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Real talks to itself about Rhapsody billing

Dr. Freud looks for extra charges

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It's not every day that you get to watch a company talk to itself firsthand, but Real Networks has a special on this month in which it treats customers to this experience.

If the good Dr. Freud were still around, he would chop up a bit of Bolivian Bang, sit Real down on a couch and have a good, long chat.

"I hear zat you are having acquisition issues," Dr. Freud would say. "You bought Listen.com and are struggling to integrate its billing system with yours. Somehow or another, you are charging customers for services they have, in fact, cancelled, which causes them great angst. And the only way you can solve ze problem is by having one division of your company pretend to be a customer to another division. Zis is absurd. Please take me back to the beginning of ze problem, and tell me, does Rob Glaser ever say peculiar things about his mother?"

If Real were a sentient being, it would start to twitch at this point and reach for the Bolivian Bang. But since it has neither a conscience or a mouth, we'll walk you through its problems, leaving out the bits about Glaser's mother.

After acquiring Listen.com's Rhapsody music service, Real sent out the following notice - on July 19 - to its paying customers.

"On July 22, your RealOne MusicPass (as part of SuperPass Gold) will switch over to RealOne RHAPSODY. RealOne RHAPSODY is critically acclaimed as the best online music experience. Play over 325,000 songs (no limit!), build custom radio stations, choose between 60 ad-free stations, and burn tracks for 79 cents! All for just $9.95 a month! The same price you're paying now for your music subscription."

For most customers, this note probably served as a helpful heads-up as to what would come. Real was just changing its music service around. If that's fine with you, then no action needed.

But pretend for a minute that this helpful reminder triggered something in your brain. You did not want the Rhapsody service at all, so you call Real customer service and cancel this option. This puts you back with just the plain, vanilla Real One Superpass service, which comes in at $9.95 per month.

The customer service rep assures you that all is taken care of - no more $19.95 charges.

You trust the rep and a couple of months roll by. Then you check your credit card statement and realize that you're being charged for Rhapsody after all. A clerical error, of course.

You go off and call Real's customer service again to ask what has happened, and that's when the fun begins. It turns out that some customers are being charged for Rhapsody even after canceling the service but Real can't do anything about it. They are not yet connected into Rhapsody's billing system and have no idea how much you are being charged and can't stop it on their own. Real must write to Rhapsody - part of Real. This is when Real starts hearing voices and Glaser begins running through the halls, wearing pantyhose on his head.

A Real customer service rep takes up the customer's case. In fact, the Real rep takes on the customer's persona and sends an e-mail to Rhapsody, pretending to be the customer that reads as follows:

"Please cancel my account and give me a refund. I wanted to cancel everything when I called to cancel my superpass.... I don't even know what this RHAPSODY thing is."

Then a Rhapsody rep writes back to its owner Real.

"Dear xxxx,

Thank you for contacting RHAPSODY Support at Listen.com.

We have received your request to cancel your All Access subscription, and are disappointed to see you go. We have gone ahead and terminated your account.

We have also issued a $29.85 credit to your credit card because we were not able to cancel your subscription prior to your latest billing date. Please allow 24-48 hours for this credit to post to your account.

Your confirmation for this incident is: xxxxxxxx

Thank you for subscribing and we hope to see you back in the future.

Regards,
RHAPSODY Support"

So polite to itself that Real. How touching.

After Real is done talking to Rhapsody, a transcript of the exchange is sent to the customer. Who knew you could be so chatty and effective without actually saying a thing?

The weirdest bit of all is that Real even bothers to send this transcript to the customer, since it doesn't make a lot of sense. You hadn't asked to cancel "everything" months ago. You only wanted to cancel Rhapsody. If you had cancelled everything a refund twice the size would be due, and Real itself would be involved.

Then the Rhapsody rep replies that they are issuing a $29.85 refund because the company was "not able to cancel your subscription prior to your latest billing date." But Rhapsody had, in fact, missed three billing dates and beyond that seems to be giving in a bit easily.

All in all, it seems Real sent the customer a transcript of a fake exchange between itself and Rhapsody.

"Yah, zis is very interesting," says Dr. Freud. "Perhaps you should schedule another appointment. I need to know more about zis Glaser. Has he ever worked at Microsoft? Alzo, what do you know about zis Fiorina person. I hear she has much bigger issues?"

Real gets up off the couch, takes a look at the diminished pile of Bolivian Bang and shudders.

Acquisitions can be such introspective experiences. ®

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