Customer Service Reps who won't let you quit!

I finally gave into curiousity the other day and took one of the dozens of AOL CDs that arrive in the mail and signed up for a free 30 day trial. Nothing all that surprising…annoying voice, saying you got mail, etc. After a few days of poking around, I was ready to quit.

So I call the AOL cancellation desk and tell them I want to stop. The customer service rep asked, “why do you want to quit?” I don’t know exactly why but I didn’t feel like answering so said “I don’t want to answer the question.” I was surprised when the customer service agent persisted. This exchange went on for more than a minute with the rep becoming more insistent which made we less and less willing to say anything.

I finally said, “Because I think AOL is in league with Satan.” Surprisingly enough it actually got them to stop. :rolleyes:

What’s the deal?!? Why wouldn’t the rep let me say no.? I mentioned this to a friend who recounted a similiar experience. I don’t understand why companies make customer service reps pursue stuff after someone has clearly said no…its almost as bad as Radio Shack asking for my zip code!

Not that I like them or anything, but it’s because it’s their job to keep customers, and because sometimes this works. A former coworker of mine once talked about how many times she renewed her AOL account because she felt bad when questioned about her reasons to want to leave.

Ah yes, “customer retention.” My company is starting up such a department in the near future. Of course it’s in the company’s best interest to retain an existing customer and it’s usually easier to keep a customer than generate a new one. It’s entirely reasonable to have the rep ask why you’re cancelling. Maybe it’s for something they can fix easily to keep you happy. What I can’t stand is when you tell them clearly and distinctly that you’re not interested and they start to badger you. AOL did this to me when I cancelled last year after getting DSL. I called to cancel, told them I had changed to DSL and no longer used the service and the rep kept after and after me. I finally said “do you have the information from me you need to cancel this account?” The rep said yes so I said “then I bid you good day” and hung up.

Of course six months later AOL started billing me again and refused to stop until I sicced my credit card company on them but that’s a story for another day.

The correct answer is “Because it’s not free any more.”

Follow with “If it continues to be free, I would be a loyal customer. I just don’t wanna PAY for it. If it will NOT be free, I wish to terminate my subscription, so as to not have to pay for it.”

There is no logical way out of this one.

Admittedly, from what I understand, they will simply keep billing you until you threaten legal action… but it WILL get the Customer Service rep off your butt, right then and there…

Don’t worry… in a week or so, they’ll call you up and offer you another free month.

Other times they’ll offer you free months/hours if you’ll agree to keep the service. I suspect they don’t make much money from their subscribers any more, most of their revenue (such as it is) comes from selling out their customers to advertisers and such. As such, all they really want to do is keep people on board. That’s why their CSRs are supposed to hassle you when you try to cancel. Back in the day it wasn’t even that easy to contact them – I remember when you could never get a hold of anyone on the phone, if you could even find a phone number for their customer service in the first place.

You’re right, they don’t.

Just tell them you no longer have a computer!


You sniped that post from me…though it was fair and square.

I had to tell AOL I sold my computer in order for them to accept my “resignation”.

The phone company was a whole different story. “I sold my phone” (which was actually true) didn’t seem to hold up.

This seems to be SOP now at AOL. (Hey what about a post of all acronyms, OK?)

Out here in the boonies, there is no local dialup number for AOL, but they use to give you AOL content for $9.95/mo if you used a local ISP. Then they raised the price a couple of time, to where it is now over $20/mo. $40/mo for AOL, on dialup, in the sticks, at 28.8 if you’re lucky. So the few who did that in my area cancelled (with no prodding from me, I swear!). When I lived in Philly and had AOL, it was a matter of calling up, cancelling, and they took you right out right away–2 minutes tops.

One guy ended up on a cursing tirade at them, one poor 79 year-old woman was with them on the phone for over a half hour, ending the conversation in tears, and one guy I work with just tried lying to them (after I gave him a heads up), and they were offering him more free months, a free modem, anything to keep him as a customer.

I guess they have been getting lessons from Best Buy (you know you need an extended warrenty with that!) on the hard sell.

AOL customer service helpline. How may I help you?

Hello, yes, I’d er, like to cancel my subscription please?

That’s fine. We can do that for you sir. Would it be ok if we asked you a few questions?

Yes, that would be fine.

Can I ask – why have you decided to cancel your subscription?

Fuck off.

I’m sorry?

I said fuck off.

There’s no need to be rude sir. We simply want to know why you would not like to continue using AOL.

I’m sorry, was I being rude? I didn’t mean to be.

OK, that’s fine. So why are you cancelling your subscription?

Fuck off.

Sir, there is no need to swear.

Did I swear? I am sorry.

Erm… Did you find a better ISP?


I suggest you find a better source than that article. I notice several obvious mistakes in it, but also a very misleading summary of the accounting. I wouldn’t trust this guy at all.

First of all, he claims AOL has 26 million subscribers. He’s only off by a mere nine million or so. I guess he forgot to factor in all the worldwide accounts, in addition to the 26 million US accounts. 26 + 9 = 35 million by my math.

Second obvious mistake: He apparently thinks that AOL Time Warner is composed of the AOL division alone, because he assigns 98 billion dollars of losses to the “26 million” customers that AOL has. Sheesh. Apparently he’s never heard of Warner Brothers or Time Magazine.

Accounting mistake: AOL didn’t actually lose that 98 billion dollars that he claims it did. Basically, AOL owes 98 billion to itself. So instead of paying itself, federal regulations say that they write it off. The reason that they had to do that was the decline in stock price since the merger. For a counterexample, say that a merger takes place with a one dollar stock value, which promptly rises to 50 bucks. The company, again according to federal rules, has to post a gigantic multi-billion dollar profit for the quarter.

All that said, AOL didn’t lose a dime. Morons like this guy inflate things greatly. AOL Time Warner had a large operating profit last year. On the books, they had to write down a loss. That’s all there was to it. The AOL division is still making many millions of dollars a quarter, to say nothing of the other divisions.

Oh, and by the way, AOL doesn’t sell out customer lists. They’ve admitted to selling partial lists to “trusted partners” a handful of times in the past decade or so, but that doesn’t happen anymore. Plenty of AOL revenue is derived from those 35 million internet accounts.

I tend to get annoyed by blatently false articles like that one. Even if this is the pit, the truth should be used, right? Almost that whole article is total BS. I wonder if he bothered to look up anything during his little rant. I’d be happy to write a paragraph by paragraph refutation somewhere else.

-Psi Cop

Accounting mistake: AOL didn’t actually lose that 98 billion dollars that he claims it did. Basically, AOL owes 98 billion to itself. So instead of paying itself, federal regulations say that they write it off. The reason that they had to do that was the decline in stock price since the merger. For a counterexample, say that a merger takes place with a one dollar stock value, which promptly rises to 50 bucks. The company, again according to federal rules, has to post a gigantic multi-billion dollar profit for the quarter.

Um, no.

The rise in stock price is never reflected on the books. Assets=Liabilities + Equity. When a company purchases another, AOL bought Time Warner, the difference of the book value vs. what was paid = something called goodwill, and it is accounted as an asset. Since the internet bubble burst, the value of that goodwill asset declined, and new accounting rules requires that companies write down the value of that asset. Hence the multi-billion dollar lose. Yes it is on paper, but it causes the value of the stock to decline.

AOL didn’t lose a dime…AOL Time Warner had a large operating profit last year.

Also, there is a big difference between profit and cash flow, and this statement would be more accurately stated as AOL Time Warner had a large cash flow. One can cook the books to show any type of profit you want (see Enron, WorldCom, et. al), but its money in the bank that pays the bills.

You basically restated what I did, in perhaps slightly more accurate terms. Fine, it was goodwill and not technically stock price. I’m still correct in what I said. Also, it doesn’t directly cause the stock to decline. The only thing that causes stock values to decline (or rise) is what people are willing to pay for it. It declined (after the announcement) because some people said “98 billion loss is bad, I’m bailing” and sold.

I didn’t say cash flow, though. I said operating profit. Certainly their cash flow was large, but I don’t really care about that. What I said was this:

(The amount of money recieved during the quarter [everything from monthly billing for AOL and Time Magazine to movie ticket sales]) - (The amount of money spent during the quarter to provide services [everything from maintaining the AOL servers and printing Time Magazine to paying movie production costs]) = (A large positive number [also known as profit]).

What they do with the profit is their business, whether using it to pay down debt or investing it in a new project. Either way, everything I said was correct (with you perhaps providing a slightly better term).

-Psi Cop

But I thought you said the 98 billion loss was due to the merger? The above quote seems to imply that it caused itself. I’m confused.

Hello. My name is Christian, and I’m … no, I can’t say it … alright! I’ll admit it! I’m a former AOL customer disservice representative! (Sob.)

I just wanted to confirm, in case anyone doubted it, that this is (or was, quite a few years ago) an explicit policy of AOL for their CSR’s. The scripts for cancellation calls included branches for people who didn’t want to tell you why they were cancelling, and for different reasons they might give. For each reason, there were escalating offers applying to that situation to try to get the customer to stay. For the uncommunicative customers, there were escalating chains of things to say to try to get them to tell you.

The official explanation given, in case there were any ethical employees who cared, was that the company needed the data collected in order to improve the areas of the service that were causing people to cancel. (Eg. if lots of people in an area were getting busy signals, they need more modems in that area, etc.) :rolleyes:

Anyway-don’t just say no, that’ll send the rep back up to the ‘no’ branch of their script. Find something that’s not on it-the ‘AOL is in league with Satan’ response was pretty good, I thought-and most CSR’s will give up, not having their script to guide them any longer.

I was able to cancel by telling the rep “We just moved, and we don’t have the Internet in our area yet.” They still tried to sell me on the $9.95 limited-use plan, but when I pointed out the logical fallacy in paying $9.95 for something I couldn’t use, they cheerfully cancelled my service.

I keep waiting for a charge from AOL to appear on my next credit card bill, once they figure it out.

Heh. My apologies. I guess I’m being a bit unclear. I’ll try to explain, but… first of all, simply speaking, you need a degree in accounting to fully understand this sort of stuff. Second, I don’t have a degree in accounting <smirk>. I don’t even have a good grounding in it, so my explanation might be a bit muddled.

The AOL-Time Warner merger was really AOL buying out Time Warner based on stock price. AOL stock was so high that it could agree to buy out every share of Time Warner stock using its own stock value as the “currency.” As I recall, it was arranged as a 55/45 percent merger. This means that the original AOL stockholders “spent” their stock to buy out Time Warner stock, which was promptly “destroyed.” AOL stockholders kept a 55% share of the total stock. I can’t really think of a good way to explain it; I apologize. Basically, just think of it as every piece of AOL stock being used to “buy” Time Warner stock. Therefore, AOL shareholders now owned 55% of the combined AOL Time Warner stock, instead of 100% of the AOL stock. This deal was approved by both boards for both companies.

Afterwards, for a variety of reasons, the combined AOL Time Warner stock sank a great deal. This much lower price was equivilent to the “currency” going into inflation and being worth a lot less. Therefore, federal accounting rules say that the decline in value has to be “paid back” to make it equal. The way that it gets paid back is to write it off as a loss for the combined companies… in this case, 98 billion dollars worth. That 98 billion dollars represents the decline of every piece of stock since the purchase was made.

Only the owners of stock can drive a price. If they buy in numbers, the stock price goes up. If they sell in numbers, the price goes down. It’s a case of supply and demand. For a variety of reasons, the stockholders decided that AOL stock wasn’t worth that much and began an exodus that drove the price down to where it is now, somewhere in the teens. That is what caused the 98 billion write off.

I have a feeling I’ve muddled the explanation badly, but hopefully you get the point. Maybe someone else should give it a try? Or heck, you could always try posting in GQ (ripping out this post entirely if you want) and seeing how close to the mark I am.

As an aside, this is why many Time Warner stockholders are upset. AOL gained a controlling share of the stock, which promptly sank down to quite a bit less than it was before for either company. Of course, since the Time Warner executives have almost total control of the board of directors, it more than balances. Remember that they agreed to it too, of their own free will. It wasn’t Case and Levin steamrollering it over them.

-Psi Cop

I work as a CSR in a place that does customer retention (not AOL, though). I thought it was kind of a pain but we don’t have to press them that hard. We actually have a lot of different plans and lots of flexibility, and it confuses people to present them with all right off the bat. We ask why they cancelled and if we can fix it, we do, or if they’ve had a hard time with our service, we try to repair the situation. For most customers we never hear from them until they want to cancel so we have no idea if it’s a simple matter of they got a damaged package (we’d happily replace it) or if they’re getting too much stuff or they don’t know we can take them off of automatic credit card charges or whatever. It takes maybe a minute tops per customer and there are countless people that have thanked me for suggesting something. (In fact, some of the most thankful and nice people are saved accounts who like our product but are having a problem and often are afraid to ask if we can fix it.)

Yes, there are occasional fuckwits who take such absolute offense to the idea that we should even ask that they get nasty and mean about it. I usually say something along the lines of “The reason why we ask is because we can change (A, B, and C) and most of our customers don’t know we can do that, so we like to see if there is anything you’re unhappy with that we can help you with.”

I don’t really think it’s bad customer service. Yes, there is, of course, a limit to this that AOL has violated with me (forcing me to transfer around to tech support and all these random, and in a several cases, non-existent departments and navigating a phone maze for an hour). One or two questions to see if we can solve a problem is really all it is.