We’ve officially become cord-cutters.
No, we haven’t dropped our land line. Cell service around here has improved over the past few years, but it’s still spotty enough that we’re not ready to depend only on that.
TV, though, is another matter. Strictly speaking, we haven’t been corded in more than a decade: we’ve been getting our television service from Dish. And, quite honestly, we’ve been happy with the service–and the customer service. Our only complaint has been with the cost; the add-on fees for equipment rental, insurance, and a bunch of things I couldn’t begin to explain came to almost as much as the actual service.
A couple of months ago, we decided that the amount of TV we watched wasn’t worth the amount we were paying, so we switched to Sling. I’ll have more to say about Sling another day; for the moment, I’ll just note that we’re okay with the decision. Note, by the way, that Sling is owned by Dish; we didn’t change corporate overlords.
What I do want to talk about is the process of canceling the satellite service, because it’s an impressive example of what I’m calling “Customer Retention by Intimidation”.
The saga begins with a phone call to Dish Customer Service. You can’t cancel online. There’s no way to deselect all of the programming packages on your account, and the only pages on the website I could find regarding service cancellation were related to moving to a new house, i.e. canceling at one location and starting at a new one.
Nor does the phone menu have a choice for cancellation. So I chose the “other” option and wound up talking to a gent who identified himself as Anthony. He did not, by the way, have an Indian accent, and his word choices when he went off-script suggested American English was his native language.
When I explained that I wanted to cancel the service because I wasn’t watching enough TV to justify the price, he immediately offered me a “customer retention” package at half the cost. Of course, the additional fees wouldn’t have changed, so it would only have represented a twenty-five percent reduction in the total cost. It also would have trimmed my channels by two-thirds, and the cuts would have included the Giants’ games. I turned down the offer.
The next offer was for a fifteen dollar a month discount for two years. That would have let us keep the ballgames, but we would have saved even less money. No thanks.
Somewhere around that point, I mentioned that I was moving to “your Sling subsidiary”. That got me an obviously scripted warning that net neutrality was doomed and I might not be so happy with Sling when my ISP started charging me more. Which was, honestly, something we considered, but I told Anthony I’d worry about it if and when.
We were about fifteen minutes into the call, and I said, “Look, I’m not going to change my mind. Go ahead and check off all the boxes showing you tried to convince me, and if anyone asks, I’ll swear you made the offers, okay?”
Either Anthony was a bored as I was, or he’d run out of inducements, because he moved on to the mechanical details of canceling the service. He reminded me that the hardware was leased, and I’d have to ship it all back. “We’ll send you boxes. It’ll take seven to ten days and you’ll get an email when they go out.” And then he walked me through what needed to be sent back–including something he called the “LNBF”. That, it turns out, is part of the roof-mounted equipment.
“Climbing on the roof isn’t part of my skill set,” I said.
“Fair enough. I’ll see if my supervisor will waive that return,” he replied and put me on hold for five minutes. When he came back, he said the supervisor had agreed. Hooray.
After again offering me the fifteen dollar discount, Anthony processed the cancellation, told me what the final bill would be, and reminded me again that if I didn’t return the equipment within thirty days, they’d charge me several hundred dollars. “Oh, and when you ship it, let us know–just give us the last four digits of the tracking number–and we’ll credit you for the return charges.”
Total time of call, thirty-eight minutes. Five on hold while Anthony spoke to the supervisor, about the same covering the equipment return process, two minutes for the net neutrality warning, and the rest trying to persuade me to accept one of the retention offers.
Half an hour later, I got an email telling me the service “will be cancelled effective” that day and reminding me about the return fee I’d just been charged. I checked, and the service had already been shut off.
The next day I got a call from Dish Customer Retention. I spent fifteen minutes assuring the caller that yes, Anthony had offered me the customer retention package and the two-year discount, and that yes, I was still determined to leave. The call ended with another warning about the multi-hundred dollar charge I’d be facing if I didn’t return their gear within thirty days.
A few minutes later, I got an email asking me to take a customer service survey about my talk with Anthony.
The next day, I got a follow-up email, again asking me to rate Anthony’s performance.
A week after the initial call, I got yet another email informing me that “You have disconnected” the service and “A return kit…will be shipped” and that I had to return “your equipment”* “within the next 30 days” or be charged. Note that “will”. A week after the service was turned off, they still hadn’t sent the box. When exactly did the thirty days start: when I canceled, when they said the box would be shipped, when they actually shipped it, or when UPS delivered it? I still don’t know.
* If it’s my equipment, why are they demanding I return it? And why were they charging me rental fees for more than a decade if it was mine? Poor wording by some corporate flunky.
Included in the box was a letter assuring me Dish was “willing to do ALMOST ANYTHING to get you back.” Apparently, “almost anything” means “give you the same fifteen dollar a month discount you’ve already turned down three times”.
Anthony had said the box would arrive in seven to ten days, and, sure enough, they showed up ten days after I spoke to him. I loaded the equipment and took the box down to UPS the next day. Let them worry about the thirty day deadline.
Then came the fun of letting Dish know I’d shipped “my” equipment. Dish Customer Service does not have an email address. All of the emails I’d gotten were from accounts that don’t accept incoming mail. I wasn’t going to call and get stuck with another round of discount offers. I finally used the online chat function.
Marlon seemed puzzled about what I wanted, and warned me that I needed to return the equipment within thirty days. To his credit, he didn’t try to sell me on the discount offer, and once I explained that I’d already shipped the equipment, he processed the credit for the return fee. “It’ll take seven business days to get to your credit card company.”
The next day and the day after that, I got emails asking me to take the customer satisfaction survey for my “experience” with Marlon.
Two days after the last email–four days after I spoke to Marlon–I got an automated call from Dish telling me the credit had been processed and to allow five business days for it to get to my bank. (It took four calendar days to get to the bank and be posted to my account. Clearly my credit card company is more efficient than Dish believed possible.)
This kind of foot-dragging, intimidation, and relentless hounding must work. They wouldn’t spend money doing it if it didn’t work.
And the tactic is spreading. Case in point: we get a daily call from the American Red Cross asking for blood, money, or both. We’ve told them repeatedly that we’re not going to donate and asked them multiple times to stop calling, but the calls continue.
It’s counter-intuitive that you might be able to annoy people into donating time, flesh, and funds, but again, it must work, because they wouldn’t keep paying if it didn’t.
I’d start a campaign against such annoyance tactics, but how would I fund it? Repeatedly call people until they toss me money to make me go away?
When I canceled DirecTV back in 2001, I didn’t have to go through all of that, but when I asked them what I to do with the receiver/TiVo, they told me that I owned it so I could do what I wanted. I recycled it as eWaste the next day.
Then they charged me for not returning their equipment — seems that “own” meant it was still theirs, I just didn’t have to may a monthly fee to keep it. There was nothing in any of the paperwork saying I had to return it. Rounds of calls and chargebacks followed. It took a long, stern email to their CEO (including “listen to your own recordings, for QA purposes”) for them to back down.
I’m still bitter about it. And I still have their dish on my roof.
I find myself massively unsurprised. Left Hand not knowing what Right Hand is up to is another financially viable strategy. Often by design.
How many people do you suppose would have just given up and paid the non-return charge? How much do you suppose the company made on each unreturned piece of obsolete hardware they no longer had to hold in inventory or dispose of themselves?
And yeah, we’ve still got Dish’s dishes on our roof. Three of them, in fact, representing three different generations of the technology.
Thanks for the warning. Add “Dish” to the ever-growing list of corporate bear traps to avoid.
I fear “Comcast” is another. My office mates and I are about to cancel our Comcast “service” (sarcastic quotation marks intentional), and I expect it’s going to be like wrestling an alligator. One thing I take away from your experience: document everything. They count on our confusion, and our inability to remember what some other CS person told us, yesterday. Getting names won’t matter, but recording details of the conversation does.
It’s just a sad, scary look into what I fear will be our future, as true “service” devolves into intimidation and, ultimately, control- which will come when competition is finally eliminated, and there’s only one source for everything: take it or leave it.
Absolutely record names, dates, times, and direct quotes. “I talked to John on 6/14 at 2:40, and he said ‘Service will be terminated by 5pm.'” has much more impact than, “The rep I spoke to yesterday afternoon said it would be shut off by now.”
I’m optimistic enough to think there will always be alternatives–but cynical enough to expect the good ones to be expensive and hard to find.
I have heard similar tales from people trying to cancel Comcast’s service.