There’s Always Something to Lose: CX Immunity is Temporary

“The customer’s about to leave anyway, so give them the hard sell and see if you can lure them back.  After all, what have you got to lose?”  Looking at non-customers as unimportant is a shortsighted approach that undermines your brand. Some companies think that they are immune to the market forces of customer experience, but history shows us that CX immunity is temporary.

Child of the 80s

When I bought my car in 2013 it came with a free year of Sirius XM satellite radio. “Cool!” I thought, “I’m a child of the 80s.  Now I can listen to the 80s station all the time! And they have all of the original MTV VJs!”

That novelty wore off fast.  If I hear UB40’s “Red Red Wine” one more time I’ll claw my own eardrums out.

A year later and the freebie offer was over, but the monthly subscription price was reasonable, so I signed up and let it roll.

Fast-forward two more years, and I receive my annual subscription renewal.  The price went up. A lot. And I had had enough 80s music and standup comedy, so it just wasn’t worth the continuing cost. It was great, Martha Quinn, but it’s time to say goodbye.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Sirius XM has a great web site.  I can look up channel information, sign up for a plan, upgrade my plan, pay my bill, pretty much everything I might want to do.

Except shut down my service.

That’s never a great sign.  When a company intentionally makes you jump through hoops to do anything, it’s an indication that they’re going to make it difficult.  Sure enough, the only way to unsubscribe from Sirius XM is to call their customer service line.  So I did.

After navigating the phone-system maze to get to a real person, the gentlemen from a faraway call center asked me how he could help. “I’d like to cancel my service,” I said.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” the gentlemen read from his script with faux-sincerity.  “May I ask why you don’t wish to continue with your service?”

I parsed the awkward grammar of that sentence for a moment and then replied, “The service has just become too expensive, and to be honest I’m just not using it that much anymore.”


Something tells me that this is what my new friend was actually thinking.

Apparently the word “expensive” triggered an entire response tree, because the next twenty minutes consisted of phrases like this.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that you feel that way.  Because you are an existing customer we would be willing to offer you our special discount which would give you 20% off for one year.” My new friend’s mastery of the art of dispassionate script-reading was impressive.

“No thank you, I just want to cancel,” I replied, not feeling good about the direction of the conversation.

“OK then, I’ll be happy to close that account for you.  But while I’m doing that, let me tell you about our special offer…”

For twenty minutes I politely declined, with an edge of anger slowly growing in my voice.  The hapless fellow on the other end of the line just kept throwing offers at me, as if perhaps I had suffered a traumatic brain injury and accidentally dialed their line in a fit of amnesiac frugality, and that it would just take a few more verbal blows to the head to get me to lovingly embrace continued access to the 80s station and so much more.

Towards the end of the call things got heated. “Look, I understand that it’s your job to read the script and try and get me to resubscribe, but it’s just not happening, so please close my account and let us both resume our lives.”

He hung up.

What Happened?

The conversation had gone on long enough, and had involved me handing over so many pieces of personal and subscription data, and had involved so many simulated keypresses in the background, that I honestly wasn’t sure whether or not my account had been closed.  The ending was awkward, to say the least, but it was also vague.

Since I had no desire to stick my head back into that conversational vise I hoped for the best.  Surely Martha Quinn’s employers wouldn’t be that obnoxious.

But they were.

The Bill Arrives

Six weeks later, I noticed that Sirius XM had charged a large amount to my credit card three days earlier.  Sure enough, they had charged me for a new year’s worth of service at the inflated rate I had already told them I didn’t want to pay.

Now I was angry.

I called the number, navigated the phone maze, and found myself talking to another gentleman from far, far away.

“Thank you for calling Sirius XM, how can I help you?”

“Good morning.  I called to cancel my service six weeks ago.  The person who I talked to evidently failed to cancel my service, because I just got charged for a new year of service.  I want that charge removed right away and I want that service canceled immediately.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that sir.  May I ask why you wanted to cancel your service?”  Oh no, here we go again.

I was pumped.  “At the time, it was because the service had become too expensive, but now it’s because I’ve decided that your organization is a bunch of unethical deadbeats who intentionally make it difficult for people to unsubscribe.”

There was a brief uncomfortable pause as my latest friend wrestled between the forces of the script in front of him and his innate humanity.  The script won. “Oh, I’m sure that that was an unfortunate mistake.  I am authorized to offer you a special subscription at…”

“Look,” I snarled, “I understand that you’re just doing your job and reading off of your script.  But if you don’t close my account and refund that charge now, I will make it my personal mission to damage Sirius XM in any way that I can, starting with a fraud complaint to the credit card company and then escalating to litigation.”

There was another awkward pause, then “One moment.”

I was placed on hold, and five minutes later my friend returned.  A definite chill had entered into our relationship.  “I have closed your account.  I will process a refund for you for the remaining amount of the subscription…”

“You will process a refund for the entire amount, not the rate minus the three days it took for me to catch your fraudulent BS.”

Our relationship was definitely on the rocks now.  After another pause, “I will refund the entire amount; you should see that in three to five business days. Your confirmation number on the account closure is…”

Finally, I was done.  I felt like I had just tunneled out from Alcatraz with a spork and had emerged from a dark, dirty tunnel, blinking my eyes against the bright daylight.  I was free.

Or so I thought.

I Promise It Will Be Different

After such an obnoxious hard sale, after such shady behavior, I was prepared to forget that Sirius XM ever existed.  The SAT button on my car radio sits unloved and unused, and I’m perfectly fine.  I’ve moved on.

But they haven’t.

It’s been three months, and every month I receive a new piece of junk mail at my house. “We want you back!” it proclaims.  It’s like Sirius XM doesn’t know how to live outside of an abusive codependent relationship.

Last month I even received a phone call.  Since I’m always optimistic and think that the person on the other end of the line might be my next great friendship, I answered the random call to my cell phone with enthusiasm.


“Hi, Mr. Jack-wet? I’m calling from Sirius XM satellite radio.  We see that you were a former subscriber and wanted to offer you a special promotional subscription…”

It was not my next great friendship.  I gave the hapless caller at the other end a long discourse about the rocky history of my relationship with the company, and suggested that they should delete my name and number from their database, then throw the hard drives out that contained that database, then burn and raze the data center that contained the servers that used to contain the hard drives.

He hasn’t called back.

How Do They Survive?

Apparently I’m not the only one to suffer this treatment at the hands of Sirius XM.  As of this very moment, the web site has 2,136 complaints about the company.  In 2014, 45 states and the District of Columbia fined the company $3.8 million (caution: annoying popover ads) for fraudulent billing and advertising practices. This is clearly a company that views customers as prey.  It’s built into their culture.  So why do they behave this way?

SiriusXM is clearly a company that views revenue from paying customers as the only thing that matters. If someone tries to exit their ecosystem, they make it as hard as humanly possible. Just quickly Googling “SiriusXM cancellation scam” shows how much ill will they’ve created. Traditional customer experience lore tells us that consistently making people angry is a suicidal path, so how is the company still in business?

First off, SiriusXM is a monopoly; when Sirius and XM merged it eliminated competition in the satellite radio market.  Second, the market has an extremely high barrier to entry; it takes a lot of money to launch a new satellite network.  Lastly, SiriusXM is the beneficiary of the disconnected buyer syndrome. Because the vast majority of their new customers are people who purchased a new car, they don’t worry too much about word-of-mouth marketing. They have a steady supply of new victims.

Time Wins All Battles

So SiriusXM has built themselves a nice little fortress against the angry peasantry that they routinely create.  Is this a market failure?  Is this a place where customer experience just doesn’t matter?

For now, yes.  For the long term, no.

The world is full of companies that have (or had) terrible customer experience reputations but managed to be financially successful.  Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, most airlines (except for my favorite) – these are all companies that are in highly regulated industries and high barriers to entry over others in the market. Every day they manage to anger people who have no choice but to continue to deal with them.

People, however, have long memories, and eventually an opportunity opens up for them to move to a new company or even a whole new competing industry.  When that opportunity arrives, the offending brand can collapse very fast.

Remember Radio Shack asking everyone for their phone number just so you could buy a pack of batteries? DirecTV, another provider with a history of dubious customer service, was on the ropes and then acquired by AT&T.  American Airlines and US Airways both struggled until they merged into a company with even bigger customer experience issues.  Many brands don’t fail outright, but end up bought and assimilated by some other organization.

The Peasants Will Eventually Storm the Castle

If your organization provides a lousy experience, there is no impregnable fortress against angry customers. Eventually the walls will fall.  Comcast recognizes this, which is why they’re making significant efforts to improve their CX even though their monopoly is still solid.

If you’re in an organization that thinks strong financials mean you’re immune to the forces of customer experience, think again.  Nobody has CX immunity forever.

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