After we uploaded an AOL retention manual, AOL says “No Comment” to its authenticity in an article in today’s New York Times “What’s Online” section:
We conducted two phone interviews late this week with former AOL retention consultants. In their opinion, all that mattered at the call center’s was each operator’s individual “save” rate, the number of customers they prevented from cancelling their AOL accounts. When simple sales tactics didn’t work, consultants resorted to chicanery, mind games, and lying.
If a customer asked, “Will you bill me for this,” the consultant could reply no. The customer could hang up, thinking they cancelled. Instead, they were still billed, but not by the consultant, by AOL.
On other occasions, the consultant would tell the customer their account was cancelled and then simply not do it. Instead, they marked the account as saved.
Eventually, the customer gets his next credit card statement and calls back. He’s still being billed. He’s outraged. It’s very hard to convince this type of customer to stay, though the retention consultant will still try. Sometimes they’re successful, and then, sometimes they’re “successful.”
One interviewee painted a graphic portrait of conditions inside a call center. After being “buttered up” and told the job was easy in training, he started for real and learned the realities of dealing with angered customers. To cope, he and his team went out drinking every night. Some took out their stress on their wive’s faces. Others bought meth on the job and did it in the bathroom during lunch breaks. He claims that two of his coworkers went so far as to commit suicide, one by overdose, the other by self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Our subject claims he saw people have anxiety attacks, and his friend suffered a seizure right after failing to save a call. The team leaders told everyone to not notice it and keep working as the EMT’s arrived. He himself suffered an anxiety attack and was hospitalized. When he came back to work, AOL fired him. Walking out the back door into the Midwest sun, he felt more free than ever before.
Edited audio of these interviews will appear here in a matter of days