Tuesday, June 27, 2006

LEADERSHIP--Learning from "A-O-Hell"

By now, you've probably heard about the HUGE public relations nightmare that's hitting America Online right now (for the gory details, check it out HERE.) My favorite part--when John the AOL rep asked the 30-year-old customer if he could speak to his father!

It's bad enough that after 20 minutes of screaming at the worst excuse for a customer service rep ever, Vincent Ferrari posted a recording of his conversation on his blog for the World Wide Web to read. It caught the attention of CNBC reporter Matt Lefkowitz, who wanted to see what AOL had to say when he tried cancelling his account.

It took him 45 minutes. After he was disconnected on his first attempt.

AOL's response after the CNBC story aired last week? Read for yourself:

"At AOL, we have zero-tolerance for customer care incidents like this - which is deeply regrettable and also absolutely inexcusable. The employee in question violated our customer service guidelines and practices, and everything that AOL believes to be important in customer care - chief among them being respect for the member, and swiftly honoring their requests. This matter was dealt with immediately and appropriately, and the employee cited here is no longer with the Company.

"I've spoken directly to Mr. Ferrari and personally apologized to him for what took place. Many here have taken a strong interest in this episode - even going so far as to email all customer service representatives about it as an example of how we should never treat a member. We're going to learn from this - and continue to make the necessary, positive changes to our practices. This was an aberration and a mistake, and we have to manage these incidents down to zero as best we can. That means improving our already strong safeguards in place today, and maintaining rigorous internal and external compliance methods. We can do better - and we will."

Ummmm, thanks...but too late. The damage has been done. It's not that this is the first time someone has had trouble trying to drop their AOL account--in fact, there are several web sites devoted entirely to this frustrating endeavor! It's the fact that with today's technology, everyone can read and hear all about it and soon, the problem reaches legendary proportions.

As a leader, it's never too late to sit down with everyone in your organization to make sure they're overdelivering on customer service. Saving a couple bucks trying to keep a dissatisfied customer today might cost you and your company's reputation in the end.

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