Canceling Online Services By Phone

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I wish I could have gone to business school. I think it would have been interesting to sit in lectures discussing the cost-benefit-analysis of certain customer service choices. In  particular, it would be interesting to learn about the world of online business, a magical place where some companies seem to have the technical skill and security knowledge to accept my credit card online but mysteriously lack the ability to accept cancellation of that service in the same way.

Recently, I have canceled three online services. I’m preparing for the Great Depression, Part 2, after all.

  • The Wall Street Journal gave me a soft sell about the value of their service and responded to my reason for canceling with a legitimate alternative, but when I persisted with my decision to cancel, they pulled out the ‘30 day’ free extension trick. I went down that road with them about 14 months ago, so I learned my lesson. Polite goodbye, one service down.
  • Canceling my online fax service with CallWave was very easy, no sell at all, just a cancellation. The only real drawback was that it felt like I was talking on a space phone to ‘Brian,’ who was located somewhere near Neptune. I hope it was my service he canceled.
  • And then there is XM radio, the bane of my online existence. I signed up with them two summers ago to catch Padres games, back when the Padres were worth listening to, and have fighting a two year battle with them to cancel my service. My credit card statement since September of 2006 looks like a miniature Verdun, with tiny incremental gains by each side in a battle for survival. I cancel; they counter with an unsolicited ‘free’ extension of my account that reverts to a charged one. I call and get them to refund months of unused service; months later, they bill me for the months I ‘didn’t pay’. At the moment, they seem to be routed, with no charges appearing for a whole month and their acquisition by Sirius complete, but I will remain vigilant.

The interesting part to me in this experience is the idea that some companies know that making cancellation more complicated, requiring a phone call that may or may not work, is worth the expense of having to pay people to process cancellations. America Online seemed to pioneer this strategy in the 90s, and almost everyone I know ended up paying them for months of services they didn’t use.

Online businesses, just be online. Let me cancel the same way I subscribed, and I might even come back some day.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

3 Comments

  • when i used to own my own business i called these little bills that companies refused to cancel as badgers on my ass. i could work all day with them stuck there since i am a bear after all- but it wasn't fun dealing with them. i dream of the day when bad behavior is no longer rewarded with profits but instead fined heavily for each day they drag their feet with these tactics.

  • Strangely enough, I had a lot of problems with their service the first year, so I didn't go back to them. Then, at least, you had to call them to cancel, too. 🙂

    Given how bad the Padres are going to be next year, I'm not sure I can bear to pay for it.

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