A somewhat recent xray of my mouth

I wore braces forever (okay, eight years, but that’s A LONG TIME). My teeth grew in funny, and even worse: my lower jaw grew at a faster rate than my upper jaw. I knew from a young age that it was likely my issue would need to be surgically repaired, but that fact didn’t stop orthodontists from trying other interventions as I was growing up. Like Rapid Palatal Expansion that involves turning a key to expand semi-permanent hardware–and the roof of my mouth–every night and hurt like hell. And increasingly elaborate patterns of rubber bands stretched across my braces that made it impossible to yawn. Fortunately, I never had to wear headgear.

I did end up getting surgery on my upper and lower jaws when I was 16. It was brutal and painful but totally worth it. The suffering was short-term and improved over time, compared to year after year of newfangled orthodontic tricks and inventions. More than fixing my teeth, my jaws were fixed. I could actually bite things instead of just scrape away at them with my bottom teeth.

My perfect smile was finally introduced to the world toward the end of my senior year of high school (too late for the yearbook photo). And let me tell you: it really was perfect. I vowed to wear my retainers every night forever and ever in the name of maintaining such perfection. It was hardly a challenge, considering everything I had been through.

But then, only weeks into life as a college freshman on the other side of the country from my orthodontist, my upper retainer broke. I couldn’t get it fixed until I was home for winter break about three months later. Since, like me, my teeth were still getting used to their new lives in a new place, they started shifting quite easily. Especially one of my front incisors.

That December, I got my retainer fixed but the damage was done to my #7 tooth. It never shifted back. Over time, even with a pretty good retainer habit, my other teeth have shifted, albeit more subtly than that first little rebel. I’m still very pleased with my smile, but I had perfection for a brief moment and I wanted it again.

Fast forward to last week.

I’ve done a little bit of research on services like Invisalign and heard about Smile Direct Club. The latter is an interesting enterprise that requires one in-person visit to get a 3D image taken of your teeth so that they can make a series of clear aligners that get mailed to you and shift your teeth over the course of several months. I saw that they had a “SmileShop” in a nearby CVS (innovative!) and were waiving the in-person visit fee, so I figured making an appointment was the best way to learn more and see if it was right for me.

I was greeted by an incredibly warm and friendly “SmileGuide” who asked me about why I was there, but also about my life–like what I do for fun and all that. She was so nice. But maybe too nice? Like cult nice?

Anyway, here’s where things got tricky: my “smile journey.” The SmileGuide gave me a form to sign that would fast-track my treatment plan once it was ready. They would also charge me the full price of ~$1800 for it immediately.

*record scratch*

I was like, “Hold up. I’m not signing this.” I explained–again–that I was there to learn more. That I reviewed the website and read others’ reviews of the process, but I really couldn’t wrap my head around the whole thing without visiting a SmileShop.

I could tell that my SmileGuide wasn’t quite sure what to do. After some clarifying questions, she insisted I sign the form so that we could move forward–and then all I needed to do was call the 800 number to let them know that I wasn’t ready to get started yet.

So I signed the form. Even though my gut, the voice in my head, and my lateral incisor, were telling me not to.

Then, I got my teeth imaged which, admittedly, was super cool. I’m the kind of person who requests hard copies of my x-rays from the dentist, so I took some pictures of my scans, too. (Which they encourage, I think because people put them on Instagram and boom! Free marketing.)

A picture of a picture

When I got home, I called the 800 number right away and explained what happened. The representative (SmileRep?) on the phone seemed confused, but eventually said he would cancel my order and that I would have three months to decide whether to move forward without having to go back and get my teeth imaged again. Great. Perfect.

But sure enough, the very next day, I had a charge for ~$1800 on my credit card and a notification that my aligners were on their way to production. How did they have my credit card info, you ask? You’re required to give it to them when you book your SmileShop appointment because they charge you if you no-show.

Verrrrrry sneaky.

I’ll fast forward here, sparing you the agonizing details about additional phone calls to the 800 number, and let you know that everything has been resolved: I have been refunded, and my aligners are no longer in production.

But here’s the thing: even though they eventually did what I asked, they made it a total headache (toothache?) to get there and, I believe, violated my trust in the first place.

Am I without fault here? No. But there’s a certain amount of trust that both businesses and their customers have to demonstrate to move forward with a transaction. It is a relationship, after all.

Yes, I gave my credit card info when I booked my appointment, but it was framed as a way to prevent/penalize no-shows.

Yes, I signed the form to fast-track my order, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice AND spoke up about my concerns before signing.

When I called the 800 number the first time, it should have been taken care of. The second SmileRep I spoke to even indicated that there was a note about it in my file but the cancellation never actually happened. Gee, thanks.

On my final call with a SmileRep, she insisted that I review the video that shows the progression of my smile over time because she was sure I’d be so pleased with the process and the results. Of course that video is cool, but it doesn’t matter because I felt toyed with, taken advantage of, bamboozled. Even the extra nice SmileGuide seems suspicious to me now.

Seth Godin writes about trust a lot. In an interview for Craft of Marketing, he said:

Even if your goal is to make a lot of money, the best way to make a lot of money is to be more trusted.


And if you think about it, whether you a banker, a lawyer or a dog-walker, the most-trusted person is able to charge a premium. The most-trusted person will grow faster, the most-trusted person will find more people willing to go with them on a journey.

Good customer service is about so much more than being nice. It’s about being trustworthy. As a business owner, I focus on building and maintaining trust above all else. And as a customer, I seek out businesses that have earned and deserve my continued trust. Those are the brands that truly make me smile.

What are some brands that have earned–or lost–your trust? How did they do it?

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