Sorry about the length of today’s screed, but the tale is a doozy and requires some explaining. I’ve been a customer of XM radio (now SiriusXM) since 2005. I love the clear sound and diversity of channels, and the fact that several of my favorite artists have dedicated channels keeps me paying those subscription fees without remorse. I’ve also found that on the few occasions I’ve needed something from customer service they’ve been helpful and efficient. That changed yesterday and it can serve as a lesson for any business.

I dropped an old XM radio a couple of weeks ago and it refused to turn on. I reached out to Sirius customer service and they offered me a new radio at a very attractive price. Unbeknownst to me, they also attached a new subscription to the radio, even though I already had a subscription (which I had just renewed) attached to the now deceased radio. In other words, 3 subscriptions and 2 radios.

I reached out to Sirius yesterday to cancel one of the radio subscriptions. The experience was like finding out that your kindly old aunt is really an ax murderer who flies into a killing rage at the mention of a secret word. In Sirius’ case, the word was CANCEL. The lovely customer service agent understood why I wanted to cancel and transferred me to what I guess is the department assigned to customer retention. I explained the situation – 3 subs, 2 radios – and was immediately offered a third radio. I politely declined – I only have 1 car and 1 house and there are radios in each. I was then told there would be a $50 early termination fee. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well and I reminded this agent (less politely, I’ll admit) that I didn’t create this problem: the agent who added a new subscription to the new radio rather than just transferring the old one over did (you don’t suppose they’re paid commissions on new subscription sales, do you?).

I was transferred to a manager.  After she began reading me a script (“when you first got the service, what did you like about it?”), I interrupted her and said she needn’t go through a retention script because I was not dropping the service – I just wanted to drop an unnecessary subscription.  After then having basically the same chat I’d had with the other agent, I was transferred to the department supervisor.  By now I’d been on the phone with them for well over 30 minutes and I was beginning to get angry.  The same chat ensues except it ends with I can send you a new radio and then we can cancel without a termination fee.  WTF?  I reminded her that her actions would cost her company money (the cost of the radio, shipping, etc.) as well as cost me the time it would take to call them back after I get the new radio to cancel.  I will spare you several other details, but the situation was resolved when I realized that they were trying to cancel the “new” subscription and not the subscription assigned do the broken radio, even though I had read them the ID of the radio I was trying to cancel.  Once I was very specific – cancel the subscription assigned to radio XXXX, we were done in about a minute.  Total time on phone: 53 minutes.

In no particular order:

  • Service” implies helping the customer reach his or her goal for the interaction.  In this case, Sirius threw up barrier after barrier.
  • At no point did any of the 5 people with whom I spoke offer to apply the money from the third subscription to extend the others.  Big missed opportunity.
  • I realize that the cost of a radio is tiny compared to the lifetime value of a subscriber, but Sirius was not losing a subscriber and was sending the radio fully knowing that the subscription would be canceled anyway.  What COULD cost them a subscriber was the ill will generated by obfuscation and delay not to mention the time it took when I should have been working.

I also realize that nearly every subscription business – cable, magazines, etc. – employs the same tactics so I’m using Sirius as an example.  I really was considering canceling all my subscriptions at one point – streaming music in the car is pretty easy these days – but that seemed self-defeating.  Still, none of us can afford to alienate our best customers, let alone the marginal ones, can we?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

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