Rep: You'll have to go through our retention department.
Customer: I don't want to be "retained," I want to cancel.
Rep: I can't cancel your account. Only our retention department can do that.
Customer: Okay, then, connect me to the retention department.
Rep: Nobody's available in the retention department. You'll have to call back.
The rest of the story is fairly predictable. The only real question is why do companies insist on playing these games, and do they really think they work?
I've had my share of obnoxious cancellation policies, and I've developed a sure-fire, never fails strategy which avoids a lot of the headache of these stunningly wrongheaded policies.
My approach is simple: if I can't cancel my account within a single phone call of reasonable duration, I simply write a letter to the company canceling my account. If I pay via automatic credit card payments (which I avoid whenever possible), I also write a letter to the credit card company stating that the company is no longer authorized to make charges to my card.
Then I mail those letters. If I think there might be further problems, I send the letters via overnight or with delivery confirmation so I have proof that the company received them.
It takes less than five minutes to write a cancellation letter (it really only needs to be one sentence: "I am canceling my account effective immediately" and include the account number), which is less time than it often takes to argue with a "retention specialist." Once the company has received my letter, and assuming I'm paid up through that date, any further attempt to contact me by the company can be safely ignored.
If I'm particularly irritated at the cancellation process, I might mention that in the letter: "Your customer-hostile 'retention' process has left me feeling upset and annoyed, and I likely will not be doing business with your company in the future."
Odds are nobody will actually read that, but you never know.