How I got a refund as a civilian (and how you can, too)

How does a consumer advocate resolve his own dispute with a company? So glad you asked.

If you’re a real advocate, you don’t flash your card. Oh no, that would be too easy.

To measure your Advocate-Fu, you have to dress like a civilian and then use the strategies you’ve mastered to make things right.

So when I had a refund request with an internet service provider over two new accounts, I knew I couldn’t send a DYKWIA email. DYKWIA — that’s shorthand for Do You Know Who I Am? There’s a certain elite group of frequent air travelers who do it all the time.

But not me.

Here’s my story:

A few months ago, in an effort to reduce my web hosting bills, I opened two accounts with an internet service provider called SiteGround. I did my due diligence, carefully noting our many problems with brute-force login problems and denial-of-service attacks, which affect sites like mine.

After weeks of deliberation and consultation with my developer, I opened a shared account for some of my smaller sites and a dedicated server for this one. All told, I spent about $1,500 for three months of service.

Long story short: We were hit by a denial-of-service attack, and the server went down. My developer and I worked hard with SiteGround to fix it, but the moment we thought we had everything back online, something else would go wrong. After several weeks, my developer recommended switching back to our previous server.

SiteGround’s refund policies are not the clearest. It prominently advertises a no-questions-asked, 30-day money back guarantee, but the fine print notes that it’s only for shared accounts, not dedicated servers. Customers who aren’t careful might be led to assume that their dedicated server is refundable.

I should have known, right?

Not that it mattered. Our shared account was past the 30 days. Like it or not, we owned these unusable accounts.

Our requests for a refund were met with “nos” and finally, with silence. It looked as if the money was gone.

I sent the following letter to SiteGround’s CEO, whose email was easily found online. (I’ve removed some personal information, such as account numbers):

Re: Request from a SiteGround customer

Mr. Tenko,

I’m writing to ask for a prorated refund for two SiteGround accounts. My request falls outside your normal refund period, but I hope your careful review of my case will lead you to conclude that these are special circumstances.

On Aug. 19, after several detailed conversations with your sales staff in which I outlined our web hosting needs, I purchased a one-year “GoGeek” account. During our discussions, I disclosed some of the challenges I faced with my site. Briefly, we are subjected to sporadic but intense denial-of-service and brute-force attacks.

For approximately five weeks, your shared account ran smoothly. My developer recommended we also purchase a six-month dedicated server for the large site, which we did on Sept. 22.

During the migration, we experienced numerous issues that, despite the best efforts of your IT staff and us, could not be resolved. These included a series of days in which we exceeded our CPU limit because of a brute-force attack and were shut down. The large server also experienced numerous unforeseen outages.

After submitting a flurry of tickets over an almost two-week period, my developer strongly recommended moving back to our older, more expensive cloud-based server.

We feel as if we have tried everything to resolve these challenges within the structure of your hosting service, and with your help. I don’t believe anyone is to blame for this failure. As someone who runs a web hosting company, you know better than anyone that sometimes things just happen online.

I respectfully request that you consider refunding us for the shared account and the server. My IT budget is limited, and I am now faced with having to pay for two hosting services for the next year, something I can’t afford.

I appreciate your consideration and look forward to your response.

A day later, I received a call from the company. SiteGround apologized for the problems and agreed to a prorated refund.

Granted, they could have easily looked me up to find out who I was. But I never said, “If you don’t issue a refund, I will write a story about how horrible you are and tell all my readers to avoid you.”

In fact, I would recommend SiteGround. Enthusiastically.

My IT needs are extraordinary. I should have known better and stayed on our Amazon cloud server, which can handle the ebb and flow of malicious traffic. But if you have a small personal blog and don’t court controversy, then you can’t go wrong with the service provided by a company like SiteGround.

So you can use the same strategy for getting a refund as a consumer advocate does: Be forthright, pleasant and complete in your request, and good things may happen.

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