Thursday, December 4

The power of stubbornness

Today, I argued my way out of $12.

I did a bunch of other errands -- credit card payments, reconciling Quicken, depositing a check, mailing the holiday shopper's survival kit -- but this is the accomplishment that I'm really proud of.

See, I signed up for eMusic's free trial under my gmail account. Unfortunately, about a week later, I started the sign-up process for the program with my Yahoo account. That wouldn't have been a problem, since I never submitted credit card information for my Yahoo account, but it then got me confused.

And when I went to end the account before the free trial expired, I submitted my Yahoo address, rather than my gmail. Their ever-so-helpful customer service emailed me back to say that no credit card was ever submitted, thus there was no worry that I'd be charged. Little did I know they went only by email address, not by name/address/etc.

So I went on my merry way, until today, when I saw a $11.99 charge on my credit card from -- you guessed it -- eMusic.

I called customer support, absolutely livid, and gave my account information. When the Yahoo email address didn't pull anything up, the operator asked if I had another email account. Of course, under my gmail account, the free trial had expired. And, naturally, they have a no-refund policy.

Interestingly, I have a policy too. It's the no-'no-refund-policy' policy.

See, companies rely on us valuing our time more than a small charge -- especially if it's just the one time and then the account is cancelled. So they claim they have a no-refund policy in the hopes that we'll just cancel the account and eat the one-month fee.

Unfortunately for them, I know this is just step one of the bargaining phase.

I pointed out that the Customer Support email could have asked the same question she had and all of our time would have been saved. She argued back that I should have known that I can hold accounts under multiple emails. (Even though most programs will tell you that you can't sign up for free trials with different emails and if you're caught doing such you will forfeit your free trial period and start paying automatically.)

I also felt it necessary to point out that I had never received an account verification email. The operator smoothly said I should have received updates as well, showing that I had an account. Nope, never got them either.

So, just to recap, I have no proof in any of my three email accounts that I ever signed up for this program (and I spent a good hour just clicking back and forth through them, trying to find the email) and when I did email Customer Support, I was told that the account was inactive.

How, exactly, then, should I have known to cancel?

The operator pointed out that I could have pointed out the activation confirmation right at sign-up. I pointed out that even the shakiest, fly-by-night programs I've checked out had the decency to also send me a confirmation email. And since eMusic informed me I would be sent such, I didn't feel the need to print anything.

These points just kept getting reiterated. The operator did try to appease me by offering me 10 free downloads. But I informed her I just wanted the money back. Then we went around the arguments again. This time it was 30 free downloads. Same answer from me.

And just when I might have considered giving up and swallowing the $12 fee, I was galvanized: When I asked to speak to a supervisor, I was told that the supervisor had just left for lunch and would not be available for another hour.

I don't know why, exactly, this pushed my buttons, but it just felt like the ultimate sloppiness on the part of the company, the ultimate proof that it didn't care about customer's needs.

Whatever the reason, I was now not getting off the phone without a refund.

It felt like I argued for the better part of half an hour. Probably, it was closer to 10 minutes. But the important thing is that stubbornness won out over the operator's patience. She told me she would issue a refund to my card "as a gesture of goodwill."

I guess their no-refund policy has a few loopholes, after all.

And that's the point, isn't it? You have to assume there will always be a case where someone can make an exception. And if you honestly feel the company fouled up in some way, you have every right to push for that loophole.

The companies are counting on our meekly accepting their rules as golden and immutable. The fact is, customers are vital to profit. So they would rather lose a small amount now than have some pissed-off individual out and about, ranting about the horrible company.

If I had taken even the third or fourth "no," Tim would've gone a month without health insurance -- plus another month of "pre-existing condition" rules. That would have cost us $250 in light therapy bills alone.

Obviously, you don't want to abuse the company's need to keep customers happy. Having worked in customer service, I try to remember that these people are just doing their jobs. Yelling at them is cruel and serves no purpose. Similarly, trying to get something from a company when you're actually at fault... Well, it just makes the company less inclined to help you in the future.

So pick and choose your stands carefully. But do stand up when you feel you've been wronged. And don't take "no" for an answer until you're at least talking to the supervisor's supervisor. Maybe not even then.

Because, in the end, it pays to be the most stubborn person in the conversation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've done this a time or two.

I learned the technique from my boys when they were pre-schoolers.


December 6, 2008 at 8:34 AM

Blogger Mimi said...

I've just got off the phone from eMusic and the lady I was spoken for told me the same thing, word for word. 10 free downloads, 30 free downloads, then a whole month free. I was just about to hang up and she offered to refund me as a goodwill gesture. I get my £19.99 back! I really wished I'd Googled that company before I signed up.

February 20, 2009 at 7:06 AM

Blogger Abby said...


I'm glad you were able to get a refund before hanging up!

Now you know to be careful: A lot of companies that offer free trials are counting on our forgetting to cancel. It's how they bring in a good chunk of money. Especially if they can convince people to just take the free downloads. People decide they may as well get their money's worth and try out the service. Might get hooked. Might still cancel. Either way, the company gets at least one month's fees.

February 20, 2009 at 12:35 PM


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