Have you had a hard time getting a refund when you call customer service?
Two former Valley call center operators say it may be designed that way.
They say they were instructed to end consumer calls at five minutes and that customers could not speak to a supervisor.
Both say they worked for Alpha Connect.
It's a Phoenix business that handles customer service for about 100 clients.
Jessica and a woman we'll call Shelly, who didn't want to be identified, came to us at different times complaining about how they say customers were being mistreated.
Many were calling about products they bought with a "free trial" period.
Customers would say the product was returned within the given time period, yet their money was taken out of accounts anyway.
Both women say return instructions for free trials could be misleading.
And they say the only way they were instructed to give refunds was when a customer would say a specific word called a "SONA."
It stands for "Statement Of Negative Action."
Jessica says it's, "something said by customers that if pursued will have a negative potential impact to clients and must be resolved."
They are trigger words.
If customers threaten with the right one, the former workers say a different action would be taken.
They say level one SONA'S include BBB, credit card company and banks. Level 2 included attorneys.
SONA is referred to in what Jessica says were her Alpha Connect phone instructions.
It says, "you will not issue a refund on these charges unless a valid SONA is made."
The instructions show "bank, bbb, attorney, police, etc."
But that SONA trigger word, just begins the negotiation.
The former workers say you start with a small refund amount, like 25%.
Jessica says operators can't offer more unless you push for it.
"Ok, I can give you 50%. They'd say well, why can't you give it all back. And that would allow me to keep going," Jessica said.
Both Jessica and Shelly say they couldn't take it anymore and quit Alpha Connect.
And their advice to you about buying some of those free trial products?
Shelly says, "if you're doing something legitimately, you don't get this many complaints."
We asked Alpha Connect for an on-camera interview.
Instead, they sent us an email.
This is their full statement:
The point-by-point response follows. For ease of understanding, we have used your last email to us. We respond to each of your comments as follows:
Joe’s Comment: “As we talked about, we’ve received information about how Alpha Connect operators handle some customer service calls.”
Response: The information you received is four pages of cherry-picked unrelated documents cobbled together by a former employee, plus interviews with two former workers that we have not heard. These materials are not approved Alpha Connect training material, and they do not represent practices in use for Alpha Connect’s approximately 100 clients, many of whom do not even offer trial products or services.
Joe’s Comment: “We’re told they involve calls from customers who bought online products with ‘free trial’ periods.”
Response: We do handle calls for clients who offer products on a trial basis, but not all of our clients offer products on a trial basis.
Joe’s Comment: “We’re told that the goal is to keep the customer with the product and avoid recalls.”
Response: Many clients want to avoid product returns, but if a product is eligible to be returned, the customer can always return a product. Many of our clients allow our customer service representatives to offer free products or refunds as a way to avoid a customer having to return a product. In many cases, clients do not require customers to return the product, and we are able to refund the customer in full while still allowing the customer to keep the product and continue using it. In every case, callers eligible for a refund under the client’s terms and conditions and policies get a refund.
Joe’s Comment: “To that end, we’re told calls are “soft closed” at 5 minutes even if there’s no resolution.”
Response: This is not correct. Calls last until the caller is satisfied, the caller hangs up, or all questions and requests have been fully addressed.
Joe’s Comment: “We’re told customers are not able to speak to supervisors.”
Response: Again, this is also not correct. In fact, the fourth page of the materials provided to you includes information about how to transfer a call to a supervisor.
Joe’s Comment: “And we’re told that refunds are permitted when a customer mentions a SONA statement of negative action. I also see it in some of the Alpha connect materials we’ve been provided.”
Response: Refunds are sometimes permitted when a client provides us with exceptions to their refund policy. Any time we are given additional authority to issue a refund as a courtesy to an upset customer who is not eligible for a refund under the terms they agreed to, we find it helps de-escalate the call.
It is important to note that these policies are not new and are followed by many retail and brick-and-mortar businesses as well.These exceptions to clients’ typical refund policies are permitted at the discretion of our clients. It’s also important to note that these occurrences are not the only scenario in which a refund is authorized, and not all clients follow the same policies. If a customer is eligible for a refund for any eligible reason, they receive a refund.
Joe’s Comment: “I know these are not your products and they may even be rules of the companies you handle. But we’re working on a story about this and want to talk with you concerning these practices.”
Response: In every case, the policies our agents follow are the policies of our clients. With that said, we would not and do not provide services to clients who appear to engage in unethical or unlawful practices.
Alpha Connect regularly participates in call center summits to discuss best practices. Members of our leadership team have attended these as guest speakers to discuss the importance of compliance with scripting and best practices.
ALPHA CONNECT’S STATEMENT:
Unfortunately, former employees of Alpha Connect have significantly misled ABC15 about our company’s business processes. The material they provided ABC15 is not part of our approved training program and is not used by our customer service representatives. While we are not aware of the motives of these former employees, their accusations do not reflect how we do business.
Our customer service representatives do everything possible to give customers refunds when refunds are due. All callers who are eligible for a refund are given one, and many callers are given refunds as a courtesy on direction from our clients. We are compliant with every applicable law. And we do not enable our clients to enforce return or refund policies that are unethical or unlawful.
Our company handles thousands of calls for approximately 100 clients. Unfortunately, some customers who believe they are entitled to a refund do not follow the conditions to which they agreed when they signed up for a certain program. But we make, and will continue to make, every effort to provide the best customer service we can. Regrettably, some customers may hang up without the resolution they hoped for - not unlike customers who leave a retail store upset because they did not get a refund for a product that is outside of store’s return policy.
Again, these statements about our business practices are not true and not accurate. We handle many difficult calls for our clients. But we pride ourselves on treating customers with respect and offering the best possible customer service, as we have been doing for the last 5 years.