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The truth about free trials

Tom Spring | Sept. 10, 2012
We handed over our credit card for 40 online trials, to find out the real cost of 'free.'

These companies failed on several levels: A few charged me despite my having canceled in time. Nearly all of them made finding cancellation instructions extremely difficult, requiring me to perform extensive sleuthing. Many of them forced me to call the company to complete the cancellation, and threw up technical roadblocks such as nonworking phone numbers and broken links to cancellation pages. Among the somewhat less annoying practices I encountered were high-pressure sales pitches from some companies to make me keep the service, extensive exit interviews, and multiple marketing messages in my inbox even after we had parted ways.

On the other hand, the free trials that were best made it simple to end the trial, providing clear navigation, sparing me the aggressive customer-retention lectures and marketing pitches, and saying thanks for giving them a try.

In all fairness, the hassles I describe here are a matter of subjective opinion. Another person might find spending 10 minutes on the phone tolerable; for me it was highly irritating.

Free trials and tribulations

Days after canceling J2 Global's 30-day free trial of the TrustFax virtual fax service, I spotted an $8.95 charge from the company on my credit card statement. Perplexed, I tried calling TrustFax's toll-free number to dispute the charge. All I got was a voicemail message: "You have reached Verizon conferencing. The number you have dialed is not in use."

The next day I checked the TrustFax site and found that the customer service number had changed. I dialed the new number; within 20 seconds after navigating voice prompts, I was hearing hold music and a looped message saying, "Your call is very important to us. Please wait on the line for the next available representative." After 12 minutes, I hung up.

As a test, the next time I called TrustFax, I selected the sales option at the voice prompts, and within 10 seconds a cheerful sales representative was ready to take my order-but not to cancel my account.

My fourth call to TrustFax was fruitful, though. After I waited on hold for 11 minutes, a representative named Leslie came on the line and said that she would review my account. She confirmed that my account was closed, and apologized for the billing error. She even refunded me the $8.95-but not until after she had kept me sitting on the phone for another 17 minutes as she confirmed my billing information, put me on hold, asked me for account information, and put me on hold again. In total I spent about 40 minutes on the phone trying to stop a free trial that had taken merely a few mouse clicks and less than 2 minutes to start.


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