Providing good customer service is important. Providing secure well thought out technical solutions when you deal with someone finances is important. So, when I experienced repeated serious failures using Verizon Wireless I decided to take it as a learning and actionable experience. If you're curious what I learned keep reading.
Lesson 1: Provide An Upgrade Path To Changes
The serious of problems I had started because my username stopped working. When I set it up I was allowed to have special characters in the username. At some point they stopped allowing special characters but didn't provide an upgrade path for users with special characters in their usernames. They simply stopped working.
The lesson is to provide an upgrade path when you change your data structure.
Lesson 2: Prepare Your Customer Service Agents
When I had the problem I connected with an online customer service person. This was a chat window right on the website. So, when I was asked to reset my username through the site by this agent I was surprised. This isn't a feature of the site. Shouldn't the customer service agent have known how they website works?
Lesson 3: Don't Use Social Security Numbers
When I connected with a phone representative I was asked about an account password. This is different from the online password and one I setup years ago so I couldn't recall. It's not like I call in often. I've made all my changes via the web for years. When I didn't remember this password the representative wanted the last 4 digits of my social security number. This is a problem.
To put some background to this, I used to work in a call center. I know a number of others who have worked in call centers. I'm aware of situations where account information was stolen and used for bad things. Because of this history I don't like reps having easy access to any part of my social security number. Verizon uses this as a fall back when you don't have your password.
A lesson is to have other information on the account you can use to verify a user. This could be payment dates (a bank I have uses deposit dates and amounts) or numerous other pieces of information they collect.
Lesson 4: Make Customers Happy
By the time I had gotten through all of this I was not really happy. Unfortunately, without my password or part of my social security number I wasn't allowed to talk to a manager. To get this all taken care of I might have given the last 4 of my soc to a manager who listened to my complaint. Instead I was told I couldn't talk to a manager without it.
Managers or supervisors should be equipped to make happy customers and deal with problems. Sometimes they just need someone to listen. If unhappy customers aren't able to connect with people who have training like this you end up with blog posts like this floating around.
A simple lesson, enable representatives to make customers happy.
Lesson 5: Use Secure Passwords
When I was finally helped I was told I needed to have my account deleted and to create a new one. There was no way to change the username even if they could somehow get me logged in (this could be a failure but I'll keep going). While registering for a new account I was really limited on my password options. No special characters and no more than 20 characters. This makes me really suspect they are storing the password rather than a salted hash.
The lesson here is to be secure with passwords. I should be able to have a 64 character random password if I wanted. I'd even appreciate a password strength meter.
Lesson 6: Don't Have WTF Moments
When this whole process started I was logging in with my phone number. For security reasons they wanted me to input my username. You are allowed to login with a username or phone number. The username was failing for special characters. After I created a new account I logged in with my phone number. This time there was nothing asking for my username. WTF.
When we build websites and web applications we need to think about users, their experiences, security, and caring for them. No matter how big or small an organization. On the bright side this was a reminder for me.