In my Aug. 22 column, "Asking for Better Service (and Getting It)," I wrote that I asked for and received three free months of HBO after a service inconvenience at Comcast. I recommended asking for some sort of small payback for service snafus when businesses get sloppy with customer service.
Several readers said the advice worked.
Mary Rubbelke of Bloomington asked for financial consideration for wait time and aggravation on her Internet service installation. She scored a $20 rebate on her bill. An online reader said that Qwest was eager to resolve her difficulties and made amends to keep a customer.
Comcast also reached out about its "Customer Guarantee" program. If customers have more than one service call about the same issue within 30 days, they can receive a free service upgrade for a specified amount of time. Dave Nyberg, corporate affairs manager at Comcast, said customers also are entitled to a $20 credit if a technician arrives late.
I'm happy to see Comcast trying to improve its service, but often the best way to keep service providers on point is to politely remind them of competition.
One online reader said he threatened to drop his satellite provider and switch to the competition offering free installation. It was only after he had canceled service that the original company offered him free equipment and HBO among other freebies.
Sometimes, service providers call our bluff. The real deal only happens after the disconnect notice goes through. I like to avoid a service outage by asking for the account retention department before the disconnect. Often, there is no such department, so I ask for "the department that can convince me not to drop your service."
If anyone thinks that switching to satellite will end service disappointment, don't be so sure. According to the Better Business Bureau, 53,000 customers complained about satellite service nationwide (40,000 for DirecTV and 13,000 for DISH Network) compared with about 14,100 complaints for Comcast nationwide. Nationally, complaints about satellite and cable TV were exceeded only by problems with cell phones, about 105,000 complaints, according to the BBB.
If you're considering a switch to satellite, pay attention to the early termination fee. Most leasing contracts last two years, not just until the introductory offer ends. Cancellation fees often are prorated, so someone who wants to cancel after 30 days would pay $480, said Robert Mercer, director of public relations at DirecTV. At DISH Network, customers can get a refund within 30 days except for the activation and installation fees (about $99) if they signed up for a plan without a commitment. The customer is responsible for returning the equipment.
The Better Business Bureau recommends getting all offers in writing when dealing with a satellite salesperson, installer or customer service rep. Clarify the terms for the introductory offers, monthly costs after the offer ends, equipment costs, and the cancellation policy.
I'll be comparing cable and satellite in a future article. If you have made a switch or have questions about a switch, let me know. I'm also interested in hearing from subscribers who negotiated a better rate than the advertised ones or who got an extension of a locked-in rate beyond three to six months.