• June 23, 2006
  • By Colin Beasty, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

You've Got Nerve: AOL Won't Let Customers Go

All Vincent Ferrari wanted to do was cancel his AOL service. But tales of AOL's reluctance to let customers go are legendary, so Ferrari decided to record his phone call. The resulting audio of the five-minute conversation, recorded a week ago between Ferrari and an AOL customer service representative named John, has made national headline news, and resulted in a perfect example of how poor customer service can critically damage a company's image. AOL has since issued an apology and says the employee is no longer with the company. In a broadcast network interview on Wednesday, Ferrari when asked if he felt bad that John had been fired, answered, "Not so much." "This is business reaching a new height of arrogance," says Lior Arussy, founder and president of Strativity Group, a customer experience management research and advisory firm. "Many companies say they don't have the money during economic downtime to delight customers, but this is an uptime, yet they're still repeating the same behavior. They treat customers as subjects of their empire." After having spent four minutes navigating AOL's IVR system, then after having spent 11 minutes on hold, Ferrari spent a further five minutes speaking with John, who repeatedly attempted to sidetrack Ferrari from canceling the account. Despite Ferrari's insistence that the account hadn't been used in months and his computer didn't even contain the software, the CSR argued that the account should be kept based on recent usage. After making it clear he wanted the account cancelled, Ferrari was told by John it was in his "best interest to listen to me" and when "that epiphany happens, why don't you just give us a call back." After spending another minute going through an automated goodbye, Ferrari's account was finally cancelled. It took 21 minutes. "I'm in the cellular business, so I understand that you have to try to retain your customers because you exist by the existence of your customers," Ferrari said during the TV interview. "There comes a point when you have to realize I'm committed to canceling. You're not going to get me back. Just cancel the account." Trying to sell to a customer at the moment of cancellation is a notion that Arussy has always disputed. "At that point the customer has already given up on the company's ability to deliver up to the value you've promised them." The best a company can hope for in a situation like this is to inquire if it can revisit the customer after they've tried the competition, according to Arussy. It also worries Arussy that such arrogance was displayed by a low-level CSR, as opposed to a C-level executive or manager. "We don't usually see this sort of behavior from employees, because they would never take this kind of crap as a consumer themselves." If CSRs are treating customers in this manner, the company's problem is coming well before the point of training, call center scripts, or processes. "This is a problem with hiring," Arussy says. "The corruption or arrogance of the company permeated itself all the way to the individual, and that's not the sort of person you want to be employing as a CSR." Related articles: Dissatisfied QM 2 Passengers Rock the Boat
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