Do companies "forget" discounts on purpose?
July 27, 2010 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Do phone companies, and other companies, "forget" on purpose to give you a promised discount? And is this legal?

I recently started service with a phone company that rhymes with "Hey, D&D." Since I was getting a bundle of cable, internet, and phone, I got $15 off the first 12 months of service. But when the first bill arrived, the discount wasn't there. I called to inquire and after being on hold for a while the customer service agent cheerfully applied the discount to my bill.

My question -- especially for people who have worked in the communication industry -- is it standard practice for companies of his kind to "forget" to include everyone's discount, and then end up discounting the rate only for the people who notice the discrepancy, bother to call, and are willing to wait on hold? Would this even be illegal?
posted by escabeche to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It is of course illegal. And it is almost certainly not corporate policy.

However, customer service reps are rated almost entirely on how quickly they handle calls. Take too long on a consistent basis, and you'll lose your job. It takes less time to tell the customer you'll give them a discount, but not enter the discount into the system, than it does to actually put the discount in. Thus CSRs are strongly incented to cut as many corners as possible, especially if they are trying to get their time-per-call metric down. If the customer notices, which many won't, and calls in again, that call will almost certainly be handled by someone else anyway.
posted by kindall at 4:10 PM on July 27, 2010

As a former "Hey, D&D" customer myself I can vouch for the fact that on multiple occasions they overcharged me, and when I got a rep on the phone they cheerfully admitted the mistake and gave me a credit on my account. Except the credit was never the right amount. This went on for months.

I totally believe it's standard practice. Probably not legal, but until someone can prove it and take it to court, a great way to boost cash flow.
posted by shopefowler at 4:12 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Qwest did this to us, and I complained every month for 4 months before we started getting our discount regularly. It would not surprise me if it was standard practice; I assumed it was. But I'll never, ever use their service again because I just don't have the time to play chase with them.
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:21 PM on July 27, 2010

Had a similar thing happen recently with the same company. Transferred my service from a family plan to individual, and whoever did the transfer "forgot" to add the texting plan. When I saw the bill a month later, it charged $.20 per text. (Linked with Twitter, that adds up to quite a lot.) I called, explained calmly, and the bill ended up being considerably less than I even expected to pay.

The guy was so nice and fixed it so quickly, my only impression was that this sort of thing happens a lot-- either the initial CSR is incompetent or is trained to engage in shady practices.
posted by supercres at 4:24 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

This cycle of overcharging-me-and-then-crediting-me when-I-notice-and-complain happens to me regularly with a Canadian phone company whose name rhymes with Smell Canada. It's regular enough that it certainly seems like a deliberate policy to me, too.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:26 PM on July 27, 2010

I noticed a similar thing with Comcast. My promotional rate expired, and the new rate was twenty dollars more than I had been quoted. Additionally, they charged me for having a technician come to my apartment to fix one of their own mistakes.

I called. The rep immediately fixed the rate and removed the charge for the service call. The ease of getting this done made me wonder if it wasn't standard practice to overcharge until customers complained.

(Yes, it's ironic I'm complaining about what seems to be good service with Comcast.)

Since deliberately overcharging would be illegal, I would expect there to be news stories about fines or lawsuits if anyone had evidence that it actually happened, rather than suspicion based on a pattern.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:38 PM on July 27, 2010

Deliberately overcharging, as in there's a corporate policy or a computer program doing responsible for this, would probably be exposed in short order. My guess is that incompetence, as usual, is the simpler explanation here, and it's a lot harder to prove that incompetence rises to the level of fraud and false advertising.
posted by zachlipton at 5:01 PM on July 27, 2010

I would wonder if there is any way to find out the percentage of these anecdotal accounts compared to total customers. I can tell you that years ago I used to work at a phone company that rhymes with Stint and there were over 37 million customer records in the database, and that was the third largest company at the time. I don't have any information about the percentage of those which had problems; sometimes it was high if there was an IT glitch that got pushed to production, sometimes it was low. But still, even a tenth of one percent of 37 million is still 37,000 people who could all post here with an anecdote.

I didn't work for customer service, so I can't answer whether their training included any intentional deception; based on their publicly stated Quality standards and Ethics tenets, I would seriously doubt it. I really think it's just a small percentage of "shit happens" but the folks who got bad service are much more likely to be very vocal.
posted by CathyG at 5:42 PM on July 27, 2010

"Hey D&D" is the devil. I worked for a company that cancelled their service when they swiitched to another carrier. For 18 months Hey D&D continued to bill our company for service we were no longer receiving from them. No amount of calls or "proof" of billing from the new carrier ever made them stop. I think their business practices continue to be unethical and I will never use them for anything ever.
posted by TLCplz at 5:53 PM on July 27, 2010

Having consulted on a few different sales provisioning software contracts for a few different telcos, I can tell you that anything that can be blamed on price-reducing workarounds entered into antique, fussy, crashy, badly-coded, poorly-documented proprietary software by entry-level people who are working to meet call time standards with minimal training and high turnover should not be blamed on malevolence.

This is especially the case if they're serving you fresh broiled internet using the same old coal oven they cooked 1950s telephone service on. It's all held together by chewed up wood pulp and spit.
posted by Sallyfur at 6:13 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

For 18 months Hey D&D continued to bill our company for service we were no longer receiving from them. No amount of calls or "proof" of billing from the new carrier ever made them stop.

I know two private citizens (not companies) this has happened to with them as well. One continues to use them, even after they billed him for service while he was out of the country and had put his plan on hold, because he gets a good student discount on phones and likes the rollover minutes; the other will never use them again as long as he lives.
posted by limeonaire at 7:38 PM on July 27, 2010

If it's any consolation, I've just had a call from a supervisor at my (UK) ISP promising, for the umpteenth time, to solve a problem with my billing dating back to November 2009. I'm not holding my breath.
posted by davemack at 4:09 AM on July 28, 2010

A friend of mine who worked for a wireless provider who will go unnamed once told me that yes, this is on purpose, it is standard practice, and employees would get reprimanded for bringing it to the customer's attention.
posted by geekchic at 7:07 AM on July 28, 2010

Response by poster: Update: Confirmed that the discount was applied to last month's bill. This month's bill just arrived. Discount still absent. Hey, D&D!
posted by escabeche at 7:07 PM on July 28, 2010

posted by Sallyfur at 7:35 PM on July 28, 2010

Response by poster: Reupdate: discount now appearing regularly on each month's bill. And the service is great. Point, Hey D&D.
posted by escabeche at 2:30 PM on October 10, 2010

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