Sirius-XM Radio’s Hideous “Customer Service” : A study in how NOT to treat your so-called “valued” customers…

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I had a whole collection of titles for this entry and spent quite a while deciding which one was most appropriate.  I’m still not sure that says quite what I meant, so I’ll just add the other titles for your consideration below:

  1. Ten good reasons to close your Sirius-XM Radio Account(s)
  2. A study in the devastating effects of Off-Shoring of Customer Service
  3. Beyond AM – Beyond FM, We fucking HATE our Customers at Sirius-XM!
  4. Why the Sirius-XM Radio Monopoly should have been blocked by the feds
  5. Douchebaggery in Action: How many clowns does it take to answer an e-mail?
  6. XM Radio ListenerCare: Now hiring idiots to man the phones!  Apply Today!
  7. When customer service flies away leaving you with shitty satellite radio
  8. LIES, LIES, LIES!!  –  The XM Radio Customer Service Mantra
  9. XM Radio: How to infuriate customers, lose business and beg for bankruptcy
  10. XM Radio = DirecTV = Dish Network : How satellite-based services kill customers

They’re all appealing in their own special way.  Shucks, I just can’t decide which one I like the most.  Oh well, let’s get on with it.

As you are probably aware, Sirius-XM raised their prices effective March 11th.  The claimed that this was due to customers “demanding” higher digital quality, when in fact it was more likely due to the merger of Sirius and XM Radio.  This was just part of the process of eliminating duplicate services that existed at each provider, including Internet streaming. 

The price increase was in direct contradiction of the testimony that Mel Karmazin, the CEO of XM Radio, told Federal Regulators prior to the merge where he stated “This merger will give consumers more choice at a lower price and more importantly, less confusion.”   Later, he stated that not only would the new company not raise its monthly price from $12.95, it could lower it.

With XM chairman Gary Parsons sitting nearby, Karmazin described their competition and stated "200 million cars that have free AM/FM radios in them and there are homes that have four free radios in them. I guarantee no price increase and we will lower the price."

It’s likely no one actually believed Mr. Karmazin’s “sworn” testimony; the man is notorious for being slimy.  I’m quite sure people in the chamber chuckled as they watched Mel’s nose grow many inches in length during his testimony.

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, Sirius-XM decided anyway to move ahead with a price increase and a service reduction for existing customers.  How they branded the changeover is what set me on fire about this whole topic.  The purpose of this post is to provide a synopsis of the events that followed March 11th and how Sirius-XM’s gross negligence and deception cost  them my business on March 26th.  It is my hope that you’ll read this post and think twice about doing business with the Sirius-XM Monopoly.

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SECTION I: The 164k E-Mail Thread

Late January, 2009.  Sirius-XM sends out the following e-mail to its current subscribers:

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The very first thing that chapped my ass about this e-mail is how XM constantly refers to XM Radio Online (XMRO) as being “FREE” and “included as part of the base subscription at no charge.”   That’s kind of like an auto dealership saying “Cars on the lot are FREE, but only if you pay a $27,000 driving fee”.  XMRO is not “free” and it never has been.  You pay for it as part of your base subscription.  If it truly was “free”, anyone could get it, including non-customers. Clearly that’s not going to happen…

A very important and very misleading part of this e-mail is dead-center where it says:

“And if you renew now, you can continue to listen online, FREE for the length of term you choose. Effective March 11, 2009, the online listening platform will be upgraded to a higher quality digital audio and no longer included as part of a base subscription at no charge.”

The first part of this very poorly written sentence says that if you renew now, you can continue to listen “FREE” for the length of term you choose.  What that meant to me is that if you renew now, you could continue to access the same XMRO service that you had pre-March 11th (which provided both 32kbps and 64kbps quality) for however long you choose to extend to.  Where does it say in this e-mail that the “FREE” XMRO service you enjoy today and will continue to enjoy (if you pay to extend) will have its audio quality cut in half and you will not have Premium Access to the new service?

It’ doesn’t.  So I set-out on a quest to get an answer or two.  Between the period of March 11 and March 26, I sent 19 e-mails to ListenerCare in an attempt to find out more about the cryptic e-mail shown above.  Over time, the thread evolved from “How can you justify raising your prices” to “Will I have access to the same XMRO service through the end of my current subscription period” to “why has my XMRO service quality been cut in HALF” to “you promised me XMRO Premium.  Where is it?”.

With each and every e-mail I sent, I got back 2 to 5 form letter replies that not only failed to answer the question, but often had no relevance to the subject at hand whatsoever.  Here are the 10-top standard responses the clowns used on me time and time again:

  1. Thank you for contacting XM.
  2. We apologize for the delay in responding to your e-mail.
  3. We will be more than happy to address your concern.
  4. We are sorry to hear that you are not satisfied with the listening quality of XM radio online.
  5. We are sorry for any inconvenience you may have experienced while attempting to listen to your XM Radio Online (XMRO) service. 
  6. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
  7. Please feel free to contact us if you need any further assistance.
  8. If we can be of further assistance, please feel free to send an additional email or you may contact a Listener Care Representative directly at 1-800-XM RADIO (800-967-2346).
  9. If we can be of further assistance, please feel free to send an additional e-mail to salesoperations@xmradio.com.
  10. We have forwarded your suggestion onto our Programming Department for review.

Over and Over and Over again.  When I actually did get a non-form letter response (happened 5 whole times in TWO weeks!!), I was essentially told the following by the XM “Care-Clowns”:

  1. 2/19/2009: XM Care-Clown Nadine wrote “If you upgrade your monthly, quarterly or semi-annually subscription to a 1 to 3 years annual savings plan, prior to this date, you will continue to get online listening for FREE for the length of your subscription.  This is your chance to keep listening online at no charge. After March 11th premium online listening will cost $2.99 per month.  If you currently have a lifetime subscription you will keep free online listening for this radio plan.  The monthly charge is NOT automatic; if you want to continue online listening after your free period expires, just contact us and we will set that up for you.”
  2. 3/9/2009: XM Care-Clown Kerry-Ann wrote “We are offering our existing loyal customers a way to continue free online listening for up to three years with our Annual Savings Plans. You can sign up to extend your subscription on one of these plans to receive the online listening free and save money on the regular service as well.  I know change is tough and hopefully, you will still see the value in our service to continue as a subscriber. Again, thank you for being a loyal listener and we look forward to many more years of providing you with our service.”
  3. 3/14/2009: XM Care-Clown Natoya wrote “When you contacted our Listener Care Center on 03/12/09 a ticket was submitted (1-8887146539) to our Technical Department to report the problem you are experiencing. Upon resolution we will contact you at the following telephone number or email address…”  I specifically asked why I was told I have XMRO PREMIUM listed in my account, yet I could not access XMRO PREMIUM online in the player.  They couldn’t figure it out, so they submitted a ticket.  I never got a follow-up or a phone call about the ticket number they mentioned like they said they would.
  4. 3/21/2009: XM Care-Clown Tashanna wrote “We appreciate your correspondence and we are sorry for the inconveniences that you have encountered as a result of the quality being streamed on XM Radio Online. The Media player has been updated. If you are streaming at the older/slower rate, please do the following: 1. Log off XMRO, 2. Log back in to XMRO, 3. Your account will be sent for an update, and you will begin receiving the premium service within approximately four to six hours.” Obviously, that didn’t do jack-schitt.
  5. 3/26/2009: XM Care-Clown Tiffany wrote “We are sorry to hear that you are not satisfied with the listening quality of XM radio online. In order to get premium listening you will be required to pay $2.99 per month. Our records indicate that the XM radio online service is currently a part of your subscription. This means that you are not being charged a separate amount for XM radio online. As a result you will continue listening at 32 kbps. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

So, it turns out that if XM Radio had just sent out the following e-mail, all of this shit would have been clear from the beginning, and I wouldn’t have had to waste my time going through 30+ e-mails to dig out the fact that XM never actually had any intention of giving existing “loyal” customers a good deal if they extend now:

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If they had sent that out instead of the cryptic and deceptive e-mail they chose to send out, people like me would have been crystal clear what XM Radio was really up to.  Instead, they tortured me with the XM Care-Clown Brigade for more than two weeks.  That pain alone is worth 1 year of free service… and this pain doesn’t even come close to describing the 6+ hours I spent talking to the XM Care-Clowns on the phone!

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SECTION II: 381 minutes of Care-Clown Lip-Service

(That’s more than 6 hours for the mathematically-impaired)

Do you remember the scene in Aliens where they find 1 live colonist with an alien about ready to pop out of her, and she grunts “Killll Meeeee” before she dies?  I kind of felt like that every time I called the XM Care Clowns.  I shit you not:  I racked-up more than 6 hours total on the phone with 1-800-XM-RADIO between my office phone and my cell phone.  I roughly guesstimate that 20% of that time was spend on hold; in some cases waiting as long as 20 minutes for a Clown to answer.  Here are some interesting statistics:

  • • Longest time on hold: 3/12/2009 at 2pm PST — 27 contiguous minutes on hold listening to XM advertise how “awesome” they are.  I want to drink Barbra Walter’s blood.  You know what I mean if you’ve been on hold with XM recently and heard her super-annoying spiel.  That and the “You’re on hold because of the incredibly HIGH-DEMAND for our Best Of Sirius Package!!”  HAHAHA!! The same people who love Nascar and the Playboy Channel are ALL OVER that Martha Stewart Channel!!!  Riiiiiiight….
  • • Number of hang-ups over LAND-LINE: 7.  In fact, all but 2 calls that ended-up at the India Call Center got magically dropped… In one case, after being on hold to talk to a supervisor, the Care Clown actually said “Goodbye” before she dumped me.
  • • Number of dropped-calls over cellular with good, stationary reception: 4.  Of those 4, I believe that only one dropped call was actually due to a loss of cellular connection.  2 of them were definitely intentional, and one Clown failed to properly mute his microphone.  These 2 dropped calls were also ones where I asked for a supervisor.
  • • Total Number of Calls (Cell & Landline): 13.  That averages out to 29 minutes per call.  Of course, some lasted as long as 2 hours, and some only lasted 5 minutes.  Just depends on where the call was routed to.
  • • Call Center Locations: I always asked the Care Clown where they were located before we started.  I was told Virginia, Panama, “The Caribbean”, Philippines, India and Washington DC (only once, when I called XM directly in Washington DC).
  • • Number of times I hung-up on someone: 2.  Once because the Clown wouldn’t get his supervisor and once because I quite literally couldn’t understand the Indian talking on the other end.
  • • Number of times I actually got called back: 2.  Once was planned, by “Moe” in Panama, and once by some idiot that claimed everything was fixed and “she could prove it!!” (until I proved she was actually wrong – then she never called back again).

I can’t possibly weed through all these calls and provide a decent synopsis of each.  There’s just too much data, and I’m way too lazy and you’re probably way too ADHD to read it if I did.  So I’ll summarize the trend of the calls and remove all the garbage and lip-service which accounts for >90% of the total call time:

  1. Q: My XMRO audio quality has gone from 64kbps down to 32kbps.  Why?  A: We just upgraded our online listening.  Now you have to pay for XMRO service.
  2. Q: Why don’t I have access to the same level of service I had before March 11th?  My subscription’s good through November 2009, and the e-mail said we’d still have XMRO access.  A: You should have access to XMRO.
  3. Q: Do I only get access to 32k XMRO?  I should be entitled to at least the same or better level of service I had before you changed.  Why am I losing service quality?  A: You should get XMRO Premium.
  4. Q: If I get XMRO Premium, why can’t I access it online?  The player tells me I don’t have XMRO Premium Service, even though my online account management DOES.  What the heck’s going on there? A: Our system’s been broken and our techs are working on it.  We’ll assign a trouble ticket and they’ll contact you.
  5. Q: This has been broken for more than a week.  Why can’t you fix this?  A: It takes 3 to 5 business days for the tickets to XMRO technical support to get processed.  They’ll contact you.  Until then, we can’t do anything.
  6. Q: OK, your “3-5 business days” are all used-up.  What’s the status?  This is STILL broken, and I’m out of patience.  Where’s your roll-back plan and customer communications?  How many people is this affecting?  A:  It’s taking longer than normal to fix the problem.  There’s nothing we can do.  There should have been better communications and we should have posted a notice about the service problems.  This is affecting thousands of people.
  7. Q: (To Customer Relations Supervisor in Washington D.C.) Please make sure your answer’s correct on this: As a current customer with a current paid subscription good through the end of this year, am I or am I not entitled to XMRO PREMIUM 128kbps Near-CD-Quality Audio?  A: YES, SIR, YOU ARE ENTITLED TO THE PREMIUM XMRO SERVICE AS AN EXISTING SUBSCRIBER AND WILL BE ENTITLED TO THAT SERVICE UNTIL YOUR CURRENT CONTRACT RUNS OUT.

At this point I firmly believed that existing customers should be getting equal (or better) XMRO audio service, and that meshed with the spirit of the e-mail (the whole “extend now and save and keep your free XMRO access”), but this of course doesn’t mesh with the e-mail that Tiffany sent me:

“We are sorry to hear that you are not satisfied with the listening quality of XM radio online. In order to get premium listening you will be required to pay $2.99 per month. Our records indicate that the XM radio online service is currently a part of your subscription. This means that you are not being charged a separate amount for XM radio online. As a result you will continue listening at 32 kbps. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

So, clearly Sirius-XM never actually had any intentions of allowing current subscribers access to XMRO Premium, even if they did buy-into their e-mailed bullshit about “extending now to save and keep XMRO for free”.  The part that kills me is that no one, not even a supervisor in their customer relations department, has any idea about the services they offer or what you’re supposed to get.  It’s so damn confusing for EVERYONE, including the Care Clowns, that they can’t even LIE to the customer effectively.  Some didn’t even have any idea what a “stream” was, and I could hear circuit-breakers popping-off in the background when I uttered the term “32k bits per second”.  Clearly the training for XM’s Customer Care is abysmal.  It’s World-Class AWFUL.

You may be asking yourself why this chaps my ass so much.  The answer is because I’m an Operations Manager for a very large software company.  At my company, we’re told that if by some chance a customer calls you for help, you will own the problem from “cradle to grave”, and you will only ever hand-off a customer’s issue when you are sure it has been properly handled, even if that means calling the customer back to verify they got fixed.  Sure, it’s a pain in the ass, but it doesn’t really happen that often, and when it does, we generally know how to get the customer the help they need.  It’s not optional, however.  These people are the reason you’re in business, and no business should be in the business of tearing up their means of income. 

XM, however, obviously doesn’t operate from that premise.  They clearly couldn’t care less about the customer, the problem, the cause or the solution, and they FORM-LETTER their way out of every corner they put themselves in and just drop-calls when the question’s just too hard or too inconvenient to answer.  There’s absolutely   Z-E-R-O   accountability at Sirius-XM Radio for taking care of customers, and it shows.  Even the supervisors promulgate an atmosphere of careless disregard for a customer’s issues.  It’s virtually impossible to get legitimate service issues escalated, and there’s no apparent attachment to any kind of US-based management when it comes to ListenerCare.  They might as well be a completely different company located in the Twilight Zone.

To this end, I wholeheartedly ask that you to reconsider doing business with Sirius-XM Radio.  Keep in mind that the subscription fees you’re paying also cover customer care, and if you’re not getting what you paid for there, why on Earth would you expect any other aspect of their service to be any better?  If, however, you enjoy paying “more for less”, then maybe Sirius-XM’s shenanigans are for you.  If that’s the case and you’ve made up your mind to go with them, do yourself one favor.  Call 1-800-XM RADIO (800-967-2346) and just ask them if existing customers get access to XM Radio Online.  If they say “Yes”, ask them exactly what that means.  I’m sure their answer (or lack of answer) will help steer your opinion. 

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SECTION III: Some SWEET Sirius-XM Radio Online Alternatives

Do you really even need XMRO?  Why pay for more money to listen to bad programming (same songs 10x a day), obsolete MTV-VJ’s, Geico Rip-OFF commercials, Max-Headrom babble and other unnecessary crap?  I have some outstanding other service suggestions for you to consider:

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If you absolutely must have online tuneage, you definitely should have a look at these awesome links!

Windows Media Radio Stations

Pandora Internet Radio

Last.FM

>> The RADIO <<

jango

Live 365

There are dozens more.  Do a search!  Just think twice before giving the loveless bastards at Sirius-XM Radio your hard-earned money!  They sure as hell haven’t done anything to deserve it, and they need your business a whole lot more than you need theirs!

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