Confessions of a Former AOL Retainer


I used to work for AOL doing ‘retention’…”

Come closer, my child.

In her letter, Tari, confirms the manual is bonafide. Also, according to her, most retention specialists would much rather skip over all the “discovery” and “rapport building” and get straight to the part where they give you a discount so you won’t leave. But having spent all this time writing such an exhaustive manual, AOL gets a bit miffed (read: fires your ass) if you don’t follow their elaborately constructed retention rubric.

And like most operations of its ilk, they show you its dark side inch by inch until one day you wake up with blood on your hands, a black cloak on the nightstand and no memory of how the sacrificed babies got in the bed, to wit, “i worked for a call centre contracted to do the retention and wasn’t told that it was a sales job when i was hired…”


i used to work for AOL doing ‘retention’ and also for MSN doing the same thing.

to be more accurate, i worked for a call centre contracted to do the retention and wasn’t told that it was a sales job when i was hired. it was hilarious when the call centre, which was doing AOL stuff won the MSN contract. they BUILT A WALL to keep staff separate. anyway, almost all retention is contracted out, but AOL execs visit and listen to calls remotely and provide strict guidance. the sales pitches and manuals are written by AOL and also, the call centre trainers are trained by AOL. these AOL marketing people are really stupid and have very fixed minds and don’t want to listen to feedback from the people who actually take the calls.

anyway, i can verify that manual you mention is 100% accurate. they even make 11×17 inch cardboard ORANGE and PURPLE posters which are posted in the cubicles. punishment is swift and severe for those who don’t follow the 6 steps, up to and including termination. most of the staff wants to immediately cancel memberships, but they are harassed and abused by supervisors when they do. it’s called ‘counselling’ and you only get a few chances to stop ‘screwing up’ before you’re out the door.

there is also another method for keeping lots of customers that can work to the advantage of the company and to the member. everyone is happy, it goes like this: what a lot of the workers want to do is skip over all the crap and get right to the ‘right offer’ which is where you offer them free months, as many as three, and a reduction in monthly fees. many people who call do so because U$23.90 is too much for them. when they tell you it is too much, why put them thru hell, is the thought of lots of the staff, why not just say, “if you’re willing to stay for x months, i can lower your monthly fee to x”? so what happens is that they gamble that they are not being listened to and just make the offer. and almost always, it is accepted, and the customer is pleased, both at getting free stuff, paying less and not getting hassled. plus time is not wasted, and company gets to keep a customer. but that’s not allowed.

lots of people who do want to cancel for other reasons and who come in hostile can actually be won over and got to stay just by skipping the really stupid steps and offering a free month or two and lowering the price for them. and if this is the case, why put them through tons of stupid stuff? the staff know this but AOL execs don’t want to listen. all the steps can be skipped just by saying: something along the lines of, “i see by your records that you’ve been with AOL for a long time. as you know, it’s great for doing research whether for work or school, and we’re really kid-friendly. we have virus protection built-in now and we’re adding new features all the time, like legal music and movie downloading. if you’d be willing to stay with us, what i can do for you is give you a x months free and see what i can do about getting you a lower monthly fee.” no rigmarole, just straightforward info and a decent offer.

but NO, that’s not what AOL’s execs want and the call centre managers know it is a crock too, but they go along so they can keep the contract.


it’s too bad i just tossed all my printed materials for AOL and MSN or i’d mail them to you so you could get a nice good laugh.

kind regards,


Edit Your Comment

  1. bambino says:

    “i worked for a call centre contracted to do the retention and wasn’t told that it was a sales job when i was hired…”

    Chillingly, this seems to be the norm in a number of workplaces now. Someone I know just got a job as a bank teller, which by my estimation involves taking money, giving money, and keeping records. But no, said banker must also deliver sales pitches to every account-holder, and if they don’t meet a quota, they’re terminated!

  2. AcidReign says:

    …..Yeah. At my bank last time I made a paper deposit, I got a sales pitch from the teller. “Sir, our records indicate that YOU DON’T HAVE OVERDRAFT PROTECTION! That’s awful! We can help!”

    …..I told her that I had “old-fashioned overdraft protection.” Her eyes glazed over, and she mumbled a confused: “what?” I replied, “I have $1500 in that account that I don’t show on my check and deposit register.” I thought her head was going to explode. She completely lost focus on my deposit, and asked, “What if you write a check for over $1500?” I answered glibly, “If I do, you can bet it’s for something really big, and I’ve double checked my balance, outstanding checks, and made sure to put money in to cover it!” “Oh.” was her bewildered response. I had to ask for my deposit receipt.

  3. rubken says:

    This sort of nonsense is unfortunately very common in large corporations. What generally seems to happen is that they spend truckloads of money on a consultancy process and don’t talk to the staff at the coalface.

    The consultancy’s report and all those flowchart posters cost them thousands of pounds/dollars/yen/euros and the people who do the work make a pittance, therefore to listen to someone who could have helped you for free (or nearly free) would make you look like an idiot for spending all that money on the consultancy.

    One of us is never as dumb as all of us.

  4. AKA says:

    I, too, worked in a call center contracted by AOL, as a retention agent. I can also confirm the legitimacy of the manual, although some things have been updated in the two-and-a-half years since I left the company.

    I was there when they implemented “Member Connect” in 2002, and if you think what you read in the manual was a steaming pile of horseshit, the original, ‘we’ll can your ass if you don’t use it,’ “Member Connect” greeting was “Thank you for calling America Online. This is _______. How can I help you have an even better online experience today?”

    Once the customer stated that they wanted to cancel their account, the agent was to say, “I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m glad I’m the one who got your call, because I’m going to do everything I can to help you today. Once again, my name is _______. May I have your name, please?”

    I saw many people get fired because they couldn’t bring themselves to be cold and manipulative enough to maintain a 60% or better “save rate.”

    I saw many people get fired because they refused to stick to an idiot script/callplan that was written by corporate bigwigs who probably never took a retention call in their lives.

    I saw many people quit because their consciences got the better of them. Bravo to them.

    I definitely feel for the customers who find it difficult to cancel their accounts, but I’d also like to point out the plight of the CSR, who, for the most part, is intimidated on a daily basis by their higher-ups to manipulate people into keeping something that, deep-down, we all know is an inferior product.

    I can’t tell you how many times my job was threatened because my save rate was in the 40s, or because I was caught not using the “member connect” callflow.

    Taking AOL retention calls was one of the worst, most stressful fucking experiences I ever had to endure. Tums and I became very acquainted during my tenure with them.

    I get a certain vindictive pleasure in the fact that AOL is so far in the toilet right now that its entire existence and role in the online world has had to be re-thought by the suits.

    When I first started working fo the call center, the boast that AOL had 35 million members was constantly thrown around (although those numbers were certainly padded by including people who had inadvertently “spun off” a sub account with a deceptive AOL popup in the equation). Now they’re struggling to regain any relevance they once had, and are looking to convert into an ad-supported service.

    They brought it upon themselves.

    Sorry. Rant over.