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.

19 responses

  1. You have exactly hit the nail on the head. I tried for three days to get an answer as to why this decision was made and got nothghing but the canned responses. Even from E-mails to the head of programming directly. I tried to explain to him that their lack of response was making the situation worse and heard nothing more.

    So I cancelled my subscription.

    The perception from their actions to me is that Sirius is an arrogant company who doesn’t care about their listeners. How can you run a subscription based company with that attitude?

  2. Thanks for a shout out to the Get BBC Radio 1 back on Sirius xm, as a very passionate group of radio 1 listeners we have been trying to get the word out so as to put pressure on Sirius. I was commenting on posts on the BBC radio FB page and have just been blocked by them with no explanation … Do they not want UK listeners to know this is going on, are they really a part of why BBC Radio 1 is not Sirius. This article was sent to one of our followers through a personal FB message as he is also in FB exile. Again thanks fir a really well written article and we look forward to Radio 1’s return to Sirius

  3. This is the exact situation as it stands now. Shame on Sirius XM. They have even started blocking certain people from their Facebook page so they can’t be bothered about Radio 1 anymore. There is no communication at all. Please join the page and Help us! #bringbackbbcr1

  4. Thanks for the article. I for one have already cancelled my subscription. I’ll renew if (and only if) Radio 1 comes back and there is a commitment not to pull this stunt again.

  5. Sirius XM has done a similar thing to Cinemagic (Channel 73) and has pulled it from radios. While it is still available via internet, I don’t have internet in my car; so how am I supposed to listen to this channel? It was one of the reasons I truly enjoyed satellite radio.

  6. Regarding Dan’s post, what Sirius is offering as a ‘solution’ to the complaints is to have BBC Radio One available online. Please note that this requires a fee to be paid. It’s not for free.

    I think it has been posted by respondents on the Facebook page that the majority of people listen to BBC Radio One in their cars, so this isn’t even trying to meet us halfway.

    Basically they want us to pay more (for those who still have a radio, but don’t have an online accoutn), and get less.

    As I said in the first post, an arrogant company that doesn’t care about it’s listeners. Well maybe if enough of cancel our subscriptions, they will learn to care.

  7. Yup customer care has gone to shit.

    my last reply to their press release attached to a reply from a canned email

    “With all due respect I can listen to Radio 1 on my PC for free anyway. What made your service compelling was that it was steamed to my car via satellite – this is really a worthless palliative to the vast majority of us who have been campaigning for the stations return.

    On another note, I did make an attempt to listen to studio 54 to see what the hype was about. Pretty pathetic to be honest, and the fact that the DJ’s were trying to be cool and chat about taking drugs was asinine, juvenile and in poor taste. If that is what your listeners want the world is indeed a sad place.”

  8. Bad stuff. Bad decision.

    I think the “internet only” option was put on there to placate investors.

    Given that the DJIA is up today (Monday), and SIRI is actually DOWN (slightly) today — this may be having an effect.

  9. Absolutely agree with this article. BBC Radio 1 was the ONLY source in the US and Canada for new, innovative and exciting music and Sirius have done us all a huge disservice by cancelling the channel. Their customer service is ignorant and dismissive and once the world moves along with technoligy they will be left out in the cold.

    I really hope that the momentum will continue with all the upset subscribers to continue to lobby for it’s return.

  10. I miss listening to Chris Moyles in the morning and the worst part is they still have the Radio One channel but it is not radio one or any of the wonderful DJs, I miss Allyd, Dom and most of all comedy Dave. I miss Westwood. I have got to quit my subscription. I have been catching Chris’ show streaming on the internet in place of it. Also downloaded the app on my smart phone. Touche Sirrus

  11. This article is exactly what I have been wondering what happened and again no explanation from Sirrus. What a bunch of…crapp. America is still catching you BBC radio one. Wisconsin is still listening. Ha

  12. BBC1 was the ONLY reason why I subscribed to XM radio. Now there is absolutely nothing worth listening to, its always the same songs over and over again, hell, I can get that on my local radio stations for FREE!! BBC1 brought excitement and new life to the “world of sound”. I called XM the day they took it off and the customer service reps didn’t even know that it had been removed. They kept telling me that they were going to send a refresh signal to my receiver. I just laughed and told them to tune in to the station. So not only do they not tell their subscribers, they dont communicate very well with there own employees.

  13. Heck I’m 62, they don’t play my type of music generally, but I enjoyed going there occasionally & seeing what was new and the station was certainly something different from the norm. I hope they bring it back. Keep up the pressure.

  14. Good article. This is very frustrating and a sad commentary on our new commercial environment – where customers come in large numbers offering huge profits. Companies make the rules or you don’t get the service and you’ve nowhere to go when things go sour. I cancelled mine as well. I’m just not going to deal with deception and apathy.

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