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AOL Hell - Recent AOL Horror Stories

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The Founder
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AOL Hell - Recent AOL Horror Stories

How hard can it be to cancel an AOL account?

How hard can it be to cancel an AOL account?

More than 800,000 people canceled their AOL accounts last quarter. So it must be easy to cancel right? Not always.

Two weeks ago, Vincent Ferrari tried to cancel his 5-year-old account—he'd heard from others in the blogosphere that AOL customer service could be awful. So he recorded the conversation with a representative named John. Here is the transcript of the conversation:

AOL: Hi, this is John at AOL. How may I help you today?

Ferrari: I want to cancel my account.

AOL: OK. I mean, is there a problem with the software itself?

Ferrari: No. I don't use it. I don't need it. I don't want it.

John disputes Ferrari's claim that he never uses the account.

AOL: Last year, last month it was 545 hours of usage.

Ferrari: I don't know how to make it any clearer. So I'm just gonna say it one last time. Cancel the account.

AOL: Well, explain to me what is wrong.

Ferrari: I'm not explaining anything to you. Cancel the account.

It goes on like this for 5 minutes.

Ferrari: Cancel my account. Cancel the account. Cancel the account.

CNBC later interviewed Ferrari by phone about his experience. “I've never ever experienced anything like that,” he said.

He recounts how the AOL representative as a last resort even asked if his dad was home.

“I think I could've put up with everything, but at the point when he asked to speak to my father, I came very close to losing it at that point,” said 30-year-old Ferrari.

Ferrari then posted the call online, and the response was tremendous. AOL sent him an apology.

Chris Denove of market research firm J.D. Power & Associates says companies talk about customer satisfaction but actually see their call centers as a costly investment.

“They're trying to squeeze every penny out of that cost center without regard for what may be happening, the damage that may be done,” said Denove.

AOL later tried to make amends. They sent a statement to CNBC claiming that the incident was inexcusable and that the customer representative, John, violated guidelines and was no longer with the company. “We're going to learn from this. We can do better, and will," the statement said.

To put this claim to the test, CNBC reporter Matt Lefkowitz called again. Here is a rough transcript:

CNBC: I want to cancel my AOL account.

He was promptly disconnected.

He tried again.

CNBC: I need to cancel my AOL account. I never really use it. ... Well, if I can cancel it anytime, why can't I cancel it now? Can I just cancel my account?

It took him 45 minutes to finally get his account canceled.

Vincent Ferrari’s blog is now inundated with others who say they've suffered the same fate, making him the patron saint of customer dissatisfaction.

After this story aired on CNBC Tuesday, AOL issued the following statement, attributed to spokeperson Nicholas Graham.

"At AOL, we have zero-tolerance for customer care incidents like this - which is deeply regrettable and also absolutely inexcusable. The employee in question violated our customer service guidelines and practices, and everything that AOL believes to be important in customer care - chief among them being respect for the member, and swiftly honoring their requests. This matter was dealt with immediately and appropriately, and the employee cited here is no longer with the Company.

"I've spoken directly to Mr. Ferrari and personally apologized to him for what took place. Many here have taken a strong interest in this episode - even going so far as to email all customer service representatives about it as an example of how we should never treat a member. We're going to learn from this - and continue to make the necessary, positive changes to our practices. This was an aberration and a mistake, and we have to manage these incidents down to zero as best we can. That means improving our already strong safeguards in place today, and maintaining rigorous internal and external compliance methods. We can do better - and we will."

Last edited by The Founder on Sun 06 Aug, 2006 4:07 pm; edited 1 time in total

Post Thu 22 Jun, 2006 7:47 pm 
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The Founder
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Click on the following link to listen to the audio of the call

Post Thu 22 Jun, 2006 7:48 pm 
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I've never had a problem like that, but you really need to be point blank and almost rude to them before they'll back off. I think they're trained to ignore 'I want to cancel my account' and hear something complete different.

Post Mon 26 Jun, 2006 5:59 pm 
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Official Mainah

Joined: 05 Nov 2004
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What can I say, I don't buy AOL's account - that this was an accident. I'm confident that this John guy was only doing what he was told. The only reason AOL is doing anything is because they were caught red handed.

Yes times, I'd agree that these telemarketer types are trained to ignore what people are saying.

She put a hole through my kevlar soul

Post Tue 27 Jun, 2006 12:41 pm 
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Official Mainah

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Posts: 1747

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Alright...I listened to the audio. The operator was way out of line no matter how you spin it. AOL might want to discourage people from cancelling, though this guy couldn't have been following their policy.
She put a hole through my kevlar soul

Post Tue 27 Jun, 2006 12:49 pm 
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The Founder
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Even dead people can't escape AOL

Even dead people can't escape AOL
Even dead people can't escape AOL

Maxine Gauthier doesn't own a computer. She doesn't know the first thing about Web browsing or sending e-mail. She's not even sure where to find a computer's "on" button, as she describes it.

Yet for the past nine months, she has been fighting one of the most persistent and some say irritating institutions in cyberspace: AOL, formerly known as America Online.

"They just haven't wanted to let go," the 55-year-old St. Louisan said. "I don't think they'll ever really let go."

Her struggle has involved about a dozen phone calls often ending with an AOL customer service representative or manager hanging up on her. She even tried impersonating someone else in a couple of the calls. The giant online service provider wouldn't budge.

The problem? An AOL account once held by Gauthier's late father still showed billing charges accumulating against it. The account had been dormant for months; the credit card he used for it was inactive at least as long.

Nevertheless, AOL kept charging $25.90 each month for dial-up online access. Late fees for non-payment accumulated on the credit card, too.

Gauthier even offered to send a copy of her father's obituary as proof he truly was dead. AOL was unmoved.

"An AOL service guy told me to stop complaining and learn to use a computer," she said. "Then he hung up."

Customer service hell

Gauthier's experience with AOL mirrors that of millions who have tried to discontinue their dial-up or other service, only to encounter stonewalling or outright verbal abuse from the company's customer service agents.

The Dulles, Va.-based company, with more than 17 million customers, was once the leading online service provider. But it has bled customers in recent years -- it lost almost 1 million customers between May and June alone -- as more people have moved away from dial-up service toward faster, more dependable broadband Internet connections.

Most of AOL's $1 billion in profits continues to come from subscriptions to dial-up service, a market it still dominates.

Another factor in AOL's decline has been the increase in free services elsewhere online, such as e-mail and ad blocking, that AOL provided at a cost. The company announced Wednesday that it was dropping many of these charges but would continue charging fees for dial-up service.

Yet, neither the Internet's transition to broadband nor the increase in Web-based freebies has damaged AOL's bottom line in recent weeks quite as much as its lamentable customer service, now a punch line on late-night television and in cyberspace.

Thank Vincent Ferrari for that.

The New York blogger and former AOL loyalist used to spend his time online exclusively at AOL's Web portal. He even met his wife there. But broadband beckoned and Ferrari's AOL usage declined to nearly zero. He decided to end the relationship.

Ferrari had heard that breaking up with AOL was difficult to do -- customer service agents allegedly employed every trick short of threats to keep people from dropping out -- so he recorded his call to customer service and posted it on his Web site.

The acrimonious result made huge news online and on television, and inspired a flood of responses. Immediately, AOL clients everywhere recounted their own bad experiences on blogs, TV and radio.

Gauthier saw all this and was inspired. She nearly had given up her own fight.

"I saw that I wasn't the only one with trouble. So, that's why I called you," she told Tech Talk.

"Shut up and listen"

When Gauthier's father, Melvin Berkowitz, died last summer, he was living in Florida and had one credit card. Its only charges were to AOL. Gauthier's mother, Marion Berkowitz, now 80, and still living in Florida, had her name on the account but never used it.

Gauthier discovered the continuing dial-up service charge as she was settling her father's estate. She first called to cancel the AOL account last November.

"They told me I didn't have the answer to his 'security question'," a query many shopping Web sites once employed to assure themselves they were talking to the account holder, "so they said 'Thank you' and hung up," Gauthier said.

She turned to the credit card company and asked that it stop accepting the charges.

"They told me they needed a letter first from AOL saying the account was inactive," Gauthier said.

Another call to AOL, which promised Gauthier it would send the letter immediately. That was in December.

"But I never heard any word," she said. "And these charges kept appearing on the credit card statement."

She kept calling AOL, trying to find out more about the letter. AOL countered by saying it never received a request to send it.

With each subsequent call, AOL became more curt with Gauthier. During one exchange, "the guy - I think it was a manager - just told me to 'shut up and listen to what I have to say or don't bother calling.'
Then he hung up on me," she said.

Gauthier even resorted to pretending she was her mother, because her mother's name also was on the credit card statement. "No luck. They just kept asking me for the answer to the security question," Gauthier said.

A nice guy named Ben

Through the spring and early summer, Gauthier made no progress. The charges -- and now, credit card late fees -- kept mounting, totaling at least $200. After Ferrari's experience with AOL became public, she pressed harder, thinking the bad publicity might loosen AOL's grip.

In June, she called again. This time, AOL insisted that her father's account had not been active since January, and AOL had not charged Melvin Berkowitz's credit card since.

The credit card statements since January, however, said otherwise.

Gauthier again called the credit card company. In early July, she received two letters from it. The first said the charges were fraudulent. The second said they weren't.

"That's when I gave up and called your Tech Talk column," she said.

We tried contacting AOL using all the customer service numbers Gauthier had used. Initially, AOL's headquarters in Virginia didn't answer our messages, so we tried the general customer service number. Within seven minutes, Tech Talk was speaking to Ben, based at an AOL customer service center in Albuquerque, N.M.

Ben, in fact, was very nice.

"A few bad apples"

"If (a customer calls) and gets an AOL rep such as myself, we have to cancel that account at their request," Ben said, explaining procedure. "We have to honor that request. So, there is no ulterior motive or agenda on us to not cancel, really.

"It changed recently where, you know, we have to cancel immediately,"

Ben continued. "We can offer them a better price; that's our job. But if they're adamant, then you cancel the account."

Gauthier had given Tech Talk her father's account information, and we in turn passed it along to Ben, who couldn't give his last name because AOL disallowed it.

"I see here that on May 28, there was a form filled out that this person was deceased. ... That account is cancelled out, right now," Ben said.

He explained that, for whatever reason, the form didn't get back to Melvin Berkowitz's file until mid-June, "so that month was our last bill. There won't be any more bills; I can assure you of that."

Not long after Tech Talk spoke to Ben, we received a call from Sarah Matin, AOL corporate communications manager, in Dulles, Va. She denied that AOL condoned hard selling among its customer service workers.

"We have a huge volume of customer service, millions of customers, so within that scale, of course, there are going to be a few bad apples," Matin said. "Obviously, we have to do much better."

Resolution, or not?

Finally, this month, Gauthier was able to cancel her father's credit card. The AOL charges, going back to last summer, were wiped away, and she was reimbursed for both the charges and late fees.

But the story apparently isn't over. It turns out that Gauthier also has an AOL account, established more than a decade ago when her two daughters were pre-teens first learning to surf the Internet. She has no idea what has become of the account; it has been dormant for years.

She never used it. She's hesitant to find out its status.

"After going through all that trouble over my father, I'm not sure I could handle that again," she said.

Plus, there's this: A few days ago, Gauthier obtained a letter from AOL that was sent to her mother in Florida. The letter was addressed to Melvin Berkowitz.

"Dear Mr. Berkowitz," it said. "We hope you'll come back to AOL."

Once an AOL customer, always an AOL customer.

Post Sun 06 Aug, 2006 4:09 pm 
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