Phone Company Web Sites

My current mobile phone contract has finished so I’m looking around for a new phone. This means that I’ve spent some time over the last few days looking at phone company web sites. And it seems that although they might be selling cutting edge technology, phone companies still get their web sites built by the same idiots as most of the world. I came away distinctly unimpressed. Here are a couple of the best examples.

My current phone is with O2. Whilst I was on their site I wanted to contact their customer service department. They provide a web form for this on their site. I went through a couple of filtering forms (what kind of customer are you? what is your query about?) until finally I had a text box where I could enter my question.

I had quite a complex query, so I typed rather a lot – three or four paragraphs and a few hundred characters. I then pressed the ‘send’ button. Only to be told that my text was too long. That’s all it told me, mind you. There was nothing really useful like telling me how many characters I was allowed to enter or how many characters I needed to remove. Just a stern warning that my text was too long. I snipped and abbreviated for ten or fifteen minutes and eventually I managed to sneak in under the wire and submit my query.

It’s 2008. People expect a little more sophistication from a web site. Twitter manages to give me real-time feedback on how many characters I have left in their 140 character text box. This is really quite basic Javascript. There’s no excuse for making a customer do all that extra work. Even a message telling me how many characters I was allowed to enter would have been more useful that what I got. You also have to wonder why the limit was imposed. Do they really store customer queries in  database with 255 character limits on the text fields?

So that’s a failure at the technical level. The technology is available to give the customer a far better experience than the one they currently get but O2 are, for reasons I’d love to hear, not using it. My other example is a failure at a far higher level.

Today the Google phone is launched in the UK. And T-Mobile have an exclusive contract to sell it. They’ve made quite a big deal about it. I registered for information about the phone on their web site a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been getting email from the regularly telling me what is going on. Their Oxford Street shop opened at 7am today to allow people to buy the phone early.

For a few weeks, their web site has proclaimed that the phone is “coming soon“. And as I type this, almost six hours after the phone went on sale, the web site still says that the phone is “coming soon”. There are plenty of pink buttons inviting you to register for for more information (not sure why they insist on calling it “pre-registration”) but nothing saying that the phone is actually available or letting you order it online.

I’m not sure who is failing here. Is it that the marketing department didn’t include the update of the web site in their planning? Or does the software running their web site only allow updates over the weekend? Or has the person who was supposed to make the changes called in sick today? However this failure was caused, I suspect it’s costing them a few sales.

I’m planning to go into my local T-mobile shop and Saturday and play with the Google phone to see if it justifies the £40/month they want me to spend on it. If it isn’t (and that’s a lot more than I’m currently playing, so it’ll need to be bloody good) then I’ll get a Nokia E71 from the Carphone Warehouse next door. I’d order it direct from O2, but they’ve apparently decided not to stock it. And don’t get me started on the rant about how they’re not stocking any decent phones in case that affects sales of the iPhone…

Update: Kai has a horror story about buying a Google phone. Apparently you don’t need to pay the £40/month tariff. And on the phone yesterday, O2 told me that the E71 will be available in the middle of next month. Decisions decisions..


  1. I’m going to be on the hunt for a new contract shortly, and I’m absolutely dreading it. I just don’t understand how mobile phone operator sites can be so universally poorly designed, and make it so difficult to compare the deals.

  2. I agree about the phone company websites. I’m with Vodafone and their website is very badly structured. I often end up lost when trying to navigate and administrate my account. The menus seem to go round in circles. I always get annoyed and frustrated when using it.On the subject of text limits, I was using a web shopping site recently which asked for my eMail address and said there was a 30 character limit on it. Why?? What’s wrong with long-named people? My eMail address is 28 characters long so I was only just allowed to do business with them.

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