This week I’ve been getting calls from the satellite provider we use in our RV. They’re forcing me to “upgrade” my old package to their new, similar package. A couple of years ago I got a notice from them that my package was being discontinued, but that I could keep it as long as I remained a customer in good standing. In other words, I was “grandfathered in.” Fast forward two years and this is no longer the case. Despite the fact that I pay the bill on time every month, I am now being forced to change my plan. It will cost me an additional $3 per month and I know (because this has been the case with them before) that the minute I authorize the change they will stick me with a new two-year contract that I cannot get out of without penalty.
I’m mad and I’ve told them so. I even quoted the exact passage from the notice that said I could remain on this package. (Sometimes being a pack-rat has advantages because you can call companies on their foolishness by repeating their words back to them.) All to no avail. It’s change or nothing. You know what? I chose to cancel my service. We don’t have it at home anymore and only keep it for the RV because it’s tough to get regular TV reception in the boonies sometimes. I’ll learn to deal without it.
This isn’t the first time that the grandfather clause has been revoked on me. My bank did it once. They told us that we were grandfathered into the special package of free services that we had. They were eliminating that package but, because of our balance with them, they would let us keep it unless we left them. Well, we stayed with them and never dropped our balance but guess what? Two years later we got a letter telling us that they would no longer honor that agreement and we would lose our free services. They lost a client.
Until I went to prepaid cell service, I used to get this spiel all the time from various phone companies. They change their packages every day it seems and I was always getting grandfathered in, only to be told several months later that they would no longer honor the grandfather clause. Needles to say, I went through a lot of cell phone providers.
I understand that companies have the right to do what they want with their offerings. But I also have the right to get fed up when I’m promised something and it is later taken away. I’m certain that keeping customers on older packages and giving them free services costs the providers money. But I also know that it costs them even more money to attract a new customer once an existing customer is lost. Especially when an economy is in the toilet as ours currently is.
So what can you do if you’re grandfathered into something and it later gets taken away? Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot consumers can do. If a company is bent on eliminating that service or package and doesn’t mind losing customers in the process, your choices will be limited. However, there are a couple of tactics you can try before you give up entirely.
1. Let them know that their new offer is unacceptable. This might open the door for some negotiating. Maybe they won’t let you keep your old service, but they might cut you a break on the new service. Maybe you’ll take the new service, but you want something else thrown in for free. Most companies have a lot of leeway to make deals, so see if you can sweeten your deal to something you can tolerate.
2. Simply refuse to take the new deal. I did this once and it completely flummoxed the agent. I said, “No, I won’t change to the new plan. Either keep it as is, or we’re through.” The agent hemmed and hawed, completely unprepared for that response. I said, “Since I’m not taking the deal, I guess my service is cancelled.” She said, “Well, now don’t be too hasty.” They had no idea what to do with me. They didn’t want to lose me as a customer, but they didn’t know what else to do. They figured all the sheep would just quietly go with the program and I messed up their little plan. Finally, the agent went away and came back to say I could keep my plan. Eventually I still got ousted, but it took another six months.
3. Remind them of their agreement with you. This is where it pays to keep copies of statements and other communications from companies. More than once I have hit a provider with their own words that indicated I would be grandfathered into something for as long as I remained a customer in good standing. Sometimes they cave and say, “Oh, yeah, well, we forgot,” and I get to keep my plan, and sometimes they say, “Yeah so what? We’re changing the deal.” It can’t hurt to try if you have the documentation to back it up.
4. Tell them that if they won’t honor the agreement they made, you’ll take your business elsewhere. (And be prepared to actually do it.) If push comes to shove, you can always cancel your service with the company. Sometimes when you tell them you’re mad and you want to cancel they’ll allow you to keep your old offer, or they’ll give you a really sweet new deal. Or they might just say, “So long and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” You have a lot more leverage in this situation if you are serious and not bluffing. Most companies know that, if they just hold out long enough, you really won’t cancel. You won’t want to deal with the hassle of finding a new provider or getting new accounts. So they will call your bluff but if you stand firm, you might get some satisfaction. If nothing else, you’ll cancel and the whole hassle of dealing with them will go away.
5. Go to the media. If you really fee like you’re being treated unfairly, you can go to your local TV station or newspaper’s consumer reporter and ask them to go to bat for you. Rarely is this worth it, but if you’ve got a point to make and you’re really PO’ed, it can give you some satisfaction. You can also be sure to post your thoughts on any discussion forums or blogs you might belong to. Be sure to tell the company that you plan to do this when you speak to them. Sometimes the threat of negative publicity is enough to get them to give you what you want.
If all of this fails and you don’t want to cancel, you’ll just have to take whatever their new offer is. It stinks, but they get to decide when to rescind an offer and what to offer in its place. But we as customers get to decide whether or not to take it. We don’t have to be victims of shady policies or games. We can work on our own behalf to keep the offers we signed up for and, if that fails, we can take our business to someone who will appreciate it.