Satellite radio is an interesting business model.
They have extremely high overhead (satellites definitely aren’t cheap), but the marginal cost of additional customers is basically zero. Their satellites are already up there beaming signals down to earth; if the signal hits one receiver or a million, it’s all the same to them.
In December, mom gifted me an old XM radio receiver, and I signed up for the special they were running: 5 months for $20.
During my set-up call, I specifically asked not to be put on any sort of auto-renewal plan.
Fast forward 5 months. I check my credit card statement this week, and notice a $34 charge from XM. No email, no opt-in, no nothing.
I like XM/Sirius. It just seems like an unnecessary luxury in a “rebuilding year” for the biz. I’ll miss my Radio Margaritaville but obviously I’ll survive.
I go to their website, create an account, and find out I’ve been auto-charged for a 3 month extension. Like any good company, there is no way to correct this online; you have to call them.
So I do.
I give the XM representative all my account information and verify my identity. She’s not a native English speaker but that’s fine; we’re communicating OK.
At some point I swear she says, “OK I’ve cancelled your account.” But then she explains she does not have the authority to cancel my account and must transfer me to someone higher up the food chain.
I prepare myself for the imminent sales pitch by the higher-paid, escalated XM phone representative.
She is a native English speaker, although with a certain dialect and attitude. If you’ve called them you know what I’m talking about. I ask her to cancel my account, and she counters with the familiar 5 months for $20 deal.
I say, “No, it’s fine, please just cancel my account.”
No rebuttal, just a standard, “Thanks for calling XM, have a nice day sir.”
That’s it? Before I can get any sort of confirmation from her, she hangs up.
Seeking closure, I call back. I give all my information again to a new entry-level rep. I explain that his friendly co-worker had hung up on me before I could verify the account had been canceled, and he now informs me I am the proud owner of a new 5-month subscription.
She must have had selective hearing: “No, it’s fine, please just cancel my account.”
And while I guess “it’s fine” is technically an affirmative, everyone knows it still means “no thanks.”
The new rep doesn’t have the authority to correct this mistake (surprise!) so he transfers me upstairs. Different escalated rep than before. Promises to have canceled the account for real this time and to have the money refunded to my credit card.
I ask for and receive a confirmation number. No email. By putting nothing in writing, XM always leaves themselves an out.
Reminds me of an email signature from an old Ford engineer: “Never write what you can say, and never say what you can imply.”
I’ll have to keep a close eye on my statement to see what happens.
But the moral of the story is if you want to save money on your XM satellite radio subscription, all you have to is call and try and cancel. Since the incremental cost of keeping you as a customer is essentially $0, use that fact to negotiate a lower rate. Even if you paid just a dollar a year, XM would probably be better off than if you canceled. If their first offer was to go from $11/month to $4/month — a 60% discount — I wonder how low they would go if you pushed back!
UPDATE 6/2/10: XM has called me 12 times in the past week trying to win me back. They never leave a message. If you get a call from 888-245-4396, it’s XM! So desperate!
UPDATE 7/15/10: On July 2nd, XM sent me a “Last Chance Offer” via email for a 3 month, $4.99/mo subscription. Since then they’ve called me 13 times and never left a message. Why even pretend “Last chance” when we both know it isn’t true?
UPDATE 7/25/10: Today I received a “Very last chance!” email from XM. The offer remains the same; $4.99/mo for 3 months or $4/mo for 5 months. Thankfully the phone calls have stopped though. Knock on wood.
Related: You might like the free Trim app, which helps identify (and cancel) subscriptions on your behalf.