Just for fun, I recently signed up for an AOL account through one of those ubiquitous free CDROMS, and now that I’ve poked around a bit, I’ve decided to shut it down. It’s time to return to the real Internet. But I’m a bit stymied. How do I cancel my AOL account?

My first words to you are: good luck. My experience in this regard has been terrible. For what are obvious reasons AOL doesn’t make it easy for you to quit their service. For example, there’s no “Cancel My AOL Service” option on the “Help” menu. Probably too many people would use it!

To answer your question, I thought it would be fun to share exactly how I tried to cancel my own AOL account. Fair warning: it’s not a pretty story…
I started out by logging in to my AOL service. The logical next step would be to try Keyword “cancel” or “quit”, but “cancel” pops up a “not yet available. Come back soon” message (which is weird) and “quit” produces a full blown search of the Web.

Buried in those search results, however, is what I seek: Cancel AOL Account. Click on it and — amazingly — “The area you have reached is not yet available on this version of AOL. Please try back again later.”

Which leads to the question: how do I cancel my $#&@*$(& AOL account??

My next attempt at a solution is to use AOL Help, then click on “Chat With Us: Billing Support”.

Five minutes of seeing a “Loading Java Applet…” message later, I’m convinced that it’s another dead end and quit.

So how about the “Billing” area? Nope. No way to quit through that avenue, but I am prompted to create a “security question” which I do so by indicating my favorite film.

To heck with it! I’ll call them on the phone and cancel my account the old-fashioned way, since it appears there’s no way to accomplish it electronically. But that’s not so simple either. Look at how they cunningly word their phone help information:

To contact AOL by telephone
To speak to a customer support consultant or use our automated telephone system, please choose a toll-free telephone number from the list below. Selecting the most appropriate number will help you get the support you need as quickly as possible.

  • To get an access number to sign on to AOL: 888-265-8005
  • Help with your AOL account, connection or other technical issues: 800-827-6364
  • Customer and technical support en español: 866-885-5117
  • AOL TTY service for the hearing-impaired: 800-759-3323 (to use this service, you must have TTY-enabled equipment)

 

What don’t they tell you that they offer? You guessed it: billing support via telephone.

Since I don’t need an access number, I’m trapped having to call the second number, 800 827-6364. I call in at 7:07pm and meet their automated attendant.

First step: I have to state what I want from a small list of options (access numbers, billing, support, cancel, …). I say “cancel” and then get a 60 second advert for all the new AOL features, then it asks me for my phone number, my account name and the answer to my new security question (which I had to set up while logged in, trying to cancel in the first place. Makes me wonder what would happen if I didn’t have a security question set up). After all that “your wait will be greater than ten minutes” for a task that should take their operator about 15 seconds once we’re connected.

Ah, welcome to the electronic age.

While I’m on hold, I’ll observe that smart companies recognize that a departing customer is still a potential customer and that if you make the cancellation process easy and offer a final “don’t leave us” special bonus then maybe they’d be able to hold on to more customers. If an operator came on 20 seconds after hearing this terrible hold music and said “Looks like you’ve only just joined AOL, Dave. We hate to see you go. Can I offer you an additional three free months of service?” I might well say yes. But if I have to just sit on hold for ten minutes, I guarantee that they’d have to pay me to stay a member after wasting this much of my time doing something that should be pretty darn easy, all in all.

Ah, an operator! 7:24pm. He has a thick, difficult to understand Indian accent and the first thing he asks for is my screen name. Typical lack of information coordination: why did the automated attendant ask for all of this information if I’d be asked for it again as soon as I was connected to a customer service representative? First and last name, and my security question. Asks from a script “What is causing you to give up this account” at least four times. I finally say “I don’t want to go through your questions. I want to cancel my account.” and he skips ahead and gives me the all important cancellation confirmation number: “426167951-43″.

I’m not quite done, though: “To finalize your process, please listen to the following legal disclaimer about canceling your account.” and I’m off to one final waste of my time, a recording that informs me that “We’re sorry you have chosen to cancel your account. Your cancellation is effective as of today. You are responsible for all accumulated charges, however, and we’d love to welcome you back to AOL. For a limited time you may reactivate it, keeping your current screen names, by clicking on AOL and signing back on. Thank you for choosing America Online”

Done. Elapsed time on the phone: 22 minutes. Time actually talking to someone: 73 seconds. Overall elapsed time including trying to cancel my account through AOL’s software or help system: 50 minutes. Likelihood that I would reinstate my account after that terrible customer service experience? 0.
And that, my friends, is how you cancel your America Online account. Save yourself the effort and just don’t sign up in the first place…

Additional helpful AOL tutorials, in case you decide to stay with them:
•   Get rid of AOL popup ads!
•   How to create new AOL screen names
•   How to delete an AOL screen name
•   How to change your AOL account password

And a final tip: if this feels like too much hassle, you can also cancel your aol account by using the cancel wizard service. Just click on “cancel your aol account” to learn more.

This article is by Dave Taylor from askdavetaylor.com.