Bamboozled: Sparring with the gym

Jim Joyce, 81, was window-shopping in Wall last Feb. 24.BB branding

He sauntered through a shopping center that sports many businesses, including a WoW-Work Out World gym. Curious — his daughter has a membership — he went inside.

Joyce said he was given a tour and he was impressed with the facility. He joined, paying $159.43 on his credit card.

But as soon as he returned home, the spry Spring Lake retiree, who said he weighs the same as he did at age 40, realized he made a mistake. He had plenty of household chores to keep him busy and active, he said, from gardening to chopping wood and trimming trees.

The WoW contract said Joyce would get a full refund if he canceled within three days of signing. That refund would be returned to him within 30 days.

He canceled the contract the following day.

When Joyce contacted Bamboozled, 73 days had passed without a refund.

“When you join … you deal with real, flesh-and-blood people. They greet you with bubbly, bright smiles, cheerful words of welcome and a friendly hand wave to enter the premises,” Joyce wrote in an e-mail to Bamboozled. “The termination or cancellation experience, however, is a vastly different matter. Gone are the real, smiling people. They have been replaced by e-mails.”

The long wait

Time passed and Joyce waited for his refund. Thirty days came and went. And another 30.

On April 18, he began an e-mail saga with the company because there is no telephone number for the corporate office. Bamboozled reviewed the correspondence.

52311Joyce received a swift response to his first query. The automated message said a support ticket had been opened for his case.

Joyce waited, and 10 more days passed.

On April 29, 63 days after the cancellation, he wrote again, reminding the company of its 30-day refund policy. He received a “support ticket” response that was identical to his first e-mail.

On May 2, membership dues of $12.88 were charged to Joyce’s credit card.

Losing patience, Joyce e-mailed again on May 5.

“Please explain such a lengthy delay when the WoW contract promises ‘full refund of your money’ when canceling within a three day period and further states ‘refunds must be made within 30 days of receipt of cancellation notice,’ ” he wrote.

What did he receive back? Another “support ticket” e-mail response.

An e-mail from a real person followed. It read: “All refunds are issued in the form of a check. The refund check must be signed and approved by one of the owners. Your check will be sent to the location where you joined as soon as possible. Once your check has arrived you will receive a call from the club letting you know it is available for pick up.”

The following day, May 6, an annoyed Joyce wrote again. He asked if there was an explanation, beyond the need for a check to be signed by an owner, for the delay.

“Because of the delay, I must question whether the owners are showing up for work every day. Is anybody at WoW checking up on their attendance? Is there a back-up plan for check signing when owners are on vacation or too ill to work?” Joyce wrote.

The response he received had an apology for the delay but offered no further explanation.

Joyce was frustrated, and wrote again, suggesting the process would be much simpler and faster if the company would simply give the refund to his credit card or mail the check, rather than force Joyce to pick it up at the Wall gym location.

Joyce received another form e-mail reply.

He then filed complaints with Consumer Affairs and with the Better Business Bureau, which lists an “F” rating for WoW. He wrote to WoW again.

“I have been trying to WORK OUT a procedure to improve efficiency in WoW’s operations in order to minimize time consuming tasks and expenses. This is one idea that might help: require the customer to send you a pre-addressed and stamped envelope in which you send out a refund check. This costs you nothing,” he wrote.

Form letter response.

On May 7, Joyce wrote again.

“A person my age (81) could die at any time waiting for a WoW refund check. Could this possibly be what you are waiting for? (A morbid thought, but worthy of consideration in light of WoW’s shameful and appalling delays.) Please speed things up,” he wrote.

On May 9, he received a note saying Joyce’s May 6 suggestion on the company’s billing procedures would be shared with the firm’s member services director.

“They couldn’t tell I was kidding?” Joyce said. “My initial communications with WoW started out with a straightforward, factual and respectful request for a refund check. When this approach did not appear to achieve results, I turned to using humor and sarcasm.” That didn’t seem to work either.

On May 11, Bamboozled tried to contact WoW’s corporate office. We sent e-mails and left messages for several company executives, but no calls were returned.

That very day, Joyce received an e-mail saying his refund check would be sent to the Wall gym by the end of the week. Joyce asked why it couldn’t be sent to his home. The e-mail response said it was WoW’s policy to get a member’s signature when a refund is granted. Joyce asked why.

The company then had a change of heart, and said it would be mailed to his home.

But then, another blip. A subsequent e-mail from WoW said the check would be signed on May 19 and then it would be mailed to Joyce.

Check mix-up

We were glad to hear the check was coming, but we still wondered why the delay was so long.

Bamboozled finally talked to Bernadette Milaszewski, WoW’s customer service manager, on May 13.

“We did receive his request for his check and I have it front of me. It was signed and cut March 14,” she said.

March 14?

That’s nearly two months ago. The most recent e-mails said the check wouldn’t be signed until May 19.

“We were not aware until May 2 that he didn’t get his check. We thought it was sent out to him already,” she said.

Joyce’s first e-mail to the company was April 18.

“We were actually looking for the check to see what had happened to it,” she said.

Then why wasn’t Joyce told the delay was because of a lost check?

“He should have been,” Milaszewski said, noting she’d put it in the mail to Joyce that day.

He received the refund on May 16, 80 days since the membership cancelation.

Joyce is glad to finally have his money back, yet he wonders if he would have received the refund had he not e-mailed the company again and again.