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June 28, 2006 11:08 AM

Broken: AOL cancellation process

A lot of blogs have covered this already, but This Is Broken would be remiss if we didn't post the NBC News piece:

AOL has issued an apology and fired the rep responsible for that particular bad customer experience, by the way.


Hrm, no comments? Or is the commenting system broken?

Oh, uh flash not working either. Problably my fault.

Posted by: Trent Chernecki at June 28, 2006 11:18 AM

Ah, yes, AOHell. Popups, bloat, AOL-only pages.

They're the very opposite of net neutrality, and the very synonym of Broken. May AOL-lacking broadband make it a distant memory.

Posted by: gamekid at June 28, 2006 11:44 AM

Give that Man a medal for bravery!!! This should show that THE CUSTOMER not the company knows what is best for the individual.

Posted by: nodhunter45 at June 28, 2006 11:48 AM

we have this and the sleeping comcast guy on the news recently. these things come in threes, don't they?

Posted by: gmangw at June 28, 2006 11:51 AM

Haven't seen the sleeping comcast guy. Where is that?

Posted by: JAC at June 28, 2006 11:59 AM

Nothing's coming up for me. Is that the Vincent Ferrari story?

Posted by: Mary at June 28, 2006 12:21 PM

I think it was harsh for AOL to fire the guy, especially because it was THEIR POLICY that led to his behavior.

Most companies like this have "save percentages" or goals that agents must meet to keep their jobs. They are given training and scripts designed to keep disgruntled customers. Having worked in a large call center environment for a large company, I have no doubt that he was doing exactly as he was trained and as his supervisor expected, and AOL just made him the scapegoat for all the thousands of people who have had experiences EXACTLY LIKE THIS with hundreds of OTHER AOL agents.

As an aside, I just have to wonder how many people using AOL on Windows on a Dell think that their awful experience is just the way it is and have no clue whatsoever that the experience is completely different for anyone else.

Posted by: Hoki at June 28, 2006 12:24 PM

I've had a similar experience. They gave me free service instead of cancelling my account. And THEN they billed me and turned me over to a collection agency because I wouldn't pay for the free service they kept giving me instead of cancelling my account.

Posted by: disgruntled at June 28, 2006 12:34 PM

I agree with Hoki that, though it was annoying for the customer to deal with, a policy change would be more effective than firing the guy. I agree that he was more than likely following company policy when he did that and maybe he'd be able to sue AOL for wrongful termination if that's the case.

Having previously been in sales (against my will and hopefully never there again), I know that management doesn't respond well if someone wants to cancel an order or something and you just go right to "Okay, it's cancelled." The customer service person HAS to try to at least achieve a compromise or they can get punished for that. Basically, the AOL employee would've been screwed either way.

Posted by: SillyGirl at June 28, 2006 01:04 PM

I watched the whole thing. AOL is SO BROKEN! I guess that's why my dad never let me use the free trials from them and didn't like them.

For every 10 or so "this is broken" things, there's only 0-4 or even 2 at the most that are REALLY broken! This one? I think it counts for those 0-4 truely broken things!


Posted by: Another guy named Alex B at June 28, 2006 01:17 PM

Me and my friends have found other uses for AOL now -¤t=Dorm1.jpg¤t=Dorm3.jpg

To date, we've never put an aol cd into our computers...

Posted by: Noremacam at June 28, 2006 01:21 PM

Target practice is the best use for an AOL disk one will EVER find.

Posted by: Mnok at June 28, 2006 01:29 PM

I had the same experience after a "free" trial that got billed to my credit account. They finally reversed the charge and cancelled the account, but I spent about 30 minutes on the phone arguing with the rep.

Personally, I doubt that AOL actually fired the guy, especially since he was following company procedure - he'd have a great case against them. I think they just said they fired him to make people think they've fixed the problem.

Posted by: singingsue at June 28, 2006 02:13 PM

I had a very similar experience with AOL when I canceled them. It was 15 minutes of identifying myself and the account. Then they wouldn't speak to me because it was in my husband's name and he was on a work call, I got some justice when I put the lady on hold for 10 minutes until he got off the phone, but to her credit, she did not hang up while she was on hold.

Posted by: Jpantis at June 28, 2006 02:20 PM

The AOL guy didn't even offer him a better deal. That always gets me to stay on to my DSL contract.

Posted by: WillF at June 28, 2006 02:51 PM

Absolutely Broken!

Long time ago I went through similar situation to cancel AOL. It was so bad, I actually called my credit card company to cancel the charges for AOL on all future billings. I learned that credit cards CANNOT DO THIS! once you get a recurring charge automatically billed to a CC, YOU, the cardholder, cannot STOP IT, only the 'payee or vendor' can do that! You are forced to go through AOL to cancel the recurring charges.

To this day I will never agree to that form of payment, for anything.

Posted by: One of these days I'm gonna cut you into little pieces at June 28, 2006 03:25 PM

I had a problem cancelling Juno a few years ago when I got DSL. They offered me a free month of service, which I took because I was going out of town and thought that I might need dial-up access (this was before hotels advertised free wi-fi). Imagine my surprise when my credit card bill had a charge for Juno on it anyway! I called them up and they said that they couldn't remove the charge because I had used the service. I finally called up my credit card company and they took care of the problem.

Posted by: eBob at June 28, 2006 04:32 PM

I also agree this is AOL policy. I remember calling and asking to cancel my AOL account and the rep simply would not confirm that he had done so despite me asking for it to be canceled at least half a dozen times during the call.

It was like talking to a deranged robot. Every time I said I wanted to cancel, his response was always something like "but we'll give you a free extra month", or "why do you want to cancel", etc.

Finally in exasperation I said "If you can't just tell me 'Yes, the account is canceled', I'm going to hang up!". And his response was, again, "but we'll give you a free month".

So I hung up. Then I called right back, explained what had happened to the new rep, and she quickly confirmed that my account had indeed been canceled.

So my theory is, AOL tells its reps never to confirm or accept cancelation until and unless the call has ended and the customer never capitulated.

AOL sucks.

Posted by: Alex B at June 28, 2006 06:15 PM

AOL puts its own AOL shell over your internet, practically masking you from the real thing with its splash screens and junk. They keep people from discovering what the internet is all about with their intrusive interface, so they don't know that they could be having it so much better. Then they keep you from getting away from there.

It's kind of analogous to Microsoft Windows.

Posted by: BlastYoBoots at June 28, 2006 06:43 PM

Twenty one minutes? Is that all? Please. When I tried to cancel my AOHell account back in 1997 it took me over four hours.

No lie.

I will never, ever, no matter how much you pay me, EVER go back to them. And I will tell anyone who is thinking of signing up with them to run far and the other direction.

AOHell is totally broken.

Posted by: Serenity at June 28, 2006 08:27 PM

People are just now learning how much AOL sucks? This story is 5 years too late.

Posted by: Chris at June 28, 2006 08:40 PM

i found the link to the sleeping comcast guy on youtube

Posted by: sleeping comcast guy at June 28, 2006 09:23 PM

That's nothing. Try canceling a subscription to "" You go through a number of webpages to cancel, each time with escalating offers and confusing layouts so you won't click the right place.

Once you run this gauntlet, you are told that you can't cancel online, and must call their customer service department to do so.

Posted by: Gene at June 28, 2006 09:58 PM

Every free AOL CD that has come my way has been put to good use. They make great coasters. If they get dirty or break, no sweat, there'll be another one along soon.

Posted by: lefty-chef at June 28, 2006 10:07 PM

Personally, I think they make better frisbees than coasters. Great stress relievers. Plus, the come in nice cases you can use for floppies. I used to use those before I got my USB thumb drive thingie. I don't know what to call them. I hear them called everything.

Posted by: Froggy at June 28, 2006 11:32 PM

same thing happened to me....when I called to end service they would put me on hold and never come back to the phone call..........after several attempts and several phone calls I demanded they cancel my service I did finally get through......but noone should have to go through this.........I will never do business with them again!

Posted by: theresa at June 29, 2006 12:17 AM

Let me state at the outset that I have no affiliation with AOL and, to the best of my knowledge, no financial connection with the company unless one of the mutual funds I own and never read the reports from happens to invest in AOL/Time Warner or whatever they're called these days. I've only touched AOL a couple of times at my SO's mother's home and have no particular use for it. I'm certainly no defender of the service.

That said, I'll agree that the AOL rep screwed up by losing his cool but, after having listened to the audio recording, I believe that Ferrari was at least contributory.

In my opinion, Ferrari went into the conversation with a chip on his shoulder, as is evident simply from the fact that he recorded the conversation. The exchange struck me as hostile virtually from the get go.

If the rep was telling the truth, there was recent activity on the account or at least AOL's records appeared to show that. I think the rep was asking legitimate questions about usage and it was altogether appropriate to find out why the customer wished to cancel a service that seemed, correctly or incorrectly, to be in use. The customer's responses bordered on abusive, to my ear.

This is the case of another working stiff getting screwed over, a guy just trying to put food on the table, and now he's out of a job, thanks to a customer with more than a small amount of "attitude".

AOL may indeed suck and it may be a pain in the rear to cancel it -- I've never had it and thus never had to cancel, so I don't know -- but that's no reason to be what strikes me as Rude with a capital "R".

It's amazing what the magic words our parents taught us in kindergarten, "please" and "thank you", will do when used as directed.

AOL's broken, sure, but so is surreptitiously recording a phone conversation and putting it on the Internet. In some jurisdictions, that's illegal, by the way.

Posted by: Steve at June 29, 2006 10:02 AM

Steve - glad you got that off your chest. However, the point is that the old days are gone - the customer used to be right, rude or not. If a customer has a legitimate request (like to cancel their account), the rep can certainly try to find the reason why, but should also accommodate the request with courtesy and efficiency. THAT's customer SERVICE.

Posted by: singingsue at June 29, 2006 10:57 AM

Yep, I'm with singingsue on that one: The rep can ask once, in the greatest stretch maybe twice IF he honestly believes he may get the desired result (saving the customer). Since it was obvious about three seconds into the conversation that this customer was not going to be saved and he had requested about 18 times to have his account closed, it should have simply been closed, period, end of story.

Of course the guy went into the call with a chip on his shoulder! AOL's refusal to properly deal with customers leaving is well documented, and he anticipated that. That doesn't mean that he 'contributed' just because AOL completely met that expectation and failed to properly deal with his requests. Speaking as yet another former customer service rep, rude customers are simply the rule and not the exception. While it would sure be nice to be in a more polite society, the fact is that we're not and regardless of Ferrari's attitude (which was apparently justified given the obstructionary and apparently customary refusal of the agent to perform a simple, normal function), AOL should have inquired politely ONCE into the reason for the disconnection, made a special offer ONCE to keep him as a customer, and then politely closed his account as he requested. They completely failed to do this, and whether or not you feel the customer was rude the flow of the call was determined by the agent's actions, not the callers.

That said, I'm also firmly in agreement that the rep was doing as he was told and trained and was simply exhibiting what is firmly entrenched in the AOL corporate culture. So they fired him, it will make no difference: All the other hundreds of reps will continue to do the exact same thing because it is what AOL does. That's the kind of company AOL is, as they've proven time and again. Sure it's broken...but they're too damn big to care, and most of their customers are too ignorant to know the difference--otherwise they never would have become AOL customers in the first place.

Posted by: Erich at June 29, 2006 12:23 PM

After reading Steve's comment, I watched the video clip again. It does not appear to me that Mr. Ferarri was being rude. I would describe his tone as polite yet firm. He may have had a chip on his shoulders, yet that is only due to the horror stories that have surfaced from people having the same experience as he did.

I had AOL about ten years ago. I had to cancel my account when my computer fried and I couldn't afford a new one right away (just a basic computer back then would have been around $2000). I simply explained to the rep that I no longer had a computer and my account was cancelled without further explanation.

What is broken is AOL itself. The rep was only doing as he was trained. AOL as a company is dying and it trying to retain paying subscribers by any means necessary to stave off the inevitable. What AOL should have done was buy a high-speed internet company (like Excite@Home). Had they recognized that they were an internet company and not a media company, they might still be relevant today.

Posted by: eBob at June 29, 2006 10:34 PM

This is in response to Steve's comment.

I don't feel that Mr. Ferrari started the call with a chip on his shoulder. Nor was he ever rude during the call. In fact, I'd say he showed remarkable restraint in the face of what I would consider to be very rude customer service.

AOL has a reputation for making account cancellations a nightmare, along with a reputation for poor billing practices.

It took Mr. Ferrari something in the order of 15 minutes to get to a phone rep to allow cancellation of the account. What the rep did to try to save the account from a disconnect went way beyond what any reasonable person would consider acceptable.

My instincts tell me the blame lies squarely on AOL management who most likely have a very heavy emphasis on save percentages for their call centre staff, along with the concommitant penalties for failure and rewards for exceeding standards.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at June 30, 2006 10:14 PM

I agree with Steve on this one. I also know I worked for VerizonOnline retention for a while several years ago. We had to make at least THREE attempts to save the custoemr and ask at least THREE probing questions to determine why the customer was canceling.

We also had certain percentages that we had to maintain regarding cancellations.

It sucked and was a difficult job, hence why I left for a RETAIL job paying about half of what I made there. But the stress that was relieved of me was amazing.

I really feel that the company used the rep as a scapegoat. Yes, the rep might have gotten pushy in the call, but the customer was also rude sounding. And I'll bet you a hundred to one the rep on the phone was one of the top people in his area for cancellations. He was doing what he was paid to do and now he's out of a job for it.

AOL sucks as a hole though, so while I do know it's annoying it took so long to cancel the account, the employee is now out of a job because someone had an attitude.

Posted by: Sabrina at July 1, 2006 03:05 AM

I have to wonder how many people AOL actually rope in with those stupid cd's. I mean, you see them everywhere and they're always mailing them to my family, they must spen a lot of money on making / sending them.

Maybe they should spend some of that money on making a better product!

Posted by: astro_wanabe at July 3, 2006 12:47 PM

Jeez I've never had an AOL account but just uninstalling the AOL trial software that came with my computer was just annoying. The uninstall program took 15 MINUTES to just find the software. That might not seem like much but saying "Looking for AOL software on your computer" for fifteen minutes is not good. Its not like a have a HUGE hard drive with tons of files. To make it worse, the uninstall program was in the AOL file. And while its finding the software it locks up the program so you can't do anything with it. Even close or minimize.

"America Online, so hard to use, its #1 on the's Worst Tech Products of All Time List!"

No seriously, it is look here:,aid,125772,pg,2,00.asp

Posted by: Jesse at July 4, 2006 01:49 AM

Want a better Internet? You're probably on AOL.

One-liners aside, I think maybe AOL should stop trying to bully customers into staying and actually OFFER HALFWAY DECENT SERVICE. That would probably help their sales a lot if they could get rid of their "service sucks" image.

I have only ever used AOL for 2 weeks while staying at a relative's house, and all I have to say is, by the end of the first week of their crappy service, I was getting a strong urge to destroy something.

And while I'm at it, also broken: AOL CDs. Complete waste of perfectly good CD stock. Good thing we've got this site:

I'd like to encourage people to send their CDs there. Just do me a favor and tell me when they've hit 1,000,000 CDs, as then I want to fly over to AOL HQ and laugh maniacally while witnessing the dumping of the CDs in person.

Posted by: Poochy.EXE at July 6, 2006 05:13 AM

Another good use of AOL CDs is microwave toys. Nuking them for ~2 seconds is so fun to watch.

Posted by: The Pondermatic at July 6, 2006 11:18 AM

I applied for a job with AOL in Tucson once. There were all these tests to take using a computer and a headset which provided example call scenarios. I know I chose all the right answers for each section of each call -- customer calls to cancel, sorry to hear that, is there anything we can do, no, ok, canceled. However I was not hired. It's impossible to say exactly why that was, but it makes me wonder, does the test actually filter for those more aggressive representatives?

Posted by: Michael at July 16, 2006 02:12 PM

I got so angry listening to the exchange that I had to stop it before the end.

Now, every time I have a bad experience with a phone rep, I will think of this call and feel much better.

Posted by: Interlard at July 20, 2006 12:16 AM

So, instead of changing their policy, they fired the employee? I have to say a couple things about that:

1. WTF are they smoking?

2. If they continue to do this, we could run them out of buisness or make them change their policy.

It would be cool if AOL cds were rewriteable...

Posted by: wafflecannon at July 31, 2006 08:41 PM

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