AOL Made Reps Give Out One Piece Of Tech Support At A Time, Making Customers Call Back Again And Again, And Get Upsold Every Time

A former AOL tech support rep confesses one of the worst parts about his job. AOL had a policy called “One Call/One Resolution” which basically meant that they were only supposed to dole out ONE troubleshooting step when you called. Then they were supposed to pass you off to someone who tried to upsell you to DSL or some video computer courses. The result was that customers had to call in call in call in, just to get the most basic problem solved.

AOL didn’t care, they just wanted more opportunities to pitch their cross-marketed crap.

Read his tale, inside…

Anonymous former AOL employee writes:

o Part of Member Connect for tech support was called “One Call/One Resolution” which sounded great, right? Call once and get your problem fixed. Sadly, this policy was more literally named. When you call, you get one attempt to fix the issue, then you have to call back. Here’s how this crowd-pleaser worked:

+ Consultant: “Thank you for calling America Online, my name is [Corporate Drone]. How can I help you have an even better online experience?”
+ Member: “Well I can’t get online.”
+ Consultant: “I’m sorry to hear that, I’ll be happy to help you with that issue. Have you restarted your computer since the problem began?”
+ Member: “No, I didn’t know if I should do that.”
+ Consultant: “No trouble at all, If you could please restart your computer, I’m confident that will resolve your problem. Here is a case number if you ever need to call us back for any other issues. Now before I let you go, I wanted you to know that AOL has arranged for you to receive a free computer lesson from Video Professor, I’ll transfer you now for more information. Ok?
+ Member: “Aren’t you going to stay with me and make sure this works? “
+ Consultant: “I’ll transfer you now. Thank you for calling AOL and have a great day.”

o …One Call/One Resolution meant that when you received a call from a member you were only allowed to do ONE STEP in Sherlock before you had to end the call. HOWEVER, you weren’t allowed to tell the member that, nor were you allowed to tell the member that you weren’t allowed to tell the member. It made for heartbreaking interactions with people who had called multiple times in the same day who continued to be processed through the ringer rather than helped at all. Techs were particularly vocal about this policy, they hated it because from their perspective, they were there to fix the problem the member called about. Unfortunately, the ones who actually stayed on the line and fixed the issue were cited as failing to comply and written up. YES, written up for fixing the problems the members called about if they performed more than one troubleshooting step to get to the fix.

Another drawback was that a simple issue took forever to fix because the member had to keep calling back in after every step. From the revenue side of things this was explained as a perfect way to increase the number of “Smart Transfers” that could be sold.

+ Smart Transfer was a program whereby each customer who called would be pitched some product as a “member benefit.” Video Professor and various others were pitched to every caller.

o The criteria for complying with Member First was a) Number of calls per hour b) Member Satisfaction c) Smart Transfer Rate and d) Attendance, but they were not all weighed equally. Actually, calls per hour and smart transfer rate were the most important.

It was clear that in order to not get written up you had to crank out as many calls as possible while selling products you had no faith in. People with 100% member satisfaction were fired for not hitting the metrics because they didn’t take enough calls per hour, or didn’t sell enough Smart Transfers. To make it even harder the policy changed again and you were not allowed to mention the Member Satisfaction survey that was sent at the end of each call, so even when you did fix the problem the focus was more on the shortness of the call and a successful sale than the member’s satisfaction.

Here’s a look into the mind of a consultant (myself) while performing a Smart Transfer:

o Consultant thinks to himself: “Shit, the call is ending and I fixed the problem, but it took twelve minutes and was supposed to be under 7:30, but at least I got it fixed… so I’ll mention the Member Satisfaction Survey so I’ll at least get that going for me. Dammit, that’s right, I’m not allowed to mention the member satisfaction survey anymore… oh well, at least I fixed the problem and if they get the survey they’ll be sure to give me an excellent rating.”
o Member: “Hey, that’s great! It’s working now. Thank you!”
o Consultant: “You’re very welcome, glad I could get that fixed for you.”
o Consultant then clicks the mandatory Smart Transfer button since you cannot click the “End Call” button until you’ve pitched the Smart Transfer… silently praying he won’t have to pitch Video Professor to another eighty year old who thinks he’s great because he actually fixed the problem.
o Consultant thinks: “FUCK. It’s a Video Professor pitch, it’s a damned shame that I actually care about these people who call in, it’d be a lot easier to sell this crap if I didn’t know exactly how this will play out. Oh well… here goes.”
o Consultant reading script verbatim as required: Before I let you go, AOL has arranged for you to receive a computer lesson from Video Professor and a chance to receive a free digital camera. Please stay on the line for more details, OK?
o Member: Sure, thanks again.
o Consultant Transfers the member to Video Professor.
o Consultant in revulsion with himself: “Yeah, free computer lesson my ass. If I didn’t have to read that damned script verbatim I could actually have told her this instead: AOL is getting paid to force me to send you to Video Professor for a free computer lesson. Well, free if you somehow manage to follow the hidden rules I’m not allowed to mention to you. For example the lesson will be sent to you in a package with three lessons, and you have to keep one of them and send the other two back within ten days. Oh, and you have to pay for the return yourself. Oh, and it’s not ten days from when you receive it, it’s ten days from when it is mailed out to you. Oh, and you’ll also have to make sure it arrives back to them before the ten days, and isn’t just post-marked before the ten days. Otherwise you’ll get hit with a charge for $69.95, and another one next month, and the month after, because they’re gonna keep sending you new lessons that you’ll have to keep sending back at your own expense to ensure that you aren’t charged again. Why do I keep doing this job again?”

ARchived: ValuPoint Transfer Offers and Rebuttals

Follow these guidelines the next time a member hesitates to accept a ValuPoint Transfer offer.

Last Updated On: 6/7/05
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Many of you have asked about using rebuttals during ValuPoint Transfer offers. Rebuttals are not mandatory in ValuPoint Transfer opportunities, but if you do want to offer a rebuttal to a member make sure it does not specify anything in general or take away from the meaning of the script. Why not try these recommended rebuttals:

If the member asks a question about the offer:

“I don’t have all the details, but let me bring someone on the line who does, okay?”

If the member seems unsure of accepting the offer:

“This is a great benefit for our members so let me bring someone on the line to give you the details, okay?”

Remember: You are not selling the product for the partner or doing anything more to the member except raise their level of interest.Trying to do more than that risks creating a negative experience or providing wrong information to the member.

Following these simple suggestions will help your Transfer effectiveness and help keep the Member experience the best it can be!

Archived: Current ValuPoint Scripts

Our current scripts, all in one place.

Last Updated On: 11/27/06
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Here are the current scripts for ValuPoint. Each entry also has script non-compliant reasons that apply to that particular offer.

More general non-compliant reasons can also occur on any call. Improperly Set Expectations can occur if you give a time guarantee, or present as a personal favor or gender-specific reason. The two blind transfer reasons are; if the member does not know they are being transferred, or the member does not verbally accept being transferred.

Video Professor

Before I let you go, AOL has arranged for you to receive a computer lesson from Video Professor and a chance to receive a free digital camera. Please stay on the line for more details, OK?


Before I let you go, I want to let you know that you may qualify for one of our great broadband offers. I am going to connect you to a specialist to see which offers are available, OK?

HSIO Cable

Before I let you go, I want to let you know that you may qualify for one of our great broadband offers. I am going to connect you to a specialist to see which offers are available, OK?

Verizon DSL

Before I let you go, I want to let you know that you may qualify for one of our great broadband offers. I am going to connect you to a specialist to see which offers are available, OK?

Time Warner Cable-AOL Bundle

Before I let you go, I want to let you know that you may qualify for one of our great broadband offers. I am going to connect you to a specialist to see which offers are available, OK?

o Now you’d think that since member satisfaction was the goal that this wouldn’t be very effective, but AOL loved Member First, just the way it was. In fact when asked about why the metrics were so very different than the originally proposed Member First, the reply was:

“Why change the performance measures?”
+ We want to reward the right people: our high achievers.
+ We want to align the metrics with our business imperatives. In other words, consultants will be measured on the same things that are important to member satisfaction.

…AOL never seemed to overcome the schizoid view of things like this. I suppose they were thinking, “If we call it Member First and then implement the policies in such a way that totally prevents any successful member interaction then the member’s satisfaction must increase!”



Edit Your Comment

  1. Trick says:

    AOL is a lot like the RIAA… they know their time is up and will do anything for that extra buck…

  2. suckonthat says:

    Funny, I was thinking that AOL is a lot like Republicans, naming their policies the complete opposite of what they actually do.

  3. BuddhaLite says:

    Something doesn’t jive with this story. If there’s a 7.5 minute call time and you only have the person do 1 step then you’re really looking at about 3 minutes. Four if the person is particularly slow.

    I mention this because 7 years ago I worked for a company in FL doing this same job. They had pretty much the same talk time standards and we had to attempt to fix the entire issue. On top of that we had to gain the persons permission to be transfered.

  4. davere says:

    I had a job once where they asked me to test their site using AOL. I explained that they just used IE with AOL icons and branding. They insisted.

    So they gave me a credit card, I signed up, tested it, and then it was time to cancel. As usual they gave me a hard time about it and it got kind of nasty to the point that the call sounded like that recorded call that has made the rounds.

    At the end of the call I was asked if I wanted to be transferred to someone else who had an offer through which I could get a free $20 gas card. Just what I wanted to hear after such as nasty call. I remember saying “you gotta be kidding!” and hanging up.

  5. Xeelee says:

    Well, these days we don’t have to transfer people to a specialist who will proceed to screw their wallets. However, they got this nifty idea of premium tech support that you have to pay for if you get tired of us common tech support agents.

  6. dbeahn says:

    I worked at AOL back in the 90’s (I started 2 weeks before the switch to “use all you want for $20 a month! and could tell you some horror stories about that. Anyone with tech experience was pulled out of the normal 16 week training program and thrown on the phone – including me, after just 2 weeks of training.)

    Back then, the policy was “No matter how long it takes, fix the problem.”. Didn’t matter if it was an AOL problem, a Windows problem, a DOS (!) issue – we fixed it. Call might be 5 minutes or 6 hours, it didn’t matter.

    We also weren’t required to try and “save” customers. So someone calling in to Tech support because the “haven’t been able to get online all month and want to cancel (gimme a free month)” we could just cancel and thank for their time. :)

  7. hop says:

    i had occasion to call oal for a hearing impaired friend who wanted to cancel his trial offer….the call turned into a 55 minute nitemare………finally got the thing cancelled……

  8. mikesfree says:

    Sisyphus! How awesome and subtle is that!

  9. spiritofseth says:

    haha this is a STREAM call center not AOL. I used to work there. its a joke trying to convince people to keep a service they can get for free easily.

  10. Gloria says:

    Mikesfree: I was going to comment on the same thing. Excellent illustration.

  11. Bpj says:

    I worked at AOL for 6 years (I left 2 years ago), they had a program called sherlock that was a flow type program. The user would put in the symptoms of the problem and then it would tell the phone operator what to say and do and after each step they have to let the caller go to cut back on call times. And they usually do transfer you over to some type of ‘great deal!’

    Sad thing is that when they were making the Sherlock program they made a team in each call center and we worked together for a few months to perfect the flow of the technical help. We had no idea we were working our selves out of a job because they were making the program so they could transfer tech help over to India.

  12. Buran says:

    “I hope the customer will give me good scores”?

    No. I’d be giving them a crappy score for not staying to make sure their fix worked, because that attitude makes them horrible tech support. They want the truth, they’ll get it. Fortunately, I was never stupid enough to use AOL.

  13. JILLIANSMAN says:

    My Wife worked at AOL in Tucson before they shut it down. She hated it. She used to tell me about how 90% of the time their “fix” to everything was uninstall and reinstall the AOL software. She was in a car accident on her way back to work from lunch one day and her supervisor told here because of it the “higher ups” were going contemplating firing her for it. When she got home she went online and messaged her supervisot that she would not be returning.