Thursday, August 25, 2005

It's Hard to Say Goodbye to AOL:

Sometimes it seems the only way to cancel your AOL account is to cancel the credit card they're billing. "I'd heard all the stories about how AOL keeps billing you, so I was very careful to follow all the correct notification procedures for terminating the account," wrote another reader. "Didn't matter. A couple of months later, the AOL charge was still showing up on my credit card statement. I called to complain, and AOL told me that they had no record of my canceling the account. What's worse, my bank wouldn't reverse the charges. When the charge showed up on the next month's bill again, that was it. Now I've got a new ISP, and a new bank!"

These stories have been legion for years, but in a surprising development it seems to be catching up with them finally. America Online agreed to pay $1.25 million to the state of New York and reform its customer service procedures, the state attorney general announced yesterday—the full details are here, and the Slashdot feeding frenzy may be visited here.

One excellent comment from the aforementioned frenzy:

I work in "retention" (meaning I take cancellation calls) at an AOL call center. I'm ashamed of what I do here but the money is so damn good that I'm doing it anyway, bad karma be damned.

The "saves rate" expected of us is 65%. Incredibly, we have to get two thirds of the people calling to cancel their AOL off the phone without canceling them. This pressure to hit these numbers causes retention agents to due some pretty unscrupulous things.

In training we are told a bunch of bullshit about the "value" of AOL. But that's not how it works when you get out onto the floor. Here's how it really works: You be a very good listener, repeat back to the member the cancellation reason as though you agree with them to give the member the feeling that you are to cancel their account. You be extremely nice to them and show empathy. This is to get them to let their guard down. Then you ask them to get a piece of paper and write down your email address and you start talking about keyword this and keyword that to confuse and distract them. Then you read the "full disclosure" which is a statement that basically says your account is not canceled. If they are not listening closely they will get off the phone with the feeling that you have cancelled the account even though you didn't.

Also, from the same discussion, on the incredible number of AOL offer CDs that arrived in the mail like snow for a number of years:

I was once on a physics discussion board, and they where using the AOL CDs as capacitors... They would solder a small cable to one of the sides (top side, obviously), then stack them 50/100/250 high. I don't remember numbers, but some guys said it worked excellent. I think one of the guys was using a five-pack of these AOL CDs to fire up a Tesla Coil.

If anyone reading this is still on AOL, I implore you—run, run away now, before its too late. My friend Moira recently told me she stays with AOL because when she's in Outer Estvanirkia she can rely on AOL to grab her mail, but it seems to me that even this isn't going to work as a reason forever—Estonia is littered with WiFi hotspots, for example.

More importantly, we all know who will be holding the short end of the stick when AOL finishes imploding.


Yes, that would be us. So get with the program and start canceling now, so that you can be finished slightly in advance of the rapture.