Satellite radio seemed like the future 20 years ago when it launched in the US with two providers – Sirius and XM Radio. The two went on a talent war, with Sirius signing Howard Stern, then terrestrial radio’s biggest syndicated star, for an astonishing $100 million a year, giving the medium instant credibility. Eventually Sirius bought XM to become SiriusXM, and in 2018 bought the Pandora streaming service, creating one of the largest audio entertainment companies in the country. As of last year, Sirius claimed 34.5 million subscribers.
Still, I’ve never really understood the value proposition of Sirius. Yes, hundreds of channels. And access anywhere. But for $20 a month, what are you actually getting that’s unique? Sure Howard. But.
The dozens of music channels have nothing on Spotify where you have more and better customization. The talk channels Sirius offers are bundled as “progressive” or “patriot” and mostly retreads of things you can find elsewhere, and anyway, a free subscription to TuneIn fills in most of the gaps. It might be different if Sirius content was ad-free (as you might expect for a premium service) but no, you still have to sit through ads. And the channel guides and ability to get other meta-info is inexplicably clunky.
When I bought a new car last year, it came with a three-month Sirius trial. Having never particularly listened to Howard Stern, I quickly got hooked on his interview channel. Stern, it turns out, is a terrific interviewer away from the dopey antics of his other show. When he interviews artists, he asks questions no one else thinks to, and while he fawns over his guests, he gets them to say unexpected things about how they do what they do. It’s entertaining, unpredictable, and surprisingly insightful. You never know where Stern is going to go and how his guest will respond.
When the trial was over up popped an offer to continue the subscription at $10 a month. Okay, but it turns out the “continuation” didn’t include Stern. For that, there was another fee. A few months went by and other flaws began to grate – satellite radio is line-of-sight, which means that when you go into a garage or even under trees, the signal cuts out. My trips home under the tree canopy on Vashon’s Burma Road were made in silence. And once the “promotion” was over, the monthly cost doubled to $20.
Subscriptions have become the digital kudzu of our bank accounts – they proliferate in monthly amounts too small to pay much attention to, but they grow until they start to choke you like any invasive species that’s found a hospitable host. Managing unwanted subscriptions has become so much of a chore that services like Trim and TrueBill have sprung up to help you hunt down and cancel the “wascally wabbits”, as Elmer Fudd used to exclaim.
So I decided to cancel. And here’s where it gets comical. Unsubscribing could (should) be as easy as clicking an “unsubscribe” button, right? So I log in to my account, or at least I try to. First, it needs the ID from the radio in the car (even though I’ve previously logged in to the account and registered the radio). When I bring up the account, all of the options have links except for the one to cancel, which says you have to call the company.
I call. And get a recorded message that the “call center” is currently closed. Would I like to complete my request by text? No, but okay. The bot comes on and asks for my first name. I comply. Now it needs my last name so it can verify my account. Grrr. Okay.
Now it directs me to a link with a long form that wants me to fill out my name and address. No, I protest. I already signed on online, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this little chat. And I am wary about giving more information online. “Just Cancel” I type. “I can’t do that until you fill out the form.” Irritated, I do so.
And then, this (lightly edited) interaction:
Hi DOUGLAS. I’m Melody the SiriusXM Virtual Agent. This chat may be recorded for quality purposes. You can type ‘menu’ at any point to go to the Main Menu.
How can I help?
Okay, I am happy to help you with that.
Did you recently purchase a vehicle and want to transfer your account to it?
May I ask why you wish to cancel your subscription?
Me: bad service
We’re sorry you want to cancel your subscription, but I’ll connect you with a chat specialist who can help you with that.
I’m connecting you with a specialist now. The next message will be from them.
Thank you for contacting SiriusXM. My name is Jackie, to help you with your concern I will need to validate some information for verification purposes can you verify to me 1. The full name of the Account Holder 2.The Phone number associate to the account 3.The complete address including the city state and zip code?
Me: account number ************
I can’t see that account number. I will need to validate some information for verification purposes can you verify to me 1. The full name of the Account Holder 2.The Phone number associate to the account 3.The complete address including the city state and zip code?
Me: Douglas McLennan XXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Me: You make this stupidly cumbersome. Why can’t I simply click an unsubscribe button as one of the choices? Instead, you make me go through this rigamarole and waste my time. I won’t ever be resubscribing.
Thank you for that information. Please bear with me let me pull out your account.
While Checking the account, May I know the make and model of the vehicle please.
Me: It’s in the account!!!!!!!
I understand that. Just to clarify is the one I have here is accurate.
Me: Volvo XXX
Thank you. I successfully located the account and I can definitely assist you. May I know the reason why you wanted to cancel the service?
Me: terrible service (including this cancellation process!)
I’m sorry to hear that. May I ask what music do you usually listens to?
Me: Just cancel!
Yes I can help you with that. May I ask since your service comes with Streaming for Free how was it?
I understand that. I can definitely process the cancellation for you. However, you are still eligible to get our promotional deal today. I can provide you today our PLATINUM promotion for $99 plus fees and taxes, good for a year. With this, aside from your favorites, you can also have access to all our channels in your car, or listen outside the vehicle through streaming online using your phone, computer, and other smart devices! You may also enjoy 100 Xtra channels and ‘OnDemand’ content. All you need to do is download the SiriusXM app using your streaming credentials. It would start today until 08/01/2022. Like all our plans, this will automatically renew and bill at then current rates, Let us go ahead and sign you up.
I respect your decision and thank you so much for hearing me out for the offers that you are eligible to get.
Today I cancelled Radio ID XXXXXX.
You have a remaining refundable credit of $15.96 which will be refunded. The refund will take 3-5 business days from approval and will be issued to the original payment method or by mail.
Your confirmation number of this cancellation is 000-XXXXXXXX, please keep this number for your records. A confirmation of this transaction will be sent to the email address on file, for your account within 5 days.
We already cancelled your service and completed your request. We appreciate your time considering those offers. We are looking forward to do business with you again in the future. If you have additional questions/concerns, feel free to reply to this message anytime. Thank you for contacting SiriusXM Messaging. Have a good day!
Me: I think I know how they got 34.5 million subscribers.
Great story. It left me in laughter; but it’s funny-sad because we’ve all been there.
It’s the mafia school of membership management: you can join, but heaven help you if you try to quit.
It’s the roach motel approach.
“Managing unwanted subscriptions has become so much of a chore that services like Trim and TrueBill have sprung up to help you hunt down and cancel the “wascally wabbits”, as Elmer Fudd used to exclaim.”
So you need to subscribe to a service in order to manage your other services. That’s some catch, that Catch-22.
But as I go off today to do battle with my cell phone provider, I salute you!