A**hole of the Year

Have you ever tried to help someone and in the process of doing so, got involved with a third party who manages to turn a positive experience into a somewhat negative one by acting like an asshole?   In this particular case I’m going to define an ‘asshole’ as a company that makes a mistake, won’t admit it, and then proceeds to shift the blame to you. If you dare protest, they claim that they are not responsible for the outcome, and they have the power to put the onus on you to either clean up or pay for the mess they caused.

The situation involved two companies, one good and one bad.  It began when the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends web site was contacted via email by Samara Chadwick from a Toronto-based firm called Associated Producers on March 16, 2011. Samara wrote that she was putting together a video to pay homage to Jack Scott during his induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony scheduled for April 2, 2011. Her company was looking for content such as stills, performances, album covers, and interviews, but was having difficulty finding suitable material. Since Jack had been inducted into MRRL in 2007, she was hoping for help in locating some hard-to-find items that could be used in the video. Photo of CD booklet, autographed by Jack, was one of the items that was sent via FedExPhoto of CD booklet, autographed by Jack, was one of the items that was sent via FedEx

 I have been a fan of Jack Scott since seeing him perform “Leroy” and “My True Love” on American Bandstand in May of 1958, so I was excited to be given a chance to contribute something to a program that would honor his songwriting ability. Jack charted 19 hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 from 1958 through 1961, and he wrote all but two of them.

I exchanged a few more emails with Samara and listed some items that I thought might be useful for their presentation: a batch of scanned 45 rpm labels from Jack’s hits on both the Carlton and Top Rank labels, some picture sleeves, over a dozen still photographs, a live performance of “What In The World’s Come Over You” from Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show in 1960, and some live footage from Jack’s performance at the Rockabilly III Festival in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 2007, shot by my friend Benny McGee.

I spoke on the phone with Ric Bienstock of Associated Producers, who was also working on the project, and I was delighted to learn that he had used the biography of Jack that I had written on the MRRL site to compose the narrative for the video.  We agreed that I would put the materials I had on three discs, and bundle them in a package that would be sent to Toronto using FedEx. Bienstock assured me that all expenses would be paid through the company’s FedEx account, and that they would schedule a pickup at my home in Essexville between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. the following day, Wednesday, March 23rd.

On the morning of the 23rd, I got a call from a FedEx representative who asked if it was possible that I could be at my address earlier than the scheduled 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. pick up time since there was a driver already in the area. I told the rep I would be at home at 12:00 noon, and that I would stay there until the FedEx driver arrived for the package. 

I should have suspected that things were going to go south when the driver did not arrive at my house until after 6:30 p.m. that night. When I mentioned that I had got a call from a FedEx rep asking if I could be available for an earlier pick up, the driver stated that no one from the company had called to inform him that the pick-up time had changed.

After filling out the FedEx International Air Waybill in triplicate with the driver, I explained to him that payment was being taken care of by the recipient in Toronto, Associated Producers. The FedEx account number that would be used to pay for the delivery was not included on the waybill. The driver at no time advised me to read the small print on the backside of the waybill, especially the section entitled Responsibility for Payment.

On March 25th I received an email from Samara Chadwick: “The materials arrived promptly, and we had a chance to look at them with our editor yesterday – beautiful! Thank you so much, they really enhance our tribute to Jack, and we are very grateful to you.” I was really pleased that I had the chance to provide some materials for Jack Scott’s induction and emailed my friend Benny in Florida to tell him that I included the video he shot in the package I sent to Toronto. 

I was also happy that Associated Producers had contacted me when they did since Lynn-J and I were about to embark on a six-week vacation; a month in a rented home in sunny Florida and then a trip to New Jersey to visit our son and his family, and meet our new grandson Noah, who was scheduled to come into the world in early April. We stopped mail delivery to our home on March 28th and arranged for it to be forwarded to general delivery in Lady Lake, Florida.

It usually takes at least two weeks and sometimes more before our mail finally gets to the post office in Lady Lake. Imagine my surprise when I picked up a letter from FedEx on April 21st containing a bill for $70.98. Inside was a form note: “FedEx was unable to bill the account for the party indicated on the shipping document or the account number was missing. Therefore, we are invoicing you for the charges associated with this shipment. Please contact FedEx Revenue Service for any questions you may have regarding this invoice. Please remit payment to the address on this invoice. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. FedEx values you as a customer and appreciates your business.” 

Now I believe that FedEx should be paid for delivering my package to Toronto, even though $70.98 seems a little high for a small cardboard box weighing less than one pound.  They got it there promptly, giving Associated Producers plenty of time to preview the materials and then use what they wanted for the Jack Scott video. I just didn’t think that I should have to pay for it when the recipient had already agreed to foot the bill and had also arranged the pick-up with FedEx. 

I couldn’t imagine that Associated Producers would stiff me with the delivery charges, but I had no way to contact them while in Florida, since all of the email communications and their phone number were on my home computer back in Michigan. The FedEx invoice wasn’t much help either. It misspelled the recipient as Eric 'Bicnstock' and incorrectly listed the company as Associated 'Products'. In addition, the account number that they claimed they were unable to bill was left blank on the invoice that they sent me. The invoice contained the address for the company in Toronto but did not have the all-important phone number or an email address.

That left me with one choice, a call to the FedEx Revenue Services. For the next hour I argued with the representative, and then with her superior, about my being billed for the delivery. Besides feeling that I had been unjustly charged, I couldn’t understand why FedEx did not simply contact Associated Producers about the bill. They have offices around the world, including Toronto, but they kept insisting that they were only hired to deliver a package and that they were not responsible for contacting the recipient. 

Both women in Revenue Services claimed it was my responsibility to insure that the account number of the recipient was accurate.  Even if I would have known to do this, the account number was not listed on the waybill.  This fact did not seem to matter, however, since the back of the waybill clearly stated: “Even if you give us different payment instructions, you will always be primarily responsible for all charges.” It went on to list nearly a dozen charges including fines, and their lawyers’ fees and legal costs. 

I explained that I was also concerned that I gotten the invoice three weeks after it had been sent because of my mail being forwarded. I asked if there would be any fines involved since I was unable to contact Associated Producers at this time and it would be another three weeks before I would get back to Michigan. The supervisor told me she could not guarantee that a fine would not be issued, and that a collection agency would be employed in the case of non-payment.

In the course of arguing my case with the supervisor, I discovered that she had the phone number for Associated Producers. Why she didn’t give it to me in the first place or print it on the invoice is not clear. Once I got the number from her, I also found out that in order to resolve the matter, I needed to get the correct account number and then rebill the shipment at yet another FedEx department. I mentioned to her that there was no account number listed on the invoice that was sent me. She replied that was because the original account number for Associated Producers was wrong.  I then explained to the supervisor that I wanted to clear the matter up as soon as possible, and I needed the original account number to do that. Without it, I might end up rebilling the same misinformation that caused the problem in the first place.

After getting the number, I called Samara Chadwick at Associated Producers and told her that I had been wrongly billed for the delivery, and that I had to get the correct account number from her and rebill it through FedEx in order to straighten things out.  She apologized and said that it wasn’t the first time that billing problems had cropped up with FedEx. Samara thanked me again for helping out with the Jack Scott video, and said she had already mailed me a copy along with the materials I had sent her.

It wasn’t until I made the call to rebill at FedEx that I noticed that the two account numbers were identical except for one number. An 8 had been replaced by a 9 on the incorrect account number. Suddenly, it all became clear. Just like they had misspelled Ric Bienstock’s last name, and incorrectly listed 'Products' rather than Producers for the company name, someone at FedEx had mistakenly typed in a wrong number for Associated Producers’ account, thereby causing the problem with the billing. A simple phone call from FedEx to the offices of Associated Producers could have resolved the problem in minutes, but for their mantra of “we are not responsible.” Instead of correcting the mistake they made, I was sent the bill and made the responsible party. 

Biting my tongue, I called the number at FedEx, gave them the correct account number and rebilled the delivery. But FedEx had one more slap to deliver. When I asked the representative if I could have a receipt of some kind mailed to me, she said "no, that was not company policy."  An email?  "I’m sorry but no, it’s just not company policy."  She said she could, however, send me a fax. When I explained that I didn’t own a fax machine, her response was “don’t you know someone who has one you could borrow?”  Yikes!!!

My dealings with the two businesses were as different as night and day. The contacts I made with Associated Producers were positive and friendly.  The folks at the Toronto company were helpful when I needed them, and I appreciated their thoughtfulness in sending me a copy of the Jack Scott induction video they produced.  As I've described above, my experience with FedEx was the polar opposite.

How do you respond to a negative encounter with a giant outfit like FedEx? I could write a letter, but I doubt if it would do much good – everyone was “following policy”; and the fine print on the back of the waybill sems to cover their ass from every conceivable angle. I guess I shouldn’t expect much in the way of customer service from a company that spends millions of dollars each year lobbying congress, and lavishes the majority of its political contributions on right-wing conservatives who believe in massive tax breaks for large businesses, and who work to erode unions and the collective bargaining rights of working class Americans.

I believe the only effective recourse for a customer who has been treated shabbily by a company is to deprive them of your business.  As a result, I will not be doing any more with FedEx in the future. I’ll be sending things by either UPS or the United States Postal Service from now on.

Over the years FedEx has employed a number of memorable ad campaigns such as: “When it Absolutely, Positively has to be there overnight”, “Our Most Important Package is Yours”, “This is a Job for FedEx”, and the current one, “Solutions That Matter”. Based upon my experience, I have a suggestion for a new one; “When We Fuck Up – It’s Your Responsibility”. FedEx can have that ad campaign idea for free along with their richly deserved nomination as the “Asshole of the Year”.