I’m sorry. It’s our policy to not grant refunds.
I understand that, and I know you didn’t make the rules. So, let’s talk about some ways that we can resolve this.
Sometimes there is no way out except through. For example, if you signed a cell phone contract and two months later you want out, you are going to pay. If you want to break your lease and you don’t have a tenant to take it over for you, you’re going to pay.
But, there are occasionally times where you can work a deal. I don’t consider myself an expert negotiator by any means. But, sometimes I’ve gotten lucky.
When I was leaving Wisconsin (The Worst It Can Get?) I left a satellite receiver on the roof of the house. We had installed it for TV, but also for internet. It was one of the many things we could no longer afford, but that didn’t stop the company from continuing to bill us. I didn’t want them to know that we’d abandoned it. But, I also didn’t want to keep paying money I didn’t have for a service I could no longer use.
Mr. Bliss, I’m really sorry, but our policy is if you cancel the contract you are responsible for the remainder of the contract.
Then it’s not really canceling it, is it? It’s just paying the entire thing in advance.
Yeah, but it’s all spelled out in the contract you signed. Can you tell me what features you no longer find valuable?
Look, I just realized that I don’t need satellite TV, and I don’t want to pay for something I don’t need and won’t use.
What if we upgraded you to the premium channels for a year? Would that make a difference?
Not really. I don’t want the channels I have. More channels won’t make any difference.
Well, I don’t know what to tell you.
Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m not going to use your service anymore. I’m also certainly not going to pay for something I don’t want. So, you can continue to bill me but I will ignore them. You can send it to collections, but we both know that it will cost you more money than my contract is worth. And unless you sue me, you’re not going to get any more money. Now, that seems like a lot of trouble. We could save both of us a lot of aggravation if we just agree to cancel the contract right now.
Well, I can see your point. I suppose it does make more sense to simply cancel your contract.
If you’ll just box up and send us the control module from the dish, we can call it even.
Yeah, that was going to be a problem. I was in Washington, the dish and it’s control box were sitting on a house in Wisconsin.
Look you guys sent out an installer and he did everything. I’m not even sure where it would be on my roof.
Well, it’s really easy to find. I can walk you through it.
I’m not comfortable getting up on my roof. If your installer can come retrieve that will work best. Tell him to not bother ringing the doorbell. Just go ahead and get the box.
Yeah, come anytime, we’re gone.
Part of what made this negotiation work was that I was willing to take the consequences. I figured I was headed toward bankruptcy or close to it. I had very little to lose. However, I didn’t want additional debts. If I could get this one shut down, that was one less company that I would have to deal with later.
I’ve talked about my negotiating strategy before (Decide What You Will Accept and What You Will Give Up. When You Get One Or The Other, STOP.)
I also figured that the company had a point in the discussion beyond which they agreed you were a lost customer.
The second example was not as easy. I didn’t have nearly as much leverage. Sometimes you have to lay your cards on the table.
Let me say that I love the WebEx product. It’s an intuitive, full featured conferencing system. In fact, I loved it so much that while president of RESMARK, I signed us up for a year of web conferencing services.
They are good, but they are also expensive. When RESMARK started to wind down, the WebEx contract was one of the things my investors wanted me to cancel. Like most companies, WebEx had a policy that if you signed on for a year, you had to pay for the year even if you wanted to cancel.
We don’t really have a cancellation policy. You can choose to not renew when your contract is up, but until then the contract is binding.
What if the company is going out of business?
We weren’t, but it was worth a shot.
Then, we would look to the owners to honor contracts. Are you going out of business?
Well, not exactly. We are combining with our parent company and they already have a corporate web conferencing system. We don’t need two.
We’ve found that we typically compare very favorably with other conferencing software. The parent company may want to switch.
No sadly. They are going to stick with their own.
Then, I’m not sure I can help you.
Look, we are not going to use your software. We also are not going to keep paying for a service that we don’t use. So, what’s it going to take to get out of this contract?
Ultimately I think we paid a one month penalty. Again, I tried to show the agent that it would be easier for them if they let me go than tried to keep me. I didn’t really have leverage on them. The company was a going concern, and wouldn’t have ignored monthly invoices if WebEx kept sending them. But, given a choice most people will be reasonable.
My final example is a product that we never used even though we were paying for it. Blame confusing cell phone bills.
I was late to the texting world. Maybe it’s because I’m old and don’t like new things. Maybe it’s just that I never used it therefore I never needed to use it. Whatever the reason, my wife and I didn’t have texting on our phones. This was back in the flip-phone days. Six months into our contract, I happened to scrutinizing the cell phone bill. I was trying to make sense out of the hundreds of line item add-ons when I saw a strange line,
Text Messaging. . . . . .$5
That was weird because my phone didn’t have texting ability. So, I looked at the previous month. Sure enough, another $5 charge.
My wife keeps very careful track of bills. We had phone bills back to the beginning of the contract. They all had a $5 text charge. So I called support.
Thanks for calling in today. How can I help you?
I had a question about the $5 charge for texting on my phone bill.
What’s your question?
Why is it there?
That’s your charge for text messaging.
Yeah, but I don’t have text messaging.
Sure you do.
Not my most brilliant response.
Yes, your account is set up to send and receive unlimited texts.
Can I get that money refunded?
Why would we do that?
Because, if you’ll check your records you will notice that I have not sent or received a single text in the six months I’ve been your customer. I’m pretty sure the salesman said we weren’t getting it.
I’ll have to check with my supervisor.
Yeah, go ahead. I’ll wait.
Let’s be clear, they did not have to give me anything back. But, remember that customer service reps are people too. Appeal to their better nature and sometimes you’ll be surprised.
Mr. Bliss, we’re going to go ahead and credit your account for $30. Did you want to cancel the text messaging feature?
No, I think I might actually start using it.
One thing I’d didn’t do in any of these scenarios was to get mad. I didn’t lose my temper for three important reasons. First, I chose not to since I didn’t think it would help. If I thought it would help i’d have done it.
Second, the person I was talking to didn’t make the rule. I wanted them to want to help me. Yelling at a customer service agent is generally counter productive.
Third, the agents were used to dealing with angry people. (I’ve been a phone rep.) I wanted to try to exceed the expectations of the agent. If I could exceed their expectations high enough, they would want to reciprocate. (Exceeding the Speed Limit And Expectations.)
I don’t get a refund, or avoid a speeding ticket every time. But, it happens often enough that I’ve found the reasonable approach is the best first strategy.
And sometimes it’s just nice to be nice.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.