Why AOL Can't Understand "Cancel the Account"

Vincent Ferrari managed to make a recording of his hilarious phone conversation with a customer service representative at America Online, in which the service rep repeatedly stonewalled and ignored Ferrari's request to cancel his AOL account. After the recording began circulating on the web, AOL fired the employee and said he had "violated our customer service guidelines and practices." Shortly thereafter, the Consumerist website reports, "A plain manila envelope arrived on our desk. ... Inside was the eighty-one paged 'Enhanced Sales Training for AOL Retention Consultants' manual" which showed that in fact, "customer service John" was just following orders. The manual instructs employees that "every Member that calls in to cancel their account is a hot lead" and tells them to "retain control by redirecting the Member if necessary."


if not quite as bad, about canceling my Visa card. "You've had this card a long time...let me see if I can get you a lower rate," etc. When I repeated that I just wanted to cancel the card, the rep acknowledged defeat by firing off a barage of boilerplate about destroying the card and canceling standing charges and the like, faster than I ever imagined a human tongue could move, then hanging up on me. Another rep called for me and left a cheery message few days after that, but never followed up again.

They really don't want you to get free.

What scum AOL is for scapegoating this employee when he was only
following directions. I very briefly worked in sales which pays
more than teaching and they put enormous pressure on reps to sell
the crap and not take no for an answer. I hope the training manual
also goes all over the internet so they have all kinds of egg of
their face.

I have been living abroad for almost 10 years. I
had no idea up til last month what you all put up with
when you call service reps. I tried to find out
about a cancelled order (for over $750US) at one of the few online
stores that deliver internationally, Overstock.
The service rep gave me the run around as well, put
me on hold even though she knew I was phoning from
Japan and wouldn't give any other phone numbers to
call. After about 15 minutes of getting no where,her closing line was: "How else may I help you today?" Mine was: "You haven't helped me at all, good-bye". They kept my money until I
escalated the dispute to a claim at Paypal's
resolution centre. What a hassle. Lots of stress.
I'll never shop online again. How do these
companies think they can get away with such poor
treatment of customers when we have the internet to
communicate now? I just visited the Consumerist
site and have bookmarked it to keep better informed.
Thank you for taking the time to post your
experiences. Hopefully more consumers can learn
before being taken in by such sleazy tricks.

I'm quite familiar with the issue and the non existence of such a manual would have been surprising. Customer service platforms are automated and employees usually just have to follow scripts and prompts.

All the corporations that claim to provide "services" have "customer retention programs" because minimizing churn is everyday more important for the likes of AOL. "Customer loyalty" is not that big an issue when new customers pour in but in a mature market, recruiting new customers tends to cost more and more, ARPU tends to dive and churn rates tends to jump... so don't expect any return on investment before years for any given customer.

Specific customer retention platforms are trained to cope with potential churners and generally have targets in terms of percentage of aborted resiliations. Even gaining a few months can dramatically change the bottom line.

There is always a point in a market where this gets nasty : even the one who must leave is almost forced to stay a few more months. Such caricatural deviances usually don't last long : first, the multiplication of calls to customer service costs the company much more than the potential gain and second, the multiplication of such incidents creates a chain reaction (negative buzz, collaborative lobbying, this kind of articles...) generally leading to a revolution.

In a truly mature (and truly competitive) market, customer retention systems become much more subtle and efficient. The aim becomes more positive : let's make the resiliation experience smooth and polite, the churner will want to come back on his own if the competitor's customer service isn't as good.

Stephane MOT -