AOL’s “Customer Service John” Only Following Orders

The Consumerist was sent anonymously a copy of the AOL Member Connection Retention Manual, which proves that the annoying “Customer Service John” at AOL — who is “no longer works at AOL” according to PR Week — was treating “Vinny” precisely the way he was trained to do. His only mistake was flashing anger when Vinny wouldn’t let him follow the AOL script — a script designed to frustrate callers who want to cancel.

But “Customer Service John’s” anger is not what makes the recording of his call from Vinny so compelling. It’s the oddly disconnected way the rep tried to turn everything Vinny said back onto itself as a sales hook. The manual is evidence that this is what Vinny would have run into no matter who answered the phone at AOL. It was “Customer Service John’s” unlucky day.

Remember, AOL’s VP of corporate communications Nicholas Graham told PR Week that a company study showed one out of two people who called to cancel an account “ended up staying with the service (because they only needed troubleshooting help.)” That’s a dubious assertion if I ever heard one. But what Consumerist describes is worse than I imagined. Consumerist calls it “creepy,” and that’s hard to argue with.

The manual says:

If you stop and think about it, every Member that calls in to cancel their account is a hot lead. Most other sales jobs require you to create your own leads, but in the Retention Queue the leads come to you! Be eager to take more calls, get more leads and close more sales. More leads means more selling opportunities for you and cost savings for AOL.

This thinking is so bizarre: It takes work to even find the number you’re supposed to call if you want to drop your AOL service. My experience included a lot of trial and error clicking to find the right jargon that equated to “cancel my account.” So, already the caller has walked across a bed of coals to get someone on the phone who can remove this useless monthly charge from their credit card bill. This is a “hot lead?”

Read the whole thing. Thanks to New York University PR Forum for pointing to it. In their item, they ask readers to “predict what AOL will say next.” Not good.