Ever tried to discontinue a service only to be given the run around by folks and billing bureaucracies that attempt to wear your resistance down?
It happens with big corporations, right? The ones with call centers in places like Scroungeistan…
I didn’t think my local health club would stoop so low. After all it’s more community-based. My contract with Pure Fitness ended in March 2010. It explicitly stated it was a 23 month term. I went over to tell them I would not be continuing. That was April 17th, before the next charge hit. No problem the guy said. He’s leave a note for the admissions director. She will call me if there was a problem.
By the end of the month I got my credit card statement that, lo and behold, showed not only another charge –the 24th payment — but an inexplicable bill for $173.52. I went over again to the location at Elliott and Alma School, and the guy tells me it must be a mistake. The person who took down the details probably didn’t communicate my cancellation info to the billing dept., so would I call the membership director. There was a new membership director, he noted. The former gal was not there anymore.
I did and the new gal gives me this spiel on why 23 months actually could mean 24 months since the account rolls into a month-to-month cycle.
Even though I asked to cancel? Even through it explicitly defines the term in the contract?
Yes. Apparently, as she noted, one should notify them 60 days prior to cancellation. As for that mysterious charge would I come in ans show my credit card statement? I said I would.
Just to be sure I got my facts straight I switched on my recorder on my mobile “for quality and training purposes” as I informed her when I called.
Today, my 4th visit, counting previous attempt months ago, I went in to get that explanation and refund for that mystery charge. I switched on my recorder this time too. For quality and transparency purposes. To paraphrase the unhappy conversation, here’s how it went:
She: This charge (the mystery $173.52) was for your wife’s account.
She: Apparently you joined together
Me: You can’t bill me for someone else? I didn’t sign for her. She didn’t sign for me…
Me: Could you refund that then?
She: No, you will have to take that up with your credit card company and ask them to dispute it.
Me: Ridiculous. That is a third party. I am here at this location, in first person. I want it refunded. This is your mistake!
She: We can’t do that. Your credit card company can do it.
Me: Huh? You would take their word, but I am here in person with a document to prove it is your mistake, but you want me to ask them to ask you to fix it?
She: Let me ask my boss (exit stage left)
Me: (To customer who’s also come to cancel) These Romans are crazy!
By now I get that creepy recollection of the back-and-forth we all went through when trying to buy a used car in the old days. Is this worth my time? Is it worth the time and angst of a million dollar company? What’s the strategy here? Wear the customer down till he breaks out to a sweat without use of the treadmill?
She: (returning after meeting the hidden boss) My boss says we could cut you a check for that amount. We will get back to you…
Me: Whew! And about that 24th payment? Will that be refunded too?
She: No. The terms say you have to inform us within 60 days.
Me: (to myself) So 23 payments could really meant 25 payments. How cool is that! Someone’s gonna have a few nice corporate lunches on my account!)
Me: Show me where it says this.
(We both look over the fine print. No such thing in original contract. I agree to come back the 5th time to get most of my money refunded.)
Me: worn down, sort of. OK, You keep your $19.99. Just cancel my account.
The odd lessons about this encounter:
- No apologies from the boss for taking so long to resolve this, for mistakenly billing me
- Sneaky contracts. The attempt to hit the customer with sneaky fine print, and a relentlessness to attempt to prove –albeit ineffectively — that the company is right.
Oddly enough, this morning, I interviewed someone for an upcoming article about the concept of ‘markets are conversations,’ the central thesis of the Cluetrain Manifesto) where we talked of Thesis #13 and the need for a human side of business communication. The authors put it this way:
Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
That was 10 years ago! Today, it’s sure easy to launch a Facebook page, and a Twitter account and pretend that you have solved the problem of corporate c0mms, while being so far removed from the conversations going on outside your walls.
There’s a lot of work to be done. Or to invoke Asterix, These Romans are crazy!
End Note: Pure Fitness, could I give you a copy of Cluetrain? Gratis! No fine print. I won’t ask for a refund. Promise!