Filler Jeff's Revenge

Why 1-800-24 ROSES (247-6737) Sucks.
By Jeff Smith

I WENT TO HAWAII late last February and spent a week at a friend's beach house. Had a wonderful time, never wished you were there. After I got home it struck me I ought to send some form of thank-ee, so I picked up the Yellow Pages and riffled back to front for florists. Roses seem like a sure-bet to convey appreciation, but the price of such appreciation is fairly steep. I looked through the display ads until one caught my eye.

It said "24 hour roses. Two dozen roses for the price of one. 1-800-24 ROSES (247-6737) Se habla Español."

Smith I called the number and Se habla Español all right. It was the Se habla Inglés part that was wanting. I had to spell every single letter of the name and address, city and state of the intended recipient. Twice. I kid you not. Now I love the Spanish language and speak it almost fluently, but it struck me as odd that a nationwide service in the U.S. with an 800 line would employ someone to take telephone orders who was not fluent in the native tongue.

At any rate, I asked how soon the roses could be delivered and she told me by mid-day tomorrow. I told her I wanted to make certain, because I knew my friend would be leaving Hawaii two days hence. The woman assured me they could guarantee next-day delivery, I said swell, and she said the total charge would be $83.95.

I rang off. And waited. And waited. My friend arrived in Santa Cruz County several days later, and though we had spoken more than once, she uttered no word of thanks for the roses. Finally I asked if she had received them--not that I was fishing for gratitude, but curious nonetheless--and she said no.

So I called 1-800 24 ROSES again. They said problems were handled by another number: 800-FLORESS. I hit the buttons and told them the bouquet hadn't arrived and asked them to credit the $83.95 on my MasterCard. This time it was a man on the other end, and I gave him my card number, the original order date, address and addressee, and he said no problem, they'd take care of it immediately.

A few days later my friend told me she'd spoken with her daughter back in Hawaii, who told her the roses finally showed up--10 days after the guaranteed delivery date--and that they were dried-up and dead.

I decided to call the 800 number again. I re-explained the situation and the man said not to worry, it was all taken care of. I didn't think about it again until the MasterCard bill came and the $83.95 charge was on it. I waited another month for the credit to show up. The bill arrived, but no credit. I called consumer services with BankOne MasterCard.

It's an 800 system with about a six-step digital menu. Finally I got a human voice and shared my tale of woe with it. The voice said she'd mail me a form to fill out.

"Why can't we just do it now while we're talking to one another?"

"We don't do it that way anymore."

I got the form, filled it out and returned it, and weeks later got a letter that said they were waiting for a written response from the flower peddler. That was five weeks ago and still no further response, so I called that damnable BankOne 800 service again. This time after much punching of buttons and waiting on hold, the lady came back on the line and said good news, the issue has been resolved. I asked what does that mean? She said it meant the transaction had taken place. I said I know that, it showed up on my bill. The problem is the roses didn't show up as promised, and I shouldn't have to pay for them. She said that was between me and the seller. I said I thought the bank had some obligation to its paying customers when merchants rip them off. Like perhaps they don't pay the merchant or charge the card-holder.

I called 24 ROSES again, and the guy knew who I was without my even telling him. He said you've got to talk to José tomorrow morning. Did I mention that the flower peddler with the 800 line is in Puerto Rico? That explains the language thing. I told the guy I shouldn't have to wait to talk to José, since the first lady told me the flowers would be delivered within 24 hours, the first man said I'd be credited when they did not arrive as promised, and the second man reiterated what the first man said, after I told him the stuff showed up 10 days late and dead.

He said don't yell at me, I said I'm not yelling, but what are you doing on a nationwide phone sales service if you can't handle business? Then he told me, get this:

That it doesn't matter whether the flowers arrived on time or not, dead and dried or not, it was not his company's responsibility. He said it was MY responsibility to return the flowers if they weren't wanted. MINE? They showed up late and late (as in dead) at a front door in Hawaii, and were taken by a teenage daughter of an intended recipient who was 3,000 miles away. Taken immediately to the trash. And it's MY responsibility to return dead flowers from a trash can 500 miles of desert and 2,500 miles of saltwater away? Amazing.

And I told the guy so. And I told him that no matter how this mess turned out, for good or ill, I was going to write this column about it.

He said this was blackmail and they could sue me.

I'll let you know, in 25 words or less, whether I get my $83.95 back. And how the court case comes out.

Meanwhile, was I you, I'd be careful where I let my fingers do any walking. TW

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