I am an AOL person. Many people I know are gmail or hotmail people. A few are yahoo, and others are some variation of other internet services, all of whom have told me time and again that AOL is bad news. For some reason (I've always wondered) there are plenty of AOL bashers. But I am, and have been since the beginning of my email life, a member of AOL. Up until this week, I liked AOL.
Recently a friend mentioned that we don't have to pay a monthly fee for AOL anymore, that like hotmail, for example, we can get the service for free. Great! I got busy and canceled my payment plan. No more $24.95 per month for me! As of February 2011, I was saving money, or so I thought.
In checking my American Express bill this month I noticed that AOL was not only still charging me $24.95 a month, but they'd added some mysterious charge for $9.99. So now, since February, I've been paying $34.94 per month. Part of this is my fault as I wasn't paying much attention to the bills for the past few months. No problem, I thought. I'll just call them up! Take these charges right off the bill! Here's the conversation I had, after, of course, spending 15 minutes trying to get through to a human being:
Me: "Hi. I canceled my payment plan for AOL in February and am still getting charged."
AOL: "Let me check. Yes, I see you canceled your payment plan in February."
Me: "Well fabulous. Unfortunately, not only are you charging me $24.95 per month when you shouldn't be, but now you're also charging me $9.99 per month. So you now owe me $104.82."
AOL: "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I don't see that we're charging you."
Me: "I'm looking at my American Express bill, and you are in fact charging me."
AOL: "I don't see that."
Me: "I don't care that you don't see that. AOL is charging me."
AOL: "Please hold. I need to speak to a supervisor."
Two minutes of music.
AOL: "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but my supervisor doesn't see that we're charging you either."
Me: "Do you think I'm making this up?"
Me: "Then why do you keep saying that you aren't charging me? I got your telephone number, which is next to the charge, from the American Express bill. Clearly, AOL is charging me."
AOL: "We have no record of charging you."
Me: "Well I have a record of your charging me. And I've paid AOL $104.82 since February, which is after I canceled my payment plan."
AOL: "Yes, I see that you canceled your payment plan on February 9."
Me: "And you're still charging me."
AOL: "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I have no record of AOL charging you."
Face gets red. Phone gripped tightly. Teeth grinding.
Me: "But you ARE."
AOL: "Is it possible that someone in your family created a new account that you don't know about? Your husband maybe? That happens sometimes."
Me: "Nooo. I don't have a husband."
AOL: "A child?"
Me: "Sadly, no children."
AOL: "An employee?"
Me: "Are you reading from a script or something? I have no husband, no child, no employee who opened another account. It's only me. You are billing me for something you shouldn't be."
AOL: "I'm sorry ma'am, but we have no record of charging you."
Me: "You're messing with me, right? You keep saying we have no record of charging you, like I'm going to hang up and go away, is that it?"
AOL: "No, ma'am."
Me: "Then why do you keep saying you have no record of charging me when I'm LOOKING at the American Express bill where you've charged me?"
AOL: "What is your mother's middle name?"
Me: "Why do you need to know that at this point?"
AOL: "I have to confirm your identity, for security."
Me: "Who else other than I would be asking you to remove these charges from my bill? John Barrister Tipton?"
AOL: "I need your mother's middle name, ma'am, for security."
I tell her my mother's middle name.
AOL: "What is your credit card number?"
Me: "How do I know that I'm actually talking to AOL?"
AOL: "Ha ha. You are."
I tell her the credit card number.
AOL: "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I have no record of charging you."
Okay. Now I'm starting to lose it.
Me: "Clearly you can't help me. So what do I do about this?"
AOL: "You need to write to our billing operations department. Here's the mailing address. You need to include the American Express bill."
Me: "Can I email it to you?"
AOL: "No. You can only send it by regular mail as we need the American Express bill."
Me: "I can attach the bill to the email. It's an online bill."
AOL: "You can't email it."
Me: "But my email account is with AOL. You're an EMAIL company. Why can't I email it?"
AOL: "Sorry, we don't accept emails."
Me: "You don't accept emails. AOL doesn't accept emails. That's what you're telling me?"
AOL: "Yes, ma'am. AOL doesn't accept emails."
I try to process this. America Online, an email service, doesn't accept emails.
Me: "I don't even believe this."
AOL: "I'm sorry ma'am. Thank you for using AOL."
So here's the deal. After this excruciatingly frustrating conversation, I need to take time out of my day to write a letter to AOL, print it out, print out my American Express bill, put all this in an envelope, stick a stamp on it, trek off to the post office, and mail the envelope off to the America Online billing operations department. I have little hope that I'll get a response, and no hope whatsoever that I'll get a check for $104.82, so in the meantime I need to call American Express and tell them not to accept future charges from AOL. All of this, because some keyboard presser at AOL made a mistake.
The next time somebody asks you what's wrong with our country, don't show them housing statistics, don't rail on the President, show them this. This is what's wrong. No longer can we make a phone call and say, "You've made a mistake" and have the person on the other end of the line say "You're right. We're sorry. We'll fix it. Right now. Have a nice day."
There is a stack of papers on my desk I call "The Action Pile." Buried there are all the problems I have to solve every day, from banks and insurance companies and telephone companies and internet providers. I have this pile because somebody, somewhere, isn't doing their job anymore. They're texting, or are chattering on Facebook, telling their four thousand "friends" that they're off to the store, or to wish them a happy Groundhog's Day. Nobody cares about customer service anymore.
I pose this question to everyone reading this post: who is running the show out there, and what do we do to get our country back?