About half a year ago, I decided to go sign up for a Vonage account. This was mainly because I found myself needing to send faxes quite a bit, and it didn’t seem too expensive. So I signed up.
A week later, I got a special Linksys into which I’d plug a regular phone and my computer. Setup was pretty straightforward, and I was able to place a call over it immediately. Success!
But even over the first week, there started to emerge some weirdnesses. Like how the ringing sound would keep playing a few seconds into an answered conversation or into the beginning of a voicemail greeting. Or how the router itself would reboot about once a day, sometimes requiring a full power cycle in order to start routing packets again. Or how incoming phone calls sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, depending on the phase of the moon or something.
The worst part about it was that the primary reason for getting Vonage, sending long-distance faxes, fell through. About two thirds of the numbers I tried to fax to didn’t work. It wasn’t even that the fax didn’t succeed two thirds of the time – trying again to fax a number where it didn’t go through wouldn’t help. As soon as I plugged in the good old fashioned analog landline, 100% of my faxes went through.
I decided to cancel Vonage. I called them up, spent 10 minutes on hold, and explained I wanted to cancel. They transferred me to the account services department after another 5 minutes of holding. They then explained that they could have a technician call me back and talk with me about my fax problems to see if they could be resolved. I was dubious, since this didn’t really sound too much like a user error: there was no specially configuring the router for “magic actually working fax” mode as far as I could tell – it was just a matter of when I plugged my fax machine into Vonage, it usually didn’t work, and into the land line and it was happy. But all the same, I was plied into not cancelling with two free months of Vonage and a promise that next Wednesday afternoon, a technician would call me back to work out the faxing problems with me.
The technician never called. I forgot about Vonage, except for whenever my crappy Linksys Vonage router decided to reboot. Two months passed, and I started getting billing notices from Vonage again, despite the fact that I hadn’t made a call on Vonage in half a year. I called them up again today to cancel for real.
This time I spent half an hour on hold before I could get the chance to talk to someone who could cancel my account. And once I did manage to get a hold of someone,
they had this wacky bug with their phone system, such that it actually started playing out voice prompts on top of our conversation. It was stunningly unprofessional, if a little amusing in retrospect.
ME: Hi; yes, I’d like to cancel my Vonage account.
SUPERVISOR: Okay, I’ll start the process, I’ll just…
SYSTEM: THANK YOU FOR CALLING VONAGE; WE APPRECIATE YOUR…
BUSINESS. FOR ISSUES WITH YOUR PHONE SERVICE, PLEASE PRESS
I WOULD LIKE TO CANCEL!
I’m very sorry sir, hold on just a second.
ONE. FOR ACCOUNT ISSUES, PLEASE PRESS TWO.
[sigh] I’ve been on hold half an hour.
TO SPEAK WITH A VONAGE REPRESENTATIVE PLEASE…
After all that, the supervisor didn’t actually cancel my account. No, no, that would be too easy. She instead merely indicated that she had initiated the cancellation process and gave me a lengthy numerical transaction ID to indicate that was now in their system queued for terminiation. She asked for my cell number and told me that in the next few days I could expect a call finalizing the cancellation.
I’m really missing something here.
When I log onto the Vonage customer interface, there should be a button labelled clearly “cancel”. I click it, my account is gone, presto. Instead, they try and put you through this ridiculous rigamarole. The intent is clearly to make it so painful to leave that you’ll just give up and let them keep charging you $20+/mo for a service you never use. If you make someone wait half an hour on their cell phone, make them jump through hoops and Interactive Voice Response Systems and multiple levels of call supervisors and processes, then it perhaps just becomes not worth someone’s time to cancel your service.
Where this works against them is that people, burned by experiences like this, will stop subscribing to similar services. And it will also hopefully work against them when annoyed customers like myself publish jeremiads like this warning customers about their company.
So I’ll just come out and say it – don’t use Vonage. It has a few neat features, but they’re not worth the price of admission and they’re absolutely not worth the price of trying to leave if you don’t like it. Use Skype or your cell phone.
August 1st, 2005
UPDATE December 3, 2005
So Vonage tried to continue billing me, after they had swore to me twice the service was cancelled. I issued chargebacks on each one, which Vonage STUNNINGLY decided to rebut, including in their rebuttal the information that I had cancelled and that they had tried to bill me post-cancellation. I called my bank to block the charges from Vonage, to be told alternately that that was and wasn’t possible. After receiving two more notices that Vonage had continued charging my account in October and November, I finally was pushed over the limit and sic’ed the BBB on Vonage. It worked! Vonage refunded me my money, minus a surprise $40 cancellation fee. Amusingly enough, they tried to send me an email after that that asked if I wanted to terminate service with them, and if I did, to call a certain number. The tirade I launched in return seems to have guaranteed that I won’t hear from them again. Vonage is the worst company I’ve ever dealt with.