Verizon and When Good Usability Goes Bad


Sometimes good usability decisions end up causing a bad user experience, case in point, Verizon

Jessica Lipnack had a user experience problem, she needed to get her User ID and Password to access her Verizon small business account online. Shouldn’t be a big deal, right?

Unfortunately for Jessica and the other Verizon small business customers, there’s a few user experience problems with the current customer service system that cause a major user experience issue.


And before I go on, let me give you my definition of usability and user experience.  In my mind, “usability” equals getting a task done, for example, can the user complete a task of using a password reset tool, yes or no?  “User experience” means the holistic experience a user has that encompasses entering a web site, finding information, synthesizing the information, conducting one or more tasks, and finally leaving, with an overall feeling of satisfaction (or not!) with the experience.

Now back to our tale of good usability going bad:

Jessica received a confusing Verizon customer service email with instructions on resetting a password from a  Verizon customer service representative which Jessica posted on her blog. You should read the whole thing (it’s not long, but it is confusing) to get the gist of all the bad user experience, I’ll just wait here and sip my coffee while you go over there and read it.

OK, back? I’ll quote a couple of interesting snippets:

“I have confirmed your user ID via a  separate secure email you confirmed you received. Though the user ID will display in all capital letters, both the user ID and password must be entered in lower case.”

Umm, what?

This I believe points to a case where a good usability decision was made by Verizon, that had a negative user experience repercussion.  Here’s why I’m thinking that is the case:

I’ve worked at major corporations like Prudential Insurance, Marsh & McLennan and WellPoint for many, many, many years, and I’ve been to tens of thousands of meetings about user experience aspects of online customer experience.  Never, NEVER, in a single meeting have I ever heard anyone ever say:

“So team, how can we confuse and piss-off our customers today?  Ideas?  Bob, get that doughnut out of your mouth and help us out here, okay?”

That never, ever happened.

Click here to view latest job postings

Instead, meetings involve trying to get customers to their data.  So why did Verizon decide to send a User ID in all caps, even though the user MUST enter it all lower case?

Probably somewhere along the way a decision was reached based on system needs, yes, the data would be available, good for usability, but unfortunately for the end user experience the user would see all caps – bad for user experience.

But wait!  There’s more!  Another rather confusing snippet from Jessica’s email:

“Do not click the ‘Business’ tab, but instead, in the ‘Manage Your Account’ section in the upper right hand corner, do not select ‘My Business Account’ but select ‘Small Business Phone’. Otherwise you will be directed to the Verizon Wireless website, where your user ID and password for our site will not work. Do not change the default in ‘I want to…”

Oy Vey!

Always consider the entire user experience

Folks, what would happen if the CEO for Verizon, a nice guy named Ivan, received this email with all the: “Do Not, DO NOT, DO NOT!” An email of instructions with “Do not” all over it clearly shines a spotlight on a user experience that has significant problems.  Ivan I’m guessing would ask (yell at) his team to consider the entire user experience when making usability decisions.

Again, I’m confident the Verizon team is a bunch of smart, dedicated folks that want to help their customers out.  I know that for a fact because their E-Commerce team recently won an award for online customer service excellence.

No doubt the Verizon Small Business team made a series of good usability decisions, to enable their customers to have access to the information they want.  The problem is those series of good usability decisions were not consider in the overall context of the holistic user experience.

I’ve seen this time and time again, business units inside a company make usability tweaks so users can get access to pieces of data – but the holistic user experience suffers because added together, all the usability work-arounds and tweaks make for a bad user experience.  As is clearly demonstrated above.

What am i saying here?

When making usability decisions, always go back and review the ENTIRE user experience.

This includes something as obvious as a customer needing to get a User ID and Password in a small business section of a web site.  Consider the ramifications of the individual usability decisions in the larger context of the entire user experience.  By doing so, you’ll expose the “do nots” and realize that sometimes, a good usability decision can go bad, and lead to a bad user experience.

Considering the entire user experience when making your usability decisions will help all the Jessicas of the customer experience world have a better and more satisfying experience.


  1. This is a great post.

    We’ve recently inherited a massive website that has been ‘tweaked’ over the years and has therefore become a bit of a navigational mess.

    Each tiny ‘tweak’ may have solved the small problem that they were trying to fix but in the long run the whole experience was ruined.

    Thanks gain for the post. I must confess I hadn’t really thought about this before.

    *note to self: always ensure that minor tweaks fit within the whole structure of the experience

  2. This, along with Dustin Curtis’ American Airlines posts ( highlights the fact that Corporate/Enterprise UX has a different set of constraints/priorities/politics than a small startup. In Enterprise UX, there is lots of local optimization because no one really has a view of the entire process. Or at least people tend to be primarily interested in the part of the process that they work with. Often times this comes with what I call tribal territorialism — a particular group defends their turf, their power base, again at the expense of a globally optimal solution. A UX designer in an Enterprise environment has to do more gap-bridging, and focus on different tools to find common ground between the tribes…

Comments are closed.