Why is it so easy to sign up for a service and yet so hard to cancel that same service? The current trend in business  lets you sign up with nothing more than a credit card and an internet connection but when time comes to end the relationship, they make it as difficult as possible.

Several years ago, I refused to sign up with Sirius because of this. Visit our site, give us an email address, a password, a valid credit card number and we’ll stream music to you. Want to cancel? Call this number between the hours of midnight and two on a weekday, hold on the phone for 30 minutes waiting for one of our two salesmen, excuse me, customer specialist, to convince you just how incredibly stupid you are for even considering quitting.

Should you persist in this type of aberrant thinking, they are armed with incentives that make you wonder how you can ever say no. They also left me wondering why I had been such a sucker for paying full price all this time. Recent events have shown me that more and more companies are jumping on this bandwagon.

Our literature is full of stories involving deals with the devil. So simple to sign, just a few drops of blood and you have your heart’s desire. Breaking the contract, now that’s a different matter. Recent events have caused me to believe the devil has discovered the digital age.

I was already tired of the constant price hikes at DirecTV and when AT&T bought them, it became obvious that streaming rather than satellites was their vision of the future. When my wife reported that she couldn’t record Tour de France and would be getting us up at 5AM to watch it, I started looking for options.

The final straw came when my receiver had to be reauthorized forcing me to navigate through AT&T’s idea of customer punishment, uh, service. In the days of DirecTV, you went to their website, selected your receiver, hit reauthorize and you were done. Those days are done. Now you have to call.

I ended up on the customer punishment line for wireless services, holding for the next available torturer. When the phone was finally answered, I was offered equipment upgrades, premium packages, an opportunity to combine my two AT&T accounts, a demand for a new four digit passcode… My sixty second task became a twenty minute visit to Hades.

Living in the country, I only had one choice Dish. Fortunately, Dish welcomed me, gave me a bill well under what I had been paying and had the new equipment installed in days. Then came the hard part, quitting AT&T. Surprise, surprise, surprise, you can’t cancel your service on line. In order to quit, I had to navigate through the same customer punishment menus as before and this time, I had to explain why I was quitting.

My complaints about AT&T were ignored but once again I was offered equipment upgrades, price matches, price cuts and so on. This went on long enough that I was wondering how many of my price hikes were due to price cuts to keep other customers from leaving. For a while it seemed like I was stuck in an endless loop until I finally reverted to my command voice.

I can’t explain the difference. It doesn’t involve raising my voice but it does cause my wife to move away from me and my dog to leave the room. Maybe it’s the edgy sound of an engineer ready to snap. Whatever, the change got the AT&T agent to take me seriously and finally cancel my account. Once parted, they made it obvious how much they missed me. No acknowledgement emails, no sorry to see you go, nothing. Well, I did get another bill the next week but more about that later.

My next encounter was when I attempted to cancel one of my two DSL accounts. I’ve had two Earthlink accounts forever but Earthlink was already outsourcing me to AT&T and I had found other more reliable options. Amazingly, you can only cancel an Earthlink account by phoning in.

Earthlink isn’t quite as sophisticated as AT&T when it comes to customer punishment. My first agent merely hung up on me when I said I wanted to cancel. The second agent seemed unsure of how to progress. After asking for my credit card number for the second time and then asking for the name of my first dog (I’ve never had any insecurity questions with Earthlink), I forced the issue. It only took ten more minutes to convince him I only wanted to cancel the one account and I didn’t want to preserve my email address.

With an FCC firmly in the pocket of big industry and a Congress more interested in expressing their ego, my odds are slim but we need a law that makes the task of joining and cancelling equally difficult. If you have to call to quit, you have to call to join. I can assure you, if I had to go through the same labyrinth to sign up for AT&T as I did to quit, I would never have joined.

My final AT&T bill:

I don’t mean for this to be a post on AT&T bashing but I do want to caution my readers. A week after cancelling my account, I received a full month’s bill from AT&T. My first thought was to ignore it. I had cancelled well before receiving the bill. After all, this was AT&T, they certainly wouldn’t give me service before I paid for it.

Turns out I was wrong. After talking to several agents, I discovered that my billing cycle actually started eight days before I received my bill. I was already three days into a new billing cycle before I cancelled. Oh, they also don’t prorate charges. Through their billing practices, I owed them a month for service I would never receive. I’m sure this isn’t by accident.

Yes, I called them to complain. After thirty minutes and more agents, they agreed to cancel the charges. Four days later, I received another bill for the full month. Logging back into my account, yep, nothing about my calls but they still insist I owe them for a month yet to be delivered. Keep that in mind, AT&T will promise you anything. Make sure you get a confirmation number or record your conversation.

I’m also sure AT&T isn’t alone in this practice. Heed my cautionary story. Make sure you know when your billing cycle when you decide to cancel. You might be in for quite a surprise, especially if you were enrolled in that deep discount, one year billing plan.

© 2019, Byron Seastrunk. All rights reserved.