It's very rare that I get a Saturday night off as that is a work evening for me. However, because of the Chinese New Year The Willow Tree Restaurant (where we have our shows) needed the space on Saturday February 20th. So I looked at it as a treat and decided I would take my Fiance out for a nice dinner and find something different to do.
I had some Vouchers which were good for free admissions to a play in San Francisco called Tony N' Tina's Wedding. I've had these for about a year and had not been able to use them. The reason being that their shows are on Friday and Saturday evenings which is when I usually work. Actually I did try twice to use them on a Friday and both times after making the reservations I was called a few days before the show and was told it was canceled.
Let me clarify something about these vouchers as this will be very important to this story. The vouchers were gotten through a company called BizX which is a Barter Exchange Company. The way it works is like this; let's say a restaurant is a member of BizX and needs some printing done. They find a printer that is also a member and contract with them to do the printing. So let's say the total for the print job is $100. What will happen is that the printer will get $100 in BizX dollars credited to their account and the restaurant will get $100 in BizX dollars debited from their account. So now let's say the printer wants to buy some flowers for a client. They can find a florist that is a member of BizX and use their BizX dollars to do so. So the advantage to this system is you can "trade", but you don't have to trade directly with the person you are buying or selling from.
When you are a member of BizX or most barter companies that I know about your trade is supposed to on exactly the same terms that you would give someone who's paying cash. So in the example above if the printer charged $100 for a certain print job they cannot add to it to make up for the fact that it is a trade and not a cash transaction. There also shouldn't be any restrictions on the trade. So in the example above the florist should not say "we only accept traded gift certificates on Thursday afternoons".
The way I got my vouchers was that for a short time I was working for a window and door company that was a member of BizX. One of the jobs I did was for someone who also was a member and wanted to trade. So the owners of the company said this was fine, but I would have to take my commission in BizX trades as well. This was fine with me as I knew there would be enough things I needed to do this. So we did the transaction and my client got the same product and terms that a cash buyer would get. After the transaction closed I bought a number of items through BizX, mostly gift certificates. These were for restaurants, movie theaters, coffee shops and the two vouchers for Tony N' Tina's Wedding.
Okay so let's go back to a couple of weeks ago. I'm trying to think of something fun to do on Saturday February 20 and I remember I have these vouchers. I say well this shouldn't be a problem there's a few weeks left and they have already canceled shows on me twice. I'm sure they will make sure I get in. Here is the e-mail I sent on Wednesday February 10:
From: John DeKoven
Sent: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 3:04 PM
Subject: Tony n' Tina's Wedding Tickets
Saturday February 20
Voucher #’s BX238 and BX239
Voucher Code TNTBIZX
Please note that I have had these BizX Vouchers for almost a year. I have twice tried to go to Friday night shows and both times they have been canceled. It is very rare that I can get off on a Friday or Saturday night. This Saturday is really the only weekend I will be able to take off for a while. I would appreciate it if you could accommodate us for this show.
Here is the e-mail response I received:
From: Rubykm4@aol.com [mailto:Rubykm4@aol.com]
Sent: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 5:38 PM
To: John DeKoven
Subject: Tony n' Tina's Wedding San Francisco
I do apologize but we do not have availability for you ticket type on February 20, 2010. Please select another date.
Executive Assistant to Producer
TONY N' TINA'S WEDDING
Now you will see in the e-mail above that is says they do not have availability for my "ticket type". So I called to clarify. What I was told by Ruby is that they only allow a certain amount of trade vouchers per show and that they are all filled up. So I clarified with her and asked "so are you telling me that if I wanted to pay full price you have tickets available, but you won't let me use my voucher". She confirmed this again and then reiterated that they only have 100 seats so they have to limit what they can take on voucher. I reminder her that this is not how trade is supposed to work. More importantly I reminder her that I had booked shows twice that have been canceled and it would just be smart customer service to make an exception. She said she was sorry, but there was nothing she could do. I said "are you sure there's nothing that can be done? Because if not I am going to make some complaints". She again said there was nothing that she could do.
What was even more frustrating was that they had tickets for this show listed on Goldstar. Goldstar is a service where you can list your tickets at a discount (usually 50% off). They had plenty of tickets listed there so even the general public could have bought tickets for around $50 each. So basically for $100 this business was willing to have an upset consumer and quite frankly the wrong upset consumer. Being someone who has had their own companies for the past 20 years and priding myself in "the customer is always right" I was not going to let this go. So here was my reply e-mail to Ruby. Remember this was after numerous requests to make things right:
From: John DeKoven
Sent: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 7:18 PM
Subject: RE: Tony n' Tina's Wedding San Francisco
I’m sorry to hear that and I’m sorry to hear that based on our conversation you wish to do nothing to accommodate me.
If the show was sold out of course I would understand, but what you are saying is that you will not let a “traded” ticket take precedence over a possible “cash” ticket which I believe violates the terms of being a BizX member. On top of that I checked on Goldstar and you have plenty of half price tickets available as well. The bottom line is that your company TWICE has canceled shows that I had booked tickets for. Normally when a company makes a mistake they try to make it up to their customer, but you obviously don’t subscribe to this philosophy. You have made a classic mistake in that for the dollar value of what you think you saved, you lost far more in long term business in the following ways:
1. I actually had four other people that we’re going to go to the show with me, but I told them not to buy their tickets until I confirmed I got mine. So by denying me you lost not only four full paying customers now, but these four will never go to the show in the future.
2. I own a comedy club in the East Bay and produce shows for other venues as well. Fortunately I know how to treat my clients and we never would treat them as I was treated. We have an e-mail list of close to 10,000 and on our next e-mail blast, which will be next week, I will be including this story and how everything was handled.
3. I will also be post a link on our home page at www.bunjoscomedy.com that will say “Why you should not go to Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” and when they click that link they will get an accounting of my story.
4. I will of course post this on numerous review websites such as Yahoo and Yelp.
5. Lastly I will be calling BizX to inquire about this as well. It is my understanding that as a member of BizX your trades have to be just like if a customer was paying cash and there cannot be restrictions placed on the trade.
Believe me I’m not big headed enough to think my actions are going to put you out of business, but I can assure you that you will lose more business then the money you saved by not letting me use my BizX vouchers for the show.
Did I go overboard? Maybe a bit, but in general I felt that I was getting the shaft and they needed to know that I wasn't going to just let it happen. Well within an hour or so I received the following message. This is from the producer and is one of the most ridiculous and funny e-mails I've read in a while:
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 8:36 PM
To: John DeKoven; Empty Contact
Subject: Tony n tinas wedding
Unfortunately your e mail basically leaves no options for anybody!!!!
Our show is a fun comedy. U certainly don't sound like a person who would appreciate relaxing at a fun comedy.
I am forwarding your threats and black mail to the district attorneys office as well as FBI.
Your malicious threats are being taken very seriously!!!
I will be sending it to local media as well as discuss it with the chronicle!
I am frightened and appalled at your vicious threats.
Can u imagine if ur guests did the same?!!!!!!!
I have 50 employees and you are threatening all of them.
We can only seat approx 100 guests. We can only afford a certain percentage on trade.
I am also forwarding these uncalled for threats to our legal team.
All u had to do was ask my assistant to have me call u(especially as a club owner) or call biz x
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
This guy obviously has no clue and here was my final response to him:
From: John DeKoven
Sent: Sunday, February 14, 2010 9:08 AM
Subject: RE: Tony n tinas wedding
Thank you for your e-mail. I found it quite amusing. Let me go through your e-mail point by point to clear up your misconceptions:
1. You say that my e-mail leaves no options for anybody. Well it certainly did leave options. You could have replied and instead of still insisting my position was wrong, you could have apologized for any misunderstanding and said you would like to speak with me to resolve the matter. However, the way you responded shows me that like the other person I spoke with on the phone you are not interested in making a potential customer happy.
2. I certainly do appreciate relaxing at fun comedy shows and do all the time at my place as well as other venues. What I do not appreciate is people or businesses that take advantage and screw me over. I'm sorry if you don't think that's what happened to me. However, I'm quite sure if you polled people they would say that after having booked two shows with you guys and having them both canceled on me, that it wouldn't be unreasonable to make accommodations for me.
3. I'm not sure where I threatened or blackmailed you. To me a threat is saying "if you don't do this, I'm going to do this". So if I were to say "If you don't admit me to the Saturday show I'm going to do this" that would be a threat. All I did was let you know what I was going to do. As far as blackmail you obviously don't know what the definition of that is.
4. As far as you forwarding my e-mail to the district attorneys and FBI I honestly was laughing so hard I was crying. You have been watching too many tv shows that's for sure. There is nothing I said that warrants any type of illegality. I'm sure the FBI will get right too it just as soon as they solve that terrorist thing.
5. As far as sending it to local media and the chronicle that is a great idea! When you do please make sure to tell them that I would love to speak with them and that the best time to get a hold of me is from noon till 11:00 pm or so ( I don't like to wake up early).
6. You asked me to imagine if my guests would ever do the same. Well this is an easy one to answer because it would never happen. Unlike you I subscribe to the theory of "the customer is always right" and "treat people the way you want to be treated". Am I perfect, is my club perfect, are my shows perfect, are my employees perfect? Absolutely not, but it's how you make up for your mistakes that most people care about, not that you made them. The few times we've made mistakes I've corrected it to the clients satisfaction (this isn't just in comedy, but other businesses that I own). A lot of times I correct them ahead of time before the client even asks. For instance a few months ago we had a problem with noise coming from the restaurant that we share space with. Without anyone asking I gave everyone that came that evening a free ticket for a future show. That was around $1000 in free tickets I gave out, but what it did was show people that I cared and valued their business. More of them will come back and tell their friends than if I had done nothing. We routinely take coupons that are expired and I could go on and on.
Another reason this would not happen is because all my employees have full authority to do whatever is needed to make a customer happy. I would never have a situation where an assistant would have not solved the problem or at least said "let me call my boss to see what we can do".
7. When you say you can only afford a certain amount on trade I believe you don't understand the point of a bartering system. It is not "I will make a trade with you, but only accept it on my terms". The trade is supposed to be accepted anytime. What if I were to say "we only accept trades three days out of the year" Theoretically you already got paid for your trade. Also even if I were to accept the fact that you can only accept a certain amount of trade, you guys canceled two shows on me so the right thing to do would be to make an exception.
8. I'm not sure if you have lawyers on retainer, but if not and you want to waste your money on lawyers for something that is not actionable that is your business. One of my business partners is an attorney so it's no sweat off my back.
9. You said all I had to do was ask your assistant for your cell#. This is ridiculous. It's not my responsibility to tell your assistant how to do her job. I asked her repeatedly if this was the final decision and she said yes. You notice she didn't reach out to you until I sent the second e-mail.
Also I should mention again that although you said you only take a certain amount of trade you had this show listed on Goldstar and had plenty of tickets available. From what I understand these shows are never completely sold out. Even if I assume the best case scenario and you gave me my seats and lost out on two goldstar tix at $50 you would have lost $100. So for $100 you know created a situation where you have six unhappy people (me, my fiancé, and the four people who were going to go to the show). There's a rule in marketing that says one unhappy person will tell twenty others, while a happy person might tell five others.
Yes I will admit when I wrote that e-mail I was really ticked off and I may or may not do any of the things I mentioned. However, they are all legal and most importantly truthful. The public can gather their own opinion from it.
Since I have sent this e-mail I have not gotten any response. I know that this post will not solve my problem I had with them nor will it really hurt them in anyway. However, I like the idea that I can tell others my story so they can be aware of just how they might be treated if they decide to do business with this company. It always feels good to stand up for what's right even if you don't get what you want.