Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Norton Auto Renewal = One hand in your pocket, in your pocket

Recently Jack blogged about his travails of his dealings with the call centre of AT&T. His blog posting read like the ranting and raving of anyone who has had to deal with a "customer service" call centre supposedly designed to respond to customer inquiries and concerns.  On Jack's posting one could simply replace the company name (i.e. AT&T) and insert some other company name and it would all work out. 

Last Friday, I had the same horrible experience as Jack.  Instead of it being a telecommunications company like AT&T or Bell or Rogers, it was with the trusted company of Symantec, the makers of Norton Antivirus.  That evening I was trolling through my junk e-mail folder to see what pharmaceutical companies were offering these days.  As well I was looking to see what free money I could get from African countries who seem to more than willing to send these funds my way as long as I send them my banking information.

 In this junk mail folder was also a message from Norton complete with my name and some credit card information.  The message was a little mysterious to me as Norton normally lets me know via a pop up window that my antivirus subscription was about to run out.  Never in has it shown my credit card information and sent it via e-mail.  I scrolled over the link to see the internet address to see if this was a phishing scheme.  No it was not, it was a complete internet address for renewal.  I clicked on the link.  Both the e-mail and newly brought up webpage said that if I do not request otherwise that my subscription to Norton Antivirus would be renewed on my credit card.  As well, to request this automatic renewal from not going forward I would have to sign in with my e-mail and password. 

E-mail address and password?  Since when did I have an account with Norton? I requested the password be sent to my e-mail address.  I then signed into this supposed account to find my complete mailing address and credit card information.   I cleared out as much information as I could from this account. To say the least I now have a few newly painted blue walls to take care of in my house. 

FIRST CALL: I called Norton's customer service number and somehow by act of the big man upstairs my call was routed to the Phillipines.  I nicely explained the issue to the customer service agent who picked up the phone what the issue was and how I did not appreciate Symentec and Norton storing my personal information without my express consent. I also had her promise that Norton or Symantec would not use, sell or give away my e-mail address and that her agreement would constitute a legal agreement.  She agreed to this statement. She offered to put me through to a manager right away and put me on hold.  I stayed on hold for 10 minutes listening to their music before hanging up. 

SECOND CALL: I called back and got the same agent.  She said she would put me through to the manager once again.  I was then put through to a different sounding que that said "Your call is very important to us, a project manager will be right with you."  I heard this again for another ten minutes before hanging up yet again. 

From what I can tell at least this time the customer service agent put me through to a que to speak to a manager.  The first call the customer service representative put me on hold and hoped I was going away.

While on hold during these time periods I did a Google search and found several customer service complaints about the Norton Antivirus auto renewal process.  All of these complaints noted that the customer never got to speak to a manager at any point.  A few of these complaints the customer's bank was contacted and charges to the credit cards were at reversed only to have Norton reapply the charges back on later. Norton customers were understandibly frustrated.

THIRD CALL: I called back again and gave an agent, named Raj, my Norton case number and asked to speak to a manager.  He said "yes Robert I can do that."  Um...Robert?  Whose Robert?   Great, customer service who cannot even get a name right.  And these guys hold onto and have access to your credit card information?  I said to Raj that I wanted a customer service manager on the phone within 5 minutes or I would be leaving Norton as a customer due to the poor customer service.  Raj then wasted another one minute reading his script apologizing profusely for the experience I had undertaken.  I, of course, rudely interrupted his "Recitation of the Great Apology" to periodically tell him the time he had left to get a manager on the phone every fifteen seconds. 

At the end of apology, Raj just sat their silently.  I asked after 15 seconds of this if he was still there, he said yes,  I said did he understand what I requested, he said yes.  I then asked why he was not transferring me to a customer service manager as per my request and repeated the time back to him of how fast I wanted to speak to a manager.  Raj said he understood and then sat their silently.   Apparently Raj is great at reading corporate customer service call centre scripts but is terrible at completing simple tasks like transferring a customer to a manager for escalation of the case.  I got put on hold again (same music as the first call), I waited the prescribed five minutes and hung up again. 

FOURTH CALL: I called again, I got through to customer service agent named "Lay".  I asked to speak to a customer service manager again.  She put me through to the same que promising some hogwash about the importance of my call.  I waited five minutes before hanging up. 

During the second and fourth calls I drafted two e-mails.  One to the Toronto Star consumer columnist, Ellen Roseman. The second was an e-mail to the executive team of Symantec which I found the addresses after a Google Search here.  I sent both off before dialing again.

FIFTH CALL: I dialed yet again, and I got an agent who did not even give his name as far as I could tell.  I explained the issue again, the fact I had just sent off e-mails to a consumer columnist with Canada's largest daily newspaper and the higher ups at Symantec about the terrible customer service I had received.  I said he had two minutes to put me through to the Customer Retention department as I was now ready to leave Symantec for their competition at McAfee. The agents response was he was not allowed to give out the contact information for executive level personnelle and that I would be put through the to department.  He then went on with yet another "Recitation of the Great Apology."  I interuptted him about three sentences in.  telling him he had two minutes from when I say go to give me the Customer Retention Department.  Then I had silence.  Apparently this agent was trained by Raj. I merely counted down till there was no time and hung up on him. 

SIXTH CALL: I called again and hoped at least I was helping to run up the phone tab for Symantec's 1-866 number to the Phillipines. I got another agent with no name.  I explained that I wanted someone to call me back.  She promised someone would and asked what time would be the best.  I replied before I give that out, I said I would like to, no offense, speak to someone in Canada as I had enough issues with the call centre in the Phillipines.  She replied with the start of the "Recitation of the Great Apology" followed up with having someone from the United States call me.  I gave her my name and number (reciting my number a second time for good measure) and said to have someone call me between 9-5 my time.  She agreed this would happen.  I followed up with that if I'm not home the manager is supposed to leave their name and number of where they can be reached on my voicemail. She agreed and we hung up.

Fast forward to Saturday shortly after 11 A.M. I received a phone call from an American sounding manager.  I relayed my frustration from the night before and all the action I had taken in trying to escalate this issue to no avail and was glad he called. 

Next, I went through the research I had done online.  The manager said that I did not have any context for the cases found online and if these customers ever found resolution.  My response was that I had plenty of context of the frustration.  Like the other customers, Norton was holding onto my credit card information and was going to charge my credit card information without my consent.  I also noted that these other customers were also angry with Norton for doing so and outlined that they also had issues in speaking with a customer service manager when calling.  I also mentioned that I had contacted the executives and a consumer columnist for follow up if need be.

The Norton Manager then walked me through how Norton obtained my personal information.  He explained a year ago when I renewed my subscription with Norton using my credit card and other information that somewhere in the process there was a Auto Renew function turned on.  I told him that I had never knowingly authorized  the autorenewal function and felt this was like negative option billing.  I explained that a number of years ago Rogers had a similar incident that caused them to lose a bunch of customers.  

The manager then ensured the auto renew function had been turned off from my actions I took online Friday evening.  He confirmed this option had been turned off.  I followed up with the simple question of "what credit card number do you have on file?"  A couple of computer clicks on his end and he said he was unable to see the number.  I replied it was a trick question to ensure the Norton record systems were working as I had cleared out that information the evening before.   He then apologized, this time without the "Recitation of the Great Apology" and asked if there was anything he could do.  I replied that considering my experience, I would be contacting my computer specialist to see what other products that Symantec did not have a hand in were available.  The manager then said if I wished to renew with Norton to watch for the autorenewal function on the sign up process.  He said this option comes after the agreement in a tic box on this years renewal process.  I thanked him for his time and we hung up after that point.

On Saturday, I checked the junk mail folder of my e-mail again.  I found the below e-mail:

Dear Michael,
I’m sorry to hear that you have been encountering issues with the support that you have received.
To ensure that these issues are fixed, I would like to organize a time to call you back.
Please provide me a date, time and phone number of when I can call you back or you can call me up on + 1 866 870 0267.
Thank you
Vayapparaj K
Symantec Customer Relations
Direct Ph # 1 866 870 0267.


Obviously Vayapparaj K had failed to read the notes on my case number.  Otherwise he would have found that I spoke with one of this American counterparts that day.  He would have also noticed that I had specfied what time I would like to be contacted at. 

I wrote back to Vayapparaj with the following:

Hi Vayapparaj,

I'm thoroughly disgusted with customer relations. I waited over an hour combined on multiple occassions to speak to a supervisor. I'm not interested in speaking with you at this point as I spoke with an American representative of your company who understood what I was concerned about and actually answered my technical questions about renewal.

I also find it funny that you need my phone number as I, reluctantly, gave it to the customer service relations person on the final call after giving up.

I have contacted the
Toronto Star's consumer Columnist Ellen Roseman about the poor customer service and autorenewal functions provided by Norton and Symantec.

Again, if you and Symantec wanted to resolve this issue, you had plenty of time last night to have a manager on the phone. After all, I was told repeatedly "your call is important to us..." several times while I was holding in the que. But apparently my call was not important as Symantec and Norton would have ensured enough management was there to take the call.

I'm now waiting for the Toronto Star to contact me about the possibility of others learning how Norton underhandily automatically renews contracts without the consent of it's users.

I hope their follow up will help others in my situation as I have noticed that I was not the only one to have issues with Norton. I had plenty of time last night waiting for a manager to use Google to see about how others felt about Norton Automatic Renewal process and the commentary was not good from over ten users that I found.

As well, I had time to e-mail all the top executives about the customer service issues with the Phillipines and the lack of customer service supervisors available in that call centre to adequately address Norton's customer service issues. I also included all the names I had from the phone calls and how useless they were. I also included the fact that I do no approve of the autorenewal process used by Norton.

I hope this helps Norton to become a better company in the future. For now I'm weighing my options of joining McAfee for my virus protection as Norton has lost my confidence.



On Sunday, I received a reply from Ellen Roseman of the Toronto Star.  She noted she had received my e-mail. She also pointed me to an article she wrote last December about similar issues with McAfee and other companies.  I replied thanking Ellen for the heads up on autorenewals with McAfee and how I may have to "hold my nose and renew with Norton." 

On Monday I received a phone call from Stefan Osthaus, Symantec's Vice President of Worldwide Support & Customer Service.  He apologized for the experience I had calling it a perfect storm.  He also noted that according to their records I was hung up on twice by their agents.  He asked if I had any feedback for them or questions on what I experienced. 

I started from the very beginning on how frustrating the experience was.  I also said that I was now considering exploring my non-Norton options due to the autorenewal practices by Norton. 

We then had an engaging conversation about how to best go about resolving the issue so other customers would not run into this issue.  I suggested that the autorenewal option check box be not automatically filled in when going through the subscription renewal process online.  This would ensure customers would have to add the check box to this function while those that just wanted to renew and move on could do so.  He seemed to like this idea.

As for the account creation online, I told him I was against this idea for yearly renewal subscribers similar to myself who did not want their information stored and no autorenewal function instituted. He liked that idea as well saying he could probably have the system programmed so that only those choosing the autorenewal process would create an online account with Norton.  I then said both sets of customers should have their product keys e-mailed to them after the renewal is complete for safekeeping.  I told them that is what HP (Hewlette Packard) does for new computers who are activated under their warranty programme and that I still had that e-mail. He also like that idea. 

At the end of the conversation he double checked with me what Norton programme I was using and  inquired if I still wanted to be a Symantec customer.  I replied that I was sitting on the fence considering my findings via Ellen Roseman about McAfee and my experiences with Norton. 

Stefan then offered two things, he said he felt he needed to make amends for making me feel like Norton had a hand in my pocket for money and needed to have his company regain my trust.  In doing so he said that he would personall e-mail me a product key that would give me a one year subscription for my Norton software for free and if at any point I had any further customer service issues with Symantec and Norton that I could e-mail him directly and he would have someone contact me immediately. I agree that that would be satisfactory to me in assisting me with my decision with choosing antivirus software.  After we hung up I had an e-mail in my inbox from Stefan with the product key and his contact information. 
At the end of it all, I spent over an hour off an on the phone running up the long distance tab of Norton via their 1-866 customer service number, e-mailed a well known consumer columnist, talked to a Vice-President and received a free one year subscription worth over seventy dollars. Sometimes it pays to be a persistant customer in search of customer satisfaction.  Too bad most of this customer service satisfaction has been contracted out by companies like Symantec and AT&T to script reading customer service call centres.


  1. I am pleased to hear that someone of "import" actually reached out to you. The sad and terrible truth is that this sort of thing is exceptionally rare.

    Not to mention that it only came after you had been forced to endure a ridiculous amount of nonsense.

  2. Michael, I am amazed what you did, and of the out come. The customer service is a big thing now, and you made a difference, may be they will be better on the end because of you.
    Well done, and thanks for all the info it is good to know. Anna :)

  3. Hi Jack & Anna.

    It was amazing that someone of important stature (i.e. a Vice-President) actually reached out to me.

    Perhaps each large company like Rogers, AT&T and Symantec should have a Vice-President of Customer Service who can deal with significant customer service issues. The task for this position would obviously make the changes needed in the company's customer service department to make their own Vice-Presidential position redundant. But we all know that will never be the case especially when throwing names around like AT&T and Rogers.


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