XM Radio's Customer Support - where's the love?

Earlier this week, I turned on XM Radio in the car and was greeted with a "No Signal" warning -- and dead air. This had happened once or twice before in the last four years and fixing it involved a call to XM's Customer Support line, waiting on hold for far too long, and then dealing with some of the worst support staff I've ever experienced.

Both times, they "sent a signal to reset" the radio and it was fine within 10 minutes or so. But it took phone calls of 20-30 minutes to get there.

So I was dreading making that phone call once I got to work and decided I'd use Google to see if it's possible to request this "reset" online. No dice, but in searching I found that the entire XM system was down. That saved me a phone call, I suppose.

A day or two later, I got an email explaining that they had "resumed normal levels of service" and apologizing for the inconvenience. Apparently, some software update in a satellite went bad and it took hours to get the problem resolved. "Sorry, our bad."

The truth is, I didn't really miss it. Sure, I enjoy the programming when I have it... but the truth is that I find myself listening to my iPod far more often than I listen to XM. Many of the channels I listen to on XM are NOT commercial free (news/talk channels from other organizations) and the channels that are (XM's own music channels) increasingly have too much DJ chatter and advertisements for programming on other channels. And their exclusive content (such as Major League Baseball, Oprah, and until recently, the Opie and Anthony show) has never interested me much at all.

On the other hand, I still dig listening to podcasts on the iPod and there's no shortage of new ones coming out all the time. I've also been using the "Smart Playlists" feature of iTunes more often, which helps get me playlists that are very focused on the things I most enjoy listening to. Plus, I can use the iPod in places that my XM SkyFi currently doesn't work, such as while exercising, in planes, and so on.

Their handling of this outage is further making me re-think my subscription to the service. Not only was their never a notice on their web site (the logical place for many people to turn when they have problems with their radio -- if only to get the support phone number), but they're apparently offering a pittance of a refund. Engadget reports that they'll refund about $.87 to customers due to the system outage -- but only if you call in and request it.

Yeah... my experience with XM wait times is such that sitting on hold to ask for $.87 is a money-losing proposition. On an hourly basis, I'd make more money sewing clothes for Kathy Lee Gifford. To say nothing of the incompetent staff on the other end of the phone. The right thing to do here is to just automatically deduct the $.87 from next month's charge for anyone who was affected by the outage (XM implies it wasn't everyone by saying it affected an "undisclosed number of customers").

I like (not love... not need... just like) XM Radio... but their competition extends far beyond potential-merger-mate Sirius Radio. Their competition is with iPods and every other MP3 player. It's with PSPs, laptops, home media centers, Tivo, game consoles, and every other way in which media can be delivered to me.

At $12.95 a month, it may just be losing that competition for my money. I'll definitely be paying attention to how much XM-specific content I listen to over the next few weeks.