Random PR Thoughts

Shame, thy name is Ben.

sichuan

 Have you heard about Ben Edelman?

His story is rocketing around the internet. He’s a Harvard Business School professor and lawyer who feels he was cheated by a small Chinese restaurant (seen above in a Boston.com photo) in the Boston area, and decided to bring the wrath of the law on the restaurant’s owner. See the full story here: http://bit.ly/1GaYqj5.

In a (litchi) nutshell, Attorney/Professor Edelman ordered food from the restaurant, referring to an online menu for his order. When the food arrived, the bill was four dollars higher than he expected – each of the four items was a dollar more than the menu said. So his total bill, which should have been $53.35 was actually $57.35.

In a series of back-and-forth emails, the restaurateur apologized profusely, noting that he hadn’t gotten around to updating the prices on his website and offering to refund the four bucks and update the website immediately. In return, Prof. Edelman threatened him with legal action and demanded not just the four dollars but in anticipation of a victory in court, twelve dollars representing treble damages. Let me note – he was dead serious.

Even after the owner incredibly offered to pay the $12, Prof. Edelman persisted. One has to assume that at his billable hourly rate, he must have invested way more than $12 in this petulant exercise.

But, as it is said, Karma’s a bitch. Boston.com managed to get ahold of the email exchange (maybe this small businessman is a little savvier than Prof. Edelman imagined) and the story instantly went viral on Twitter and Facebook. In the end, Prof. Edelman not only did not get his $4, he issued a groveling apology.  The whole sorry episode left Edelman’s reputation in tatters, a high price for a $4 error. Google “Ben Edelman” and the first five pages (as far as I bothered to look) are all-Ben-the-jerk-all-the-time.

To be sure, I don’t like it when I feel cheated – not for four bucks or four cents – but if Prof. Edelman really felt aggrieved, he should have reveled in his victory (the offered refund) and left well enough alone. Instead, he crapped in his own bed and while he was at it, dragged the legal profession through a cesspool, along with his employer. At least one mortified HBS student felt compelled to start a fundraiser for the homeless in part to counter the negative publicity.

In contrast, the restaurant acted with dignity and grace throughout, including, as noted, the triple refund offer. Days after the blow-up, the restaurant, Sichuan Garden, issued a statement which in part read:

“We have been overwhelmed with the response and support that has flooded our way. It means the world to know that there are still good people in this world. We have been contacted by people from California all the way to Australia offering kind words and support. I have been attempting to keep up with writing back personally and thanking each and every one of you. We have been offered donations, free services, including website services and legal advice, which I kindly denied.

“I just want to make clear that we are not a business in financial distress. We have been blessed with the support of our amazing community and hospitality family that has understood the value of a hard working family. Your support and kind words are more then enough.”

A class act, in stark contrast to Prof. Edelman’s proctological rant.

I hardly need to note that we might never have heard of Professor Edelman were it not for social media. And on some level, I wish that I had not. Few are ennobled by reading of the supremely repulsive behavior of a whiny brat with three (three!) degrees from Harvard.

This episode also reminds me of a situation I once incited that makes me glad Twitter wasn’t even imaginable at the time.

Many years ago, my son was a fan of a popular band that was scheduled to play at Roseland here in New York. Feeling that he was not old enough to attend such a concert on his own, I decided to accompany him and ordered two tickets via Ticketmaster. The tickets were about $35 each and also came with a few dollars service charge and a shipping and handling fee. The tickets arrived as promised, but the day before the concert, one of the performers took ill and the concert was cancelled.

I returned the tickets by mail and in due course received a refund, which covered only the face value of the tickets – not the service fee or shipping and handling. Incensed, I sent a letter off to the company headquarters in Los Angeles and demanded that the fees be refunded as well. I addressed the letter to Mr. Fred Rosen, CEO, but of course I expected the letter to be shunted to the customer service department.

A few days later, I received a call from none other than Mr. Fred Rosen. I was instantly dumbfounded that the CEO of a big outfit like Ticketmaster would personally call a customer!

Mr. Rosen that said to me that in the more than 20 years since he founded Ticketmaster, not one customer had ever demanded the refund of the service fees and shipping and handling charges – I was the very first. In his born-and-raised-in-Noo-Yawk accent, he was charming but insistent, and I felt like a complete schmuck. Especially after he kindly suggested that in the future should I order through Ticketmaster, I should request the tickets to be held at the will-call window; no shipping charges would be applied and in the event of a cancelation, the tickets would be automatically refunded back to my credit card. Now I felt like a double-schmuck!

I thanked him for his call and apologized for taking his time. And I have followed his advice ever since. I hope he’s forgotten about me.

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Categories: Random PR Thoughts

2 replies »

  1. There was a time when a Harvard degree implied a working knowledge of acceptable interpersonal skills. Prof. Edelman seems to have forgotten an important part of his Harvard education. One can only hope that enrollment in his classes will be down next term.

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