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This is one of those customer service stories that make you want to consider moving to a desert island and effectively removing yourself from the world as a consumer once and for all.

Last year, I stopped using my regular small-town oil company because the fixed price they were offering was a lot higher than what other companies were offering. I would have liked to remain loyal to them, but the cost difference was just too great to ignore. They had bought all their oil in bulk just before prices dropped and, though I felt sorry for them, I decided that my budget came before my customer loyalty. I ran with another company. Let’s call them “Petra.”

This year, my tried and true small-town oil company’s price was at least as competitive as Petra’s. I knew I was safe...my contract with Petra had, after all, run out, so they wouldn’t deliver any more oil to me. I signed a contract with Small Town Oil, Inc., my old standby company, and forgot about Petra. A few weeks later, a salesman from Petra called my home number and left a message. I ignored it. Then Petra sent a letter informing me that “if they didn’t hear from me, they would continue delivering oil to me.” Wait...so that means the contract I signed last fall only protects Petra from having to give me oil at last year’s price. It doesn’t protect me from having an endless, unwanted relationship with Petra?

Apparently. I’d never before heard of those one-way contracts. They must be a newfangled thing in modern law practice.

I called Petra’s company call center. I politely told the man who answered my call that I didn’t want to do business with his company this year. He said, “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to transfer you to customer retention. Only they can stop an account.”

I sighed. Then I waited on hold. For 15 minutes. Keep in mind, the point of this exercise was that Petra was TRYING TO RETAIN ME AS A CUSTOMER. Don’t you put all the customers you’re trying to keep on hold for a quarter hour? Finally, the first agent came back on the line. He informed me that no one was available in customer retention, so I’d have to call back.

I said, “Pardon me, but it sounded like you said I would have to call the customer retention department back?”

“That’s right,” he said.

My blood pressure began to inch up. “But I don’t want to be retained. I just want you to stop all oil deliveries or service on my oil burner.”

“I can’t do that,” he said. “Only customer retention can do that.”

I was silent for a moment. “Are you spotting the irony here?” I asked.

Apparently, he wasn’t.

I gave him my cell phone number, since he couldn’t tell me when “customer retention” was going to find it convenient to call and try to retain me. I also informed him that since I had called and informed a company representative that I no longer wanted to do business with the company, I would not pay for any products or services Petra tried to foist upon me. He yawned and hung up the phone.

A few days later, my spouse was home sick with a cold. “Petra called,” he told me when I arrived home. “Said they won’t cancel the account without talking to you. Wouldn’t take my word for it. They want you to call them back.”

Keep in mind, this is still Petra trying to “retain” me. Apparently, giving them my cell phone number had been the equivalent of whistling into the wind.

I still haven’t spoken to Petra. I’ve had about all the retention I can stand. I’m almost tempted to just let it go and see if they try and shower me with more retention, then try to charge me for it.

The only thing I’ll be “retaining” after that is a lawyer.

The author may be contacted at [email protected].

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