AOL Wasting Their (Former) Customer’s Time


One of the key tenets of the Womack and Jones book “Lean Solutions” is “don't waste my time” (as a customer). Below is an NBC News story about how AOL wasted this customer's time, a practice that is supposedly pretty typical. I remember getting the runaround trying to cancel an account about 10 years ago. They're desperate to keep customers, so they resort to tactics like this. A 21 minute phone call for something that should have taken 30 seconds — canceling an account.

I hope the next wave of lean is the application to customer service. With all of the horror stories you hear about, there certainly is an opportunity out there. Here is a related article for those who can't watch the video at work.

You might think “oh that's an isolated case, I'm sure.” Well, read this — here is a management case study (“The Hatchet Man of AOL”) on how to intimidate your employees and how to hold them to harsh metrics. In the NBC case above, AOL “blamed” and supposedly fired the customer service rep who mistreated the customer. But don't tell me that sort of behavior isn't systemic considering all of the examples you hear about. Either management does a poor job of hiring or they normally excuse that kind of behavior (or it's encouraged indirectly through the management style).

From the Hatchet Man piece:

“Back in 2003, Kurt Walker was an Associate General Manager in the Oklahoma call center. His nickname, “The Hatchet,” derived from the “gleam in his eyes and a smile on his face” when motivating the Saves Coaches to fire employees.

One saves coach, Dan Critchfield, sent around a mass email to his higherups, declaiming, “I have grown weary of Kurt telling…on an almost daily basis, in our Team huddles…About how much “fun it was” to fire certain people.””

It sounds like a horrible, nasty corporate culture at that AOL site — full of fear. That's why Deming said we have to eliminate fear from the workplace. “Management by fear” isn't fair to employees and it's ultimately bad for the bottom line when frustrated and scared employees start taking it out on employees.

The Hatchet Man piece is very long, it's basically a whistle-blowing email that a manager wrote to higher ups. It details the extreme use of metrics and the “management” approach of firing those who don't measure up.


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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