Another Bad Customer Service Horror Story: LunarPages

I can tell you after returning from both South by Southwest and the CPG Summit that companies are all abuzz about social media marketing. Transparency is the new key word in marketing. Transparency when bloggers blog about your stuff, transparency in what you put in your products…basically the new thing to do is to be up front and honest with consumers or potential consumers.

That’s why I don’t get why some companies still insist on hiding details in fine print that may never get read, at the expense of bad PR. Such was the case in my recent dealing with Direct TV, and such is the case with the next company I’m going to tell you about. Recently I received an email suggestion that I start doing a Hall of Shame for companies that aren’t worth doing business with. I don’t know that I’ll ever make the Hall of Shame a regular feature, as most of the time I like to keep things positive around here. But I’ve actually recommended this next company to people before, so I feel I must speak out about my latest experience.

Last year in August I signed up with LunarPages to host my website. All went well until I was mentioned in an Associated Press article…three days before I headed out of town. My site, of course, went down under the traffic, which is to be expected, since I was on the lowest level hosting plan. Still, it was a crisis situation for a blogger. What would you do in that situation?

I think I did what most people would do. I called LunarPages to find out what I should do. I talked to Jennifer in sales, and she thought I should upgrade to a dedicated server. I agreed. I asked about the fees involved. She told me the monthly cost and mentioned it would cost $75 an hour for them to move my site for me, unless I bought a c-panel add-on. Then the fee would be waived. Since I’m used to c-panel, I bought the add-on. I then asked if I was under a long term contract. She told me no, it was month to month. I told her to upgrade me.

The next few days were a nightmare with my site being down for three days before coming up with any regularity. My husband’s site was down much longer than mine. As to whose fault this is? I don’t really know. Lunarpages tells me it was due to a DOS attack. Other techie types I talk to roll their eyes at that and say it’s more likely the server couldn’t handle the traffic from the AP article, as promised. I do know I spent about 10 hours on hold with Lunarpages, and I never felt confident with how they handled things.

So when I got back into town and was still having problems, I did the next logical thing. I looked for a new web host. And I found one in NationalNet. I had them move my site, and then I called LunarPages to cancel my account. I talked to Sean last Monday, who tried to keep me as a customer, but in the end agreed to cancel my account.

Friday, I received a billing notice from LunarPages in my inbox. I called back to make sure that my account had been cancelled, spending another 20 minutes on hold. There was no note regarding any cancelation of my account. (The later explanation would be that Sean was probably researching what he needed to cancel the account and he was off on Tuesday & Wednesday).

Anyway, the guy I talked to on the phone told me that it would cost $149 to cancel my account. I did a double take. What? I had asked if I was on a long term contract when I agreed to upgrade and was told no. Sean didn’t tell me that I was responsible for that amount either. I asked what the fee was for.

The representative told me that it was the fee they charged to set up my server, and if I canceled before the first three months were up, that fee would be charged. It was free if I agreed to a three month term. I was told that since that was mentioned on the website, it was a part of the TOS, and I was still responsible, even though I set up my account on the phone, not on the website.

I asked the phone rep where I could find this information on the site. This is what I was told. First you have to go to www.lunarpages.com. Then you have to click on the blue “info” button in the Dedicated Servers box. From there you have to click on “Servers.” Then you have to look in the box with the penguin and click “More Information.” Then waaaaaay at the bottom in small print is this:

*Free Setup when you sign up for 3 months or more. If you sign up for less than 3 months, you will incur a set up fee of $149.

** If you are not completely satisfied with our service, we will gladly give you a refund. Please note, setup fees and domain registrations are non-refundable. Cancellation within 30 days will have a set up fee of $149 deducted from refund.

As someone who was already a happy LunarPages customer, I didn’t go through the website to upgrade my account. I went by what the customer service agent told me, because I was having something of a website emergency, and I had no reason to doubt Lunarpages at that point.

I also went by what I received in the emails they sent me. Nowhere was that $149 fee mentioned. I read them. Three times. You can read them too. If you see the $149 fee mentioned, feel free to show me where I missed it.

Email #1

Lynnae McCoy,
Your account was downgraded to a 1 month Dedicated plan. Additionally, a refund of 57.40 USD has been added to your account balance.
The files on your old server are marked for removal. Please move your files off of your old server by using the following link:
CPanel: *deleted by Lynnae*
CPanel Username: *deleted by Lynnae*
Please allow up to 2 hours for the changes to be completed.
If you have forgotten your password for CPanel, please contact customer support to assist you at 1-877-586-2772.

Sounds like I’m just on the hook for one month, right? No mention of a three month commitment.

Billing Statement:

Units(Cost) Detail Bill Period Product Description
1 (88.40) 88.40 2009-03-10 to 2009-04-10 Changed Hosting to Lunarpages Dedicated Plan 1: No charge due to 88.40 in credit – Pending Setup
1 (35.67) 35.67 2009-03-10 to 2009-04-10 cPanel Control Panel – Prorated for 31 days – Pending Setup
Total Amount Due: 124.07 USD
Settled by Charge: -114.67 USD (5322xxxxxxxxxxxx)
Prior Balance: -9.40 USD
Amount Due: 0.00 USD

No mention of a setup fee.

Email #3 (bolding mine):

Dear Lynnae McCoy,

A technician responded to your ticket with:

This is a request to upgrade a customers hosting account: SUBMITOR – Please be sure to fill out ALL the requested information and use your own e-mail address for the creation of this ticket. RECIPIENT – Please perform the upgrade as requested below, send the customer his critical account information for the new machine and move this ticket to Dedicated/Reseller/VPS Billing desk. Username: *deleted by Lynnae* Current Server name: sava Email Address: *deleted by Lynnae* Verified?: Yes Current Plan: Basic Upgrade to: Dedicated 1 with Cpanel Price Quoted: $114.00 Month to Month LTA Plan Any Special Discount Quoted: Waiving Cpanel install Fee. Additional Comments: Customer would like us to move over her files. (Free with cpanel to cpanel) * cPanel to cPanel or Plesk to Plesk–moves from a cPanel shared Linux to cPanel dedicated Linux, or from a Plesk shared Windows to a Plesk dedicated Windows or Linux are handled as follows (includes Plesk shared Windows to Plesk VPS Linux or Windows): – authorization to move (last 4 digits of your credit card on file and your cPanel or Plesk username) – no charge for the move – all settings move over with the packaging to setup the account and databases * cPanel to Plesk or Plesk to cPanel–moves from a cPanel shared Linux to Plesk dedicated Linux or Plesk dedicated Windows, or from a Plesk shared Windows to a cPanel dedicated Linux are handled as follows (includes cPanel shared Linux to Plesk VPS Linux or Windows): – authorization to move (last 4 digits of your credit card on file and your cPanel or Plesk username) – cost of $75 per hour for the move – we require that all database names, database usernames and database username passwords are provided with the request – we will attempt to setup your account after the files move with the available settings as possible – we will call you after the move and setup to confirm everything is functioning Please let us know if you have any questions on this or how you would like to proceed. Thanks. — If you have any more questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Lunarpages Help Desk again. Kind Regards, Jennifer Jindra Lunarpages Sales Team

Again, there is no mention of a setup fee or a three month contract.

In the end, I agreed to pay the $149 charge. I’m not happy about it, but if it’s on the website, there’s probably not much I can legally do about it.

And I wish I could say this saga was over. I was promised by Clay, the billing department manager to whom I spoke, that my account would be settled Friday afternoon. As I write this Sunday night, I still have not received an email confirmation of my cancellation. Furthermore, my account has been charged $114 for another month of service. I emailed the billing department yesterday morning as soon as I received notice that my bank account had been charged. This is the email I received back:

Dear Lynnae McCoy,

A technician responded to your ticket with:

Hello, Before we can discuss any account proper verification is required. For security purposes to confirm you are the account holder, please provide the following: cPanel or Plesk username or the primary domain on the account: Last 4 digits of the credit card on file: This request is for security reasons only. If you do not have a credit card on file for your account please provide: cPanel or Plesk username or the primary domain on the account: First and last characters of the password on file: Your full postal mailing address: Telephone number: Kind Regards Suzanne Turner

Never mind that I gave all of that information to Sean a week ago and Clay on Friday. I also emailed Clay to see why my account has not been canceled as promised. I have not heard anything back. I’ll give it until the end of the week before I file with the Better Business Bureau.

Unfortunately I’m not alone in my problems with LunarPages. Pete from Bible Money Matters just moved his website, due to poor customer service from LunarPages, too.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my recent travels and my recent customer service experiences, in the end, it’s the companies who put customer service first that are going to do the best in the information age. Customers today are no longer willing to sit idly by while their hard earned dollars go to companies who provide poor customer service. I, for one, am glad that the internet has put some power back in the hands of the consumer.

I may have to pay the $149 fee. And I may have to live with the three days that BeingFrugal.net was down. And I may have wasted 10 hours of my life on hold with LunarPages support. But what I do have is the ability to tell others of my experience, so you can decide for yourself if this is the kind of service you want from a webhost.



Author

By , on Apr 6, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{43 Comments}

  1. fugitiveartist:

    Don’t waste your time with the Better Business Bureau, they have no power or authority. That is like expecting an elderly house cat to stand guard at Fort Knox.

    If you have difficulties with a company that appears to be taking you for a ride, contact your state attorney general. It is likely you are not the only victim and when the state AG contacts the business, they sit up and take notice.

  2. Lynnae:

    @Bible Money Matters – That’s horrible! At least when I was with Bluehost my site would only go down 5 minutes at a time. I went over the allotted server space on Bluehost when I got mentioned at CNN.com last April. My site would go down 5 minutes, and then it would come back up when the traffic dropped a bit. Support was generally helpful too.

    The ONLY reason I switched to LunarPages was because I knew eventually I’d need a VPS or Dedicated server, and Bluehost doesn’t have that option. Obviously that plan didn’t work out well though, as I still needed to find a new host when I needed a bigger server.

    To make matters worse, last Friday when I talked to Clay, he insinuated that the LunarPages support team was doing me a favor in working on the “DOS attack”, and that they really weren’t obligated to troubleshoot that for me. Makes me wonder what exactly technical support is paid to do?

  3. Lynnae:

    @FFB – That’s exactly what I think. Customer service is SO important these days, and it’s the companies with the best Customer Service that will survive.

    I’d like to think my experience an isolated event, but I personally know a couple of people who are currently having problems with LunarPages, Pete from Bible Money Matters being one of them. So it’s not just me.

  4. well… thanks for the heads up – I hate that feeling when you are getting ripped off, but can’t even get to talk to someone who can help you… I don’t know how companies like this can stay in business…

  5. Lynnae:

    Well, after 1/2 hour on the phone this morning, Brittany at LunarPages finally refunded yesterdays charge and canceled my account. I have email confirmations of both.

    Since it only took a half an hour for Brittany, I’m wondering why Sean & Clay couldn’t get the job done.

    And Sameer, they still charged me the $149 for the three month commitment I never agreed to, and there has been no apology from senior management.

  6. Claudia:

    Wow, what a horror story. I read it like reading a novel. I was disappointed at the end though. I would have demanded money back somehow. I do hope that lots of people read this and Lunar pages change their policies. I certainly will never sign up with them. Thank you so much for this!!!

  7. Lynnae:

    @jill – Mrs. Micah is correct. My site has already been moved off Lunarpages.

    @Servant – Good to see you here! I hope you have better luck with LP than I did.

    @sameer – I hope you’re right! I’ll let you know. Right now I’m on hold again, trying to get this straightened out.

  8. sameer:

    I bet they will waive the charges once they find out you blogged about them. I predict an apology from senior management.

  9. @Jill, she’s not on LunarPages anymore, so no worries about blog posts go missing. I don’t think LP would do that anyway. I’ve written critical posts about hosts before and not have them disappear.

  10. jill:

    This kind of report gives me the shivers – I think of Big Brother, and wonder if we haven’t all been keeping watch in the wrong direction. At the risk of sounding like some wise old wizard: the internet is a powerful and wondrous thing, and free expression its greatest gift – but I believe you are fortunate that this blog got posted at all, and didn’t experience some “mysterious” loss of content.

  11. Yeah, i think Lunarpages is ok – and cheap – if you’re just starting out. If you start getting any kind of traffic though – or need support – watch out. You’ll be in a world of hurt. Lunarpages took my site down, and only responded to my support request 3 days later!! It’s a good thing i had already switched the site to a new host!

  12. jim:

    It’s amazing how companies still try to pull these shenanigans.

  13. Lynnae — I am very sorry about your problem. I have been moving around a lot over the year and so far I have been very happy where I am. The best thing you can do is move your business elsewhere.

  14. FFB:

    Know what’s crazy about all of this? With this economy and the continued growth if the internet and blogs every online company should be bending over backwards to keep their customers! Now is the time for them to make sure every customer question is answered to the customer’s satisfaction. Sounds like LP are losing touch and it will only hurt them. They don’t realize how quickly word gets around in the blogosphere!

  15. Lynnae:

    @Nicki – Bluehost has great customer support. The only reason I left Bluehost was because my site was growing, and they don’t have VPS or dedicated servers. I wanted some insurance, in case I needed to switch to a bigger server in a hurry. A lot of good that did me.

    I’ll be recommending Blue Host to beginning bloggers, who don’t need a bigger server, though. Their customer service was always very quick and helpful.

    @DDFD – Believe me. I’ve found an alternative and moved my site already. The problem is now I can’t get anyone at Lunarpages customer service to cancel my account, despite multiple requests! So that’s another warning. If you sign up with Lunarpages, you may continue to get charged beyond the time you want to cancel your account, because nobody at LunarPages seems to follow through on cancellation requests!

  16. Kimi:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I too have fallen for the DirectTV trap and would have appreciated knowing other honest experiences (whether good or bad) before being locked in a contract with hidden costs. Now I know some things to be aware of if dealing with LunarPages. Although I prefer possitive reviews of companies, I am a bigger fan of honesty than to be taken for a ride. I would appreciate being aware of other “scams” like this in order to avoid falling prey to them myself.

  17. Lynnae! I hope moving forward your site finds a happier home. I just shake my head over the abysmal support you received and huge fees charged to your account via LunarPages. Huge hugs.

  18. FFB:

    You guys are getting me scared now! I’m on LP and my year was just upped. I had an issue a few months ago that ended up being mostly my fault (I think) but their customer service was horrible in helping. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for issues and watch the fine print should anything else happen!

  19. Servant:

    Hi Lynnae, it’s Angie (your old Sonflower friend). You poor thing. Thanks for the heads-up. I’ve started with LP and hopefully won’t encounter problems being such a newbie with low traffic. Thanks for the headsup. Will have to reconsider my LP ad.

    p.s. Enjoyed clicking around your place, a wealth of info.

  20. Lynnae – I’m so sorry this happened to you! However, I really appreciate you taking the time to share about it. I’ve had a great experience so far with Blue Host’s customer service, which I’m so very grateful for. I hope everything resolves quickly for you!

  21. Coco:

    I appreciate that kind of information. Should I ever need a dedicated server I know not to use them. Also, I am happy with who I am with but should I need a dedicated server I will know what questions to ask.

    Thanks
    Coco

  22. What gets me about this is that they should have been able to do what they promised or told you that they couldn’t. The low level plan is exactly that–a low level plan. So it makes sense that you’d need to upgrade. But when they upgraded your site to a dedicated server, then it should have withstood the AP traffic. That’s the point of getting one.

    This whole “DOS attack” is complete BS. They should have said that the traffic was still higher than they could handle and made suggestions. Plus, while I can see having poorer customer support to people who pay less for it (fair’s fair), those with dedicated servers should be receiving much better customer service.

    Anyway, I’m sorry to hear about your experience.

  23. Caveman:

    I’ve been considering moving to a new hosting provider. Lunarpages was on my radar, but I’m definitely not going to give them a dime now. Thanks for letting me know about their poor service, Lynnae.

    Have you considered passing this on to the Consumerist? They love this kind of story…

  24. Thanks for the link to my announcement about switching hosts. I was pretty happy with Lunarpages for quite a few months because they were cheap, and I didn’t want to pay a lot for my hosting. I ended up finding out, however, that sometimes you get what you pay for. Their support was extremely slow, which they made up for by being woefully inadequate.

    The problems I had with them really could have been helped by them being more up-front, and being more communicative with me. If some of their support had actually been helpful and told me whey they were taking my sites down, instead of just turning them off and telling me to investigate, things could have been better. In any event, I feel your pain, Lynnae! and I won’t be going back to Lunarpages.

  25. Poor service is epidemic! I would look for an alternative and then drop this “service provider” like a bad habit!

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