Today Joe Manna responded to a comment of mine that I left on his blog a few weeks ago about a lawsuit AOL settled over advertisements in the footers of AOL email (some topics are much too “Yawn, whatever” for me to cover, sorry).
In case you missed it, last month AOL was court-ordered to pay damages to people who could not disable advertisements on their outbound email. The advertisements encouraged people to sign up for AOL. The court ordered AOL to pay damages in the form of a “small donation” to “charity”.
I hinted to Joe that both the lawsuit and settlement was ridiculous. How about a more serious issue that AOL should be sued for (again): all the customers who are routinely overcharged each month, and who get lied to by call reps who say their accounts are canceled, when in fact they are not? Where is the money for them?
6-9-08 – Edited – and I don’t know how two copies of this post were published. I’m thinking it’s an extension in Firefox that copies text; it may have auto-filled a blank update screen, making me think I was editing an already-published post.
I got an incredible email tip today from a former AOL CSR pointing me to this post on The Red Tape Chronicles at MSNBC. It seems the reason you can’t cancel your AOL account is ‘perverse incentives’ that reps get to keep you from leaving. Not only was the post on the mark, it also inspired one former AOL service rep to reveal how Time Warner, AOL and DISH Network each employ the same sleazy tactics to keep you from canceling. Cookie-cutter customer service Catch-22s up ahead courtesy of ServiceRep$517….(comments on the post aren’t designed to link so I screencapped it).
“We lie, cheat and steal – or lose $300 per customer!”
I have been a customer service rep for 4 years. I have worked for Time Warner, AOL and DISH network. All of them worked the same way. We were TOLD at orientation to lie, cheat and steal. Do “whatever you have to do” to keep getting money from the customer. If they ask to cancel the service, lie to them. They flat out told us to lie. Right to our faces. Lie. For every customer that we tricked into upgrading vs. cancelling was worth $300 in bonus.
It was a stunningly bad year for the company I love to hate, but I couldn’t decide which stories should make the number one and two slots so I flipped a coin. Read on and let me know what you think.
After paying almost $27 million to satisfy four attorney generals in the Northeast and Midwest who sued AOL for their anti-cancellation policies between 2003 and 2006, you’d think they’d change their evil ways, since they were sued for the same thing by 44 states back in 1998, and their reputation was starting to dim thanks to their growing infamy, but that wasn’t the case.
It was on the down-low that they kept the same rewards system and tactics in place so people were surprised to learn that Jon, a call rep for AOL, gleefully violated every agreement AOL has struck in the United States since 1998 with Vinnie Ferrari, who got his 15 minutes of fame exposing them for the shameful greed they still succumb to. Vinnie single-handedly made the story an overnight sensation when he posted it on his website (which he claims gets over 500,000 hits a week) and simultaneously submitted it to The Consumerist, SlashDot and Digg, which caused his website to go offline for three days because his servers couldn’t handle the traffic.
06-13-2006: You might’ve heard about the substandard treatment Vincenzo Ferrari received when he tried to cancel his AOL account. If not, read my article here. It has everything you need to know — his mp3, the interview with Matt Laeur and AOL’s apology.
AOL Now Features Built-in Spam
06-07-2006: AOL ran banner ads along the bottom of member’s inboxes for years. Now they’re placing ads on every piece of email, too, so members are threatening to cancel in droves (to judge by blogs and forum discussions). Techdirt has the latest scoop.
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.