AOL sales tactics revealed: When no means yes
Snarky consumer champion Ben Popken at the Consumerist blog has published excerpts from AOL's Customer Retention Manual -- the bible of customer-service reps trying to dissuade AOL members from canceling service -- and in the process has set off a gleeful stir in blogland.
Why is AOL's customer service so much in the news these days? It was just last month that blogger Vincent Ferrari called AOL customer service to cancel his account. The AOL rep was reluctant to let him go, and the recording Ferrari made of the resulting phone call wasn't pretty. Ferrari's customer service nightmare became an instant sensation, and the man made the tour of CNN, Today, and finally Nightline. The Washington Post wrote: "Not since Linda Tripp chatted with Monica Lewinsky has a recorded phone call attracted so much attention."
The rep who spoke to Ferrari was fired, but now we're beginning to think it was for incompetence at selling, not for treating a customer badly. Courtesy of Consumerist's scoop, the world is now privy to AOL's heavy-handed sales techniques. Among the priceless bits: "If you stop and think about it, every Member that calls in to cancel their account is a hot lead. Most other sales jobs require you to create your own leads, but in the Retention Queue the leads come to you!"
The Web's response, which includes outrage on Digg, has also drawn out a confession from a former AOL "retention specialist."
Popken and others hope that all the negative publicity will teach AOL -- and others -- a lesson. This is called learning the hard way, no?
Vincent is far from the only one that has received such terrible customer service from AOL. It is ironic that the word "service" is still used.
AOL customer service? What is that? Within the AOL site it was impossible to find a contact number to contact them to cancel your service. Once you call them it is a long queue before they talked to you. I haven't found a way to notify them to cancel my service by email or other ways online. I tried telling my credit card company not to allow them to bill the monthly charge, and they keep trying until it does. I canceled my credit card thinking it would go away, but, alas, AOL succeeded in billing the charge and caused my card account to be reactivated. AOL's retention tactics is simple - make it so difficult to leave that the customer eventually gives up. It's like joining the Mafia - once you get in you can never get out.
AOL's retention tactics are borderline criminal. I found AOL service being billed to one of my credit cards and I have never signed up for AOL. They refused to tell me how they got my credit card number and insisted that someone in my household signed up (we didn't). I would like to eventually see AOL execs do jail time - but it won't happen because the FTC doesn't care about $19.95 a month in theft.
I don't know why anyone would be surprised at this kind of manual. It's simple sales techniques. It's all about reaction, psychology, and control. Don't give the person the chance to talk, always ask questions that lead to a "yes" It's being done everywhere. AOL just got caught.
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