Meditations On The Ways In Which XM Radio “Customer Service” Doth Suck

I received an email last night from XM Radio reminding me that the credit card I’m using with them is expiring.  This also reminded me that I needed to cancel the second radio on my account, since I’d taken that radio out of my home entertainment center a while back and had forgotten about it (and with automatic payments every quarter, it was easy for it to get lost in the noise).

Since I wanted to do two things, I decided to give their phone service a try, hoping against hope that it would be better than the last time I tried to use it.  When I called I got one of those obnoxious voice systems that expects you to talk to it.  I loathe these things with a passion.  First, I feel silly talking to a computer.  But more importantly, I have so little trust in customer service computer systems in the first place that putting a voice recognition system in front of it that half the time doesn’t understand what I’m saying feels like a recipe for disaster to me.  Finally, I know that most companies won’t let you cancel any kind of service without talking to a person, so why not skip the nonsense and get right to the person?

This system asked me for my phone number, and fortunately allowed me to key it in, along with my zip code.  Then it said that my credit card had expired and demanded that I say “yes” or “no” to the question of whether I wanted to update it now.  I simply hit zero, to see if it would break out and let me talk to a person.  I was pleasantly surprised that it worked.  At least at first.  Because it immediately put me on hold, and then dropped the line after about 30 seconds.  Since I’m a glutton for punishment, I tried this three or four more times and got the same result each time.

XM phone FAIL!

So, I went to and was bombarded with a landing page that used Flash video with sound.  This is what I consider a major sin of web design and a major irritant.

XM web design FAIL!

Once I got past that and onto the main XM page I logged into my account and was dumped into the account information page with a pop up that informed me that I needed to update my credit card info to continue.  However, the credit card info was inactive (grayed out) and I saw no obvious way to change it, so I clicked the “Change Info” button at the bottom of the page.  This turns out to be a major tactical blunder, as the system interpreted this as me wanting to save the data.  With a properly designed system this wouldn’t be a problem, but XM’s system LOCKS YOUR ACCOUNT FOR 10 MINUTES while it “updates.”  This means if you try to do anything but look at the account summary during that time you get a pop up that tells you the account is “being updated” and to wait for 10 minutes. 

XM system design FAIL!

So, after stewing for 10 minutes I went back into the account info page and finally saw the “Change” link above the credit card info which activated the data fields (and made some new ones visible).  I was able to enter the new expiration date and save the data.  Which was good.  But it locked the account again for another 10 minutes.  blank stare

After duly waiting ten minutes (actually, after impatiently hitting “Radios & Subscription” about 10 times), I was able to see the list of radios on the account.  But there is no way to cancel a radio from the website (I was afraid this would be the case, as it was this way the last time I tried to use their brain-dead site a couple of years ago; I was just hoping that they might have seen the error of their ways in the interim and that I might be able to avoid going back to XM phone hell). 

XM user experience FAIL!

As a parting gift, I discovered a bug with their caching/session code when I clicked back to the account summary page and I got another pop up informing me that my credit card had expired.  This did not inspire confidence, so just to be sure I logged out, closed the window, and logged in from another window to confirm that the changes had indeed been made (which means I had to go through the stupid Flash video landing page again, etc).

XM session caching FAIL!

At this point I’m already a bit annoyed and frustrated with them, and not very happy about having to go back to the phones.  But I’m nothing if not persistent.  So, once more into the breach, dear friends…

I dialed their 800 number and I got the phone company’s ‘unable to complete this call as dialed’ message.  WTF?  I checked the number and tried again.  Same result.  Hmm…

Waited a few minutes and tried again (counting the first attempts and the uncompleted calls, this is attempt number 8).  This time I got an actual person instead of Chatty Cathy the Computer.  He had a faint Indian accent, but was otherwise understandable.  Could this be an improvement?  Alas, this was not to be…

The person was nice enough, and took down the radio ID and looked up my account.  When he did he tried to confirm the information, which was weird because his computer showed my old phone number in Denton, which I hadn’t used since 2003 (this didn’t give exactly give me the warm fuzzies about their systems, since I was still on the website which showed my current phone number in the account summary; further, Chatty Cathy the Computer was able to look up my account using my current number earlier).

XM multiple system synchronization FAIL!

Whatever the issue, he updated the number (which scares me deep down in the dark chambers of my IT Architect heart) and said he’d have to transfer me to the right department and for me to stay on the line.  *Groan*  Knowing where this was going, but not having much choice, I stayed on the line.  For all of about 30 seconds, at which point the background hiss turns to silence, which means I’ve been dropped.  Again.

XM phone transfer FAIL!

Call number 9.  Get another friendly person who asks all the same questions as the first and then transfers me to the other department.  Another drop. 

XM phone transfer FAIL!

Did I mention that like the Monty Python Monks, I’m a glutton for punishment?  I decide to give it another try (Thank you, sir.  May I have another?). 

Call number 10.  Got another friendly person with a faint Indian accent who asked the same questions again.  This time I ask if perhaps there’s some way for her to stay on the line as I’ve been dropped numerous times.  She agrees, but I still hear the familiar click as she puts me on hold.  long face

After about 30 seconds, just as I was fearing that I was going to be dropped again, I heard a very low voice.  It was so low that I thought at first that it might be cross-talk from another line, but after it paused and said something again, I tried talking to it (afraid I might be talking to myself) and it responded!  I cranked up the volume on my headset to STUN and although every single little background sound in my office was now reverberating through my skull I was actually able to converse with this person.  Amazingly I’d finally made it through to the almost mythical XM cancellation department!

She asked me all of the same questions as the other people (doesn’t anyone share info in these damn callcenters?  I know it’s possible, since I’ve worked on systems in the past that did it) and canceled the second radio.  Or at least she said so.  I’m not at all confident that it actually worked and I fully expect to have to call them again in a few weeks when the quarterly billing goes through. 

Why does this have to be so damn hard?  Why do companies insist on treating their customers so shabbily?  Something as simple as updating credit card info and canceling a single radio on an account shouldn’t take two hours and a multitude of web site visits and phone calls.  Someone at XM has seriously dropped the ball when it comes to prioritizing their customer service operation. 

XM customer experience FAIL!

Update: As a final stick in the eye, I received the following email after updating my credit card expiration date in the system:

Thank you for your recent payment to XM Satellite Radio.  Please allow two (2)
days for your payment to be posted to your XM account. 

This confirms that you have authorized recurring payments for your XM
Satellite Radio service.  The payments will be automatically debited from the
account or debit card you provided to us.  The timing of payments will be
based on the payment plan associated with each individual radio on your
account.  Please contact us at 1-800-XM-RADIO if you have any questions
regarding your account.

Thank you for using XM Satellite Radio. 

This, once again, doesn’t fill me with confidence in their system, as I didn’t make a payment.  I simply updated some billing information. 

XM appropriate update message FAIL!

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