Tales of misguided customer service

The things companies do in the name of customer service can sometimes amaze -- but not in a good way

Here at the Gripe Line I do a lot of work behind the scenes helping readers resolve problems with high-tech companies. When a solution proves instructive or noteworthy, I often report the results of those efforts. Sometimes, though, I can only shake my head at the insane, cruel, or thick-headed moves companies pull in the name of customer service, as relayed by the Gripe Line faithful.

Little can be done in most of these situations, but it can be instructive to share the ridiculous outcomes that result because someone decided to be intractable when a little sympathy or common sense will do. I've received several of these stories lately. Here are a couple I found particularly illuminating.

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The contract that extends after death

"About eight years ago, my mother passed away," Gripe Line reader Jack writes. "My sister was the executor of her will; my father the inheritor. They found a certificate of deposit of my mother's that had matured. So my sister, who by now had done this a number of times, went to the bank to cash it."

As Jack explains, his sister brought the benefactor (her father) along with a copy of the will, her mother's death certificate, and her father's ID -- everything that should be necessary.

"The teller looked over all the papers and then declared that if my mother wanted to cash her CD, she had to come in herself to sign for it," Jack writes.

Jack's sister patiently explained to the teller, "That's her death certificate you are holding."

This logic had no effect on the teller, who brought the head teller over for a second opinion.

"Nothing did any good," says Jack. "Both of them insisted that my mother had to come in to sign the documents."

It was eventually straightened out, but Jack suggested that a video camera would have been great in this instance -- the absurdity of the interaction would have been a hit on YouTube.

The loyalty-based contract with trust-sapping fine print

Gripe Line reader Dan recently learned the hard way that it's possible to be blindsided by what appears to be a good deal for loyal customers, having signed a "price lock contract" with Time Warner Cable that -- upon closer scrutiny -- caused him to lose faith in the company.

"In this contract, TWC agreed not to raise my rate for two years, and I agreed to not cancel without a penalty," Dan says. "Last month I received a notice letter that the term is up, and I would be renewed for just a few dollars a month more."

At first Dan thought this was a great thing -- his loyalty being rewarded with a lower rate. But then he came across a statement in the fine print of the contract that made him think his loyalty was being used against him:

You agree that Time Warner Cable has the right to add to, modify, or delete any aspect, feature or requirement of this package or its individual components, other than the price you are charged, during such periods.

So, true to its name, the "lock" only applies to the price Dan pays, not the service he is getting for that price.

"Even if TWC decides I only get one channel of programming or decides to move some of the more popular channels into another service tier, I have agreed to pay the same amount despite the change in service," Dan says.

In fact the contract goes on to state rather explicitly that TWC can do exactly this:

For example, Time Warner Cable may at any time delete any programming service(s) from its lineup or move any programming service(s) currently included in its Price Lock Guarantee package to another tier or level of service that is not included in the Price Lock Guarantee package. Under such circumstances, you would cease to receive such programming service(s) and would not be entitled to any credit or fee reduction.

"The PLG is presented as a fair contract," says Dan. "I pay you, you supply me; but really it's: I pay you, you agree not to charge me more."

Dan is getting a discounted rate -- compared to people who don't sign the contract -- in exchange for his loyalty. But if TWC decides to change the service he is getting at this rate, he is at the mercy of that decision. And that knowledge tests the very loyalty the company was counting on to get him to sign. He hadn't intended to give up so much when he signed the contract and TWC played fast and loose with his trust. So far, though, Dan remains happy with the deal -- if not with the company's trickery -- but only because the company has not decided to diminish his service (yet).

Got gripes? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "Tales of misguided customer service," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog at InfoWorld.com.

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