June 20, 2006

The secret to convincing a service corporation to do anything outside the assembly line is documentation, patience, patience, and more patience. The best I ever had to deal with was in convincing a major corporation to shift an existing structure for fundraising to a specific end: that one took only four hours to climb the corporate ladder to the person who had the power to say "Yes". The worst I ever had to deal with was trying to convince a credit card company and my bank alike that yes, my bank had just bounced a certified cheque. That one took two solid weeks to obtain results (restoration of all service charges, bounced cheque removed from my credit file, cost of long distance in sorting it out) ... and even then and after full documentation, many people involved still act as though I were making up the whole thing.

What Vincent Ferrari went through was considerably less than that: but he was trying to cancel an account, and he had the presence of mind to tape it.

Which is harder, to convince a corporation that they are wrong, or to cancel an account with that corporation? (Is there any essential difference in the gut response, as entrenched in the standard scripted service response?) Anger does not help, tears do not help. Staying on message without emotional investment (easier than simply without emotional reaction) is the only approach that has ever consistently worked for me and for those I have spoken to, and Ferrari uses the same technique quite competently. Then again, he had the hidden satisfaction of knowing he was taping the conversation and would release it into the public domain -- and in the end the AOL representative has managed to do what he wants without ever once admitting that the corporation may have fallen short in any way.

The sheer difficulty of cancelling an account also first-hand demonstrates one of the hurdles to a truly free market among large corporations. How many consumers would truly seek out the cheapest, most reliable service for their needs, when cancelling a different service requires this much hassle? How many of us would not simply bite the relatively small per-month fee for a service we no longer find useful, as a relatively small price for not having to struggle further against a massive corporate inertia entirely designed to keep us from leaving?

It is the height of hypocrisy that the representative was fired over this. After all, he was just doing exactly what the corporation had scripted for him, and he was doing it well. I wonder if anyone outraged over AOL practices was self-honest enough to separate out the minimum-wage employee from his required practices, especially someone who was able to offer him a new job?


AOL REPRESENTATIVE: Hi, this is John at AOL. How may I help you today?
VINCENT FERRARI: I wanted to cancel my account.
AOL: Sorry to hear that. Let's pull your account up here real quick. Can I have your name please?
VF: VF Ferrari.

CLOCK READOUT - 00:30


AOL: You've had this account for a long time.
VF: Yup.
AOL: Use this quite a bit. What was the cause of wanting to turn this off today?
VF: I just don't use it anymore.
AOL: Do you have a high speed connection, like the DSL or cable?
VF: Yup.
AOL: How long have you had that --
VF: Years ...
AOL: -- the high speed?
VF: ... years.
AOL: Well, actually I'm showing a lot of usage on this account.
VF: Yeah, a long time, a long time ago, not recently ...

CLOCK READOUT - 01:47


AOL: Okay, I mean, is there a problem with the software itself?
VF: No. I just don't use it, I don't need it, I don't want it. I just don't need it anymore.
AOL: Okay. So when you use this, I mean, use the computer, I'm saying, is that for business or for ... for school?
VF: Dude, what difference does it make? I don't want the AOL account anymore. Can we please cancel it?

CLOCK READOUT - 02:21


AOL: Last year was 545, last month was 545 hours of usage ...
VF: I don't know how to make this any clearer, so I'm just gonna say it one last time. Cancel the account.
AOL: Well, explain to me what's, why ...
VF: I'm not explaining anything to you. Cancel the account.
AOL: Well, what's the matter, man? We're just, I'm just trying to help here.
VF: You're not helping me. You're helping me ...
AOL: I am trying to help.
VF: Helping ... listen, I called to cancel the account. Helping me would be cancelling the account. Please help me and cancel the account.
AOL: No, it wouldn't actually ...
VF: Cancel my account ...
AOL: Turning off your account ...
VF: ... cancel the account ...
AOL: ... would be the worst thing that ...
VF: ... cancel the account.

CLOCK READOUT - 03:02


AOL: Okay, 'cause I'm just trying to figure out ...
VF: Cancel the account. I don't know how to make this any clearer for you. Cancel the account. When I say cancel the account, I don't mean help me figure out how to keep it, I mean cancel the account.
AOL: Well, I'm sorry, I don't know what anybody's done to you, VF, because all I'm ...
VF: Will you please cancel the account.

CLOCK READOUT - 03:32


AOL: All right, someday when you calmed down you're gonna realise that all I was trying to do was help you ... and it was actually in your best interest to listen to me.
VF: Wonderful, okay.

- The original tape


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