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.