America Online (AOL) subscribers who?ve had enough of getting an engaged tone when they try to access the service are having just as much trouble getting through on the phone to claim their promised refunds.
AOL last Wednesday caved in to demands from 37 US state attorney generals that it should offer refunds to customers who have been unable to access the service since the introduction of an unlimited access scheme in December.
But on Thursday, when thousands of disgruntled subscribers phoned the 1-800 number billed as the destination for refund calls, they were met with a recorded message that told them: "All lines are busy right now. Please try your call later."
Those customers who persisted and finally got through to a customer services representative on Thursday were told that it would take at least half an hour before anyone could process a refund request.
And there was further confusion when AOL customer services staff began recommending that subscribers make their claims in writing, directly contradicting a company spokeswoman who said that the only way to get a refund was by phone. A clarification was issued with a PO Box address for written refund requests.
An AOL spokesman promised that the refund process would be improved, but added: "Whether that takes hours or days, I couldn?t tell you. There are bound to be a couple of kinks in the system, but that?s not unusual on the first day."
He said the problems in getting a refund option on to the company?s computerised telephone exchange - it did not appear until Thursday afternoon - occurred because the company had been caught off guard by the timing of the decision to agree to the attorney generals demands. "Everything happened really quickly," said the AOL spokesman.
AOL declines to put a figure on what it expects to have to pay out to subscribers in refunds, although some industry analysts on Friday estimated that it could be as little as $2 million.
The agreement with the 37 attorney generals on Wednesday lifted the threat of immediate legal action by the New York Attorney General?s office, but AOL still faces a number of private prosecutions from subscribers.
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