A few weeks ago, I told you about my fight with Time Warner Cable to get a discount after receiving what I considered to be bad customer service. I’d love to say that the episode with TWC was the only time I had to fight with a television service provider to get what I paid for… but it’s not.

After I fought for – and received – a large discount from Time Warner Cable, I continued to cope with a sub-par product. My TV service was constantly fuzzy, suffering multiple, prolonged interruptions on a weekly basis. I knew I’d laid the groundwork with the company, and could most likely fight for another massive discount, but I didn’t see the point. I wanted to be able to watch what I was paying for, and for one reason or another, that just wasn’t happening with TWC.

Ultimately, my husband and I decided to go in a completely different direction. We left cable TV behind entirely, and opted to sign up with DirecTV. What happened next made my experience with Time Warner seem like a dream.

A Misleading First Impression

My interactions with DirecTV began when I called the company to sign up for a bundle pack. I’d already done the research online, plus spoken to my many friends and neighbors who were current DirecTV customers. They all had glowing reviews of the provider, saying the customer service was excellent and the product phenomenal. My first experience on the phone with the DirecTV sales representative bolstered my positive feelings. She quickly helped me identify a package that would work for me; I ended up with a mid-tier satellite TV package featuring 150 channels, HD converter boxes for two televisions, local phone service through AT&T (one of DirecTV’s telecom partners), and high-speed DSL Internet service (although through AT&T).

My DirecTV rep also filled me in on all the different promos I’d qualified for:

  • Because I was being referred by a current DirecTV customer, I was eligible for a $100 discount, prorated over my first 12 bills
  • Because I was switching from a qualified competitor, I was eligible for $75 in the form of a Visa Check Card
  • Because I was signing up during a special promotion period, I was receiving all my equipment and installation at no extra charge
  • Because I’d signed up for a bundle, I would receive a $25 discount on my DirecTV bill every month

All in all, I expected to receive two monthly bills: one from DirecTV and one from AT&T. The DirecTV bill, I was told, would be $52.04 a month for the first year; the AT&T bill would be $28.73.

The First Billing Cycle

When the first bills came in, I was frustrated to see neither of the actual billed amounts matched the dollar amounts I’d been provided with after signing up for the services. The AT&T bill was a full $30 more than I’d been quoted, but it was the DirecTV bill that really blew my mind.

Not only had DirecTV not granted me the $100 discount (earned through the referral program), but they’d also charged me – in full – for the equipment and installation. The latter charges added nearly $200 to my bill.

The Battle Begins

I called DirecTV’s billing department to tell them about the pair of errors. I was immediately told that, although I had signed up for all three services through DirecTV, that I would have to contact AT&T’s billing department separately in order to get everything ironed out. In other words, DirecTV was no longer involved – in any way – in the AT&T service or billing.

We then turned to the issue with the DirecTV bill. The billing rep told me that I was only eligible for one of the three promotional discounts I’d been promised, meaning I could choose between the $100 referral discount, the $75 check card, or the free equipment/installation; I couldn’t have all three, despite the fact that I’d been promised them.

“Let me speak with a manager,” I asked the rep. I’d learned through my previous battle with bad customer service that when you don’t get what you want from the rep, you go straight to their boss.

I told the manager that it was absolutely unacceptable that I’d been promised a trio of discounts – all in an attempt to lure me away from a competitor – only to be told after signing a 24-month contract that I was only eligible for one of them. I insisted that I be refunded the $200 I’d been charged for the installation and equipment; then I demanded that the company honor the $100 monthly prorated referral discount. (Note: I was promised the $75 check card – the discount DirecTV had decided to honor without asking me – was already in the mail.) The manager told me she’d have to speak with her boss, and they would get back to me in no more than two business days.

Fighting With AT&T

While I waited for DirecTV to call me back, I gave AT&T a ring. When I explained to the billing rep what DirecTV had quoted me for AT&T’s Internet and home phone service, he sounded surprised. “I can’t even offer rates that low to my customers,” he replied. “I think you were misquoted.”

Ultimately, the folks at AT&T could do nothing for me. Why? Because they weren’t the ones who’d sold me the service in the first place. Their response: that it was up to DirecTV to make the situation right. I wasn’t going to get a discount from them.

Waiting To Exhale

I’m not a very patient person. In fact, my husband would probably tell you that patience is a virtue I lack; I can’t really disagree. Try as I did, I found myself watching the clock as the last few hours passed on the second business day and DirecTV failed to call me back as promised. By the time lunchtime arrived on the third day, I was furious. I wasn’t about to become a victim of bad customer service… again.

Finally, I decided to call DirecTV back myself. It took me nearly an hour to be rerouted to the billing department manager with whom I’d spoken a few days earlier. When she finally got on the line, I reminded her of my situation. “Oh,” she responded leisurely, “I haven’t gotten to my boss about that yet. It’ll be a few more days.”

I wanted to go ballistic, but I remembered the lesson I learned during the TWC fiasco: never lose your cool and always remain polite.

“I understand you must be swamped,” I told the manager, calmly counting to ten in my head in an effort to keep my temper in check.  “But you did promise me that you’d get back to me in a timely fashion, just as your sales rep promised me a trio of discounts. You expect me to uphold my end of our deal by paying my bill in full every month in a timely fashion; I expect you to uphold your end of the bargain, too. After all, that’s what I’m paying for.” I told her I expected to hear from her or her boss by the close of the day.

The Resolution

Sure enough, at 4:55pm, I got a phone call from the manager’s supervisor. She told me that DirecTV would, in fact, honor all the discounts I’d been promised. As luck would have it, the automated message saying “This conversation may be recorded for quality assurance” was the truth: DirecTV had a transcript of my original sales call with the rep on file, which they used to verify that I had been promised all three discounts, rather than simply told I “may” qualify for them.

“That’s great!” I said enthusiastically, seeing my window to get a discount on the AT&T service. “Since you have a transcript of that conversation, then you know what I was quoted for my AT&T service.”

They sure did. $28.73 – not the $58.73 I’d been billed by AT&T. I told the supervisor that I’d already been in contact with the folks at AT&T, and that they’d told me since DirecTV had quoted me and sold me on the bundle, that they were responsible for the billing dispute, not me. The supervisor knew I had her by the proverbial balls (even though she was a woman and, hence, lacked the aforementioned body part). Ultimately, she offered to credit $30 to my billing statement every month for a year. Between the $100 referral discount, the $200 refund for the installation and equipment charges, and the $360 credit for the misquoted AT&T services, I received $660 in compensation. As my monthly DirecTV bill was only $52.04, the $660 was enough to cover my statements for the next year. That’s right – I didn’t pay DirecTV a single dime for service for the rest of the year.

What I Learned

After going through the trenches with not one but two telecom giants in less than a year, I learned a lot about how to haggle. The go-round with Time Warner Cable months earlier had taught me that it’s crucial to ask for a manager and to always, always keep your temper.

This time, though, I learned more. I learned that bad customer service is sometimes just part of the business – but it’s not the norm. While I had one sales rep who was, quite frankly, dishonest – or, at the very least, very, very bad with numbers – I dealt with several other individuals who were beyond helpful. I also learned that companies can afford to be generous. There’s an old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but that’s not true, especially when you’re dealing with a company that provides a service. Bad word of mouth can be toxic to a company in the midst of heated competition. In the long run, the folks at DirecTV decided the $660 in discounts and credits offered to me was worth more than the potential bad reputation they’d earn should they decline my request and I start talking. After all, $660 isn’t that much to an industry giant like  DirecTV.

Another lesson? Keep a paper trail. When the original sales rep offered me all those discounts, it sounded like it was too good to be true. That’s why I asked – twice, then a third time – her to repeat the deals, just to make sure they were all valid numbers. I wrote down what she said, line for line, then asked for her name and a confirmation number to document our call. It was that confirmation number that ultimately helped the DirecTV higher ups track down my original call and verify that I’d been promised exactly what I’d claimed.

Reader, what’s the best deal you’ve ever been given as compensation for bad customer service?