Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Goodbye, AOL, and Good Riddance...

I just had a long talk with AOL.

During which, I heard out two of the sharkiest salesmen I've ever run across. And that's saying something.

I've been trying to have this talk for several weeks. See, when we got the new laptop, it came with one year free AOL for Broadband. So why did we need to keep the old AOL account?

We didn't. But I did want to keep my old email address. At least for a while, until I could get everyone notified...and get myself used to having a new email name.

Taking these things in baby steps is what keeps me working around my technophobia. Laugh all you want. It's okay.

Still, it didn't seem reasonable to pay $25.90/month for an email address. I'd heard broadband AOL was cheap, so I figured I could just pay a little pittance to keep my name.

But I couldn't get through on the phone.

I did NOT want to do this over the internet. See, you can't negotiate with a computer. You need a human for that. And I like to negotiate. Not everyone does. It used to be how I made a living.

Besides...Tonight, despite killer allergies, I was *in voice.* Negotiating using the deep voice, the real one, is much more effective than the squeaky version. Fun.

Over the last several weeks, I called and called AOL. I got put on those long holds, 45 minutes, 2 hours, whatever. I put them on speakerphone and went about my business. Doesn't bother me a bit. I'm stubborn and I want to do this my way.

But sooner or later I have to go pee or something, which is always RIGHT when they answer; or the phone just cuts off...So I wait, and try again.

Tonight, talking to the bank, I found a charge from AOL for $3.95. ?!? Now I'm pissed. I see it's from *AOL Special Services.* With a DIFFERENT PHONE NUMBER! Halleluia!

I call. The charge was for an AOL Privacy Wall.

I really don't think Walter would have signed up for this if he knew it was $3.95 per month. Even if he did, I was pissed off enough by now that I didn't want AOL keeping $3.95 of my money that they didn't deserve.

See, when they make it impossible to reach them for a month, they get to charge you more money. That's an entire month's fee right there. They aren't dumb. This behavior - apparently only rude - is no accident.

The Special Services rep answered the phone pretty fast, and was very nice. He promised to take off the $3.95 and never to charge it again. Also, that it wasn't ever charged in the PAST. Just in case it slipped by me, ya know.

I explained how I'd been trying to call to change my service and not getting through. Oh! he can get me through right away! Please hold, I'll transfer you...

I was on hold again for almost exactly one hour.


When the extremely obsequious rep answered, I told him I really felt sorry for him. After not getting through for a whole month, and waiting on hold for so long, of course we customers would be really irritated. Naturally. And who would we take it out on? The only available ear: Yours. And you yourself didn't have anything to do with it at all! You didn't make this policy. Your employer is truly mistreating you.

He laughed and sort of agreed - clearly uncomfortable - and I said I knew he couldn't really answer that. So let's see if we can take care of my call, okay?

Now: I have a new laptop with broadband and a year's free AOL For Broadband. I don't need anything from my old account except to keep my old email address. How much will that cost?

Whereupon he immediately went into a sales pitch.

Fending off this barrage was quite a chore. What I'll write here is maybe 5-10% of the actual sales pitch stuff. And just to let you know, during this entire call, I did not raise my voice one single time. I got emphatic here and there, but by using my voice in other ways than yelling.

Fencing on specific sales pitches was pretty easy. The biggest drive seemed to be on security features; so if you're a stock market buff, you may see them going for increased profit margins on that.

I just let him know that security was Walter's purview, that I had complete implicit and explicit faith in his security measures, and wouldn't begin to know how to change anything even if I were willing to, which would never ever happen. I only had to repeat this three or four times. Good.

Otherwise, I mostly tried to refocus him. I used simple phrases like, --No, the only thing I want to discuss is how to keep my email address. How much will that cost? and, --No no. Not interested. What's the least I can pay to just keep my old address?

Finally!!! From the greasy depths of his slimy soul, I wrenched an actual number!!!

--$17.95/month! First month free! no charge until June 19!

--What? No. That's pretty steep, don't you think? Just for an email address? No.

--Can you please hold kindly for me while I speak to my supervisor? I see you've been a customer for 5 years and 8 months and...(blah blah blah...hold...he returns...)


--That's better.

--Yes ma'm and will you please kindly consider...

--Wait. Where's my free month?

--Oh! Oh yes, free until May 9!

--No, it was supposed to be June 19.

--Can you please hold kindly for me while I speak to my supervisor? I see you've been a customer for 5 years and 8 months and...(blah blah blah...hold...he returns...)

--Okay! Here's what I can do for you! Free service until June 29! Then continuing AOL service for as long as you wish! Now let me put you on with an independent verifier!


The sound of the words, *Independent Verifier*, are music to my ears.

Think on this. A person who is Not a Salesman. Oh, my poor ears!

The Independent Verifier tells me, --Free service until June 19, then $25.90/month.

--No no no. It was supposed to be $9.95/month, free until June 29. Two things wrong right there.

--Oh. Well, I'm just allowed to see what they give me, they gave me $25.90. I mean, I can't check what you're telling me, I'm not an AOL employee.--

Oh, music! This really IS an Independent Verifier. Only a lawsuit could have made AOL agree to this. Thank you, Goddess of Torts.

--Okay. Thanks. Switch me back to AOL. Wait -- I understood them to mean it was month-to-month, did they give you any info about a longer term contract or anything?


--Would they have to? For verification?

--Yeah, I'd think so, I'm pretty sure they would.

--Okay, thanks.

The next AOL rep was just as obsequious but not nearly as sweet.

I explained to him that I was pretty angry. --AOL just tried to screw me twice in a row: on the monthly charge, and on the free service period. I don't like that. No one likes to get robbed. Do you understand me?

Plus! I have a question: Was this also in conjunction with a long-term contract?

--No not really!

--Oh. So I can cancel any time with no penalty?

--Oh, only a small one.

--Excuse me? So there IS a penalty, huh? What exactly does this *continuing service* refer to please?

--Oh, only six months continuing service! very small time frame! But really we can make the penalty only very small! only $9 if you sign up for...

--Okay. Stop right there. Now I'm really REALLY pissed off, all right? Now AOL has just tried to screw me 3 times. That's it. No more. I've been a customer for 5 years 8 months and I will never, ever, ever pay AOL one single penny more, for the rest of my life. I'm quite serious about this. I'll also report AOL to whatever regulatory bodies govern them. But that's a job for tomorrow.--

Understand, he's squealing objections and Special Offers and Let's Discuss the whole time.

--No. That's it. Cut my service off. NOW. All I wanted was to keep my old email address for some nominal fee and you all took this as an opportunity to screw me.


--No. My patience is gone. It's all used up. That's IT. Cut me off, NOW. AOL is no longer authorized to bill me again, EVER, for anything. Got that? And if this means I'm now breaking some made up phony Continuing Service Non-Contract, go ahead and sue me. I will GREATLY enjoy ripping you people to shreds. I really will.


--Obviously there is. Because I'm telling you to CUT ME OFF RIGHT NOW AND DON'T EVER BILL ME AGAIN, and every time I say that you don't acknowledge it. Do it. Do it. RIGHT. NOW. THIS. MINUTE.

--but madam...!!!



--All right. Your service will be canceled and there will be no further charges.

--Thank you! There! you SEE? That was all I needed to hear. We're actually DONE! Finished! Yay! Now doesn't that feel better?

(gleefully dripping slow syrup in his wounds)

--But madam if you will just have the patience to listen to me...

--Excuse me?-- (I'm simply curious here:) --Are you actually going to try to sell me something again?

--No madam I must tell you some things in closing...

--You have precisely 30 seconds. Speak.

--Okay. But then please if you will listen afterwards to our recorded legal disclaimer...

--Okay. Speak.

--Okay. Even though you are severing your long relationship with AOL there are still some things that AOL will continue to offer. For instance you will still be able to access your email and other features as shown on our website, AOL.COM, at no charge...

I speak very softly: --Stop now. Are you telling me that my old email address - the only thing I was trying to keep - was going to be available to me for free? And you folks did everything you could to charge me for it? When I specifically asked what was the least I could pay to just keep my email address?

--Well it would seem that way, yes ma'm.

--That's the fourth time you folks tried to rip me off tonight. In one night. In the space of about a half-hour. That's it. I have nothing further to say to you.

--Yes ma'm now here is your cancellation confirmation number: 065-513-8471. Now please listen to our tape recorded legal disclaimer...

--Oh, you BET.

By now, I really WANTED to hear this legal disclaimer. This could be very interesting.

I heard a bunch of noises and shuffling sounds in the background. But...no disclaimer. Finally the rep came back on the line.

--I'm sorry we seem to be having technical difficulties so you cannot listen to our legal disclaimer.


Fifth time in one night.


Desert Cat said...

They're not called "AO-Hell" for no reason. Good luck actually getting them to stop billing you. And I've heard it is nearly impossible to exorcise them from a computer once the account has been activated.

If'n I was you, I'd reformat the hard drive and start with a fresh install of the operating system and files. Your mileage may vary...

k said...

That sounds like a good idea, actually. But it'll wait for a bit, for two reasons: it's Walter's purview - I truly am a genuine lameass in this area - and, we have a free AOL account we'll be using for a few more months.

Plan is...was...to use that time to wean myself off AOL. For this 'phobe, using the familiar tools makes a big difference. I want to get away from them, but gently.

Of course, this recent experience has made that MUCH easier. I just spent the entire day making sure I saved everything from my original AOL files, eight ways from Sunday.

Motivated now, see.


laurie said...


I cannot emphasize this loudly enough. Trust me on this one. I sympathize with all you went through on the phone.

GUYK said...

Laurie is right--keep checking your credit cards. I dropped AOL years ago and didn't think I was having any problems with them. But six months after I dropped them my CPA asked me why AOL was billing me again..they has started billing me on the credit card again. I finally called the credit card company and stopped any payment to AOL. I am not part of the class action suit against them for slamming. ( I didn't know I was until I got a letter from a lawyer telling me that I was)

k said...

A class action suit! I hadn't heard, but I'm certainly not surprised. Their actions are really soooo over the line.

You guys are right about the cards. After that post, I called the two banks they charged to challenge the charges. A day later, I decided to go further and cancelled both cards completely. They may possibly try an ACH but they were never authorized for that, so that one's easy to fix.

Both accounts are on debit cards. This gives me different protections, which is good, plus I follow my bank accounts carefully, usually every day.

I used to deal with financial crooks for a living. So talking on the phone to them was fun, in a certain odd way. But I'll tell you, AOL is way up there with the worst I've ever dealt with. And considering my years investigating financial fraud, I've seen some fine scams.

Next week I'll start a round of complaints with the State of Florida. I'll keep y'all...




hee hee! sorry. couldn't help it!