AOL subscribers looking to switch from paid subscriptions to free services have been frustrated by AOL’s demand that they call a toll-free number to make the change rather than to do it online.
According to an article (yes, subscription required) in the Wall Street Journal, online tonight but to be published in tomorrow’s edition of the financial daily, AOL hasn’t made switching to free services as straightforward as many subscribers would prefer.
Instead of having the option of making the change online, subscribers must phone a toll-free number and navigate a number of phone-system decision trees before finally getting an opportunity to speak to a live person. At that point, they are asked if they are sure they want to make the change, and are given a couple paid-services pitches for good measure. Only then does the subscriber go from being a paid user to a free user of AOL’s services.
AOL claims it’s all being done in the best interests of subscribers, many of whom, according to AOL, don’t understand the ramifications of the decision to switch from the paid services, which include dial-up access, to the free services that are available to any Internet users interested in partaking of them. AOL says many of these subscribers might not have an Internet-access alternative at hand, and that they need to understand that the move to free services does not include Internet access.
That might be true, but the last thing AOL needs in light of recent events, particularly the raging controversy over its public release of subscriber search data, is another public-relations setback. Despite AOL’s protestations to the contrary, it appears the company didn’t prepare adequately for its subscribers to make the change to free services.
Nobody is saying the logistics behind such changes are easy or simple, but AOL owed it to itself and to its customers to get this transition right. It seems to have failed the test, at least part, and it did so at a time when it could least afford the blunder.