October 23, 2004

The Circles of AOHell

THIRTY MINUTES, 17 seconds. This is how long it took this evening for us to cancel our dial-up Internet service with America On-Line.

It was a process which required two phone calls, several instances of raising our voice, one demand to speak with a supervisor, and one threat of complaint to Government regulators, but we finally managed to convince the wretched malcontents to cancel our service. We no longer needed it, you see, as we finally signed up for a cable modem. But we remain so infuriated with the downright underhandedness of AOL's cancellation process that we figured we'd tell the world. After all, this is a company that prides itself on being customer-friendly. And since we are vindictive beyond belief, we figure the best way to punish AOL for its insolence is to warn as many of its potential customers as possible about AOL's customer service.

We suppose we should start with an explanation of how we signed up for the service in the first place. This is easy: it came with our computer, and it was convenient for us to sign up. All we needed it for was the connection, and as everyone knows, it is a pain in the ass to switch one's e-mail back and forth. So we have remained with it for the past few years. But when we finally got a broadband connection, we clearly had no use for a dial-up service; and as Mr Kepple pointed out to us, cancelling our AOL service would save us a good chunk of change.

So, with those parameters established firmly in our mind, we called this evening about 6:30. After a few minutes wading through AOL's unpleasant computerized answering system, we were put on the phone with a customer-service type. At first, we were inclined to like the guy, as he was a southerner, and we figured he was working in one of those economically-depressed areas where one is grateful for call-center work. This camaraderie lasted roughly 45 seconds. For the next 10 minutes, we can assure you our conversation was unproductive. It was a classic attrition strategy, in which they do everything they can to keep one on board with the service. Despairing of actually getting our account cancelled -- it was as if we were talking to David Spade in one of those commercials -- we agreed to settle for a free month's worth of service on AOL's broadband platform.

We then had dinner, put our laundry in the wash, and called back. By now, we were downright annoyed. Our first call, from soup to nuts, lasted for 17 minutes and 35 seconds, and the thought of spending even more time on the phone was not making us very cordial. This time, though, we resolved to be fully firm and go on the warpath.

This time we were transferred to what was almost certainly a foreign-run call-center operation. We suspect this for a few reasons: first, there was a tiny but noticeable delay in the voice transmission; second, the operators spoke English fluently but did not have the native ease which one would find in an American; and third, the folks had a slight accent to their speech.

This somewhat rattled us, as we felt bad about having to be a jerk to the foreign staff, who of course make practically nothing in Bangalore or wherever these things are based. But we did not feel bad for long, as despite our explanations, we went through the same goddamn spiel a second time. Eventually, we got a supervisor on the phone, and after a pointed mention about potentially filing a complaint with Federal regulators, he agreed to cancel our service, gave us a confirmation number to that effect, and the hassle was finally over.

Still, though. Half an hour to cancel service? Even with the obligatory pitches and cajoles, this is a process that shouldn't take more than five minutes. Our only thought is that this whole process speaks much about the company -- which has seen its stock price fall nearly 80 pc over the past few years. It seems to us that if they're going to such pathetic lengths to keep what customers they have, there must be a reason for it. And we suspect that reason is not one which would bring applause at the annual shareholders' meeting.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at October 23, 2004 10:58 PM | TrackBack

Geez. I cancelled mine two weeks ago for similar reasons and it only took about 5 minutes. Luck of the draw, I suppose.

Posted by: Kerry at October 25, 2004 09:58 PM

Maybe the customer-service types were bored. I did call on a Saturday.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at October 25, 2004 10:40 PM