Sun 27 November 2016

Cancelling my Times subscription - not as easy it should have been

Posted by ankur in Life (1471 words, approximately a 6 minute read)

I'd signed up for a Times subscription a few months ago. They had a 12£ for 12 weeks starter pack going around. Given that there's a lot free news out there, I don't really need to pay for news. It wasn't really for the news itself - it was for the Polygon puzzle that the Times do that I decided to subscribe. The Polygon is an excellent vocabulary building puzzle that I thought would go rather well with our daily lunch time crossword. I didn't mind paying a pound a week for it. I'd set myself a reminder that I should cancel my subscription before 12 weeks were up.

So, when the time finally came in August, I logged on to my Times account to see how I could cancel my subscription. There was very little information there. It gave a few phone numbers, and a chat link - but nothing directly pointed to how one can cancel. Fair enough, not the first website that doesn't make cancellation of subscriptions straight forward. I tried the chat first assuming the agent there would do it for me.

Chatting to an agent usually solves things for me, whether it's Amazon, FitBit, or Charles Tyrwhitt, but not this time. The lady politely informed me that if I wished to cancel, I must use the phone. I was surprised by this - why insist on using the phone? Anyway, I called immediately and found the automated phone system. Little did I know that there were a few surprises in store for me. Like most systems, the automated system provides a few options to choose from. In this case, though, there's a specific option "to speak to the cancellation team". Further, when one picks this choice, the automated voice reminds you that "this team only handles cancellations". It made me wonder what the purpose of a specialised cancellation team was. Clearly, if the idea was to make it easy for people to cancel their subscriptions, a link on the website would be far more efficient? Even if they insisted on using the phone, an option that lets me cancel would work better too - but why set it up so that I must speak to a "cancellation team" member?

All these queries were soon answered. The cancellation team really are a specialised team. I spoke to this gentleman for about half an hour, and at no point was he willing to let me cancel my subscription. I just couldn't find a way around him! First, he made me give a reason - politely, of course, under the pretext of collecting feedback to improve their services. Naively, I fell for this tact. He'd keep offering me different packs - each "well tailored" to my requirements. Each reason I gave in an attempt to refuse a new pack was met with another suggestion! It was about ten minutes into the conversation that I accepted that the cancellation team were not in place to make it easy for users to cancel their subscriptions. How artless of me! On the contrary, they're there to make it as onerous as possible! This gentleman pleaded, made suggestion after suggestion, and in the end, offered to renew my 12£ for 12 weeks subscription as a last ditch attempt to keep me on the books.

By now, I was struggling to remain polite. I've known people that worked in customer service in the past. I know that they're usually given scripts to follow, and it is quite common that they get paid based on their success rate. So, I make it a point to be courteous when I interact with customer service agents. They're just doing their jobs, the way they've been asked to do them. Even here, I really did not want to have to resort to firmness or cost him some pay. Nevertheless, I hadn't expected a simple matter of cancelling a subscription to turn so incredibly arduous! Anyway, seeing no harm in keeping my quite cheap subscription, and telling myself that I could cancel in a few weeks, I relented.

Fast forward to today. I was going through my credit card statements. I've been too busy to do my accounts of late. Today, I intended to clear out my backlog. While reconciling transactions, imagine the severe jolt I felt when I noticed that the Times had charged me 26£ each month for both September and October! That really was the last straw! It made me lose my temper and immediately log on to the my account to check what the status of my subscription was. The status still said "12£ for 12 weeks"! "Right, that's it, time to cancel my subscription and get rid of this headache once and for all", I immediately thought.

I tried that chat again, and received the same response as the last time. Swiftly, I picked up my phone and made the call to the "cancellations team". A Ben would handle my case and how could he help me today?

"I'd like to cancel my subscription please."
"Sure, can I have your details to pull up your account information?"
"Sure, here they are. Blah blah.."
"Before I process your cancellation, may I ask if it's to do with our services? I see that you have the digital pack. Are you able to use our services on the tablet, your phone, and the website? Which one do you prefer?"

"Gah, not again!"

I remained calm and with all the courtesy I could muster, I said that it had nothing to do with any services, that all I wanted was to cancel my subscription. We did the same dance again, the only difference being that I was decisively steelier. I had made up my mind to get rid of the Times even if it required me to use a sterner tone. Again, I was offered multiple alternatives. I'm quite certain they're extremely well trained!

"No, I don't want any of those. I want to cancel please."

Fifteen minutes later, I was on the brink of a personal victory here. But, then!

"OK. I'll begin the cancellation process. Please hold on. ... Now, in our records I see that your contract is till the 7th of December. Per the terms of service, we require a fifteen day notice, so there will have to be one more charge of 26£ in December. Following that, your subscription will stop in January.."

I was aghast! Completely speechless! Really? When I didn't respond, he went on,

".. or, we could switch you to a 2£ per week website only package?"

Ah! So that was the game? If the entire rigmarole wasn't enough to deter me, now it comes down to a form of blackmail? No, this wasn't going to fly.

"I'm happy to pay the 26£ but I want you to send me a written confirmation now that it will be the last I pay , and that my account will be closed thereafter."

Keeping a lid on my perplexed but upset self, I proceeded:

"I also want to point out that I was supposed to get an extension on my initial 12£ plan, but since you make us use the phone, I have no record of your colleague offering it to me. But, that's OK. Please cancel my account, send me the confirmation, and that's that."

Whether it was the guilt caused by the use of such a devious method, or simply the understanding that I wasn't going to extend my stay no matter what occurred, I cannot say, but he took a minute to check their records for a mention of said extension. Somehow, with me being extremely sceptical of any success, he did find the offer and went off to consult his his manager. When he returned, he apologised for the mistake. He said that since I'd been overcharged (52£ instead of 12£!), they would "make an exception" and cancel my subscription immediately without another charge. He would also refund the extra money they had charged. "Is this because they're afraid I'd complain to someone? Would this expose them to some liability?" it made me wonder but I was too weary to care too much.

So, that is how I finally managed to rid myself of a news subscription. Writing about such occurrences has a therapeutic affect on me. It's usually in my journal, but I wanted to take the opportunity to inform other unsuspecting customers of the underhand practices that I've had to overcome for something as trivial as a 26£ a month subscription. I'm quite sure they aren't the only ones that use these tactics, so, before signing up for a new service, please do your research. It'll save you a lot of trouble later!

PS: Of course, the quotes may not be exactly what we said, but their tenor and general wording reflects my conversations accurately.