Friday, February 10, 2012

Are You Sirius...?

"This is Sirius/XM, how are you today..... We are calling to renew your satellite radio service with us..... Can I please have your Account Number?"
"I don't have my Account Number, but you called me, surely you have it on file."
"We don't have that information, you can find it on your radio by....."
"I don't have my radio; in fact, it doesn't even work any longer. What can I do for you...?"

Sirius/XM Radio once had to argue for its existence. In 1997 the FCC considered disallowing the merger to ensure "competition." Boy have times changed! iPods, Pandora Radio, Simplify, Apple's Music Match, and dozens of other alternatives vie for our entertainment time and money.

I want to like Sirius/XM Radio, I really do. I was a subscriber for over five years, relying on a portable, XM2Go radio to utilize my subscription. My family and friends found the expensive in car installation for this portable device "clunky" and dangerous to use while driving. As years past, I rarely turned on this device even on long trips, opting instead for my iPod, terrestrial radio, and Audible books (through my iPod and later iPhone)  for longer distance trips.

Sirius/XM  has some terrific content. On the occasion I did channel surf through the company's listings, there were a handful of channels with limited or no commercial interruption and good, continuous, reception even while traveling across sparsely populated areas of the US. Spending an hour or two listening to channels such as "20 on 20," "The Pulse" and "The Highway," was often a good way to stay at least somewhat current on the music scene. Time passes and life changes. I no longer have a regular office commute. (Thankfully, my travel time consists of walking down a hallway these days!) Over the past several years, I walk many places and find myself driving less and less. Whether walking the dog, jogging, or strolling to a local restaurant, I tend to rely on my iPhone for music, podcasts and audiobooks; I wouldn't consider adding a Sirius Radio to the gadgets I carry on these "walkabouts."  I stubbornly refuse to pay additional annual fees to listen to this content on an alternative device such as my iPhone. (Likewise, I detest the WSJ business model which insists you pay multiple times for the same  content-- paper; internet; iPad.)

Sirius has real problems. Two areas which I have dealt with over the past several months-- Customer Service and Pricing-- have caused me to terminate my service and reconsider the company's long term chances. 

Coincidentally, My Sirius Contract ran January to December. I elected to not renew my contract based simply on utility. Over the course of twelve months I had listened to the service less than ten hours. At the standard  annual rate of $160, this translated to over $16/hour (pricier on an hourly basis than even Hollywood's  first release movies). Sirius began bombarding me with US Mail weeks before the contract expiration beseeching me to renew (and pay). I ignored these missives.

As 2012 began to settle in, Sirius began calling in addition to weekly mailings. I "force" unknown callers to leave messages on Google Voice.  This allows me to selectively address these callers and avoid unsolicited, SPAM. Sirius repeatedly called; they either elected to leave no message or their auto-dialing computer systems were unable to handle navigating the Google Voice Mail system. For whatever confluence of reasons, it was late January when I recognized a repeat (but unknown) number during a period of inactivity and decided to answer the 'phone. This was the first of what would become multiple, time wasting, calls over  a three week period. Each call followed the same sequence of events (with only my frustration growing):

Paraphrasing and emphasis mine:

"This is Sirius/XM, how are you today..... We are calling to renew your satellite radio service with us..... Can I please have your Account Number?"
"I don't have my Account Number, but you called me, surely you have it on file."
"We don't have that information, you can find it on your radio by....."
"I don't have my radio; in fact, it doesn't even work any longer. What can I do for you?"
"Who are you?"
"I am the guy you've been calling multiple times a week. I am answering your call!"
"OK sir, what phone number do we have on file?"
"Well, I started using  your company's service years ago and have moved, but you must have XXX-XXX-XXXX on file, because you are calling me more often than my kid!"
"That isn't the number we have."
"Really!!? You, or your company, have been dialing it the past three weeks it appears. What can I do for you!? Have I mentioned, I don't use the radio and don't need your service which is why I didn't pay the bill!?"
Unphased, he continued, "Do you have another telephone number?"
"I have several, you are missing my point. I don't use my radio and I don't want your service."
"Let me pull up your account, what is your 'phone number?"
This idiotic process, all too familiar to anyone dealing with corporate billing and service departments, went on for several minutes. I finally gave him a defunct, out of service, home telephone number from seven years ago which struck "pay dirt." I understand tying a 'phone number to an account. For most, recalling even an out of date 'phone number is far easier than unearthing some account number which you might, at most, see on an annual bill from a company such as this. However, they called me! They  must have had my account information on the screen which should have made "verification" easy.  But this far from the end of the issue or the conversation!
"Now that I have your account how would you like to pay? The credit card on file has expired. Your next year's service is $159.99. Which credit card would you like to use?"
Seriously? I am wondering where the communication between us has derailed (and in my heart I know it is with management, but I persevere to rid this distraction from my life and Sirius's accounting department). "I don't wish to use any credit card. I don't want your service. As far as I know my service is cancelled."

"No sir. I cannot cancel  your radio."
"I haven't paid, nor have I used your service for many months. I want to cancel my service! Which is why I didn't renew my  account!" Click. That's right! Click! This Representative hung up on me!

After several more calls over the next week (which I ignored), I picked up again and repeated this entire ridiculous sequence.  You guessed it, ending again in a disconnect when it became clear I was only interested in ending my agreement. About a week ago, I rehashed this yet again with another representative and when I was disconnected, I called them back! 

Several  phone calls and  transfers later,  I was finally speaking with a representative authorized to terminate my account. More minutes past, most  of the time I spent patiently hearing additional, obligatory,  scripted speeches detailing why I was making a grave mistake by terminating my Sirius XM account, finally I was informed that my account was cancelled (hooray) and that I owe the company $27.72!

"For what!?" I asked.

The reply was swift, "For service between the time of the contract's ending and today."

I was flummoxed. At first I calmly informed this "Customer Service" person once again, I didn't want the service, hadn't used the service in several months (and assumed it was disconnected when I failed to renew), and had spent a number of frustrating calls over the past weeks attempting to inform them of these, simple, straightforward,  facts.

The agent didn't budge. Trying a different tact, I asked them what in their mind gave them the right to renew my contract unilaterally? The agent replied that  all contracts automatically renew and an agent made me aware of this when I first started using Sirius. (This was over five years ago and all they have as "proof" is a supposed verbal comment made to me at the time of sign up.)

Before going ballistic, I took pains to tell them I have been a loyal customer of many years. I even explained that I currently have a late model car in my garage which has their service as part of my purchase package and I might consider keeping Sirius with that vehicle when the free trial period ends. In other words, I explained that for some asinine $27.72 in fees you are going to certainly lose a current, and potential, customer..... 

Our conversation ended with the company representative insisting I pay this "fee" while I made it equally clear my death or their company's bankruptcy are more likely (not necessarily in this order) than me succumbing to this treatment and paying the $27.72!

Within days of this "final conversation," I received written notice from a collection agency, informing me of my indebtedness to Sirius XM Radio. The pinhead member of management who approved pursuing long term customer accounts over $25 at the expense of all financial common sense and customer relations should be fired immediately! 

As a final volley, after a month of 'phone discussions culminating in this unsatisfactory stand off, I was assured on three separate occasions, I would be removed from the company's incessant "call list" only to continue receiving unsolicited calls asking to rehash "my account status" again and again over the past several weeks. The last representative when confronted with this statement told me it "Might take up to ten days to get removed from the Do Not Call  List." I hung up on him.  If the situation weren't so ludicrous, I would laugh.

Sadly, the company does provide a decent product in newer cars. However, without their "deals" with major car companies, the company would be a footnote in the technology/entertainment Wikipedia article already! 

Many watchers of this company peg the necessary quarterly number of  car sales per month (with a Sirius XM promotional package) to be 1 to 1.1 million for this company to breakeven. There are some financial bloggers whom I respect, and whose advise I often follow,  boasting an upside opinion of the company's future. This post from Seeking Alpha purports such a scenario.

Obviously, I don't share this opinion, but admit if Sirius were ever able to get car manufacturers to "bake in" a two or three year contract as part a car's purchase, it would vastly reduce/eliminate churn (the attrition of current customers such as myself which hovers around 2%) and allow the company to further reduce marketing/promotional expenses. This is a big "if" and the premise relies on the naivete of new car buyers believing there's a "free lunch," or perhaps their euphoria of making a major purchase which discounts that they are paying approximately $15/month over the life of the loan or lease (plus interest charges) for the privilege of using Sirius services. Such a deal with Detroit may happen, particularly in today's upside down world of government deals and finance.  The possibility makes it impossible for me to short this company's equity as much as I would like to do so. But poor customer service, uncompetitive pricing and paying market mystifying  prices for on air talent will exact a heavy toll.

The other area of this company's business I find unsustainable is its current pricing structure. Everything is a la carte. If you have a subscription, you still have to pay a surcharge to access it via your iDevice. Again, if you already are paying around $160/year but want to listen in your car and perhaps through your home entertainment system (several name brand tuners,  including my Harmon Kardon model,  have the capability of accessing Sirius channels built in), slap on additional fees. How many times are you willing to  pay for listening to the same content?

The company's web site as of this writing is advertising a $199 "All Access" Annual Plan which appears to cover radio and internet enabled listening. This is being touted as a $58 "savings" over the purchase of access across these devices separately. There are of course also a litany of tiered, somewhat complicated, monthly subscription pricing models which remove elements of "premium content" making the purchase decision all the more perplexing as the content comes closer and closer to mirroring terrestrial radio with commercial driven offerings. On the landing page linked to in this paragraph, as of this writing I count eight (8) package bundles in addition to the "All Access" Plan detailed here. Additional fees for additional radios available on most of these offerings makes the decision process all the more difficult and confusing.

This company lavished huge contracts on its early talent pool. Huge really doesn't describe the idiocy. Howard Stern at a $100 million a year (and going strong)! Really!! And reputedly he is suing over Sirius's failure to provide stock options! Run Howard run! This company is paying you around $2 million a week to do your thing! Stock options be dammed!

Does anyone think Sirius has a good business model? Are you using Sirius radio now? And if you are, would you be if there wasn't a big, shiny, button, in your car allowing you to kludge through the content on the way across town? 

Compared to other  mobile entertainment sources (and this is the general competitive category I place this company's offering), do you find Sirius to offer a value of any kind? When compared with Audible (about $15/month for two audiobooks under my plan) , Pandora (using the free version happily today),  Spotify, and more, even listening "anywhere, anytime" to my extensive music library via Apple Music Match for $25 a year!, I don't see how Howard Stern and Sirius compete for the entertainment dollar. Add in atrocious customer service and I am pulling the plug on this satellite.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback! Please comment through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or directly using the comment form below.

I currently participate in the Amazon Associates Program and certain item links included within this post may tie to this affiliate program.

Companies:  Apple, Sirius/XM, 

This commentary is not meant as an endorsement of any company or to provide financial advice.  If the author has any financial interest in any company mentioned at the time of this article’s posting, it will be explicitly noted. I welcome feedback and comments. 

Music Row Tech will never sell, give away or use your personal information with third parties. 

All rights reserved @2012, Music Row Tech (MRT). Any reproduction without the author's consent is prohibited.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with other Music Row Tech readers and subscribers.