These Surfbouncers really know how to sweet-talk a girl

screenOne of the first questions I ask when someone needs help is: Could I see the correspondence between you and the company? When Steven Price showed me his back-and-forth between with a company called Surfbouncer, I was speechless.

And then I asked the company for its side of the story.

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Normally, here’s what happens when you have trouble with a business: You send it an email with your problem, and it replies with a pre-fabricated form response that vaguely addresses the issue and offers non-apologies like, “We’re sorry for the way you feel.”

Surbouncer, which offers VPN services for international travelers who need to stay connected, is not one of those companies.

Price used Surfbouncer on a recent trip to China, “and it seemed to work well.”

“When I returned from the trip I requested them to cancel the service,” he says. “Not only did they fail to cancel my account, but they continued to charge my PayPal account.”

When he asked the company to stop charging him, here’s the reply he says he received:

We owe you nothing. We don’t keep logs so we have no idea if you used it recently or not.

I see you’ve managed to find the cancellation feature in PayPal. So you see it was not that hard.

All you needed to do was go to your PayPal account and cancel the subscription. We advised you three time [sic] to do this. Your failure to do so is not our fault, it’s yours.

What’s so hard about taking some personal responsibility instead of blaming others for your failures?

Price says that’s not true. Surfbouncer advised him to “find the cancel” button, which didn’t exist.

“Only after filing a dispute with PayPal was the subscription canceled,” he says, adding, “As you can tell from the tone of their response, they are out to defraud people. Reputable companies when a written request for a cancelation is made it is respected. My advice is to never use Surfbouncer for any services.”

I was troubled by the exchange between Price and the company. Mostly, I wanted to know if a representative had really sent that response to a customer.

So I asked.

“It’s quite simple,” a representative told me. “The customer asked to cancel the PayPal subscription. We told him three times how to do it. He never replied to any of our responses saying he couldn’t find the button or did not know how to do it.”

Surbouncer seemed genuinely exasperated with Price. It claims PayPal sent him a notice before charging his account, which he apparently ignored. Also, its website clearly discloses the recurring nature of its charges, the company insists. In other words, once you sign up for Surfbouncer, you’ll get charged once a month until you cancel.

“The bottom line is that he was completely aware he was being charged every week,” the Surfbouncer representative told me.

Why the tone? Surfbouncer is a small business, and actions like Price’s can be costly.

“We don’t appreciate customers having the service for months and then going to PayPal and getting all their money back,” said the representative. “He wants to claim he didn’t use it. We don’t know if he did or didn’t.”

So who’s right? In fact, Surfbouncer does offer some disclosures on its site, and it makes a valid point about PayPal chargebacks.

Are the notifications clear enough? That’s debatable. Even if it does everything right from its side, it must still rely on PayPal to notify its customers of the monthly bills.

But Surbouncer is wrong – any company is wrong, for that matter – asking a customer “What’s so hard about taking some personal responsibility?”

This is customer service 101. Never lose your temper with a customer, and if you do, try not to put it in writing.

Is a company ever justified in scolding a customer?

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Update: This week, we suspended two commenters because of repeated violations of our community standards.

The decision to restrict their accounts was not made lightly, and it came only after repeated warnings to the individuals. The suspensions will last 30 days, after which both commenters will be welcomed back.

The moderation team and I try to keep the comments civil and constructive. While we encourage a passionate debate, we don’t tolerate personal attacks and name-calling.

Thank you for understanding. I truly wish these measures had not been necessary.

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