AOL Already Planning To Go Free Well Before Vincent Ferrari Came Along

This gut-spilling from a former AOL employee helps confirm what we suspected all along: While it definitely spurred them to action, AOL already had the plan to switch over to a free, browser-based, ad supported system well in hand before Vincent’s call blew up.

Check it out, inside…

Anonymous former AOL employee writes:

Another change that occurred was the Saves queue abandoning long held policies (which you have already seen in the training material) although the reason wasn’t solely due to the Ferrari call.

The timeline here is a little jumbled, but from what I recall the company had already decided to move to the ad-revenue based Free AOL by the time the Ferrari call made such a splash. The reasons were plentiful, but all the corporate doublespeak boiled down to “We’re hemorrhaging members!!! No one wants our “services”, and the gadzillion bucks we spent on all those flashy commercials set us back and we’re still not tricking people into paying for our re-wrap internet.”

Some of the other behind the scenes changes going on were:

* Member Exodus led to lower revenues and lower profits.

* To maximize on the profits that were coming in, internal employees (who had benefits and higher wages) were being phased out in exchange for new call centers overseas where outsourced employees (who had no benefits
and miniscule wages) would “provide the same excellent customer service at low low prices” [sarcasm mine].

* When this began going into effect and the Jacksonville, FL call center was closed, the official excuse was that members were becoming more savvy and weren’t calling in as much so the jobs weren’t necessary so the company closed the call center. What they didn’t mention was that they then opened several new centers and hired new employees to do the same jobs out of the country.

* So if the members are becoming savvy enough to help themselves, and the call center employees that were fired were no longer needed, why were they replaced by outsourced employees in new call centers around the world?

* Wouldn’t the company have been a bit more credible saying, “Yes we closed all the internal call centers and fired all the internal call center employees to reduce costs in light of diminishing revenue.”

The Vincent Ferrari call certainly lit a fire under the right asses to get the ball rolling, but the plan was already drawn up and ready to go before hand. It actually served AOL’s interests in a way because the company hid behind the view that the call centers were closing due to the Saves queue being phased out. In reality the Saves queue was already undergoing changes and was now known as the MRM (Member Retention Management) queue and is still around. The call center closures in Ogden, Albuquerque, Tucson, and Jacksonville did not only affect Saves reps, but also Tech, SUBP (Sign Up By Phone), Billing, and others.

AOL didn’t spend any time in correcting the perception that the sites were closed because of the Vincent Ferrari call and the sudden focus on “Member Satisfaction.” In fact, AOL was applauded by some for eliminating Saves (which they hadn’t done).

It was odd to witness from the inside because AOL is a place of constant contradiction. For years consultants were told on the one hand to provide a “World class customer support interaction” and on the other to keep call times low, pitch products like Video Professor, and adhere to policies that effectively prevented the consultant from providing satisfactory customer service.


Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.