Seeya, AOL

I'm a bit late reporting on this, but the Web has been abuzz over an astonishing audio clip of a poor guy attempting to cancel his AOL account...and dealing with a passive-aggressive customer service rep who somehow both fulfills every negative stereotype and does things I wouldn't have imagined an employee of a large company doing until I heard the clip. Read about it and listen here, but be forewarned that the AOL abuse leads the customer to say a PG-Rated Bad Word towards the end.

After listening to the clip, and thinking about reports of it being darn tough to get AOL to terminate accounts in general, it dawned on me: It was time, finally to cancel my own AOL account, which I've had since about 1992.

AOL was never my primary route to the Net, and for many years, I've been grandfathered into a plan that offers only three hours a month, for US$4.95. I kept it because I wanted to check out AOL features from time to time for my PC World work, and because AOL's international network of dial-up numbers is pervasive. But lately, everything of interest that's come out of AOL has been available to the Net at large, and it's been a long time since I've had to rely on dial-up when I've been abroad. Five bucks isn't much--but at this point, it's five bucks I don't need to spend.

So I called to cancel last night, wondering it would be a cakewalk or a nightmare. It turned out to be something sort of inbetween. I wrangled with a voice-recognition system that tried to recognize my screen name but couldn't, and finally reached a real person who was courteous...but who was clearly under instructions to try to talk me out of leaving AOL, and who seemed oblivious whenever I went off script.

She asked me if I had a high-speed connection yet (moving to broadband being, presumably, a huge reason why people depart AOL). Feeling ornery, I refused to answer. She said, "You've been a member for 14 years, right?" I got combative and said I didn't know. She began to offer me some sort of deal in recognition of my long relationship with AOL--which she now said we'd enjoyed for 13 years--and I asked again for her simply to cancel the account. At that point, she complied.

AOL isn't the only villain here; these days, Corporate America seems to take an awful lot of consumer requests that should be simply obeyed as opening shots in a process of negotiation and give-and-take. (I don't know how many times people behind the counter at movie-theater popcorn stands have tried to upsell me to a vat of popcorn and refused to take my "no thank you" as the last word on the subject.)

But it's still a bummer of a way to end by far the longest relationship I've ever had with an ISP.

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Harry McCracken

PC World
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