If AT&T fails and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If a company promises a discount, but there’s no record of it, did it really happen?

AT&T apparently believes the answer is “no.” But Daniel Gouchenour begs to differ, and there’s $45 a month at stake.

You can probably tell by the post category — Is This Enough Compensation? — that we’ll put the question to a vote. And we will, in minute.

But before I do, and get dragged into the inevitable debate about oral contracts and right-to-record laws, let’s hear from Gouchenour.

“I have been with DirecTV for about 16 months,” he explained. “My bill after the first year continually went up every month. I even downgraded packages to find I was still paying double what I had the first year.”

That may sound like an exaggeration, but I can assure you, it’s not. Subscription TV services like DirecTV, owned by AT&T, love to jack up their prices. (I shoulda bought AT&T shares at $23!)

Gouchenour called AT&T to cancel and spoke with a retention specialist, who made a compelling offer.

“He said he could get me the $55 in discounts I had received the first year for the last 8 months or so of my contract along with the to offset the last $100 bill I received he would supply a $45 credit,” he says.

That persuaded him to stay.

But the next month, none of the discounts appeared on his bill. “I was lied to,” he says.

So, was he?

My advocacy team wanted to find out, so they contacted AT&T. The company reviewed its records, which show its retention specialist only agreed to waive the 24-month service agreement, giving Gouchenour a month-to-month agreement with no early cancellation fee. AT&T also said it discussed his expected monthly charges in detail and that the discounts he believed it promised were not part of that conversation.

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In other words, it has a different recollection of events.

The tiebreaker, of course, would be written evidence that AT&T promised these discounts. Does Gouchenour have such a record? No.

“Everything was done on the phone,” he says.

The advocacy team declined to push the matter, since Gouchenour couldn’t offer any evidence of the conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if AT&T were required to offer a recording of his — indeed, em>all of its — customer interactions by phone? Recording calls for “quality assurance purposes” is so common in corporate America, but why should a company get to keep those records?

That’s a little bit like saying the written records between you and a company are copyrighted and can’t be used except by the company. It’s absurd.

But still, the question remains: If AT&T fails and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? OK, I paraphrased that one and massacred the saying a little in the process, but you get the idea. If there’s no record of AT&T ‘s discount, did it really happen?

I’ve reviewed the correspondence a few times to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and I think this might have been a misunderstanding. But I don’t think AT&T is guilt-free. It has an obligation to be clear with customers, and I don’t think its retention specialist, who should be crystal-clear and follow up with a written offer, clearly fell down on the job.

AT&T didn’t offer Gouchenour nothing, but it didn’t offer everything he hoped. Did it do enough?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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