Originally Posted by LindaH
I have a story to tell about Homebase Oregon that didn't end so well.
Back in about 2005 I hit on the idea of using mail forwarding from Oregon to avoid sales taxes on personal products I was buying through the mail. I later found I out that I actually still needed to pay what's called a use tax but for a while it worked out really well. I guess I was a customer for eight or nine years.
It was never perfect though. It did seem that many of my packages took an extra long time in the mail after I could no longer track them past their arrival in Netarts. And I had a minor complaint that I never had a good idea of how much of my funds were remaining as I used them up or that all the costs were the most efficient. And I did wonder about cigarettes after hearing the voice on the phone and catching a scent of smoke on the cardboard shipping boxes. But at the time I was saving a lot of money on taxes so I just added some buffer for extra days in shipment and Kathy would call when I ran out of money. Since nothing ever got lost in the mail I was happy.
But while I kept my box open for all these years, I haven't used actually her services at all for about four and half years. I guess it was such a hassle to file all the notarized forms that I just kept paying to keep it available. In a certain sense I think that makes me a pretty decent customer to have: it's like all those gym members who pay the monthly fees but never go into the club.
Now I've moved a few times and I'm always been very diligent about updating my address with everybody I do business with and having the postal service forward it as well. It has always amazed me how some businesses seem to lose track of me. They'll fail to notify me about a price increase or something and then claim they didn't know I had moved. And then I'll remind them that I gave them my new address not only at the time I moved but also the last time it came up when they needed a billing address for a credit card payment over the phone. Sometimes it takes three or more updates for it to stick. And people never like to admit it was their mistake.
Kathy has lost track of me a few times. I'd generally get a phone call around the time I was due to renew my box. Considering the nature of a mail forwarding business you would expect a better system of keeping track of this kind of thing. And so I always had a sense that this operation was run out of somebody's home, a little sloppy and without the polished impression you get from the clean website.
Obviously there's a reason I'm posting this now. In fact I just received some of the worst customer service I've ever experience in my life.
Kathy would frequently send out a letter asking me what I wanted to do come renewal time. (I presume she sent a number of them to old addresses that were returned to her.) Actually I always felt bad that she was wasting all the stamps and costs of dropping that letter in the mail rather than sending the same inquiry in an email. I truly am sensitive to the idea that a small business needs to make a profit. Despite having an internet presence it does not seem that they fully leverage its utility and was never sure that email correspondence was really the best way to communicate.
I have lived in my home now for more than four years and I gave up my old mailbox even before that. I just searched through all my old emails and I still have the one I sent to Kathy only a few days after receiving the keys. That email was confirmed with a short "ok" in reply. Since I don't use any other addresses to complicate things you'd think it would be easy to keep straight one, very average street address.
But almost three weeks ago I got a phone call. During the conversation Kathy said she didn't think she had my current address (even though I've gotten mail from her in the last four years.) My account was a few weeks expired and she was asking what I wanted to do.
Now my finances have been extra tight in the last few months and I had completely forgotten to budget for this additional expense. I let her know I'd get back and the following day I called in return. Maybe I felt guilty about not keeping on top of it better myself so I agreed to sign on for another six months. It was probably something I needed to just cut off though.
I did indeed have plenty of money at the time but I typically want to know up front so I can juggle it between a number of accounts. With limited money in my main checking account I really preferred to charge this one to credit but I didn't have they credit cards on hand. Kathy had a card number on file (I would no longer trust her recordkeeping though) and I asked her to give it a try. She did so while I waited but unfortunately that account number had recently changed because the bank sent me a new one after a big security breach. Not wanting to keep her waiting an extra day for payment or waste more of her time I reluctantly gave her my debit card number instead. Even at that moment before the next part of this episode I really felt I was sticking my neck out and doing her a favor.
As I'm watching for various payments coming through my bank account I regularly check online--often even multiple times per day. I expected she would run the charge immediately though I quickly noticed that she did not. I trusted that it would come promptly and for reasons I can't remember and now regret, I checked off her $75 payment in my running financial ledger leading me to forget about going back to check it again later.
So fast-forward to last Thursday at 4pm Arizona time, the same time zone as Arizona (during the summer at least.) My heart skipped a beat to discover an unexpected pending charge from Homebase for $75 which caused two other bills to each generate $35 overdraft fees. I quickly check through all my records, sent an email with an urgent subject line explaining what happened, and then made a number of phones calls to both of Kathy's numbers leaving a voice message to refer her to the email. I hoped she could cancel the charge while it was still pending.
I tried to call again the next morning thinking that maybe she closed up shop by 4pm; however, by Tuesday none of my emails or calls had received a response. And I was getting pretty disappointed.
While I think it's reasonable to expect that I keep track of my own expenditures there's a flipside to trusting another person with your bank card info. A few years ago I purchased a Christmas tree off a dirt lot in early December; they made an impression of my card and for some reason held off running that charge until late January. Naturally I wasn't very happy about that but I had little luck finding somebody who cared about my complaint. Lessons learned and I'll never do business with that Moon Valley nursery again. How many weeks or months is reasonable? I definitely think that two weeks is pushing the envelope.
Kathy could have easily called or emailed to confirm. When I've held onto someone's check for a time, I extend that courtesy to them. But I'm sure the reason she didn't do that is the same excuse she just gave me for not using my card info immediately after hanging up the phone or better while I was on the line: she was busy. I'm learning to distrust anybody who intends to keep my credit card numbers on file. I guess I just hadn't been burned enough times.
Clearly I finally got in touch with her and sadly it gets even worse from this point.
I'm wondering if caller ID displayed my name and she didn't even want to talk to me; there was no friendliness in her voice when she answered: "Who is this?" That threw me a little and so I explained that I'm a customer of Homebase. I thought maybe the number I had saved wasn't her business line. I was already braced for where this was going.
So I recapped the situation since of course I couldn't even assume she'd seen the email. I remained pleasant throughout. I explained that I was hoping for a temporary reversal of the charge and then come back to sort it out afterward. She made no effort to be friendly about it and basically said "I can't do that."
Pushing for a better explanation she decided to inform me as an afterthought that she'd already sent me a refund check in the mail. Even though I hadn't really asked for my money back, it didn't seem to occur to her to let me know that as a response to any one of my previous attempts to contact her.
I wasn't quite satisfied since my main concern was the overdrafts. In answer to that, supposedly her card machine doesn't let her reverse the charges (or more likely she just doesn't know how to do it or care to find out.) I told her that I was willing to cover any kind of small bank fees associated with a reversal but I guess she had already disowned me as a paying customer without even trying to sort it out. She displayed no interest in helping and in hindsight I'm surprised she didn't just hang up to spare the eight minutes of time talking with me. All in all she was generally bordering on rude.
Even as we had just begun talking she insulted my management of finances and commented, in paraphrase, that when people give permission to take money she trusts that they mean it. This isn't the same world as paper checks though. And she claims never to have had this happen before. But when the excuse is just being busy it's hard to imagine this isn't a routine thing. Isn't everybody busy?
I gave every opportunity to work something out. And I told her that it's not my nature to be a jerk: I was trying to avoid disputing the charge along with my only other recourse of posting about the experience online. I believe her response was something like "obviously it is since you're talking about it."
From all my previous interactions I had pictured a nice old lady trying to run a small business and make an honest living out of it. It seems that wasn't the full story.