A customer-repellent web site

Nov. 23, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

Considering the sad state of the economy, one would think that most companies are desperately looking for ways to increase their business, but my experience this week with a certain wireless service provider with whom I have been doing business for many years convinced me that this company must have all the business it wants.

Its web site appears to have been specifically designed to drive away customers.

Now, I am willing to give smaller companies the benefit of the doubt when it comes to web commerce, but this is not a small business, and it has all the resources it needs to design a functional web site.

However, this web site was so aggressively annoying that I was left with the impression that the company hired the brilliant John Cleese and the rest of the Monty Python gang as consultants to come up with features that make the site so repellent and frustrating that it would drive customers away screaming.

Visions of the Pythons’ “argument clinic” sketch were running through my brain by the time I gave up.

I should point out that when I initiated contact with the company, I was fully prepared to part with more of my hard-earned shekels, and all I needed was some basic information to help me do so.

I wanted to look at the options to upgrade my mobile phone, and I was considering upgrading my calling plan.

In my innocence, I thought this would be simple.

I logged on to the company site and clicked on the “phones and accessories” button.

Before it would reveal these options, however, the company demanded that I enter my ZIP code so the company could provide accurate information about phones, service plans and current promotions that are available in my area.

I entered my ZIP code, and was promptly informed that the company does not provide service in my area (which, of course, I knew was not true).

I checked to make sure I had entered the correct ZIP code and repeated the process with the same result.

The annoying message gave me the option to enter my city and state instead of the ZIP code. I did so, and was sent back to the field where I was asked to enter my ZIP code.

A dark cloud began to pass over my initial enthusiasm.

I observed that the annoying message about not offering service in my area also provided a helpful suggestion that I could use its “coverage locator” to find service.

I clicked on this option, and was taken to a screen with a map of North America with the company’s service area highlighted, and a place to enter my address.

I did so, and was treated to a close-up view of my neighborhood, showing that, as I already knew, the company’s coverage blankets the whole area.

Having confirmed this, I clicked on the “phones and equipment” button, so I could finally see what my options were, and I was immediately transported back to the original screen asking me to enter my ZIP code so the company could provide accurate information.

I confess that by this time, I was starting to get annoyed.

I took a deep breath and decided to try another approach.

Since I am an existing customer, I decided to log in to my account.

Naturally, my first attempt failed, and I was informed that my password was not correct.

Reluctantly, I provided some vital information, and the company sent a text message to my mobile phone with a temporary password I could use to create a new password for my account.

After the first run-through, in which I created a new password and security question, I attempted to log in and was informed that the information I had entered did not match the company’s records.

It suggested that I may not be registered, so I selected that route, only to be informed that I was already registered.

I went back to the “create a new password” loop again, and repeated that process.

By this time I was muttering to myself and breaking out in hysterical laughter every time a new message popped up informing me that I had been foiled again.

Eventually, I was able to log in. A ray of sunshine appeared as a screen displayed all of my account information, current balance, details about my current phone, photo included, and notes about the my calling plan.

Under the list of available options was a choice that cheerfully suggested I could “upgrade my phone now.”

I clicked on the link, and found myself right back at the screen that insisted that I enter my ZIP code so the company could provide accurate information.

I knew by now that there was no chance of the company providing any accurate information.

With a sigh, I carefully entered my ZIP code and hit return.

The old familiar message reappeared, informing me that the company does not provide service in my area.

I switched off my computer and wandered out of my office in search of some single malt anesthetic for my aching head.

I never did get to see what new phones are available or what the next upgrade for my calling plan might offer.

I am thinking of giving up my mobile phone. I don’t think it is good for my blood pressure, or overall mental health.