Sirius XM’s Customers Crowdsource Their Response to Channel Changes

There’s a disturbance among listeners of North America’s satellite radio service. Last Tuesday, without warning, monopoly satellite radio provider, Sirius XM, pulled BBC Radio 1 from its channel line-up, replacing programming with an info-loop explaining they were “making way for a new channel.” Devotees of Radio 1 were not happy.

Why did Sirius XM do this? Who asked them to make way for a new channel? and why didn’t they advise listeners before the switch went into effect? Reasonably, former listeners expect answers to these questions – after all, Sirius XM is a subscriber based service. Surely, unlike commercial radio, which is answerable to advertisers, Sirius XM should be answerable to its subscribers – but alas, no such luck. The company is providing no answers or transparency over the decision – and transparency is surely fundamental to good customer care.

But good customer care can be hard to find. It seems that some large companies feel this function can be served merely by rapid-fire responses to customer complaints. Expedience over substance. I suspect most organizations have metrics over which they take pride, measuring, for example, how quickly they respond to customer complaints. But as Sirius XM is currently demonstrating – they cannot pride themselves over effective resolution or customer satisfaction, at least, not in this case. If companies don’t level with their unhappy customers, they run the risk of replacing customer care, with customer abatement.

Today’s customer is empowered. Social networking is once again proving its strength, while providing insight into Sirius XM’s disregard for a motivated core of listeners. Within hours of BBC Radio 1 going off-air in the USA and Canada, a Facebook page was set up, with the unambiguous intent to “Get BBC Radio 1 Back on Sirius XM.” The link was posted to Sirius XM’s Facebook page, and quickly started notching up “Likes.” Six days later, over 3,500 people (and counting), have signed up – and an activist base of angry Radio 1 fans is sharing strategies for the channel’s return.

Posts on the group’s Facebook wall reveal common gripes with how Sirius XM handled this switch, and any company doing mass customer service should take note.

When asked why they removed the channel, canned e-mails from Sirius XM simply ignore the question. Instead, soothing overtures such as “your feedback regarding our programming is extremely important to us” abound. But how are they demonstrating that feedback is important if the company will not grace their customers with transparent answers to their questions in the first place?

Further, how deaf does the company sound when Sirius XM offers, “We hope you continue to enjoy SiriusXM’s 100% commercial-free music” when listeners are complaining that it is precisely because of the removal of a favorite channel, that their enjoyment of the service will be diminished?

And how unsatisfactory is it, that when listeners send second and third requests to unanswered questions, the company simply rehashes the same non-answers while asserting, “We are committed to providing you with the best in listener care.” Really? How so? Understandably, customers may wonder if anyone is even reading their messages.

All of this makes listeners’ blood boil, since none of the noble customer service objectives expounded by Sirius XM are being reached! This is not to slam the customer care representatives, who are no doubt politely following a script. Nevertheless, the Facebook community is crowd-sourcing strategies to bombard customer service phone lines, e-mail repeatedly, escalate to any Sirius XM officer they can find an e-mail address for, in the so-far vain attempt to get answers. Casting a wider net, tweets are going out to Radio 1 DJs, artists, and any affiliated entities, to apply pressure on Sirius XM to bring back Radio 1. You’ll also find calls for, and confirmation of, cancelled subscriptions or conditional renewals. This is a focused and determined bunch.

And it’s also is a case study of what happens when you fail to engage with a key stakeholder group, your customers. Again, I return to the fundamental problem – a lack of transparency. The incessant e-mails and phone calls now bombarding the company, are no doubt overwhelming any ability to address customer concerns properly or individually. Yet, a little bit of respect for customers at the outset could perhaps have prevented the onslaught.

This post on BBC Worldwide’s Press Office page simply details that their agreement with Sirius XM has come to an end, while they are in current discussions with the satellite provider in the hope of bringing Radio 1 back to American listeners. Surely, Sirius XM’s customers are grown up enough to understand the problems with contract negotiations – instead they are patronized with, “We think you may come to enjoy similar music and hits previously heard on BBC Radio 1, on some of our other channels.” If the company is listening, the answer to that suggestion is “no, thank you.” But importantly, as paying customers of Sirius XM, isn’t it reasonable for them to expect the company to be the one to provide a reason for the termination of service, directly?

So, while this is a tale of satellite radio, it is also one of the perils of scripted mass customer service. If you are not transparent and honest with your customers, dealing with complaints en masse cannot work properly. The approach surely can be improved. But perhaps in Sirius XM’s case, it’s all just a numbers game. Since Sirius and XM were permitted to merge in 2008, they became a monopoly, which at the time, the Department of Justice said wouldn’t hurt customers. Now, the combined organization has over 20 million subscribers and without effective competition, there is less pressure on them to be sensitive to customer preferences. Maybe 3,500 plus, unhappy former Radio 1 listeners don’t matter to them, but those listeners are rattling the cage as hard as they possibly can.

Disclosure: The author is, for the time being, a subscriber to Sirius XM satellite radio.

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Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.