Service contracts and the ‘mendokusai’ factor
Last week we received a monthly credit card statement that included the first payment for our emobile portable Wi-Fi service, which we signed up for at the end of February. The charge came to ¥4,642, which was higher than we expected. We had applied at a discount electronics store near our home. From the beginning we understood that the service costs ¥3,880 a month, and while that did not provide us with unlimited Wi-Fi access, the amount of access it did provide was more than enough for our needs.
We made this clear to the saleperson right from the beginning because there were other plans available at higher prices and we didn’t want to inadvertently sign up for one of those. He understood, but had to make his pitches.
The first had to do with the Wi-Fi device itself, which cost ¥33,600. Since the basic contract was for two years, that came to ¥1,400 a month, but because we were signing a two-year contract, the price of the device is waived, which means ¥1,400 would be deducted from the standard monthly fee. That doesn’t mean ¥1,400 is subtracted from the ¥3,880 emobile advertised as the basic monthly service fee. Apparently, ¥3,880 is the fee after the seemingly non-existent ¥1,400 device charge is subtracted.
If you break the contract before the two years are up or change to a different service/device, you have to pay a fee of ¥9,975. And if you don’t inform them that you don’t want to renew your contract at the end of two years, the company automatically renews it. This term has bothered a number of other subscribers, especially since there is only a one-month window at the end of a contract during which you can request that it not be renewed.
The second pitch had to do with options, none of which we took. One was insurance for both the device and the software, which costs ¥525 a month. The salesman didn’t try to push it, but he made a point of explaining that if we didn’t want it we had to “waive” it, meaning we had to actively decline the insurance. It wasn’t a matter of not taking it.
From our understanding, the insurance fee was automatically added to the service fee, which hardly made it an “option.” He said we would have to call the emobile customer support number to formally cancel it — for some reason we couldn’t do it through him — and that we should do it as soon as our Wi-Fi service went into effect, since we would be charged for the insurance almost as soon as we started using the device.
After the service was turned on later that day, we tried calling customer support and got put on indefinite hold. We tried this several times over the next few days and always ended up waiting a long time and hanging up. We then read the fine print and learned that we could amend our service, including options, by computer-assisted phone service, inputting all the relevant numbers when prompted. After we finished that process, we wondered if we had successfully cancelled the insurance since we had no proof, such as a piece of paper or an email notice.
So when the credit card statement indicated a payment amount that was not ¥3,880, we thought we had been charged for the insurance, but the arithmetic didn’t support that theory, so we looked through all the documents for a breakdown of charges and realized for the first time that there wasn’t any. We already understood that emobile does not send out monthly statements unless the subscriber pays for it, but in all the confusion of accepting this term and declining that option we neglected to ask for an itemized invoice or anything that would indicate how much we were obligated to pay the first month and every month thereafter.
We received a postcard in the mail two weeks after the service went into effect saying that our ¥1,400 monthly fee for the device had been “discounted,” but that was all. Even more confusing was the discovery of a photocopied explanation attached to the contract that said the first month of the insurance option was “free,” so even if our attempt to cancel the option had not succeeded, we shouldn’t have been charged for it anyway.
We called customer support again and again got put on automatic hold. While waiting, however, we learned that we could check our account online, so we hung up and tried that, but first had to register for the account, which involved the usual submitting of ID names and passwords. It also entailed confirming that we were customers by inputting information from our contract, such as our telephone number, a special contract password and the contract number, but no matter how many times we tried the online program would not recognize this information, so we ended up calling and waiting.
When a service rep finally came on the first thing we asked was why the program wouldn’t accept our registration data, and after a slow rundown of the pertinent information she said that the telephone number we submitted was wrong. But that was our telephone number, we said, and it was written correctly on the contract.
Actually, she countered, that wasn’t the phone number the program requested, and referred us to the aforementioned postcard on which was printed the “contract phone number.” We asked why the contract phone number registered was different from the one we had actually written on our contract and she said she didn’t know, but in any case we shouldn’t actually try to call that number.
As for the amount charged, she said it was our monthly fee of ¥3,880 pro-rated for five days, since our service started on Feb. 24; plus the contract handling fee of ¥3,150. Though we didn’t have a calculator at hand we quickly figured there was still more and she said something about a fee for the equipment. But didn’t we have that “discount” for the device? Yes, but this was, like, an initial fee or something.
By this time we were too aggravated to go on. We’ve come to call this feeling the “mendokusai line,” that point in a commercial transaction where it becomes so much of a “pain in the neck” that you just give up.
A few days later we dropped by the electronics store to make our displeasure known. The salesman we talked to before wasn’t there, so we had to explain the situation to some other salesman who, though not responsible for this particular matter, was nevertheless complicit since he knows the system and thus must defend it.
He explained the fees in the same way customer support did a little more clearly, but he also added that we would have to pay one month for the optional insurance. But hadn’t we successfully waived the insurance?
Yes, he said, but we called on March 1, so according to the terms of the contract, they had to charge for all of March. We pointed out that the contract also said the first month of the insurance was free. Yes, he replied, and that counted for the five days of February.
“The company thinks you should take insurance, but they give you the chance to turn it down,” he said. The logic escaped us, though from his tone we gathered it was supposed to sound airtight.