Are Comcast Nondisclosure Forms Common Practice?

After a $600 refund for a Philadelphia couple, a Comcast rep attempts to explain the now-infamous agreement.

Update 12:40 p.m.: Comcast provided the following statement regarding nondisclosure forms:

“This past week Comcast announced plans to significantly improve the customer experience. These efforts will go a long way to prevent these experiences from happening again. With regard to release forms and NDAs, we do not have a national policy regarding their use with customers and we don’t think that confidentially agreements should be used in these situations. We are using this example to create a clear policy that will clarify this with our employees.”

Original: Was it company policy or the product of a rogue employee? That was the big question for Comcast after reports surfaced that the company offered angry customers a $600 refund if they agreed to sign a nondisclosure agreement and keep quiet about the incident.

John and Carol Lehman were offered the credit in response to a dispute regarding five years of erroneous charges for a cable box they say they never had. After having trouble getting the cable giant to move on the matter, they contacted Action News — and before the segment aired, they received a voicemail stating they would get the refund if they signed the agreement. That sure made it seem like hush money.

A Comcast rep told me that release forms with nondisclosure language are used in matters involving large amounts of money or claims of property damage. It protects the company from giving a large refund or credit, only to have a customer ask for more later, the spokesperson said.

But the spokesperson wouldn’t comment on how frequently nondisclosure forms are used or whether the explicit language in the form prohibiting customers from talking about the matter is meant to quell bad press about Comcast’s already horrific customer-service record.

Despite signing the deal and still sharing the information on Action News, the Lehmans got their refund, said the Comcast rep.

Want to read the entire nondisclosure agreement? Ars Technica has it here. (Gold star if you can make sense of all its legalese.)

The last thing Comcast needs is another viral customer-service debacle (like the guy who tried discontinuing his service only to be repeatedly harassed by a pushy Comcast worker.) In fact, the company hoped the public would be talking this week about its recently announced customer-service overhaul, which offers automatic $20 credits for late technicians, screen-shares with agents, and 5,500 U.S.-based call center workers.

Meanwhile, Time published this piece about five ways Comcast can really fix its customer service, including allowing customers to change or cancel service online, offering more flexibility and making billing truly transparent. We’re not holding our breath.