Why Comcast is Asking Customers to Sign an NDA to Receive a Refund [e190]

May 15, 2015

The guys close out the week by discussing Comcast’s decision to require customers to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to receive a refund for overcharges.

Full Podcast Transcript

NASIR: All right. Welcome to our podcast where we cover business in the news and add our legal twist. My name is Nasir Pasha.

MATT: And I’m Matt Staub.

NASIR: Comcast.

MATT: Comcast.

NASIR: That’s what we’re covering today.

MATT: I think I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before but this isn’t exactly what Comcast did but I told you my theory on how our phone provider, how I think they just overcharge us some data, like, once or twice a year and they do that to everyone.

NASIR: Yeah, you mention that probably every few episodes but, yeah, go ahead.

MATT: Yeah. I mean, I use the same amount of data every single month and, magically, some months I’m well under the limit and, other months, I’m just over it and have to pay an extra $10.00 or $15.00 a month. So, I feel like this is getting us closer to my ultimate goal of trying to get money back out of that.
Comcast, and I think this all kind of started from a person that realized that they were overcharged, I think it was only $600 over a few years here but – oh, no – charged hundreds of dollars for a cable box they returned five years ago. Customer reached out to Comcast and they’re like, “Oh, sorry about that. You know, we’ll credit you the money. While we credit you the money, you have to sign this non-disclosure agreement.” Have you heard this before for this sort of credit back? I have never had to sign an NDA for this.

NASIR: No, and the thing is, like, in our industry – when I say “our industry” as in legal industry – putting in a confidentiality clause within a settlement agreement is very common. It’s still a negotiated point but it’s very, very common. But, when you’re dealing with consumers and this kind of thing, it’s like a return or what-have-you, it’s strange to me. But, at the same time, let’s put this in context, like, Comcast, I don’t know if you follow this but, on the internet, it is like the butt of every joke of how bad customer service is for Comcast. I mean, they are rated on the worst companies in customer service almost every year and I think they’re trying to make an effort – at least from a PR perspective in their public media – to reach out to customers and so forth. But, if their way of going about it is just to shut everyone up, that’s probably not the best idea.

MATT: We’re asking the obvious question here, “Why do we even know about this?” I guess the person didn’t sign the non-disclosure agreement or else we wouldn’t know about it. But I would like to see this NDA, just see what was in there. I’m just curious on what they’re not wanting to have people disclose.

NASIR: Yeah, and it looks like this Philadelphia Comcast customer after the local news have covered this story, right? Then, they were offered the return with no strings attached. But, you know, going back to your theory about what Verizon does, I know this happened to me personally. I was moving and I think this was AT&T if I recall and I needed to give them the box. Sometimes, you can mail it there but you can just drop it off and I think I went to… I’m trying to think of the location that I went to to drop it off. Actually, it wasn’t AT&T. I can’t remember which one it was. It might have been Cox Communications. I can’t remember. Anyway, I remember dropping it off and then, like, a month later saying that I didn’t return it. How am I supposed to prove that I returned it? You know, they were asking for a reference number and I didn’t write that down or whatever and it’s like, I just said I’m not paying for it or whatever. Luckily, they didn’t have a credit card or something on file that they could take the money because I think they would have otherwise. And then, they just said, “Okay. Fine, we’re going to remove the charge.”

MATT: Especially in a situation where you’re moving, that’s the least of your concerns – getting a receipt for returning this.

NASIR: Exactly.

MATT: How often does this happen to you? Because I can recall, we went to a ball game once and you opted for the all-you-can-drink soda and – do you remember this? – you bought it and you got your first drink and then you went back. it was a very specific cup they gave you.

NASIR: Exactly! Yeah.

MATT: And you went back and they go, “Do you have a receipt?”

NASIR: I’m like, “What do you mean a receipt?” I think I ended up finding it later but I remember, you were with me, right?

MATT: Yeah.

NASIR: What ended up happening? They ended up giving it to me, right? If I recall, there’s no way I would have left without it.

MATT: Yeah. I like I said, it was a bigger plastic cup that was very different than every other cup they had. But it’s like, “Who’s coming in here with a previous cup?” and it was a ball game, too.

NASIR: There was even a date on the cup itself and like, it’s time stamped. “Do you have a receipt?” Yeah, exactly. Like, those kinds of things, if you hang around with me, if I ever get into that situation, it’s my biggest pet peeve because, you know, it’s like, “Customer service, I’m not trying to scam you. I’m just trying to get what you offered,” you know?

MATT: Well, especially in that case. We know that soda costs them three cents.

NASIR: Oh, I know, exactly. Their margins are so high on that because I think I paid, like, $50.00 for the drink.

MATT: It was an expensive all-you-can-drink soda. If you drink a lot, then you still don’t get your money’s worth in terms of the actual product.

NASIR: No, you don’t.

MATT: Going back to what we were just talking about, Comcast now is going to issue digital receipts for returned equipment. Hopefully, that will kind of curb these issues similar to what you experienced and what other experience too whether there was an actual return or not.

NASIR: There’s something to say about other companies that have a no-hassle process when it comes to handling returns and things like that. I really feel that especially big companies that have a systemic problem are really doing it on purpose. I agree with you, you know. You mentioned Verizon…

MATT: I actually didn’t mention the company name on purpose but you just outed me.

NASIR: Oh. Great, now you’ll probably receive a letter soon. But that’s okay.
Anyway, having processes within your business to handle these kinds of items, not only in the front end sales because it seems like, of course, the processes that you build in to get a new customer or a new client is always going to be the most efficient, right? And it’s going to be the most pleasing experience for the customer supposedly and the client – at least you’re going to try to make it to be. But, when you have issues when it comes to customer complaints or service and so forth, returns or what-have-you, that needs to be just as good because that is a legal risk. It’s about risk management and – forget about the PR side of things and customer relations in general – if your customers aren’t satisfied, they’re going to find reasons to complain. Comcast has been sued multiple times in a class action perspective because of little things like this.

MATT: And that’s why, I mean, there are companies that are on the flipside too. Nordstrom’s, for example, it has like a lifetime return policy. If I’m trying to find something like a piece of clothing to buy and it’s between Nordstrom’s and I have to pay a little bit more as opposed to somewhere else, I’m going to go with them eve7ry time just because of their not return policy but just like, you can go back years later and give an item back if it got worn out and they’ll give you credit or a new thing and the same with Costco. We had a sofa we bought once and we brought it back and pulled up to the front, unloaded it – or the people there unloaded it – and they’re like, “What’s wrong with it?” and I was like, “Oh, one of the seats broke.” He’s like, “Oh, okay,” and they go inside and just paid us cash for what we purchased. It was like, “This is unbelievable what’s going on here.”

NASIR: I did the same thing for a couple of mattresses that we had used and I didn’t like it anymore because the springs weren’t as firm as it was ten years ago so I just brought it back and they gave me twice the amount for my troubles.

MATT: Wow.

NASIR: But you’re right. Costco’s known for that. Unfortunately though, I think people took advantage of it because I don’t really understand how it works but people did this with laptops, right? They would come back years later which I’m not sure what excuse they gave or what the reason for the return was but somehow they got some of their cash back if not all of it. But I think they changed their policy a little bit when it came to electronics and so forth but that’s how liberal their policy was. You know, obviously, if you give too much, a certain amount of people are going to take advantage of it but I think Comcast is an extreme case as far as the reputation goes. I’ve never actually had them as a cable provider so I don’t know for certain but I would never go to Comcast just because of the stories I’ve heard.

MATT: Yeah.

NASIR: Whether they’re true or not, there’s enough there that it’s kind of scared me away from them.

MATT: Yeah. I mean, the moral of the story is customer service can go a long way. It’s well worth the time to invest resources in very quality customer service because it’s going to help you out long-term and I need to do our Office reference of the week for electronics returns. When Andy wants a new computer and Pam’s like, “Well, it has to be broken.”

NASIR: Oh, yeah.

MATT: Andy’s like, he does all this stuff. He like, has a thousand pop-ups on his screen and I think he opens up his CD drive and puts, like, baloney with mustard on it and shuts it. Like, spills his coffee all over the keyboard.

NASIR: Yup.

MATT: Ah, yeah.

NASIR: Oh, yeah, I wanted to mention the confidentiality aspect of settlement agreements and things like that. Like we said in the beginning, the aspect of adding an NDA to this consumer refund of $600 is unusual but, from a settlement perspective, it’s not unusual. We come across this, like, last week, we talked about non-disparagement clauses and little things like that where some clients or businesses will be very not ruthless but, I mean, they’ll want to add these provisions as if that’s what’s going to create an environment so that you are protected. Sometimes, relying upon these types of provisions, you’re kind of missing the point. Like, the non-disparagement clause, the non-disclosure agreements kind of go to that and, by the way, that non-disclosure agreement, I was thinking also relates to the non-disparagement, it may now be completely illegal in California, right? Because what if you want to disclose that Comcast is horrible because they tried to charge me $600? That NDA may restrict that. So, something to think about.

MATT: Yeah. Well, this was in Philadelphia. Is Comcast in California?

NASIR: I think their residential brand is XFINITY. Do they have XFINITY out there?

MATT: I typed in Comcast California and XFINITY is what’s popping up.

NASIR: In Texas, they call it XFINITY2 so I don’t know if it’s a separate company. I feel like they just changed the name because of the bad name because Comcast is just…

MATT: Not a bad move, really.

NASIR: No, not a bad move because, honestly, I had no idea. For the longest time, everyone’s like, “Oh, I have XFINITY.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.” I had no idea that was like the worst – in my opinion – cable providers. My brother had XFINITY and he had a new house and he had so many problems. It was just the funniest thing. I kept making fun of him – like, why he chose that – and he felt bad because one of his friends is the one that set it up because he works for XFINITY. I was like, “Well, why don’t you just call him?” and it was just horrible. Like, the internet would never work. It was all messed up.

MATT: Yeah. I mean, in Southern California, you’re pretty much almost required to have Cox Communications.

NASIR: No, I had AT&T. I had Cox Communications there too but I had AT&T in San Diego for when I was there. I liked it.

MATT: Well, that’s the alternative but, in a lot of spots downtown.

NASIR: You were limited?

MATT: Yeah, it’s like, what are the options? I was in one building where you could only get Cox, that’s it.

NASIR: Yeah.

MATT: I think one was Cox and AT&T but, I mean, Cox has been pretty good. I haven’t had any complaints with it.

NASIR: I may be wrong but I think Cox Communications is a local company. I mean, it used to be Viejas Arena in San Diego State used to be called Cox Arena.

MATT: Yeah, I think it’s like Southern California, I think Arizona it spills into, but it’s not too many locations.

NASIR: Yeah, little San Diego State trivia there for you.

MATT: Well, I think that’s it.

NASIR: I don’t know how we ended up with sports again back from our Wednesday episode. All right. Well, thanks for joining us everyone.

MATT: Keep it sound and keep it smart.

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Legally Sound Smart Business

A business podcast with a legal twist

Legally Sound Smart Business is a podcast by Pasha Law PC covering different topics in business advice and news with a legal twist with attorneys Nasir Pasha and Matt Staub.

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