AOL: “You’re Fired For Doing Your Job. The Lawyers Were Listening.”

This site, when it all comes down to it, features the CSR as protagonist. Sometimes he’s the hero, bending company bureaucracy, flouting his own training because he feels sympathy. More often, he’s the anti-hero, speaking in circles and thwarting any attempt to get satisfaction from a customer. But it’s all about the CSR.

The CSR is not a Nazi lieutenant: “I was just doing my job the way they told me to do it” is a perfectly satisfactory answer, coming from them. Which is why, as much as we loathed John, the AOL CSR who fielded the now infamous Ferrari Call… we still understood he was actually an exemplary employee, performing his job to the letter. This impression was solidified into cold certainty when we got our hands on AOL’s retention manual. The problem in that call wasn’t John. It was AOL.

Which is what makes us feel sorry for John, or any other AOL CSR. Most of the time, when they are fired, they are fired for doing their job exactly the way they were told to do it.

Or take Bubba, for example, who was fired from AOL just because the lawyers happened to be listening to the call for proof of the fallacy that it is easy to cancel AOL. His story, after the jump.

So I saw the story you did on John and one of the posts I noticed was something about how AOL fights tooth and nail to not give out unemployment. This is true and the reason is because of the ungodly turnover rate. If even half of them got unemployment they would be losing money just because of that. Anyway about a year ago I was made a sacrificial lamb to the AOL demigods. I was doing my ‘saving’ one day when out of the blue my manager walks up behind me in my cubicle and told me he needed to see me after this call. He had another manager with him and so I got nervous because anyone who has seen two managers walk up to another employee you usually saw them go into a room and the employee would come out crying and escorted to the door or they weren’t seen again as they were escorted out the back way.

So I finish my call and we walk to the HR room where they sit down and proceed to tell me that I had taken a call and it wasn’t good one and that they were suspending me with pay for the day and they would make a decision in later that day as to whether I could return or not. Now I am no dummy so I knew that later that day they would call and tell me they decided not to continue my employment and yaddda yaddda yaddda. I had way too many friends who got screwed over the same way. In this meeting I was baffled – I asked them what call were they referring to. My manager’s response was that there was some lady who called and I made her mad and there were some people monitoring random calls and they needed to make this move. So I was totally baffled – I hadn’t had any of the “VINNY” caliber calls at all and was having so many emotions running through my head. So we ended the meeting and told me he would call me later that day to let me know the decision but he told me “it don’t look good for you though” with a smirk on his face. Well that evening about 5pm I got the call which I let go to Voicemail and they did say that they weren’t going to continue my employment and I was terminated and needed to turn in my badge and secure ID and that if I had any questions to call him. I had a ton of freaking questions like what I had done. No one really did tell me specifically what I had done and all afternoon from the time I was escorted out of work to the time of the voicemail I couldn’t think of any call and the call that I think he was referring to wasn’t bad at all. It was one that I had cancelled and not had a verbal battle with and the lady wasn’t mad – I wasn’t mad I made my required 3 saves attempts and cancelled the account.

So the next morning I called my supervisor and asked him what was going on and why I was terminated. He responded again with because of a bad call. I told him I didn’t have one bad call all day. He said it was some lady – so I asked him if he could be more specific on what happened in this call. He said that the call started off fine and then the lady got frustrated because I wouldn’t cancel it after my first saves attempt (which everyone does). Then I made 2 more saves attempts and she was still frustrated and supposedly a room full of people were listening to this call off site somewhere and they called for my head. So I told him that I don’t remember anyone getting upset – I asked him outright was the person mad or screaming – his response was ‘no’ – I asked if I was mad or screaming or condescending – ‘no’ – but she had just gotten frustrated and I didn’t cancel it right away – I told him that we can’t cancel it after the first saves attempt – that he required us to make 3 or more. His comeback was ‘well if the customer is insistent then you do it right away’ – but how can I know that after 1 attempt when you require 3 no matter what – ‘well we are very clear on this’ – I told him that it wasn’t real clear and this was a crock of shit. At that point I demanded to hear the call. He stated that it wasn’t recorded – I asked him if he heard it then and I wanted him to give his honest opinion and he said he never heard it as he wasn’t in the room with them. So I asked him who was and he wouldn’t tell me. So I asked him what happened at the end of the call – he told me that I cancelled the account and that everything was fine after that. So in my trying to figure out why I was fired I asked if I had made excessive attempts to cancel the account. He told me no that I had done my 3 – I asked him if the lady called back to complain about how bad I treated her if that was the case – he told me no. So I asked him if I put a false ‘save’ on the account – he told me no that I cancelled it correctly. I asked him if I had taken too long on the call ? He told me now it was 6 minutes. I asked him if he had any other calls recorded by their monitoring where I had a problem with this before and he told me no – none of the calls he listened to were bad at all. He just kept saying that those who listened to it made the call.

So I file for unemployment – knowing that they resist it but I think I have a pretty good case since I did everything I was supposed to do and they let me go. Their call not any fault of mine. So I fill out all the info and tell my side of the story. A few days later unemployment rep calls me and goes over the story again and I relay what happened. Then he says he would call me back. I thought that was odd but then it dawned on me – he had AOL HR on the other line and getting their story too. He calls me back 1 hour later and tells me that AOL was fighting it but after looking at their testimony and mine they did not at all provide anything compelling to support their argument that it was my fault. So I collected unemployment and about 4 months later I was speaking to an insider I knew at AOL and they told me the skinny. See the ‘people’ monitoring the call were some attorney’s who were with some AOL officials who were monitoring calls to make sure AOL was complying with one of their class action lawsuits. Evidently AOL was telling the lawyers who were getting ready to sue AOL that it was easy to cancel AOL. Now I also found out that there was a meeting that morning (that I missed due to mechanical problems with my car) and the supervisor told everyone that people would be listening and don’t do anything ‘dumb’ (wink wink) – what he meant was don’t do 3 saves attempts – make it look like to whoever was listening that no evil was being done. So they listened – heard the 3 saves attempts – and AOL’s response to them was that I was a rogue and I was terminated. When it couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact it was more of sell out job – AOL management doesn’t back anyone else on the bottom rung even if they are dead wrong. That is my story.


Edit Your Comment

  1. DeeJayQueue says:

    did you change the name of the blog to “The CSRist?” If not then last I knew it was still all about the consumers.

  2. Sounds like DJQ is volunteering for the steering committee.

    That’s an ungodly story there. You have to wonder who the insider is with the knowledge of lawyers listening in, but the rest is stone cold corporate cowardice.

  3. Paul D says:

    DeeJay, please post the URL of your website so we can all go there and tell you how to run it.


    I found this story fascinating. It very closely mirrors my firing from
    Lexmark about a year ago. I wasn’t a CSR, but I was unceremoniously
    terminated for dubious reasons (which the company refused to
    substantiate) and escorted out of the building.

    They also tried to fight my unemployment claim. But they found out the
    hard way that you can’t accuse an employee of something and then refuse
    to provide proof. Fortunately, the unemployment folks will usually side
    with the employee.

  4. Tiger says:

    Sounds just like the AOL I remember. Oh those were the days… Prozac…Lorcet…Valium…I am so glad I left 2 years ago.

  5. castlecraver says:

    I’d be interested to hear more about their “unemployment avoidance” tactics.

  6. If even half of them got unemployment they would be losing money just because of that.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t unemployment already come out of your pay while you’re employed? It’s really money they didn’t pay you for the Federal Unemployment Tax, not money coming directly from their pocket.

  7. mariser says:

    Paul D.,

    threadjack. so very sorry to call you out in a forum, but… are you the same “Paul D.” that was at the Tom Waits show at the Louisville Palace Monday night?
    just curious. I was at the same show and am also a former Lexmark employee. a bit of a coincidence.
    my email is mariser(at)

  8. GenXCub says:

    Rect, that may be state to state. In Nevada, unemployment is paid by insurance paid by the company. That may be a cost that is considered part of your cost to the company (i.e. your fully-loaded compensation – salary + bennies), but it is not taken from your salary here.

  9. GenXCub says:

    Rect, that may be state to state. In Nevada, unemployment is paid by insurance paid by the company. That may be a cost that is considered part of your cost to the company (i.e. your fully-loaded compensation – salary + bennies), but it is not taken from your salary here.

  10. I got fired from AOL? I didn’t even know I worked there.

  11. The only time I have been let go, was by a manager of a retail store, who just didn’t like me [I guess].

    Come to find out, he was fired and arrested a few months later when it was revealed he was stealing money from the store.

    The owner of the store ran into me later, and asked me to come back as manager, but I declined, since they never allowed me to contest my firing by said manager.

  12. Triteon says:

    The only thing good to say about AOL is that their call centers are still in the US, and not overseas.

  13. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    As far as steering Consumerist, I think that we as consumers have a greater advantage if we know all of a company’s dirty laundry. Keep ’em coming!

  14. Tiger says:

    Ummm… No. They have a 4 call centers in India.. 2 in Mumbai, 1 in Bangalore, 1 in New Delhi. Others in the Philipines(chat support), and South America. I worked in the one in Mumbai for a while.

  15. miss smith says:

    Rectilinear –
    There is no such thing as Federal Unemployment. The employer pays the insurance to a state run insurance agency. The employee does not pay any portion of the insurance whatsoever.

  16. Demingite says:

    This story seems to confirm that AOL never considered the New York lawsuit “feedback”: Their reaction was to just try to stay out of trouble, never fundamentally questioning their business model or business practices. They seemed to never question the loathsome practice of “retention” (instead of “improving quality”) as a means to make money. They also apparently resisted — until just recently — the option of scaling down their business, which would have been an honorable course.

    I disagree strongly with the first comment. These stories are extremely relevant to consumer matters. How CSRs are trained, and the climate of the company in which they operate, have a direct impact upon customer service, and the value a consumer receives or doesn’t receive from a given product or service.

  17. Sorry. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t feel sorry for John or Bubba or any AOL CSR who gets fired for this reason at all. He took a douchebag job and was paid to act like a douche to customers until the bigger douchebags higher up the ladder flushed him as a symbolic corporate gesture. BFD.

  18. Ass_Cobra says:

    Unemployment is a state to state deal, remember it’s insurance. Just like any other type of insurance, the more claims one makes the higher th premiums go. The increase in premium AOL would have to pay if all of their terminated employees collected unemployment would impact the bottom line substantially.

  19. OK, I totally misunderstood what I read here: