no more “you’ve got mail”

I just cancelled my AOL account, which is notoriously difficult to do. I’ve had the account, as the customer service technician noted with what sounded almost like awe, for about sixteen years, back before Quantum Computer Services was even known as America Online. I don’t even use AOL, and haven’t for years, except as a backup connectivity method–e.g., when travelling, or when visiting my Mom, where’s there’s nothing except AOL. But with ubiquitous hotel wireless and broadband when travelling, and the ability to use Mom’s account when I’m visiting her, there’s really no reason at all for me to keep paying for the service.

In 1996, when they moved to the $19.95 unlimited-use pricing, I had switched to a limited-use plan at $4.95/month for up to three hours, plus an additional per-hour charge for anything over that. However, I actually had so many free hours on credit with them from when I used to be a gm for one of their online games that I never had to pay more than the $4.95 base.

Recently, though, they sent me an email telling me that they were increasing the price to $6.95 and for some reason that finally felt like too much, so I decided to follow through on cancellation.

What a pain. There’s no way to cancel online or via email, nor could I find any information on the AOL service itself about how to go about the task. Thanks to the Internet, I benefitted from those who have gone before, and found the right toll-free number to call along with some tips on making the process slightly less painful. Even so, it took about 10-15 minutes (but at least not the 50 minutes others have reported. First you have to deal with an automated voice-recognition system that asks you for your name, screenname, phone number, answer to your security question and the last four digits of the credit card with which you pay for the service. Then you’re transferred to a queue for a customer support technician in India who asks exactly the same questions all over again, plus full mailing address. Why even have the automated system if I’m just going to have to repeat it all? Then there’s the repeated attempts to get you to stay–offering to switch you back to the lower rate, offering several free months of service, etc.; I wouldn’t have been surprised if the next offer had been to come over and paint my house. As a commenter to Lifehacker noted, the technicians ask you the same questions again and again and again, continuing to try to pressure you to keep the service, until after about the fifth time you say “No, I just want to cancel my account; I don’t want any special deals, I don’t want any free time; I don’t want to upgrade to AOL Broadband; I don’t want to answer any more of your questions. I just want to cancel my account. Now.” Finally you get a confirmation number, and a warning–repeated to me six times–that you have to stay online through a legal disclaimer before the service can really be cancelled.

So keep your fingers crossed and hope that the cancellation really takes. I’ve heard the horror stories of people who go through the cancellation process over and over only to find charges continuing to appear on their credit card statements month after month.

3 thoughts on “no more “you’ve got mail”

  1. Our attorney general went after them a couple of years ago for exactly that reason. They were supposed to knock it off, but I guess they’re still at it.

  2. Why oh why do I have to tell a computer something only to be asked the exact same question again mere seconds later! That always drives me crazy too – for me though it seems more common where I will have to punch numbers into the keypad and then get asked for the exact same thing. I try not to be overly rude about it since I am sure the poor sap I am talking to isn’t the one that designed the system but still… ridiculous!

  3. Oh, thank god I dumped AOL back in the early 90s when they let all those PC people online. I remember the days when it was AppleLink Personal Edition — I bet Apple wishes they’d never sold their share of it — when it was much more collegial. Then they opened the system to PC users, and it became a free-for-all sexatorium.
    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’d hesitate to pay for such a thing!

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