THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- Rood's awakening: Persistence pays off with DirecTV

Shari Rood was a loyal subscriber to DirecTV, the satellite television provider, for the many years she lived in Buckingham County. Last December, however, Rood's television signal became noticeably worse. DirecTV told her she needed updated equipment.

When Rood first signed up for DirecTV, she had agreed to a minimum two-year term, but she was on a month-to-month agreement when the signal weakened. Knowing she might be moving in several months, however, Rood says she specifically asked whether she was agreeing to a minimum subscription term, and she was allegedly told that she was not.

DirecTV sent Rood a receiver in the mail, and she activated it following the instructions. 

Several days later, Rood received an "order confirmation" in the mail. The order confirmation doesn't provide for a minimum term, but does reference a "lease addendum" and states, "If you fail to maintain your programming commitment, you agree that DirecTV may charge you a prorated fee of up to ... $300."

In April, Rood moved to Lakeside Apartments on Avon Street extended, which does not permit satellite television. Rood called DirecTV to cancel her contract, and was told she would be charged an early termination fee of $300.

On April 14, at the suggestion of a customer service representative, Rood wrote DirecTV  a detailed letter explaining that she had specifically been told there was no minimum commitment and she should not be charged the early termination fee. She also sent an email to customer service explaining that she had written the letter and that resolution of her case should wait until it was reviewed.

James W. of DirecTV responded later that day, however, thanking her for writing, but saying "we feel the [18-month] commitment is valid."

The next day, Rood wrote back, "I would appreciate it if you would wait until you have read the [detailed] letter to make a decision."

Dyms Y. of DirecTV responded later that day, saying, "Thanks for writing," adding, "per the terms of the offer you accepted, you agreed to an 18-month programming commitment." This email directed Rood to the lease addendum and the company's standard agreement, available on its website, which does contain an 18-month contract.

Rood again wrote the company requesting that it wait until they had read her entire letter before reaching a decision.

Dana B. wrote back the next day, "Thanks for writing us back." But she reiterated that DirecTV would not waive the fee.

Apparently, however, DirecTV was not really grateful for Rood's emails, as Dana B. added, "Any further communication at this level of support will result with the same resolution."

Rood pressed on, writing again on April 19 to inquire "if you have received my letter." Donna B. responded, stating yet again that DirecTV was "unable to honor your request," but helpfully adding, "Stay tuned to DirecTV for the latest news and information about our services."

Rood sent one more email last week to let DirecTV know she had contacted me, which resulted in a phone call from DirecTV to say, in Rood's words, they "were not backing down."

I wrote Robert Mercer, a VP at DirecTV public relations department, for a comment for this story. Although he noted that "ordinarily a leased replacement receiver for owned equipment would renew the [18 month] commitment," he also said, "based on the circumstances, we have requested that the commitment be removed."

Well, that's a switch.

I can't definitively account for the corporate dynamics at DirecTV, but the stilted and repetitive emails suggests a rigid policy as opposed to people exercising discretion. What is customer service if not to help customers with problems?

DirecTV wins points in the end by giving Rood the benefit of the doubt, and the lesson for consumers is that if you think you are in the right, polite determination and persistence can pay off.

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