DirecTV Tells Customer It Will Waive Early Termination Fee; Claims It Never Said Such A Thing

You know how just about every customer service phone line tells you the call could be recorded? And surely you’ve been told by some CSR, “Here is my ID number so you can refer to it when you call back”? Well, Consumerist reader Bill found out that none of this matters when trying to make his case with DirecTV.

After nearly a decade of being a satisfied DirecTV customer, things started going haywire for Bill about a year ago. That’s when certain channels started dropping out without any apparent cause. He says it was similar to what happens when there is a bad storm, but it was happening regardless of the weather conditions.

Multiple service calls either resulted in only temporary fixes or a whole new batch of channels dropping out. Nothing was physically blocking the dish and no one could seem to resolve the issue.

So after months of paying his full invoice but receiving only partial service, Bill decided that it was time to break up with DirecTV. Only problem: He faced a $300 early termination fee because the new receiver he’d gotten a few months back had resulted in a two-year re-up of his contract.

Bill writes in a letter to DirecTV:

I reasoned that I have not had a consistent user experience in months, and it was only the failure of your service and equipment that prompted my cancellation. Had everything worked satisfactorily… or been fixed…. I would still be a customer in good standing. But that was not the case. I understand the techs did what they could, but it still resulted in sub-standard service for months…. while I was still paying over a hundred dollars a month for partial TV service. It was reasonable to me, that a “good faith” company would waive the cancellation fee in this instance.

Not surprisingly, this argument did not go over well with the customer service reps Bill talked to on the phone. But an e-mail to the company did result in a phone call with a customer service specialist named Mark, who saw the logic in Bill’s way of thinking.

According to Bill, Mark agreed to waive the fee.

“He also suggested I had the option of putting my account on hold, if I wanted to keep the option open to resume service,” Bill tells Consumerist. “I clarified with the rep, ‘Either way though, my cancellation fee is waived, correct?’ He assured me it was.”

And so Bill decided to put the account on hold while he tried out AT&T U-Verse. But when, six months later, he called DirecTV to cancel once and for all, well… if you’re a Consumerist reader, you can probably guess what happened:

“I was told that the cancellation fee was not noted, and I was still beholden to it. It was not waived, as I had been previously assured. Shocked at this, I asked the rep to listen to the recorded call or contact the specialist I spoke with. She said she could not do either, and I would need a court order (!) for DirecTV to release the call, which I found appalling. Another customer service fail in so many ways.

“I accessed my previous information and attempted to call Mark, but the grievance code was no longer active. I spoke with yet ANOTHER specialist, who suggested I e-mail DirecTV.

“I e-mailed DirecTV and closed with, “Someone needs to listen to that call and honor the word of your associate. It would also restore my faith in your company and leave the option open for future business.”

“After two days, I received this message: “Regarding the phone call in which you opted to place your services in suspension, please note, calls are recorded at random for quality assurance purposes only. Should this recording even exist, it would be available for internal use only. I sincerely apologize for any previous miscommunication. Please note, while we are unable to waive your programming agreement, please know that we will do everything possible to assist you with your technical issues.”

While we understand the notion of early termination fees — companies invest a lot of money in acquiring and retaining customers; this is insurance against fickle consumers — we do believe that a company’s inability to provide the service for which it has been contracted merits a reconsideration of the terms of that contract. If DirecTV can take action against customers who only pay part of their bills, customers who only receive partial service should be have some remedy at their disposal.