 

Still you have to admire the cleverness of his logic. For a moment there, I recall being at a loss for an answer.

Speaking of the word "Received", let's pause our story for a moment because I have a couple questions.

First, don't school kids learn "i before e except after c" by the 3rd grade? 

Second, it is "fiancée", Mr. JT, not "fiancé".  She is the bride, not the groom.

That said, am I the only one who wonders how people get into COLLEGE (much less GRADUATE SCHOOL) without learning to spell or at the very minimum asking someone how to turn on the computer's spell-check function? 

Second, has anyone reading this story noticed that Ms. CV never even bothered to register herself for the class?  Was she planning on letting Mr. JT take it alone?

This meant the three of us were waging holy war over the amazing sum of $46.

Based on their Galleria zip code and their dual educational accomplishments, my guess is if they weren't already rich, they would be soon enough.

Therefore I don't think this argument was about the money. It was likely more the "Principle" of the thing. 

As the evening drew close, I went into my office to brood on the issue at hand.  Was my refund policy fair?

TERRIBLE TUESDAY EVENING - I PONDER MY NEXT MOVE

Ms. CV's EMAIL 9 and Mr. JT's EMAIL 11 on Terrible Tuesday were powerful letters. I was in a real struggle here with strong-willed people determined to get their money back.

I spent that evening thinking carefully about their position.  This was when "doubts" about the fairness of my position made their insidious entrance into my thoughts.  I went to the ssqq web site and re-read my previous arguments.  That helped a lot.

I was certain my position was fair. But how would I going to get them to accept it gracefully?  Is there ever a way to resolve a conflict like this without a winner and a loser? 

Meanwhile, maybe I got the wrong impression, but I felt that Mr. JT was attempting to intimidate me.

"I really don't have time to play your games. I would recommend that you refund the money and we all walk away."

I took these strong words as a threat.  Did I detect an unwritten "or else" in there if I didn't follow his recommendation?

Although I admired Mr. JT's willingness to come the defense of his helpless damsel in distress, it seemed to me that Ms. CV was more than capable of handling herself.   I smiled ruefully at the suggestion I was giving her "grief".  

Good grief, she was giving me all the grief I could handle as well!!  The feeling of receiving grief was mutual, I assure you.

I can attest that her posture in EMAIL NINE came across to me as a person more than slightly determined to get her way in this matter.

Between the two of them, their double-team demands for a refund were making me feel back into a corner.  They had come at me with both guns blazing. 

By coincidence I had already been working on an article called "A Deal is a Deal". If you ever read the article, you will see it deals with the "Philosophy of Refunds".  (As an aside, this story was in essence the predecessor to the story you are reading now.)

Reeling from the strength of their attack, I did what I always do - I started to write.

The first thing I did was isolate what I thought were their two best arguments. I took a good look at them.

HER WORDS: "I was conveniently uninformed that I must seek a refund prior to the first class until after the first class was over."

MY REPLY: That is a new one. Your reasoning baffles me. How do you expect us to warn you of our refund policy before we know you wish to ask for a refund??  The policy is posted on the Internet loud and clear. I don't know what else to do to protect you from our predatory business practices.

HIS WORDS: We have paid for a service that we have not
received nor plan on receiving I would recommend that you refund the money.

(
I never took the time to reply to that statement, but this is what I would have said):

MY REPLY: How are we supposed to provide a service when you don't even show up?  Did you expect us to make a home visit and teach you in the living room?

I thought to myself, "How do two MBAs who are in the business of teaching people how to run their business make arguments like these with a straight face?" 

Were these the best arguments two Business Majors could come up with?  I was starting to feel like they weren't trying very hard.

  • I mean, at least the woman could try some variations on the famous axiom "The customer is always right"?   "If you please us today, we will either return at a later date when our lives get a little less complicated or at the least refer our friends to you for dance lessons."
  • Or perhaps she would quote an Economics 101 principle like "the cost of finding a new customer is more expensive than making exceptions to keep the current one satisfied."
  • Or perhaps she would go Zen and suggest that all good will generated in the Universe is worth the sacrifice and that all ripples of kindness created in the pool of human consciousness would return to give us unlimited prosperity.

I smiled. I was coming up with better arguments than they were.  If the roles were reversed, I wondered what Ms. CV would say to those arguments above.

Hmm. Idea Alert. Something was forming on the edge of my consciousness.

Then I thought, "Just how would Ms. CV reply to a customer who came at her for a Refund using arguments as pedestrian as her own?  How would an MBA handle a problem like this?"

In other words, how would Ms. CV handle someone like herself?

A smile crossed my face. That was a very good question!  In fact, why not specifically ask Ms. CV that very question, albeit tactfully? 

THE PRINCIPLES OF AIKIDO IN ACTION

I smiled as I thought of Aikido - the non-violent defensive Martial Art that uses an opponent's momentum against them by throwing them off-balance as they attack.

I was about to play one of the oldest tricks in the book...
"if you're so damn smart, what would you have done?"

Ms. CV was obviously a very intelligent woman.  Instead of arguing with her, why not ask for her help instead?  I decided to ask her advice in how to solve the problem. 

Furthermore, if truth be told, I didn't really want their money any more.  But I didn't think they deserved it back either.  This money felt "tainted" - if it 'taint mine, 'taint yours either.

I was pleased with my "age and guile versus the confidence of youth" moment.  I had come up with what the Orientals would call a "face-saving" way to give them their money back. 

First I printed our entire email exchange on my web site.  I figured once Ms. CV saw her words were going to be on the Internet for the world to see, maybe she might see how little sense her arguments made and ease up a little.

Or better yet, maybe she would put me in my place with a well-thought out, reasoned "business ethics" treatise.

I was not insincere.  In fact, I wanted her to to give me her best shot.

No one had ever mounted an attack like this before. Taking note of Ms. CV's impressive "MBA Program Assistant Director" position, I was curious to know if her business training suggested how to handle situations like this.

Until you are tested in battle, you don't know how strong your position is.  And this was a battle.

Obviously she didn't approve of the way I was running my business.  Her contempt for our policies was plain and clear.

Did this mean she might know a better way for businesses to handle such matters and was disgusted at the amateurism?

If so, perhaps she would be willing to offer enlightenment in return for her money. 

Why not give her the opportunity to show me how a real business pro handles situations like this?

If there was a better way out there or there was an error in my thinking, $46 would be a small price to pay indeed.

I was open to suggestions.

 


ROUND THREE - WICKED WEDNESDAY
I Start the Day by Emailing My Compromise to our Disagreement


EMAIL TWELVE
MY REPLY TO Ms CV and Mr JT:
-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Wednesday, June 08, 2005 10:25 AM
To: CV
Cc: JT
Subject: SSQQ Refund Policy

Dear Mr. T and Ms. V,

Based on the rules I have established for my business, I don't think you deserve a Refund.

You and Mr. T want a Refund.

Therefore we are at an impasse.

Based on Mr. T's recent response, it also looks like things may become ugly.

My guess is you are both intelligent, educated people. Rather than "argue", I am open to a debate.

Here is my suggestion:

I have noticed, Ms. V, that you are the Assistant Director of an MBA program.

Since you have a bird's eye view of the situation, maybe you can help me see what I am doing wrong with my business policy.

Since Refunds are an obvious problem common to all businesses, surely somewhere in your MBA program, the issue of Refunds is addressed.

I have used your situation as one of my case studies in my own personal quest to understand what is a FAIR BUSINESS POLICY.

First I would like for you to read what I have written so far.
"A Deal is a Deal"

Once you have observed first-hand how I view the problem, I would be grateful if you would rely on your academic training to tell me where my thinking is wrong. 

In other words, How you would handle YOUR PROBLEM if you were in MY SHOES??


I reserve the right to not agree with you, but if your answer appears sincere, then I will then do the following:

1. Issue you a Refund (be sure to include the amount and the address; I will send you a check)
2. I will publish your answer on the same web page. I will include your name or not include your name whichever you prefer.

Sincerely, Rick Archer

THE COMPROMISE PROPOSAL

Here is what I hoped to accomplish with this offer. 

First I had published the emails as a brush-back technique, the same thing a pitcher does by throwing an inside pitch to a batter crowding the plate.  In the process of doing so, that is when it occurred to me I might actually learn something from the woman if I asked the right questions.

After all, this woman was the Assistant Director of an MBA Program, the kind of program that gets thousands of applications from elite students across the country.

I was actually hoping to discover what Ms. CV had to say about my Refund Policy. The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became at how she would respond to my odd gambit.

When there is a test of wills, you look for a way to get past the armor and find the humanity. That is what I was looking for.

If she was cool, she would write a one-paragraph response putting me in my place and challenge me to come through on my offer to send her the refund. Believe it or not, that's exactly what I hoped would happen.  Then I would print her write-up, send her the check, and we would all have a good laugh and get on with it.

But based on her letters and Mr. JT's letter from the day before, I doubted seriously either of them had a sense of humor about this matter.

I didn't have long to wait.  My first clue they weren't going to take my offer was when the Dynamic Duo shifted tactics.

Linda Cook, my assistant, was answering the studio phone that day. An hour or so after I had emailed the "Compromise Proposal", Linda called to relay a message. She said that Mr. JT had called the studio and asked to speak with me. He left his phone number.

Knowing full well Mr. JT intended to give me a piece of his mind that I would not be able to add to the web site, I chose not to call him back.

Late that afternoon, I received the following email:

EMAIL THIRTEEN
-----Original Message-----
From: JT
Sent: Wednesday, June 08, 2005 5:30 PM
To: 'Rick Archer'
Subject: RE: SSQQ Refund Policy

I tried calling you today at 11:15AM to further discuss and am still waiting for you to return the call.


EMAIL FOURTEEN
MY REPLY:
-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, June 09, 2005 10:17 AM
To: JT
Subject: RE: SSQQ Refund Policy

With regret I prefer to handle this incident by email.


EMAIL FIFTEEN
-----Original Message-----
From: JT
Sent: Thursday, June 09, 2005 11:10 AM
To: 'Rick Archer'
Subject: 13 0609 RE: SSQQ Refund Policy

games games games...

Mr. JT's Julius Caesar-moment was the parting shot.  I wondered if Mr. JT saw the same "veni vidi vici" parallel in his pithy response that I did. 

Then I remembered the quality of his spelling and decided that was highly unlikely. 

Since I never heard from Ms. CV again, as with most confrontations, I was left with nothing else to do but speculate what had really crossed her mind.

As of June 9, Email Twelve above - my Compromise Proposal - would remain as the end of the original story on the web site.  

I left it at that. 

WARNING - SERIOUS RANT ALERT (I went off on a BIG tangent here).
IF YOU WISH TO SKIP THE RANT AND PICK UP THE STORY QUICKLY,
CLICK HERE

AFTERMATH - A MEDITATION ON REFUNDS

Ms CV chose not to respond to my compromise proposal.  OK, that was her choice, but I still have something I want to say.

When I wrote that I had used their Situation as a personal case study on the issue of Refunds, I meant every word I said. 

People assume I hang onto their money without a second thought. Nothing could be further from the truth.  I wish to be fair to ALL parties involved.  Sure I would like to give people their money back. No one enjoys a self-image as a Scrooge.  You have my solemn vow this is the truth.

That said, I cannot run a business when we are expected to dole out money every time someone changes their mind.


Notes from an MBA Program Business Ethics Class

The complexities of modern business require managers to make important decisions everyday, and to face the challenge of considering a number of alternatives and evaluating consequences.

“A lot of decisions in the business world have an ethical component, particularly when there are conflicts between the goals of the customer and the company."

“There are times when a manager has to make a decision among different alternatives—all with bad consequences. How do you make decisions in such an ambiguous world?”

Students in the ethics class answer that question for themselves everyday.

By examining cases, evaluating various options, and defending their decisions, business students are challenged to transcend ambiguity and learn how to systematically make decisions, even in tough circumstances.

The Key to decision-making is consistency, and that makes all the difference in defending any decision."

I did not take business classes in college, much less go to Business Graduate School.  I was basically a Philosophy major in college, a revelation that probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to any of you reading this story.

My training taught me to examine every side of an issue, then decide what path to take. As a result, I don't have the luxury of "Certainty".  There is no such thing as "Right" in my world.

I would be lying if I said I did not sometimes doubt the fairness of my own Refund policy.  Watching people get angry and furious at you has a way of testing one's self-confidence.

Perhaps this helps explain why I actually cared so much about what the MBAs thought.

"Doubt" to a Philosopher is the same thing as a chink in the armor to a Warrior. It is an opening that can be exploited.

When two people who command respect and quite possibly possess greater knowledge than you challenge you directly as the MBAs did, I would be a fool not to sit up and pay heed. After all, "Business" was their turf (they were the professionals, I was the amateur).  Maybe they knew something I had never considered before.

After all, I did not have access to classes that cover the do's and don'ts of common business practices such as "Refund Policies".  They did. 

So when I asked Ms. CV to give me her opinion on my business policy, I was completely serious.  After all, I decided on my studio's policy pretty much by myself.  In my attempt to be an "ethical businessman", over the years I have re-examined my policy many times and come to the same conclusion every time.  But maybe I was missing something!!

The toughest opponents I had ever faced - two members of an Elite Business School - were challenging my business policy as strongly as it has ever been tested

In fact, they showed total contempt for my policy.

I stood my ground because I "felt" my position was fair, but that didn't keep me from worrying.

There is always room for doubt. Like Father Damien in the "Exorcist" who was forced by the Devil's onslaught to question his Faith, their blunt attack gave me pause for thought.  That is why I asked them to explain their position.  I openly admit I was curious to see what someone with more training had to say about such an important problem.

MY WORDS: Once you have observed first-hand how I view the problem, I would be grateful if you would rely on your academic training to tell me where my thinking is wrong. 

If you think I was being tongue in cheek, I wasn't.  I meant what I said.

xx

My Side of the Story.

Based on Ms. CV's status as the Assistant Director of a prestigious MBA program, I was actually taken aback by the woman's position.

I figured a person with advanced business training would understand the problems that a small business such as mine faces at least better than the average person. 

That was definitely NOT the response I received from Ms. CV.  She seemed completely oblivious to my position.

Instead - in my opinion - Ms. CV's attitude about the entire matter might be described as "cavalier".

A quick paraphrase of their combined position would read something like this: 

 

"We missed our first two classes because we registered two weeks late.

We rescheduled our class to a month later, but EVENTS BEYOND OUR CONTROL forced us to be out of town on the first night - darn! - so we had to miss our second try as well. 

Now unfortunately our schedules have changed drastically and we are unable to attend dance sessions this summer. Shucks, there goes July and August. Then in September, JT will be back in graduate school again.

We will NEVER be able to take this class in the future since we are very busy people.

I realize you did not twist my arm to take this class in the first place.  However, you are still responsible for my problem because you kept me conveniently uninformed about your Refund Policy. You should have known this was something I needed to know.

And since we were prevented from showing up for the service we paid for by EVENTS BEYOND OUR CONTROL and we NEVER EVER will be able to receive your service in the future, the logical conclusion is you will NEVER give us the service we paid for!

Since you did not do your job and since we need the money, I have no choice but to say, 'Where is my Refund?' 

Are you open today?  I will drive over immediately.  By the way, sorry for the inconvenience." 

That's the long of it, but the short story is: the MBAs changed their minds.

PEOPLE CHANGE THEIR MINDS ALL THE TIME!

Everyone knows this. But what sense does it make to allow our business to lose money every time someone changes their mind?

“A lot of decisions in the business world have an ethical component, particularly when there are conflicts between the goals of the customer and the company."

Do the Astros give back money in the 7th Inning when they are ten runs down?  Do movies give back money when you don't like the plot twist in Hour Two?   Do MBA programs refund tuition when you ask to drop out in the middle of the semester?

Of course not. 

So why do people expect SSQQ is any different?  Use it or lose it.

The problem for SSQQ is we sell a service that no one needs. 

People enjoy dancing, they want to learn to dance, they like our teachers and they like our classes, it's great entertainment... But let's face it, the moment something more important comes along they are outta here!

Katrina  Rita  Astros World Series  UT football  big rainstorm and floods  Rockets Playoffs
free tickets to play/opera/sports  health problems  open house at school  birthday party
traffic problems   new boyfriend   Dating service came up w a hot lead    new girlfriend
 
car problems  babysitting problems  out of town visitors  better offer at the last minute
surprise party for friend   kid has Trick or Treat   work late at the job  business trip
hurt knee jogging   accident driving to work   Christmas shopping  Wedding to go to
ski trip vacation   daughter has lead in a play at school   good movie on TV tonight
whatever whatever whatever whatever whatever whatever whatever
whatever!

People dump SSQQ Dance Classes in a flash. That's one of the reasons students like our parallel classes... it gives them more flexibility to squeeze SSQQ into their busy lives.

However, unlike food, water, shelter and oxygen,  dance classes are regrettably expendable.  They are a "leisure time" activity. 

This means the moment something more important or more interesting comes along, dance classes get put on hold.  And since during a month's time something is bound to happen, there will be times when life gets in the way of every student's dance career.

Here is a perfect example of what I am talking about:

-----Original Message-----
From: J/M H
Sent: Tuesday, January 17, 2006 1:18 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: exception request

Rick,
Something came up. Mary and I are registered for Beg Western Swing (again) this month. We were able to attend the first week, but will not be able to make the remaining classes this month. Is it possible for you to allow us to use this month's tuition next month? We would be very grateful. I hope you can do this for us.

See you around your studio!   JH

I looked up his class history. This man has taken Beginning Western Swing five times. And now he wants an Exception so he can take it for free a sixth time. 

That's what I am talking about... students who change their mind.

Dance Classes get dumped whenever something more important comes along...

And - since Dance Classes are not vital to existence - they get dumped all the time. 

And the moment things at work ease up or they fall out of love, BOOM, back on our doorstep again.

And you know what? -
I don't have a problem with that!!

I have a problem when people expect us to jump through hoops the moment they change their mind.

I have a bigger problem when they suddenly think they deserve their money back.

SSQQ has a strong "No Refund" Rule for the simple reason that I will not allow the business to be disrupted EVERY TIME any one of our 1,200 students a month CHANGES THEIR MIND. 

We aren't like some dance studios that make you sign an expensive contract. Nor do we sell hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of dance packages. 

We sell one-month dance classes at a very reasonable price. People say all the time, "Gosh, Rick, your classes are cheap!"  Although we prefer the word "affordable", that's right, our classes are cheap.

You can drop that kind of cash on a dinner date at a good restaurant in the blink of an eyelash.  Dinner for two at Pappadeux's is easily $40/$50. More if you throw in margaritas.  You wait half an hour, the food is great, dinner is over in 45-60 minutes, get your doggy bag, you leave happy.

A movie is two hours.  $9 to get in, $9 popcorn/coke, take a date.... $36.

Dance class at SSQQ is wait ten minutes in line, complain mightily, pay, get 8 hours of classes (24 hours if there are parallels), free practice nights five nights a week.   $46 for men, $38 for ladies...good exercise, nice people, good laughs... average charge $5 an hour.

So that's right.  Stacked up against other simple entertainment activities, our dance classes are cheap.  Plus all these great Refund articles are included free of charge.

However, the classes are also "expendable".  And people change their minds.

But with $30,000 in overhead per month, we intend to use your money (which we appreciate greatly, by the way) to help us stay in business whether you show up or not.

Based on the rules we have established, when you sign up for a dance class, you are making a non-verbal contract with us that in essence says:

"I acknowledge that no one at your business forced me or tricked me into coming here.

I think I am interested enough in dance to show up at this place 4 times in a 30-day period. I understand if I lose interest for any reason or something more important comes up, I can take the class over again at a later date.

But if I choose to stick around after one hour of my first class, I won't get my money back no matter how much I kick, scream or holler. That's the risk I take."

Over 30 years, I estimate 40,000 people have come to our studio and have accepted our ground rules. The vast majority had a perfectly good time while they were here. Most people get exactly the dance training they came here for and some even meet the love of their life in the process. The overall good will towards SSQQ is phenomenal.

And then there are people like the MBA couple who sign up for classes late, transfer to another month, email back and forth, go on a trip and don't get back in time to make their first class. Then they decide it isn't worth the bother, maybe they can fake the first dance at their wedding, maybe someone else showed them a couple steps.  Whatever.

The point is:  Dancing is now expendable. 

So the MBAs say,

"Give me my money back! I paid for something I didn't get. No one read my mind to tell me what the rules were two months ago."

Mind you, these are Business Graduate School people talking like this, future leaders of our community, whining their heads off over $46!

And I say,

"A Deal is a Deal. Classes were held whether you showed up or not. Use it or Lose it.  If you had bothered to look, you would have seen our Refund Rule. But because you were only risking $46 for something you thought you needed at the time, you weren't worried about the Refund Rule. That's not our fault nor is it our problem.

And by the way: You are welcome to reschedule your class for a third time if you wish."

Does it make you wonder what sort of Business Principles are taught at this program? 
Maybe they specialize in the "Enron School of Thought".

END OF RANT

Surprise!  There is more to this story. But first it's time to set the stage for the Final Act of our tale.

EXHIBIT C: IS THE SSQQ REFUND POLICY POSTED FAIRLY FOR EVERYONE TO SEE?

Ms. CV claimed she was conveniently uninformed of our Refund Policy.  Was she tricked?  Were we deceptive?   You decide.

Here is where you can find the SSQQ Refund Rules:

  1. The Internet link to our Refund Policy is posted in three places on the SSQQ Website Front Page (Questions, Policies and Rules, Policy on Refunds). 

    A simple look at the SSQQ Web Site Front Page (click here) will reveal one link is at the top of the page contained in a picture, one is in the middle highlighted by a yellow background, and the third is near the bottom of the page.
     
  2. The Refund Rule is Placed at the studio on the Front Door and behind the Registrar's Station.

    Anyone who stands in line should have no trouble noticing it. Indeed we give refunds all the time with no hassle whatsoever if the student asks for it during our one-hour window of opportunity known as the "Grace Period".
     
  3. The Refund Rule is Placed on the walls of both restrooms at the studio
  4. The Refund Rule is listed on all SSQQ Walkin Receipts.
  5. The Refund Rule is listed on all SSQQ Online Receipts.

At the right is a picture of the "House Rules" part of every SSQQ Walkin and Online Receipt.

Was Ms. CV aware of our Refund policy?  Probably not.
Could she have found our Refund policy if she was worried in the first place?  I think so.

One of the Cardinal Rules of Business is: "Caveat Emptor"...let the buyer beware.  You would expect an MBA to know that phrase, wouldn't you? 

That said, her first line of defense was "no one told me".

"I was conveniently uninformed that I must seek a refund prior to the first class until after the first class was over."

In the next part of our story, Ms. CV decides to use that argument to get her money back using her credit card company.

 

ROUND FOUR: SHOWDOWN At the "Retrieval and Chargeback" Corral!
July 2005

If you read all of my rant, you may have lost track of the story somewhat.
Here is a quick review.

Round One: Six Cat & Mouse Emails about taking a dance class
Round Two: Terrible Tuesday. Emails 7 through 11 argue about a Refund.
Round Two: Terrible Tuesday Evening. I brood and plan my counterattack.
Round Three: Wicked Wednesday:  I make my Compromise Proposal (Email 12)

Got your seat belts on?  OK, let's finish the story.

In Email 12, I made an offer to refund Ms. CV's money in its entirety if she would be willing to share her academic training with me to help me improve my business. 

Ms. CV did not take me up on my offer to issue her a Refund. But that didn't mean she quit trying to get one.  Instead she tried a back door trick.

Ms. CV went to her bank and filed a complaint about SSQQ Dance Studio.  Whatever she told them worked. The bank decided to issue her a full $46 refund on her credit card.

I learned of her actions in the middle of July 2005. This was just one month after Mr. JT's eloquent parting shot ("games games games"). 

I received a notice in the mail informing me that Ms. CV had been issued a credit card refund by her bank in this matter. In other words, she already had her money.

This meant we were going to have a Showdown.

Knowing my opponents, I was not surprised by their action. After all, Ms. CV had mentioned this ploy when she was demanding her refund.

However I wasn't about to throw in the towel. I had played this game before so I knew the rules.

The bank goes first. Then the procedure calls for the Merchant to have his chance to contest the bank's action.  In fact, up to this point SSQQ had prevailed in two previous disputes. I thought we had a good chance of winning this one as well.

If you remember I told Ms. CV this exact thing back in EMAIL TWELVE.

You may challenge the posting with the credit card company if you wish. Don't forget we get to present our side too. We currently have won two challenges and lost none.

In fact, I remember clearly relishing the opportunity to have my say. From the start my gut feeling was the MBAs were completely off base.  The Terrible Tuesday attacks made me doubt myself for a while, but after re-reading my own articles on the issue, I was convinced my Refund Policy was fair.

But would an objective observer agree with me?  I had an element of doubt.  I was still concerned that they might know more about "common business practices" than I did.

As a result I was keen to learn what an impartial judge would say about this dispute. A decision in my favor would go a long way towards confirming the fairness of the SSQQ Refund Policy.

Therefore I am sure it comes as no surprise that I gave it my best shot.

I found every one of those emails and printed them out through EMAIL 10.  If memory serves, this added six pages to my fax. Then I wrote a two page letter. I included a copy of the Online Registration plus a cover sheet. In all, 12 pages!!

Read for yourself what I said to the Credit Card Arbitration committee known as the "
Retrieval and Chargeback Department". 

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Retrieval and Chargeback Department

In the matter of CV versus SSQQ Dance Studio

Case Number 2005xxxxxx

Dear Sir or Madam:

Enclosed are 6 pages of email correspondence email between Ms. CV and myself.

Point One: Where is the SSQQ Refund Policy posted?

We have a posted Refund Policy in 6 locations at our business.

  1. On the SSQQ Web Site
    You may read it for yourself at: 
    http://ssqq.com/information/refund.htm
  2. On our printed schedules
  3. On every Receipt - Online and Walkin - a student receives.
  4. At our front door.
  5. At our Registration Desk.
  6. In the main Restrooms.

Ms. CV claims she wasn’t informed ahead of time about the Refund Policy. 

What else am I supposed to do to inform her?  
………

Point Two:

If you read the email correspondence carefully, you will read on Page 5 Ms. CV registered for a class that started on Monday, April 25. 

If you read Page 1, you will see she asked for a Refund on Tuesday, June 7.  According to our posted rules, we issue Credit after the first class rather than give refunds.
………

Point Three:

On Page 3, you will see that on May 19 Ms. CV ACCEPTED my offer of credit for a class starting in June. 

Two weeks later she changed her mind and decided to ask for a refund.

I denied her request on the grounds that she had missed the Refund Deadline by one and a half months.  I told her I would issue Credit for her dance class that she could redeem at any time.
………

Point Four:

I am now informed that a bank in Houston has refunded Ms. CV’s 46 dollars behind my back. The bank that took this action never consulted me for my side of the story.  

As a business owner, I believe have the right to protect myself against the whims of my customers.  After consulting my lawyer many years ago on the various aspects of business law, I have posted rules in accordance with the advice I received at the time.  I believe I have the right to enforce these rules without some bank sabotaging my authority.

Apparently this bank feels it has the right to tell me my rules are meaningless by arbitrarily siding with the customer.

Furthermore I am amazed that I have been billed a $25 service charge in this incident. 

  1. Are you telling me my Refund Policy according to you is unfair? 
  1. It looks to me like I have been judged “guilty” by the bank that gave her the money back without even consulted at the time. What kind of “rights” are those?

I understand that your department serves as the Arbitrator in these disputes. Therefore I await your decision.

Sincerely,
Rick Archer

Owner
SSQQ Dance Studio
Houston, Texas


END GAME - Well, take a guess who won? 

Four days after I sent in my fax, I learned by mail that the Arbitration Board had reversed the bank's decision.

I won.

They thought my rules were fair.  A Deal is a Deal. 

 

THE CONCLUSION TO THE MBA REFUND STRUGGLE
January 2006

Yes, believe it or not, there is another chapter to this story.

I received the decision from the Retrieval and Chargeback Unit by mail in late July 2005. I meant to add this conclusion to the story RIGHT THEN AND THERE and be done with it when suddenly my life took a big detour.

Just days after I got the news about the "Showdown Victory", Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and turned the whole world around.  I got distracted.

One month later just as the dance studio was preparing for our yearly cruise out of Galveston, Hurricane Rita turned the Houston area into the world's largest parking lot and made millions of people frightened, angry, hot and... above all... totally miserable.

Shortly after that upon our return from the Rita Rhapsody "half cruise", Marla was informed she might have cancer. A month went by before she could have the exploratory surgery that fortunately turned out OK.

However between my worries about her surgery, her problems with getting people's money issues resolved with the cruise line, and a subsequent rotator cuff tear that immobilized her for three weeks, the final 5 months of 2005 were a nonstop nightmare for me.

In other words, as far as this story was concerned, I got sidetracked. Or maybe I should put that another way...

I COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT IT. 

But the Cosmos didn't forget. There would be an ironic finish to this story.

WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND

One day in early January 2006, someone hit me with another "Refund" request.  I read it and something tugged at me.

So I read it again. 

 -----Original Message-----
From: ES
Sent: Tuesday, January 17, 2006 10:53 AM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Refund?

Hi,
I have taken Beginning Country/Western and Beginning Western Swing from you and really enjoyed it. I signed up for Intermediate Western Swing this month, and unfortunately was not able to make it the first week and will not be able to make it this week either.

Is it still possible to get a refund for this month?
Thanks -- E

I scratched my head.  Gosh that sounded familiar.  This email filled me with an overwhelming sense of deja vu. 

Didn't I write an entire article last year that said "Ask for Refunds on the first night or forget about it"?? 

So I went to the ssqq web site to research what I had previously said. That's when out of the blue I ran across the first three parts of the Refund Struggle story. 

With my nightmare finish to 2005, I had forgotten all about it!  I was shocked to realize one of the most bitter moments of 2005 had been totally erased from my memory.

Now I also remembered I had forgotten to add the FINAL CHAPTER about how the whole thing was resolved.  I needed to add the story about my "chargeback" victory.

That's when the lightning bolt hit.

I had noticed the story stopped at EMAIL 12. That meant there were a couple emails missing, most notably Mr. JT's eloquent "games games games" parting shot. 

But first I had to make sure I didn't miss anything.  So I scrolled from top to bottom on each email.

As I re-read Mr. JT's EMAIL 11, my mouth dropped open.

Somebody made a big boo-boo...

Do you remember how curious I had been to know what Ms. CV really thought about the SSQQ Refund Policy?  You know, what her true, uncensored thoughts were? 

SHAZAM!

Just as I was putting in the final paragraph with my update to this story, out of nowhere the answer to my question suddenly APPEARED!

There right before my very eyes was a Magic Email.   Read it for yourself.

 


-----Original Message-----
From: CV
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2005 4:17 PM
To: JT
Subject: Fwd: RE: SSQQ Refund Policy

This guy is an asshole and I'm tired of dealing with their shit!

Here's what I drafted to send back, but haven't sent the email yet.
CV

Rick,
My apologies for the typo, but if you read the email correspondence preceding this you'll notice that I have requested a refund several times for the May registration and was never told that I must show up on the first day of classes to get a refund. I'm not trying to be difficult here, but have found no one at SSQQ to be very helpful or informative.

Well the answer is simple then.........carry the registration forward to the July class beginning Monday July 11th and I will be sure to attend the first day to get my full refund.

Best, Christa

So how did this remarkable document come to land upon my desk?

It is speculation on my part, but my guess is Ms. CV was angry at me for having the nerve to stand up to her in EMAIL 10. This is where it became obvious I wasn't going to back down to her demands.

Ms. CV then typed up a rebuttal letter to me, but probably realized it wasn't very effective.

After all, it claimed the following:

"if you read the email correspondence preceding this you'll notice that I have requested a refund several times for the May registration..."

A simple look at the well-documented email chain shows no such thing.  Her first Refund request came on June 7, one full month after her May Registration. My guess is she was just writing from memory and didn't bother to check her facts.  I think they were getting impatient.

So Ms. CV sent her email to Mr. JT. instead. First she vented her anger at me plus included her rough draft in hopes that Mr. JT might get some ideas on how to improve her latest argument. 

After reading what she wrote, I am sure her fiancé was not only mad at me for standing my ground, but also because I had upset his fiancée.  

Anxious to stand up for her, Mr. JT scribbled off EMAIL 11. You can see he was losing his temper when he made his veiled threat - "I recommend you give the refund and we all walk away."

Obviously he was rattled... he couldn't even spell "received" properly.

In addition Mr. JT accidentally included Ms. CV's candid impressions of me as well.


-----Original Message-----
From: JT
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2005 4:23 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: SSQQ Refund Policy

Rick:

I really don't have time to play your games. It is really simple. We have paid for a service that we have not recieved nor plan on recieving especially after the grief you have been giving my fiance. I would recommend that you refund the money and we all walk away.

Thank you,
James

-----Original Message-----
From: CV
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2005 4:17 PM
To: JT
Subject: Fwd: RE: SSQQ Refund Policy

This guy is an asshole and I'm tired of dealing with their shit!

Here's what I drafted to send back, but haven't sent the email yet.
CV

Rick,
My apologies for the typo, but if you read the email correspondence preceding this you'll notice that I have requested a refund several times for the May registration and was never told that I must show up on the first day of classes to get a refund. I'm not trying to be difficult here, but have found no one at SSQQ to be very helpful or informative.

Well the answer is simple then.........carry the registration forward to the July class beginning Monday July 11th and I will be sure to attend the first day to get my full refund.
Best, Christa


KARMIC CONCLUSION (Or should I call it the "Komic" Conclusion??)

The irony of the story is that if Ms. CV hadn't pulled her back door stunt with the bank, the whole matter would have ended back in June 2005.  I forgot all about it!

But, trying to be sneaky, she went for the last laugh. Using her credit card back door ploy, she put in motion the energies that gave me a reason to revisit the story. 

That's when her Karma kicked in.

No one ever reads all that junk that goes at the bottom of each email, now do they? 

You learn to look at the most recent message, skip all the previous stuff at the bottom, hit "Reply", respond to the latest and greatest, then hit "Send".

 

Now, thanks to the boo-boo, I was treated to a peek into Ms. CV private thoughts.  Except they aren't very private any more.

Wasn't it clever of Mr. JT to share his fiancée's thoughts with us?

You know, those Enron guys weren't as smart as they thought they were.

Maybe these guys aren't either.


THE FINAL WORD

Will there be another chapter? 

Maybe.  My adversaries know this story is out there.  Having put every candid thought on paper, my position is pretty easy to analyze.  And I can tell they are intensely competitive people.  This story has to rankle them.  Like the Terminator, they may rally for a counter-attack.

Or maybe not.  The main reason I won is because I had more to lose.  Therefore I tried a lot harder than they did.  They may just decide to enjoy their life.

Did you known I am down to $21 profit?   Hardest double sawbucks of my life.

Ms. CV's little credit card trick cost me $25. But if she will write the rebuttal letter I asked for, I will be happy to forward her one of my Andrew Jacksons and keep the extra buck for postage, service charge, and most of all, as a momento.

Or they could always take that lesson, yes?  But then Ms. CV would have to give me another $38.  Nah, that isn't going to happen.  That you can count on.

Truth be told, I am grateful for my Friedrich Nietzsche experience ("What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.")  Now when the Refund emails pop in at the usual rate of two a month, I just roll my eyes and yawn.  I think this was about as bad as it can get, knock on wood (which I just did).

You see, there was an interesting development - the MBAs cured me of my "guilty conscience".  I spent so much energy thinking about the dialectic between "goodwill towards man" versus "my studio needs to stay in business" that one day I had an idea.

Why not put the policy on every Receipt be it "Walkin or Online"?
NO REFUNDS AFTER CLASS MEETS FOR FIRST TIME
If they can't read, tough. 

Previously I had the policy posted on the Internet and on the walls, but for some reason this was the perfect finishing touch.

Poof!  Like magic, all my angst and guilt went up in smoke. In an instant I turned from a dissatisfied Socrates into a contented cow.  But my contentment didn't last long.

In July 2005, water starting leaking through my roof at the studio and the landlord chose to do nothing. Six months later, whenever it rained, ssqq turned into "Golden Pond".

As I watched a little puddles form on my dance floor, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that someday there would be another story just as aggravating as this one...

It never ends, does it?

Thank you for reading this story.
Rick Archer, January 2006
Reactions to dance@ssq.com

Refund Stories

These articles deal with the ground rules, history, and 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