Calling to cancel

calling to cancel
Illus: NY Times

Been there, done that

Mr Vincent Ferrari, of the Bronx, New York, called AOL to cancel his account, thereby falling into customer service hell. We've all been there. Mr Ferrari got the last laugh, however. He recorded the call and posted it on his blog, and like a virulent virus, there was no stopping the story. Before long, Ferrari found himself being interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today show, which featured a replay of his call.

Today show interview
Today show clip from YouTube.com
Watch the clip: YouTube.com

If you've ever tried to cancel a credit card, you've heard the same script before. My most recent experience was when I decided to switch my cell phone service from Verizon to Cingular. I've never had good luck with cell phones, and in this case it was a matter of economics: I needed a Bluetooth-enabled phone to work with Penelope the Prius, and Verizon offers only top-of-the-line, top-of-the-price-range Bluetooth phones (it's part of their plan to create hegemony over all things telecommunication). So, when the Verizon contract was up — we're talking ASAP, like the very next morning — I headed off to the Cingular store. Unfortunately, I forgot to take along my Verizon account number, so the switch required that I call Verizon from the Cingular store to get my account number.

It was the same story: Is there a problem? Why do you need the number? Are you going to switch to another carrier? I'm trying to help you, and you're not cooperating with me.

My side of the dialogue consisted of slight variations of two sentences: I'm calling for the account number, what is it please? and I'm not calling to negotiate, I'm calling for the account number. The verbal tussle went on for at least 10 minutes, to the great amusement of the Cingular employees in the store and all the other customers standing around, shaking their heads in sympathy and recognition. Eventually, he capitulated and reeled off the account number as quickly as he could say it, expecting, I suppose, that he could provoke me. I nicely said, Thank you, the first three numbers were 123, is that correct? Now, would you repeat the next numbers?

Predictably, Verizon emailed me a customer satisfaction survey to get my feedback on the support call. Funny thing, they never replied. Didn't even say thank you.

Why do companies do this? Granted, some people may be calling to cancel in the aftermath of a particular problem that could be cured by an alert and competent service representative. But when the customer makes clear that their only purpose in calling is to cancel, why do they persist? Surely there is no benefit to the company to further anger an already dissatisfied customer. Surely, time spent hassling a customer determined to cancel is simply wasted time. As Sherlock Holmes used to say, When you have eliminated all the other possibilities, the one left must be the explanation: It's spite, pure and simple. They've already lost the customer, they just want to make their life as miserable as possible.