One thing you can't do online: Cancel!

Warning! Warning! Rant ahead...

I consider myself a pretty Web-enabled guy--one who banks and invests online, buys music online, plays games online, and a whole lot more. I'm so Webby in part because online services have evolved so much in the last few years. Functionality is often incredibly rich; new features seem to arrive every day.

But...

When I was recently trying to cancel a bank account, I found I had to do so by talking to a real person on an ordinary phone line. And it dawned on me: A heck of a lot of services let you do almost everything imaginable via the Web except cancel them.

Netflix? Can't terminate your account online. Gotta call, and if you decide to cancel on a weekend afternoon, you got to wait.

XM Radio? Nice online support section, but you must call to terminate service.

Napster? Pick up the phone. (I love the idea of a "Cancellation Warning," as if anybody other than me has any say whatsoever in the decision.)

Some services almost seem to go out of their way to yank your chain...like eTrade, which acts like it's about to let you cancel until the very last moment, when it tells you can't do it on the Web. (They may be eTrade, but you've got to Cancel.)

Why don't these large companies--all of which have sites which show just how sophisticated their technical resources are--let you stop doing business with them in the easy way the Web would permit? A few guesses:

They don't want to make it easy. If you've got to call--sometimes during specific hours--you're less likely to cancel than if you can do so with a few clicks.

They want a chance to second-guess your decision. When I called my bank to tell them I was leaving, they seemed perplexed, then irritated, and tried to talk me out of it. When you call a cell-phone provider to drop service, a rep will sometimes throw a bone your way to try and keep you. People are still better at harassing customers and negotiating with them than computers are.

They just don't want to bother. Lots of companies pour money into features that might wring money out of you; it takes a special company to spend the time and money it takes to be thoughtful and helpful when you're on your way out.

Or maybe implementing account-termination functionality is a uniquely difficult technical challenge. Naaah....

Why should a company help customers to take their business elsewhere? (Answer: Because it's the right thing to do. Another answer: Because if you treat them right even when they depart, they're more likely to come back eventually.)

I'm sure there are major Web-based services that don't make you call to cancel...in fact, I know I've been able to terminate an account or two online in the past...but off the top off my head, I can't think of any examples. Can you?

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Harry McCracken

PC World
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