Bait and Switch Vendor

We have a vendor this week that attempted a bait-and-switch on the library. I won’t name the vendor though.  Partly because I’m trying to be nice and partly because I’m not sure if that could get me into legal trouble.

It started when I realized that the subscription to this service was about to end in a matter of days, yet hadn’t received any renewal notice.  Typically renewal notices get sent well in advance – one or two months ahead of time.  At first, though, I thought it could have been an issue on our end because, in the past, other offices at the college have handled the invoice for this particular service.  So I reached out to the vendor to ask if the college had been sent an invoice and if they could be sent through the library going forward. Here’s the response:

“Hello,
That is also our fault. Maria has moved on from [XXXX].
Please find your renewal invoice attached.
I can help you with anything related with your account.”

So, fairly short and sweet.  The person who was dealing with our account last year was no longer at the company and somehow sending our invoice slipped through the cracks.  Okay, certainly an error on their part, but I had the invoice and was ready to process it.

The invoice was for $1,250 and budgets are tight this year.  We had an internal meeting to discuss budget issues and basically how we we going to make ends meet which included cuts in some areas and not doing some things we had originally planned on.  This particular vendor’s service was in question during the discussion, but in the end we decided to keep it.  So a day or two after receiving the invoice we sent it to our business office to be paid out.

Five days later and the day before our account was set to expire, I get another email from someone else at the vendor.  I can’t quote it directly without hinting at who it is, but here’s the gist of what was in the email, in order:

  • Briefly, they hope we enjoy the service and asked for feedback if we had any
  • About two paragraphs of recent improvements and updates to the service this year, including a fair amount of marketing-speak (e.g. “Now over 600 institutions enjoy our services”, “We’re better than ever”, etc.)
  • They mention our license is ending soon and that “now may be a good time to discuss renewal plans”
  • They now offer multi-year contract discounts
  • “Please let me know how do you wish to move forward”

So this email was essentially asking us if we wanted to renew, front-loaded with a marketing pitch.  Pretty inoffensive so far. I reply briefly saying we’d like to continue the service and are currently processing the invoice for a one-year renewal.  Here’s the reply that raised red flags with me:

“Thanks for your reply and continuous interest in our services[…]We had to modify the price given the investments I shared in the previous email. Attached is an overview of the upgraded product and a quote for one-year subscription.

An annual renewal for 450 accounts would cost $1550.
A 2-year renewal would cost $2900.

Your 2015 license expires tomorrow, but I have prolonged it to avoid users switching to free version.

Please let me know how you wish to proceed and if there is anything else you need from our side.

We will be happy to serve you this year.”

Ok, let me point out a few key things so far:

  1. This email was sent out the day before our license was set to expire
  2. We were already given an invoice 5 days prior, which was already processed.
  3. This email now quotes the annual price as $1550, $300 more than the $1250 from the first invoice.

When I first read the email my first thoughts were “Oh no, they’ve gone up in price, what are we going to do”, because, like I said, budgets were tight and $300 really could make or break a deal like this.  But then I realized that this is unethical on their part given that we’d already been invoiced for the new year, at a lower price. So here was my response:

“Can the price of the invoice dated 10/1/2015 that is currently being processed be honored?  It’s exceedingly late in the renewal process to modify the price.  Initially, we didn’t receive an invoice, and only after I inquired about it last week did I receive an invoice for the amount of $1250.00.  Our budget is incredibly tight this year and we may have to reconsider our subscription this year if the increase goes into affect.

Since the payment for $1250 is currently being processed by our business office, I assume you can refund that in case we decide not to renew?”
I was somewhat proud of this response because I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like to complain about my food in a restaurant or ask that it be taken back, no matter how bad it was – a bit of a pushover.  For me, this sort of directness (albeit polite) doesn’t come naturally.  But, in this case they needed to be called out for what was (even if unintentionally) a bait-and-switch.  As a side note: one of the main reasons I mentioned the possibility of a refund was a threat to show that we really would consider backing out.Here was their response:
“Could you please forward me the email or an invoice you have received on 10/1/2015? I just can not find it in my records. I will see what can be done.”
Not overly brusque, but not apologetic either.  They didn’t address some of my questions.  I just needed to prove what I was saying in order not to be baited and switched.  I forwarded the original email with the original invoice and here was the final response and resolutions:

“Thank you, Derrick. I’m very sorry for the confusion. Maria has moved and although she still helps with the accounts, we are having some communication gaps from time to time.Our pricing policy has changed and we are required to raise the price. For you it will remain the same as last year, $1250.”

So, clearly it was all Maria’s fault.  Too bad she’s not still around. There was an apology there, but reading between the lines there’s still a defense of the higher price and the shifting the blame to someone no longer with the company.  So, even though I’m happy with the final resolution, their operations and customer service leave a lot to be desired.

It was certainly a bait-and-swtich attempt on their part, but honestly, I think it was unintentional.  Since Maria (who was our original account rep) was no longer there we had to reach out to them to be invoiced (when does that ever happen?). Our newer contact had to scramble to send me an invoice, but probably sent me an “old” invoice using the older pricing.  Their marketing team never got notified that we were invoiced and went through the motions of getting us to renew with the new and improved pricing model despite us already having essentially paid a lower price for the new year. Somebody there had to get chewed out over this.

So this vendor isn’t necessarily evil or out to con their current customers (they’re not Comcast), they just need to get it together.

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