Laurie Taylor on the phone by Martin RowsonAh. Is that a human being? A real living human being? Excellent. Now I’m ringing you because I’d like to cancel my subscription to Lovefilm. No, I don’t have any problems with the services you’ve provided. No, you’ve been excellent in every way. It’s just that I now no longer require those excellent services. That’s right. I want to cancel my subscription. Cancel. That’s right. Stop. Finish. Come to an end. Caput. All over. That’s it.”

It’s only when you decide to cancel any of your current subscription services that you realise how much effort companies now expend upon loyalty marketing and customer retention strategies. Some smart Mormon-clean American guru turned up at their annual conference a few years ago and showed them in dramatic PowerPoint that there was little point in gaining new subscribers if the old ones were dropping off like autumn leaves.

Lovefilm does provide a good service. It really does. It lets you rent unlimited films for a modest monthly payment and has a pretty good website where you can hunt down all those old films that you always thought you really ought to see but somehow never quite got round to actually watching.

The leaving of Lovefilm is quite a different matter. When I rang my bank to say I wanted to cancel my standing order to the company, the man in Newcastle on the other end of the phone told me, after checking my mother’s maiden name and my favourite food, that even though the money went out of my account every month, it wasn’t really a direct debit that I had. It was something else that I didn’t understand. But what it meant was that I could only cancel it by ringing Lovefilm themselves.
Now, the real reason I want to leave Lovefilm is that I’m moving to a new flat where they are wired up for Sky Plus which means that I have pretty good access to a big library of films without having to pay an extra subscription. But I don’t want to mention this to the man on the end of the line at Lovefilm. Because I know already from ringing NPower that if I mention that I’m thinking of another supplier I’ll get bombarded with news of their special offers. So I try to keep my reasons to myself. No, I say once again, “I just want to cancel. That’s it.”

It’s then I realise that I’m locked into page two of their script. “I’m so sorry, Laurie, but we do need a reason to put on the form. It’s part of the job.”

“But I don’t have a reason. I just want to cancel. Look, we can sort this out quite simply. I think you said your name was Graham. Not Graham? Greg. Right, Greg, as you know my name is Laurie and I want us to speak to each other as fellow human beings. Just Greg and Laurie. Put your script to one side and concentrate. I don’t have a reason. Right. If it helps you can put me down on your form as an irrationalist. You can’t do that? Then how about describing my decision as existentialist? That’s right. Say that I’m affirming my identity by saying ‘no’ to Lovefilm. It’s not quite what Sartre had in mind but it’ll do if it helps to get me off this line.”

By the time I’d I finally secured my cancellation I reckoned that I’d probably put more effort into extricating myself from Lovefilm, from an international corporate undertaking recently bought out by Amazon, than I had in engineering my separation from my second wife. She’d been understandably aggrieved to learn that I wanted to redefine our relationship in a way that gave me more space, but she certainly took less time to put my suitcases in the hallway than it took the man at Lovefilm to tell me about how much I’d be missed in his post room.

Lovefilm is by no means unique in this respect. Half an hour ago I took an emotional call from a man at Virgin Media who wanted to know why I was leaving them. Even though I told him that I’d already gone through this with one of his colleagues a week before he still wanted to know if there was anything Virgin had done wrong, anything that had upset me.

Later this week I have to decide whether or not to say goodbye to Thames Water. I suppose I should consult one of those comparison sites to see if a move would give me any advantage but then I remember reading an article telling me that most comparison sites simply directed you to the suppliers that were paying them the most commission.
It would be so much simpler to stay loyal. I’ve endured quite enough emotional strain freeing myself from the bonds of Lovefilm and Virgin Media. The last thing I fancy now is a display of deep sadness from a company with a proprietary interest in waterworks.