Listen to this story of a man who just wanted to cancel his AOL account but heard so many horror stories about it he decided to tape the call “just in case.” Vincenzo Ferrari’s worst fears were confirmed by the Retention Specialist he spoke to. Outraged, he wrote an article about it on his website with a link to the recording, then submitted it to digg.com and Consumerist.
Soon a reader submitted the link to Slashdot where it became the most popular post on the site for days.
In fact, the mp3 was so popular, within 24 hours Vincenzo’s site was slammed by over 551,000 visitors. Demand for it overwhelmed his servers so they crashed for the better part of 2 days. To help him out, dozens of people submitted alternate links to his mp3, including this author, but demand was so high there wasn’t a link that worked for any length of time for 3 days.
The mp3 confirmed every comment I’ve heard or made about AOL’s Retention Specialists. It reminded me of what I went through trying to cancel accounts with AOL, except, imagine this, some of the call reps I dealt with were more arrogant than ‘Jon,’ and my total time on the phone with Retention Specialists and their supervisor was over an hour. My family and friends marveled that despite the wasted time, including several 20 minute hold times, hang-ups, and temper tantrums with more than one of them, my account still wasn’t canceled without an erroneous surcharge applied.
Getting that surcharge rescinded involved another 2 hours while I researched the facts for a letter to the Better Business Bureau, and two more weeks while I awaited AOL’s response, which was to rescind the surcharge, but blame me for their mistake (“Ms. M. apparently misunderstood the terms of registration…”) I’ve been there, so ‘Jon’s’ all-powerful, “I’m calling all the shots, not you, buddy!” attitude got me angry all over again.
What you won’t hear at the end of the mp3 is a recording that gives Vinnie his Cancellation Confirmation Number and says a Cancellation Confirmation Letter will be mailed to him soon (he edited it out). Call reps give that info to customers verbally or by playing a recording when they’re really canceling your account. Keep that in mind if you’re the one who needs to cancel AOL.
Update 06-16-2006: AOL publicly apologized for Vincenzo’s mistreatment and fired the call rep in question. AOL’s apology reads:
“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.”
AOL printed the apology on their “new” Netscape portal site. An anchor responsible for the story’s coverage conducted an AIM interview with Vinnie. You can read the transcript here.
I’m glad AOL dealt with ‘Jon’ swiftly and publicly but I’m not happy he lost his job — as many verbal sniper battles as I had with Retention Specialists I never followed up with complaints asking for anyone’s head. I give Retention Specialists a bad name on my site not because I blame them for their outrageous behavior, but because I blame AOL for not making it stop. I hold every supervisor and manager of AOL responsible for call reps who mistreat customers. If they would train call reps to treat members more considerately I wouldn’t be writing this.
Update 06-23-2006: Vinnie is on MSNBC! CNBC! NBC! His name — and face — are all over TV and the Web now that Matt Lauer of the Today show has conducted an exclusive live interview with him. Like the mp3, Vinnie’s interview is the talk of the Web and on TV; stories about it are traded around water coolers everywhere. YouTube records over 105,000 hits for it, and Google returns thousands of results for “Vincenzo Ferrari video.”
AOL needs to learn berating, browbeating, and lying to customers is unacceptable when every customer counts and word of mouth is King if you don’t treat the customer like one…when you can record a phone call to AOL, then publish it quickly on your own website, on huge social networks like Digg and Slashdot and see it on thousands more sites within minutes, they need to realize they can run but they can’t hide. They need to learn to treat their customers with respect, listen to what they have to say, and respond to them without lecturing, lying, yelling, mumbling, or bossing them around. That’s not too much to ask, is it?