Get it in writing, get it in writing, get it in writing!

I thought Andrea Riegel’s case against AT&T was a slam dunk. But I was wrong.

Riegel, a long-time AT&T customer, called the company recently to upgrade her TV and Internet services.

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“A representative offered me discounts that would only increase my base bill by $5 per month,” she says. Not a bad deal, she thought.

Until …

“I just received a bill that is $11 per month more,” she says. “After trying to talk with AT&T via chat twice — and being disconnected both times when they were looking at what they could do for me — and being on the phone for 45 minutes, even being sent to retention again, AT&T is stating they don’t have the offer.”

Now, AT&T is telling her that she can cancel the order and pay a $108 cancellation fee or be stuck with the $11 rate increase.

“I just got out of the hospital and need the Internet to work from home,” she explained. “I can’t be without it right now.”

Riegel says she goes through this every year — a renewal, an offer made but for some reason not honored, and a dispute. Normally, she has the offer in writing and can get AT&T to honor its word. This time, she only had a phone conversation and online chats to fall back on.

“I guess it’s pretty convenient for them to keep disconnecting the chat session so there is no record of what was promised,” she says.

(Actually, you em>can hold a company’s feet to the fire when it claims it never said something via chat. Take a screenshot of your conversation. In Windows, for example, you can click the window you want to capture and press Alt+Print Screen by holding down the Alt key and then pressing the Print Screen key.)

“I just want what they offered me — a $5 increase on my bill,” adds Riegel.

That seems reasonable.

I contacted AT&T on Riegel’s behalf. Unfortunately, the answer didn’t change. The company had no record of its initial phone exchange between her and the representative, so it could only go by what was written.

And what was written? An $11 monthly increase, thank you very much.

“I guess I have to make sure I have all the facts in writing ahead of time,” she says. “In hindsight, I will be doing all future business via emails. I never considered doing things in that manner because it is so slow and one-sided. Now I know.”

Riegel says she’ll take her business to Comcast, which might be able to offset her cancellation penalty and offer a better deal. I think that’s a good idea, although competition is limited in her area (she lives in Mishawaka, Ind.) and she’ll probably just end up jumping between Comcast and AT&T every year.

One thing seems certain: when you’re dealing with a communications company like AT&T, if it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist.

Should AT&T have turned Riegel down?

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44 thoughts on “Get it in writing, get it in writing, get it in writing!

  1. I can see both sides..Yes, it IS possible that the disconnection of the chat is/was a willfull, malicious act by the company explicitly to limit the ability of the consumer to record or document the conversation… that IS a possibility..

    It is ALSO fully possible that some other issues — maybe with the company and/or it’s equipment, maybe with the consumer and their equipment, or a unrelated 3rd party between the two — cause that disconnect..

    To me, it’s one thing to speculate, we all do it, but to me, before one takes action, I’d think you’d be wise to have some semblance of proof or facts to base your action upon.

    In this case, I don’t see anything presented by the consumer – as the moving party to the grievance here — that shows me the company was the one liable for the disconnect.

    As the larger issue of “get it in writing”… I absolutely agree.

    I don’t know in this case – for fact – who said what to whom… I can see it both ways..

    I can see a case of a company rep making promises that now are not being honored… AND .. I can see a case of a customer alleging discounts that weren’t in fact offered at all..

    So, I come back to proof.. Where’s the proof…

    We use it in commerce all the time.. A receipt is commonly given to document a sale, return or even an exchange..

    I have empathy for the consumer..but I am not comfortable voting “for” the consumer, simply on his/her undocumented claims, absent any proof- and as the moving party to the matter, I see the consumer as having the onus to prove such discounts were offered, and not on the company to disprove discounts weren’t offered.

  2. Chris, didn’t you have a case where the person saved the screen shot and the company still tried to wiggle their way out of the deal? It was something along the lines of the employee was not authorized to offer that deal…

  3. “she’ll probably just end up jumping between Comcast and AT&T every year.”

    Well, this certainly won’t endear her to any company. But, in addition to your chat suggestion, AT&T live chat can also be copy/pasted as text. So if it scrolls off the screen, you can Ctrl-A the whole thing and copy it to a text file or email.

  4. Yea, as much as I’d like to believe that things like price schedules are designed to be at least confusing, I have a hard time believing that chat representatives are directed to cut off conversations at specific times.

  5. If her AT&T internet service is like mine, then the disconnect is a regular occurrence and comes bundled with her service contract.

  6. As a new AT&T customer and a former Time Warner customer, the chat screens for both can be printed AND emailed. AT&T also sends you mail and email offers to upgrade service for x amount. In this case I have to side with the company, because with as many offers as get sent, it should have been VERY EASY to come up with the offer in writing.

  7. Comcast customer service is worse! And their Internet is worse! She better have patience to play the hop back and forth game!

  8. “Riegel says she’ll take her business to Comcast” <– No! Actually I just went through a similar situation with Comcast. The agent quoted me a rate that was $7/month more than my current bill. I was ready to agree to the change until I asked her to confirm the exact amount of my bill each month. Turns out that $7 increase was on the service amount and did not includes taxes and fees. The agent said she wasn't allowed to quote taxes/fees because they're required by the government. With those included my bill would have increased $20/month so I declined. It's possible that could be what happened here.

  9. Actually Comcast internet in my area is very good – much better than ATT but I do agree on their customer service.

  10. That’s exactly what happened three years ago with my mother’s phone bill when I added Internet and I had everything in writing. The phone company bundled the plan, then gave discounts so that the price before taxes was only $5 per month more. However, taxes are charged on the full amount – including on the discount – so that her total bill went up by nearly $12 a month. The phone company does not explain that part, in writing or otherwise. Hopefully other consumers will see it here and not waste their time as I and the OP in this story did.

  11. One time when dealing with a customer service rep over the phone I wanted to make sure I had a record of the transaction. I had called using my landline and I turned on the speaker phone feature. I then started up the voice memo app on my iPhone and recorded the conversation. Of course, I told the representative what I was doing and asked their permission to record the conversation. When they readily agreed to be recorded it was a boost to my confidence that there would be a positive outcome.

  12. If you feel strongly that you were wronged and it appears that you do, file a grievance with your state office of the FCC and BBB. They will get to the bottom of the problem. Advise AT&T of your action. It takes 12 copies, all originals, all signed from them in the state of WV. That alone usually will escalate your case within the AT&T organization. When you file, leave out your personal problems, they do not care. Just state the facts.

  13. I had AT&T u-Verse service for several years, and also AT&T cell service for two years. I had a number of occasions to call and interact with the company over issues. I won’t do a full review of their service here, but I will tell you their customer service and integrity were exceptional, and they knocked themselves out to make me happy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writer’s problem was a misunderstanding.

  14. That isstrange, because when I looked at switching, they were able to tell me what my base price was, and about what it would be after taxes.

  15. I don’t get it. According to the company, she agreed to a renewal with $11 rate increase with a $108 cancellation. How does the company say she consented these terms? Wasn’t it verbally during a phone conversation? If so, then company has to admit there was a phone conversation and review it to prove their claim that she agreed to the renewal. Or was it automatic renewal thing and did she agree to these terms when she signed up first time?

  16. I believe that chat representatives are judged by the number of calls/resolutions per hour. I have the same experience of being dropped when the resolution would have taken the representative a longer time than normal. I’ve also had this happen when I ask to be transfered to a supervisor. The representatives are probably reluctant to pass a problem to a supervisor; their job is to “handle it.” So they hang up.

  17. Technical point: don’t use screenshots to record a chat conversation, because all you get is what is currently on your monitor. Click anywhere on the chat session, press Command-A to select all of it, then Command-C to copy the selection. Then go to your favorite word processor and click Command-V on a new document to paste your copy. This saves the entire conversation up to the point where “Br-r-r-r-r-randon” pulled the plug.

    On a PC: Same instructions, but use the CTRL key instead of Command.

  18. I never do this by phone if I can help it – I always use the “Live Chat” feature. That way, I never have a problem with thick accents, and I always have a record of what was said. Easy, as the new Alan Gore says, to copy and past the transcript into a saveable document.

  19. I did that two weeks ago when they offered to reimburse me for a Micro-Cell since I moved into a dead zone. They did reimburse me, but I kept the chat just in case.

  20. Yeah, where I live Comcast service is better, and the customer service is much worse. I wish I could use AT&T because IME their customer service is better, but I prefer stable internet.

  21. I had the same thing happen too. I was paying $86 a month after tax, and they told me the new service would only raise my bill $4 a month, but it raised it $14. Turns out the new rate they quoted me was new base price minus old price with tax. So $89.99 – ($74.99 + $9). I call it Comcast-Math.

  22. I am about to call AT&T for the same thing. Got a new Iphone, was told through chat my bill would increase $15 and I received a bill that is $40 more. Luckily I printed the chat so I have it in writing. Anxious to see what they say.

  23. Call centers have always been the least priority of most companies which tend to focus on their product offerings, price, and of course profit. Just as people go to Spirit airlines and choose price over a better product such as Jetblue (at least while Jetblue still has a better product), companies tend to view call centers as an expense to be cut to the bone. Many customers put up with it in order to get cheaper price and better products.

    At some point, however, cheap call centers cost a company money since multiple calls cost more for them to resolve an issue and they are slowly getting this message and I see a revival in the industry.

  24. I agree. This happens. I sympathize with the airlines as well in that they are required to quote a high price and the consumer doesn’t know that a significant fraction of that money goes to the taxes.

  25. I had this same problem with DirecTV: I wrote down verbatim what the customer service rep told me, read it back to her THREE TIMES to make sure I understood what the offer entailed and was assured that the offer was good. I still have the file on my computer because I thought it sounded too good to be true.

    It was. I’m now paying $40 more a month than I was promised. My only option now to lower my bill is to drop channels to get me to a less inclusive package. I’ve been fighting this for six months now and the last time I called I was informed that it’s been six months so it’s too late to change anything even if they could. Apparently having multiple calls a month – every month – since the first increase doesn’t matter: I guess they have a time limit on customer service issues when they get tired of talking to the customer and just want you not to bother them anymore

    Time to go check that executive list of Chris’ and send some emails out.

  26. As a follow up to this…I can not imagine wanting to speak with any cable/internet company every year, much less establish service all over again.

    If a year can go by without having any significant issues, I consider it a blessing. I would not consciously subject myself to a whole order/install/activation/billing process every year, for any amount of money.

  27. Writing something down and getting it in writing from the company on the company’s letterhead are two different things. While the former may be sufficient in some cases, the only slam dunk evidence would seem to be words coming directly from the company itself.

  28. Every time I call Verizon about my service the result is bad news for me and good news for them. I have had internet added when I only wanted a change in service to vacation. I have had my service changed from vacation to unlimited when I only called to start my vacation. It is a constant battle to have the service I want instead of higher cost service they impose.

  29. Any time I have use live chat, including with AT&T, the company emails me a transcript after the session ends.

  30. Last week, Disqus sent “Verify your email…” messages to some large number of users. The problem was that if the message showed you the wrong address, there was no way of changing it; in my case, and address I hadn’t used for years. So I had to delete and start a new account.

  31. I wouldn’t hop over to Comcast over $6. They will not be treating you any better in customer service department. There’s a reason they consistently get voted worst company in America for customer service they’re awful. I’m telling you grass isn’t always greener especially when it’s Comcast.

  32. Yeah were I am they’ve got a monopoly on internet no one compares but man every six months it goes up like 20 plus bucks and their CS is awfully bad. I mean terrible. I’d eat the $6 if the service as in the product works but just my opinion

  33. The service at the time was Qwest, which became CenturyLink. Nebraska has some weird taxes and fees on landlines, and that’s compounded by additional county and city “occupation” taxes as well. It’s hard to quote an “all-in” price for public utilities in this state.

  34. Glad you had better luck with AT&T customer service than I did. When they sold me a phone with a flaky SIM card, their “solution” was to tell me to call AT&T customer service from a land line every time I wanted to make a cell phone call, and they’d turn the SIM card on from their end. (?!?!?!?!????)

  35. If ATT “puts her through this every year”, why did she agree to something without seeing it in writing? After the barrage of phone calls we received at the office (6 or 7 a day on each of our 7 biz lines) to upgrade to Uverse a year or so ago, I switched my office service to Comcast. ATT is using third party hard-sell companies to try to generate more revenue out of their hapless customers. Disgusting. After a couple of months jumping through hoops, we’ve had no problems with the service.

  36. Similar thing happened to me with Sprint… was told I’d pay an early termination fee of $170 and I asked about 5 times what else I’d have to pay (another month of charges, taxes, etc) and was repeatedly told just the $170. Yeah… it was like $185. It’s not the taxes that made me mad. It’s the repeated attempts to get a straight answer (and I SPECIFICALLY asked about taxes and was told there wouldn’t be any).

  37. Att does this to us every year. Each year we complain, they give us the newest promotional rate, then each month it goes up. It’s useless to argue with them. We are waiting for our contract to end so we can go somewhere else.

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