Vonage Silently Adds "Optional" Feature, Refuses To Refund Your Money

We’re having a hard time figuring out how Vonage can justify pulling their “Visual Voicemail” scam on customers without even offering the option of a refund, but that’s exactly what they’re doing to Daniel. They quietly turned on the feature over a year ago. You’d think in a year of logging onto the website, an observant customer would catch that sort of thing—only Vonage makes it actually look like it’s not enabled on your control panel, all the better to sneak it past you. Here’s how they pulled it off with Daniel’s account.

I recently checked my Vonage bill, which seemed to be a little high – and I noticed I’d been charged an extra $1.50 for six “Visual Voicemail” calls (that’s the extra-priced service, at a quarter a call, that sends you voice mails as email transcriptions.)

I didn’t want visual voicemail, nor did I think I had it. So I went back and checked my Vonage records, and found I’d been charged for Visual Voicemail messages – averaging $2.50 a month – at least as far back as a year (I was in the bummer tent after that, so I didn’t look further.)

I was sure I didn’t have the service, because this (see attached screen shot) is what you see when you get to the Vonage Voice Mail page. Same thing on the Vonage features page (again, attached.)




Am I crazy, or does offering the option to “Add Visual Voicemail” give the impression that one doesn’t have it?

Maybe I should have been looking at my bills more carefully. But I’ve been a Vonage customer since 2005, and with taxes being added to the service, price increases, and to the fact that I make a good amount of international calls, which makes my bill rather variable , I didn’t look at them in detail enough. I’d go online every month, see the screens (as in the screenshots) and assume that VV was off, and that the amounts over the standard service rates were for my international usage.

The area where I’m more responsible is that the email I’d listed for voicemail forwarding was defunct. But that was because I’d assumed I didn’t have visual voicemail. I have an outgoing message that tells callers to NOT leave a voice mail for me, that I don’t check, and to call my mobile. Once I put that outgoing message in place, I thought I was all done with it – I didn’t actually know that the default email was an out-of-commission address, but I don’t think that’s entirely relevant, especially considering the misleading way Vonage represents the feature’s activation status.

My point is that none of this would have happened if not for Vonage’s clear and tricky misrepresentation of activation status – and that this is an -intentional- company policy, as the correspondence (below) I had with a customer service representative shows. I’d written in like a good consumer, explaining my case calmly and rationally. I asked Vonage for a credit. I left the specific amount up to them, requesting only that it be “fair,” but, barring that, I suggested that just crediting back the most recent month – a grand total of $1.50 – would be a nice gesture toward a long-time customer.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter Daniel got back from Vonage’s customer service—and despite what it says, the page it points to doesn’t in any way alert the customer that the feature will be added by default (emphasis ours).

Dear Daniel,

Thank you for contacting Vonage, the award winning digital phone service!

I understand you would like to receive a credit towards the “Visual Voicemail” charges.

The “Visual Voicemail” feature is not disabled automatically, it needs to be done manually. To verify the same, please visit the link given below:

http://www.vonage.com/support.php?keyword=VisualVoicemail

Since the charges are valid, I regret to inform that I am unable to issue credit towards the “Visual Voicemail” messages received on enabling the feature.

Thanks again for choosing Vonage, a better phone service for less!

Sincerely,

Sameen
Vonage Customer Care

There’s no place on this page that warns the customer the service is “not disabled automatically.” In fact, if anything, it seems to imply that you will need to deliberately activate it if you want it. Just in case they change the wording in the future, here’s a screencap of it from today, 25 February 2009.

Daniel concludes, “I recently went down to Vonage’s cheaper $9.99 retention plan – this was well after the Visual Voicemail fiasco – because even with my limited use, the service was still too expensive. I’m pretty much done with it at this point.” Yeah, it doesn’t sound like Vonage wants to treat you fairly, so maybe it’s time to move on. But we think an EECB might be worth your time at this point, Daniel, because there’s no way—based on what we’ve seen from your screen shots and the FAQ we visited today—that Vonage can defend its decision to silently enable a billable feature and not refund you the money once you catch on. Here’s a web form that supposedly sends your complaint to their “Executive Response Team.” And below is the info we grabbed from an investor info sheet about Vonage. You might also want to turn them in to the New Jersey Attorney General’s office for billing you for services you did not request.

MANAGEMENT
Marc Lefar -
Chief Executive Officer
John S. Rego -
Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer
Louis A. Mamakos -
Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
Jamie Haenggi -
Chief Marketing Officer
Russ Dauer -
Senior Vice President of Product Development
Mike Sears -
Senior Vice President of Customer Care

CONTACT US
Vonage Investor Relations
23 Main Street | Holmdel, NJ 07733
t: 732-365-1328