Business Bullying

Several weeks ago I registered for a 10-mile race using an online race website. I entered the necessary information — name, address, age and credit card information.  Near the end of the checkout process, I was asked to check a box that would allow a third party vendor to enroll me in a “free” trial membership of a service I didn’t want or need. I was not interested, but could not proceed to the checkout without the box being checked. In my haste, I didn’t note the fine print, the company, or the terms.

Apparently the fine print explained that the free trail membership would automatically turn into a year-long membership if the free trial was not cancelled within 30 days.

A few days ago, the company that offered the trial membership contacted me via email to inform and congratulate me that my trial had automatically converted to a one-year membership and they had charged the credit card on file.

My initial, irritated reaction was to call the bank and block the payment, but the calmer side urged me to go directly to the source to rectify the situation.

I emailed the company and took ownership of my role. I explained that I had neglected to cancel the subscription because I was unaware that it would automatically enroll me. I also explained that in order to cancel the subscription, I would have needed their contact information, which was not made available to me until I was already enrolled.

The company finally complied with my request and refunded my money but only after I shared my truth:

  1. When choices are unwillingly removed, it is bullying.
  2. When choices or information are unknowingly removed, it is lying or cheating.
  3. When you take something that isn’t yours, it is stealing.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for large corporations or the government to incorporate these tactics and call them “policies” or “marketing.”

  • Telecommunication companies add a dollar or a dime to your monthly bill without getting noticed. Then when questioned, offers no reasonable explanation.
  • The government adds “convenience charges” to process online vehicle tab renewals or property taxes – a system that should save them both time and money.
  • Banks charge a fee to withdrawal or use your own money.
  • The expense of letting go of a bad employee is more than the cost to keep him or her. I mean no disrespect to ethical, hard-working people, but the government and education institutions are notorious for this.

Conduct a google search and you’ll find more examples of bad business ethics than an honest person can stomach. The offenses are too many to mention. Poor ethics are so commonplace that even the magazine or news sites that report about it have lost sight of it. They create code that loops you back into their site when you attempt to leave their page. News flash — you are removing my choice.

Do these tactics work? Sadly, yes!  Because the more we ignore them, the more they gain permission to continue. As a society we’ve become numb or blind. We take the crap and say nothing. We allow unethical behavior because it is so common that it takes too much time and energy to change it. But that’s where we have gone wrong.

We aren’t powerless. We have a choice and we have a voice. Begin to question and question again. Demand accountability.

Because unwillingly removing choices is called bullying, not good business. Call them out. Make a change.

8 Responses

  1. joe

    I bet I could name the company! Exact same experience when registering for the local 10k run. Also have finally decided to change banks from national corp to local credit union because of ridiculous fees. Thanks!

  2. Neal

    Take rectification of the situation to another level by also complaining to the online race registration website and race organizer. It’s not fair to be forced to accept a trial membership and be responsible for cancelling within 30 days in order to register for a 10K race. This practice hurts participation in the races because some runners will choose to abandon the registration process rather than accept a forced-upon-them trial membership.

  3. Schurkey

    You’re so hot to correct this injustice, you seem to have forgotten to publicize the names of the offenders.

    From a certain perspective, you’re complicit with them, in keeping the details secret.

    Yes, that behavior is unethical. You are right to be upset, and I’m pleased that you’ve written a column to bring this to the attention of the public. HOWEVER, you’d have done better if you’d included the pertinent details.

    1. The goal is not to publicly condemn one company. It is an easy path sure, but the intention is to shine a light on the behaviors and tactics that are rooted in ego and fear with the hope that others could see it in their own worlds and take action in their own ways. It’s not clear to me what difference it would make to include details.

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