Steve Case sorry for the TW merger? Tell me it ain’t so.

07-27-2006: Steve Case, AOL’s well-known former CEO, apologized for his decision to merge AOL with Time Warner on PBS’s “The Charlie Rose Show” last week.

He told The Examiner (9-6-07: article has been deleted since this was written) “…you know, it goes back to the question, ‘Was it a good idea?’…I think it was…” Please…when is merging your company with one that aided and abetted securities fraud ever a good idea?

AOL’s Retention Manual Made Public

AOL Retention Manual released

07-23-2006: The Consumerist reports a mole leaked a copy of AOL’s Retention training manual, which they got recently in an unmarked envelope. Their article is here; the full manual (PDF) is here. Don’t be daunted by file size (89 pages); many are blanks, fill-in-the-answers, or copies of the front cover and it’s all large-font.

What’s hard to believe is the feeling I’ve been brainwashed. I can sell AOL now if I want to. I have an extensive sales/retail background and I’m still blown away by their hard sell, which involves softening up the sales lead (that’s what AOL calls canceling members — sales leads) then using empathy and “cushioning” to move in on the sales pitch of Retention Buddy’s choice).

Not a word of this manifesto states when it’s acceptable to cancel a customer’s account or how to go about it — because they can always keep us rocking on for AOL. Tell that to the 850,000 subscribers AOL lost last quarter who clearly disagree.

AOL Internal Email Leaked

07-15-2006: The Consumerist received internal AOL emails from an angry ex-employee. One reminds “Member Services” that, “On any interaction, you should assume that it could be posted on the Web.” The third email gets kudos for creepiness. To start off with, “…I am listening to your member interactions and I sincerely admire your response following the recent…call posted on the Internet” would make me, if I were an AOL employee, run, not walk, for the nearest Call Center exit.

On the next page we learn AOL has a mandatory retention rate of 60%; for every 100 calls to cancel an account, 60 members MUST be “saved” if Retention Specialists want to keep their jobs. I want an account just to record my call to cancel it, but I’ll wait — they’re more likely to put me through hell when they think the publicity fiasco’s over. Also, AOL’s old retention policy required a call rep to make 3 pitches and have all 3 rejected before they were allowed to cancel an account; in light of the Vinnie Fiasco, they’ve downgraded that to two.

Readers, here’s your “magic, semi-hidden, seekret” way out of it: “If members are irate, use strong language, interrupt offer pitch to say they’re not interested, or try…to provoke the Consultant into being unprofessional, immediately cancel the account.” (The part in bold letters is what to do…try not to argue with them.) Too bad AOL almost requires customers to act like stark-raving lunatics — it would be nice to say just once, “Please cancel my account” and be done with it. But AOL would rather drag members down to their level — the gutter, apparently — than let that happen.

AOL Possibly Breaking Terms of NY Settlement

07-13-2006: AOL won’t stick to the terms of their 2005 settlement with New York, which they paid over $1.25 million to settle and promised to stop siccing Retention Specialists on us. AOL’s promises to give kinder, gentler customer service aren’t worth much, and Elliot Spitzer, Attorney General of the State of New York, agrees — he’s sitting down with AOL soon over their latest shenanigans.

AOL Software to Become Free

07-13-2006: AOL can’t sell high-priced dial-up and broadband software ($25.90 a month) to save their lives and it’s hurting their image on Wall Street so they’re converting most paid services to free (think free email with a swanky @ address instead of a skanky addy). According to Wired News, “AOL would no longer charge subscription fees to users with high-speed internet access or a dial-up service from another provider. AOL customers with “dial-up” internet access through AOL would still have to pay a monthly fee of as much as $26.”

No more feeding advertising dollars into subscription services, either. Other than that, they don’t have a clue what to do, except lay off more Retention Specialists — the 1,300 my home state lost in Jacksonville wasn’t enough to satisfy AOL’s lust for the ax. AOL’s trading around $13.86 this week…can anyone say “future penny stock?” Pretty soon my inbox spam might include offers to buy theirs, too.