Sting of the Tail

As if Dell didn’t suffer its share of reputation damage from the pounding its customer service department took from A-list blogger Jeff Jarvis last year, we awaken this morning to learn that one enterprising blogger (at the tail end of the blogosphere) has shined a punishing spotlight on AOL after jousting with one of its call center reps. (I must have missed the earlier item from Dan Mitchell’s column in Saturday’s New York Times.)

The testy exchange happened when the subscriber tried to cancel his account after five years, a phenomenon that the company would likely prefer to stay under the media’s radar. I mean, who knew that 800,000 subscribers cancelled their accounts during the last quarter?

As company CEO Jonathan Miller struggles to re-make the once mighty premium portal into a free, ad-supported, content-rich and relevant broadband-delivered haven for news, information and infotainment, his success rests to some degree on how his communications team (and their outside crisis experts) manage the company’s contrition in the face of a chorus of complaints. (Here’s a take on AOL and T-W from The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta appearing on

Where is Mr. Miller during this fracas anyway? Is it sufficient that AOL’s head of corporate communications took the lead in making an apology? I wonder. From the (once) subscriber’s blog:

Nicholas Graham, Executive Vice President of AOL Corporate Communications contacted me to officially apologize for the infamous “Jon” call. Here’s the full text of the e-mail:

Vincent, thank you for returning my phone call. I appreciate hearing from you and being able to talk to you – and to personally apologize for your experience. 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.

Vincent – please get in touch with me again in the future I can be of help at all. And good luck to you and to “Insignificant Thoughts”.


PR lesson learned: The long tail can also sting.