Saturday, May 14, 2005

Sorry, You Didn't Win Free Lasik At Custom Laser Center, Even If They Say You Did

About a week or so ago I blogged that my wife might have won free lasik from Custom Laser Center in Los Angeles.

Well, she didn't. It's a marketing scam. Here's how it went down.

About a month ago, I entered her in the contest. You can see the entry form here, on their website, although we entered through a local radio station.

(Notice there are no "rules" posted for this contest, nor any mention that there exists any possibility other than "Win Free Lasik").

At the end of the month we get a phone call saying she was "this month's winner" in the "Win Free Lasik" contest. She'd be sent a $2,000 gift certificate. There was no mention of "2nd place," no mention that she had not actually won free lasik. If you inferred that, simply because you were told were a winner in the "Win Free Lasik" contest, oh well. As they would tell me later, they never actually said she had won free Lasik. She was told, as is correct, she had won a $2,000 gift certificate, so why would you think the Lasik would be free?

Well, partly because when we asked what the normal price range for surgeries was, we were told it was between $800 and $5,000. Again, this leaves the impression that there are surgeries that would be covered by a $2,000 gift certificate, since even if $800 was only for one eye, $1,600 would still be covered. After all, this doctor does surgeries for people with presbyopia and all kinds of other problems my wife doesn't have, so there's got to be some prices at the upper end that are beyond our needs.

Now, as you saw in my post about the win, I was suspicious. But, because of the price range quoted to me, I still thought there was at least a possibility.

As it turned out, the price range quoted was also technically accurate, but still deceptive.

Once we got down there, and after watching the video about Wally Joyner, Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, radio DJs, and local news anchors all getting surgery at this place, we were ushered into the back room where the girl sat at the desk with the computer and the paperwork.

She launched into the spiel, and when she came to the "How did you hear about us?" question and my wife said she'd won the contest, the lady proceeded to tell us how the contest worked. What we had actually won--the $2,000 gift certificate--was second place. It was the same thing they gave celebrities. It would not cover the cost of any procedure. In fact, it would not cover half the cost of any procedure, unless we wanted to drive down to San Diego and use their "old laser." Then it would be $1,700.

What about the $800-$5,000 price range quoted on the phone? Absolutely accurate. That includes all prices they charge anybody with or without the gift certificate. One eye, with the certificate, on the old laser, would be $800. Two eyes, without the certificate, on the good machine, would be $5,000. The full price range.

Never mind that it would have made more sense to quote us the price range either with or without the gift certificate, and then tell us which we were being told. Never mind that isn't what we had asked the guy (We'd specifically asked for the "normal" price range). Instead, quote the "full" price range just to get them down here and hope that after they watch the video they'll agree to "finance" the whole thing for $40-$50 dollars a month.

For the next nine years.

The price they charge you seems to have nothing to do with your problem. It's all about which machine you want them to use. Even though their website says, "We understand that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions in Ophthalmology," they seem to have found a one-price-fits-all solution where they charge a certain amount no matter what your problem is. So my assumptions that pricing would be based on severity of problem were dead wrong.

I don't know why I'm so furious with these guys. Even in my last blog post, it's clear I knew this was going to happen. I guess it's just the fact that I drove down there thinking I would see a full spectrum of prices, ranging from well below the amount of my gift certificate to well above--

The guy's exact words on the phone after he quoted the price range were "Why don't you come down and see how much it will cover?" Again, leaving the impression there was a chance it might cover "all" of it, or that it might cover "some" of it.

Instead, he knew exactly how much it would cover. It would cover $2,000. Since no surgery is less than that, there is never any situation where the gift certificate covers any other amount.

Any business relationship is about trust. A customer has to feel he can trust the place he's doing business with. I have to trust the mechanic is telling me the truth about what's under my hood. I have to trust the checker at the grocery store isn't going to steal my credit card number. I have to trust my bank will be able to give me my money tomorrow.

In this case, I'm sure that Dr. Gene W. Zdenek is probably a fantastic surgeon. I'll bet my wife's eyes would be as safe in his hands as in any of the top doctors in the world. I certainly do not think he's a quack, and I do not think anybody who works in his office is anything but sweet and nice. They really were fantastic to us--especially to my kids--while we waited.

But if I feel I was lured into the office under false pretenses, do I even want them going at my wife's eyes?

I don't know. Maybe that's just sour grapes.

I've wanted to get my wife free laser surgery for a while now.

In fact, Lasik surgery is one of the reasons I'm even doing this turnaround. Last Christmas I was thinking how wonderful it would be to get my wife Lasik surgery for Christmas this year. If I could save enough each month, I could have it for her at the end of the year.

Only when I looked at my finances, there wasn't the money to save for it each month. There wasn't enough money to pay the bills I already had each month. I had to do something, and I had to do it now. If I could get all my debt paid off in 2005, then I could get Lasik on the radar for 2006.

So when I took the message from the Custom Laser Center for my wife that she'd won, I guess deep down a part of me was hoping that somehow the universe was finally cutting me a break. Things were finally lining up in my favor.

Well, don't believe it, kids. Nobody's going to hand you anything on a silver platter. There's only one person who absolutely, completely and totally has your best interests in mind, and that's you.

Don't wait for the lottery or the casinos or your rich dying relative or the government to pop up and bail you out or give you what you need. If you know what you want, don't wait around for somebody else to give it to. Just knuckle down, put your shoulder to the wheel, and make it happen.



Rebecca said...

I think you do have every right to be bitter toward them. I'm very much about honesty, and not in that technically accurate sort of way. I would hold off until 2006 as you had planned. I've heard of places that are less than $5,000, even less than $3,000 (with your certificate). Chances are, prices may come down even more by next year and you could get her the surgery for far less than $3,000 even without a certificate.

I also find it interesting to note that one eye on the "old laser" would be $800, yet two eyes on the "old laser" would be $1700. You'd think they'd give you a discount for doing both, not charge an extra $100.

One thing that might make you feel a little better about the guy who told you to come in and see how much it would cover is that, yes, it would always cover $2,000, but he may have meant how much percentage-wise of the procedure the $2,000 would cover. Well, that probably doesn't make you feel any better about that guy, so nevermind.

I'm guessing that if they are all about hyping up that celebrities get their eyes done there, they are probably way over charging. I think there's someone who does it out where I live for $2,000 - my boss's wife got hers done there. So keep your plan of waiting until 2006 and I bet you'll find a really decent eye surgeon with genuine integrity to whom you'd be happy to send your wife.

Shari said...

Erik, you saved me a trip to the Custom Laser Center. I've entered through the KFI website every month for the past six months, and they finally called me today and told me that I had "won" a $2000 gift certificate. For the last 6 months, they've been calling me with sales calls, so I was a little suspicious. I did a search in Yahoo for "Custom Laser Center" and cost and found your post almost immediately. It confirmed what I thought. I KNEW it was too good to be true. We're trying to get out of debt too, and we both need lasik but can't afford it. So I was hoping and praying that we would win the free deal. Oh well, all we can do is work towards the goal of eventually paying for it ourselves. Thanks for all the info . . . it really helped! :-)