When I was a kid and put a special piece of artwork in the mail to a grandparent, my mom would instruct me to write Please Hand Cancel on the envelope. This meant that my piece of mail would have its postmark applied by a person rather than a machine, thus hopefully preserving whatever special adornment I had affixed to the precious page inside.

Hand cancelling is a work-around for exceptions, the items that don’t fit easily into automated processes. As a manual activity, it takes more time and effort to accomplish what otherwise follows a streamlined procedure, but it provides a valuable service to the customer who would otherwise end up disappointed by damaged mail.

I recently ran into an electronic version of hand cancelling, only in this case, the inconvenience was transferred to the customer (namely me) rather than the service provider. I received an email notification that the credit card I had attached to my wallstreetjournal.com subscription had expired and that I should enter a new number so that my automatic renewal would be able to proceed unimpinged.

Because the email actually reminded me that I had a subscription, I decided to cancel the auto-renew feature and let it expire. Easy enough, thought I, and proceeded to the WSJ website to uncheck whatever box achieved my purpose.

Several minutes and fruitless clicks later, I still couldn’t figure out how to accomplish my mission. Finally, in the FAQ section (I hate to ask for help), I found How do I cancel my subscription? Perfect, I thought.

Unfortunately, the answer left me deflated: Cancellation requests are accepted by contacting customer service directly. When I read on, looking for an email address, I found: Cancellations are accepted by phone and US mail. What should have been an easy, automated process became a hand-cancel situation. I had to go outside the system.

While I understand that WSJ doesn’t want to lose customers–lost customers = lost revenue–sending them away frustrated doesn’t seem to be in their best interest either. I think they hope that people like me will decide it’s not worth the hassle and give up, thus remaining on the payment roster. Or that they can talk me into staying if I do make the call. (Interestingly, the rep never asked me why or tried to talk me into staying.)

Hand cancelling is supposed to be a service, not a hassle. It seems to me that if you’re going to lose a customer, it’s far better to let her leave happy than frustrated.

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