Tuesday, July 04, 2006



I must admit to getting a good laugh out of this article. The whole notion of “up-selling” is one that goes WAY into the extreme here … its one thing to try and convince paying customers to spend a bit more, but something else entirely to be forcing cancellations to spend so long on the phone.

The original blog article is fascinating, but I think the Amherst piece delves a it deeper into things. Interestingly, this is a practice that AOL is not only known for, but have been legally chastised for in the past …

In 2004, AOL signed an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission about problems related to — care to make a guess? — subscriber’s requests for cancellation. That was followed last year with an “assurance of discontinuance” reached with Eliot Spitzer, the New York attorney general, concerning — yes — subscriber’s requests for cancellation. In both cases, investigations had revealed that AOL practiced a strange form of customer service, continuing to bill subscribers who had called to cancel, and had thought that they had done so, but who were marked down as “saved.”

Further, even after this incident, AOL made no moves to change this policy. They did institute some cosmetic changes to the amount of annoyance they will subject cancelling customers to, but the fact that they refused to explicitly rule out annoying the customers is key. AOL defends the practice by saying “The customers’ calls to cancel provide the company with an opportunity to lead customers to services or features they had not known about, enabling them, Mr. Graham said, to “find their Eureka moment” or to accept a tempting offer of a lower price.”

While all that is admirable from a marketing perspective, its simply bad business to FORCE your customers to take an exit interview when they call to cancel. Its worth noting that, as pointed out in the Amherst piece, other ISP’s seem to do fine with customer retention even with providing a “Cancel” button that allows them to cancel quickly, easily, and without the required interview from AOL. One wonders how many times it will take of customers saying on the exit interview that being forced into an exit interview is bad customer service, before AOL takes the hint and actually uses the data being collected from their customers to change their system for the betterment of those customers.

In the end, its worth noting that AOL has received a clear and definite bit of data from their exit interview with Vinny … customers like simple ways of cancelling things. One wonders why an upstart company like Netflix can get away having an easy to use cancellation policy, when AOL can’t? The difference is, Netflix is relying on the fact that if you offer customers a good product at a reasonable price, they will tend to buy it and not cancel … AOL needs to take a page from that book and look at what its offering existing customers as a way of learning how retain leaving customers. Forcing the customers who are already upset and wanting out to answer your questions isn’t going to win you any points, either with the person you are specifically annoying at the moment, or the millions who will read or listen to their account after they hang up.

Remember … the customer is always right. Even when you know the customer is wrong, you have to treat them like they are right. Even if that means letting them go … when you start to assume your customers are wrong, you have a lot more problems than an exit interview will solve.


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