How not to sell anything

Verizon's online FiOS configurator

We’re in the process of relocating from Tuscaloosa, AL to Arlington, VA (if you’re not familiar with US geography, Arlington, VA is the western part of Washington D.C.). When we were apartment hunting, one of the major attractions of the apartment we picked was Verizon FiOS availability.

Well, I just moved our Comcast cable service to the new address after struggling with Verizon’s website for the third time in an attempt to get a decent deal on FiOS. (I’m not locked into any kind of plan with Comcast — we’ve been customers for something like eight years.)

Here’s how Verizon managed to lose my business.

  1. The main product selection page, which I got to by entering my address and verifying that I could get FiOS features product packages not available at my address.
  2. As I make selections, the user interface and available options morph subtly and confusingly (e.g. the “do you want a 24 month contract” selector morphs into a “do you have pre-existing Verizon phone service” selector — so if I don’t want a “triple-play” option, am I forced to a 24-month contract or not?).
  3. The main product page is implemented as a form, requiring me to constantly agree to resend data, when I’ve not yet made any final selections.
  4. Product selections include more offers of products not available at my address.
  5. The configurator offers bundle options that turn out not to be available at my address, which are then replaced by new, inferior, more expensive options.
  6. The same basic three products are sold in ridiculous numbers of permutations and it’s very hard to figure out what the best deal is at any time (and see previous).
  7. When I first started looking for service, I found a $49.95/month plan for internet and phone which I have not been able to find again.
  8. The same plan now appears to cost $84.95 or $89.95 per month but, upon attempting to purchase either, turns out not to be available at my address, morphing into a different set of inferior and costlier options (see above).
  9. There’s no transparent way of figuring out how much extras, such as DVRs and digital decoders will cost on top of the plan, except for confusing references to some plans offering the DVR et al for free for 12 months, and ascribing this a “value” — which varies depending on offer. (How can the same thing be worth different amounts when added to different plans?)

There are plenty of lesser annoyances. It boggles my mind that a large, reputable US technology company could have such an incompetently put together website.

For the last few years we’ve had Comcast Basic Cable (a service so basic that it appears to yield approximately 10 channels) and one of their lower tier “high speed internet” plans. Our total monthly cost is a shade under $60. We don’t actually use the TV portion, but the bundle is cheaper than internet on its own. As for the tier – we were promised something like 6Mbps and we regularly get as much as 24Mbps (the exception being early evening when everything bogs down).

I’m not trying to advertise Comcast — I think Cable TV is an atrocity and Comcast’s reliability in Tuscaloosa, AL has been borderline abysmal for three of the six years we were in Tuscaloosa, but they’ve been flawless for five of the eight years we’ve used them, which makes them light years ahead of AT&T and Verizon in my experience. (We briefly used Verizon DSL at our previous house, and paid a penalty to break out of our contract.)

For the record, Comcast’s site wasn’t terribly well-implemented — e.g. I logged into my account, clicked a link to handle moving. I then entered my old and new addresses and it couldn’t find my existing service (apparently the “moving” site can’t talk to the member account site), and once I had entered my details it simply sent me into a text chat with a customer service rep. — low tech, but effective. In less than ten minutes everything was set up and I had been downsold a cheaper and better (for the next six months) service.

So, I’d love to talk about how fabulous Verizon FiOS is after the long “nightmare” of Comcast’s 6Mbps 24Mbps cable connection, but it won’t be any time soon.