Video: AOL service woes

By Jane Wells Correspondent
CNBC
updated 6/21/2006 11:42:35 AM ET 2006-06-21T15:42:35

More than 800,000 people canceled their AOL accounts last quarter. So it must be easy to cancel right? Not always.

Two weeks ago, Vincent Ferrari tried to cancel his 5-year-old account—he'd heard from others in the blogosphere that AOL customer service could be awful. So he recorded the conversation with a representative named John. Here is the transcript of the conversation:

AOL: Hi, this is John at AOL. How may I help you today?

Ferrari: I want to cancel my account.

AOL: OK. I mean, is there a problem with the software itself?

Ferrari: No. I don't use it. I don't need it. I don't want it.

John disputes Ferrari's claim that he never uses the account.

AOL: Last year, last month it was 545 hours of usage.

Ferrari: I don't know how to make it any clearer. So I'm just gonna say it one last time. Cancel the account.

AOL: Well, explain to me what is wrong.

Ferrari:  I'm not explaining anything to you. Cancel the account.

It goes on like this for 5 minutes.

Ferrari: Cancel my account. Cancel the account. Cancel the account.

CNBC later interviewed Ferrari by phone about his experience. “I've never ever experienced anything like that,” he said.

He recounts how the AOL representative as a last resort even asked if his dad was home.

“I think I could've put up with everything, but at the point when he asked to speak to my father, I came very close to losing it at that point,” said 30-year-old Ferrari.

Ferrari then posted the call online, and the response was tremendous. AOL sent him an apology.

Chris Denove of market research firm J.D. Power & Associates says companies talk about customer satisfaction but actually see their call centers as a costly investment.

“They're trying to squeeze every penny out of that cost center without regard for what may be happening, the damage that may be done,” said Denove.

AOL later tried to make amends. They sent a statement to CNBC claiming that the incident was inexcusable and that the customer representative, John, violated guidelines and was no longer with the company. “We're going to learn from this. We can do better, and will," the statement said.

To put this claim to the test, CNBC reporter Matt Lefkowitz called again. Here is a rough transcript:

CNBC: I want to cancel my AOL account.

He was promptly disconnected.

He tried again.

CNBC: I need to cancel my AOL account. I never really use it. ... Well, if I can cancel it anytime, why can't I cancel it now? Can I just cancel my account?

It took him 45 minutes to finally get his account canceled.

Vincent Ferrari’s blog is now inundated with others who say they've suffered the same fate, making him the patron saint of customer dissatisfaction.

After this story aired on CNBC Tuesday, AOL issued the following statement, attributed to spokeperson Nicholas Graham.

"At AOL, we have zero-tolerance for customer care incidents like this - which is deeply regrettable and also absolutely inexcusable. The employee in question violated our customer service guidelines and practices, and everything that AOL believes to be important in customer care - chief among them being respect for the member, and swiftly honoring their requests. This matter was dealt with immediately and appropriately, and the employee cited here is no longer with the Company.

"I've spoken directly to Mr. Ferrari and personally apologized to him for what took place. Many here have taken a strong interest in this episode - even going so far as to email all customer service representatives about it as an example of how we should never treat a member. We're going to learn from this - and continue to make the necessary, positive changes to our practices. This was an aberration and a mistake, and we have to manage these incidents down to zero as best we can. That means improving our already strong safeguards in place today, and maintaining rigorous internal and external compliance methods. We can do better - and we will."

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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