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The New York Times call Carl Mayer: "A populist crusader and ... a maverick lawyer." New York Times, October 15, 2004.

Monday, August 20, 2007

AOL TIME-WARNER HANGS UP ON CONSUMERS

THE NEW LANGUAGE OF CUSTOMER SERVICE


Frustration with customer service is at an all time high, according to recent national surveys.
To determine if media exposes and lawsuits brought by state Attorneys General have redressed mounting buyer complaints, our law firm recorded a customer service conversation with Time-Warner Inc., a corporation notorious for knocking about consumers. (It was recorded lawfully, in anticipation of litigation.)

The conversation began with promise, as the company apparently has replaced fallible humans with infallible machines:

[Ringing]

AMERICA ONLINE COMPUTER WITH “VOICE RECOGNITION” SOFTWARE (“AOL ”): Thanks for calling AOL. To ensure quality service, your call may be monitored or recorded. Today there's even more choice with the new AOL. Introducing AOL Open Ride, our newest software…it will revolutionize the way you use the Internet. You've got to see it to believe it… [Note to reader: “Open Ride” is what crashed my computer to begin with; hence, the call.] Are you currently paying to use the AOL service? Please say yes or press one. No or press two.

CUSTOMER: Yes.

AOL : Great, let’s look up your account. Please enter or say your home telephone number, area code first.

CUSTOMER: [Number recited.]

AOL : Sorry. I didn't understand. Please enter or say your home telephone number.

CUSTOMER: [Number entered.]

AOL : Let me make sure we've got the right account. Your screen name is spelled C-A-R-L-M-A-Y-E-R. Is that right?

CUSTOMER: That's right.

AOL : Sorry, I can't tell whether you said “yes” or “no”.

CUSTOMER: Yes.

AOL : Sorry, I didn't hear you. Please say “yes” or “no”.

CUSTOMER: Yes.

AOL : I've pulled up your account information. First, please choose one of the following AOL Departments. You can say: “order high speed”, “tech support”, “billing”, “passwords” or “cancellation.”

CUSTOMER: Tech support.

AOL : All right. I can help you with your password. But first, AOL security requires some verification. You've got an account security question here. Let us try that. What school did you go to?

CUSTOMER: Uh, Princeton, but I need tech support.

AOL : Hmm, that doesn't seem to match what I've got on file. Let's try that again. Please speak your answer or say, "I don't know it". What school did you go to?

CUSTOMER: Princeton University.

AOL : I think you said you wanted to start over and go back to the main menu. Is that correct?

CUSTOMER: Uh no. I want tech support.

AOL : Sorry, I can't tell whether you said “yes” or “no”.

CUSTOMER: Yes.

AOL : You can say: “order high speed”, “tech support”, “billing”, “passwords”, or “cancellation.”

CUSTOMER: Tech support.

AOL : Sorry, I didn't understand. Please choose one of the following AOL departments: “order high speed”, “tech support”, “billing”, “passwords” –

CUSTOMER: Tech support.

AOL : Sorry I still didn't understand.

CUSTOMER: You've got to be kidding me. Tech support.

AOL : You're calling for technical support, right?

CUSTOMER: Right.

AOL : Sorry, I can't tell whether you said “yes” or “no”.

CUSTOMER: Yes.

AOL: Now in a few words please tell me what tech support problem you're calling about. For example, you could say something like, "I'm having trouble with email attachments".

CUSTOMER: Having problems with the software. It crashes.

AOL : Sorry, I still didn't understand. In a few words, please tell me why you're calling today. For example, "I can't send email". Okay, go ahead.

CUSTOMER: I can't send email.

AOL : I think you said you wanted to start over and go back to the main menu. Is that correct?

CUSTOMER: No. I said I can't send email.

AOL : Sorry, I can't tell whether you said “yes” or “no”.

CUSTOMER: I can’t send email.

AOL : Please say one of the following words: “connection problems”, “can't sign on”, “web browser problems”, “installation”, “email”.

CUSTOMER: Web browser problems.

AOL : When you're ready to continue just say, "Let’s go". If you want to call back say, "Goodbye" or just hang up.

CUSTOMER: I'd like to speak to a customer service representative.

AOL : When you're ready say, "Let’s go" or press 1 or if you want to call us back just say, "Goodbye".

CUSTOMER: No, I'd like to speak to a customer service representative.

[Two Beeps]

AOL : Current wait time to speak with a customer service consultant may be up to two and a half minutes. May I continue where we left off? Yes or no?

CUSTOMER: No. I want to speak to a consultant.

AOL: Okay, thank you. Our tech support staff should be able to help you with this situation. Please hold.

[Two Beeps]

[Music playing]

[Phone rings twenty-two times.]

AOL : We are unable to answer your call at this time. Please try your call again later. Thank you.

[Dial tone]

[Beep after machine hangs up]

Eureka! Time-Warner Inc., the world’s largest media conglomerate, has created a perfectly closed loop. No need for humans in this operation.

No longer do customers have to worry about language barriers generated by service personnel in foreign lands.

Time-Warner Inc. stock is surging along with the market. This economy is great unless you belong to the majority of Americans who do not own individual stocks. Then, you are merely a lowly consumer. And as long as companies can keep padding the bottom line by skimping on customer service, who cares about consumers?


Carl J. Mayer runs the Mayer Law Group LLC; the firm represents consumers and investors. Phone: 609-462-7979. He can be reached at carlmayer@aol.com.


(Mr. Mayer's opinion pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Newsday, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Asbury Park Press, Philadelphia Inquirer and other publications.)

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