Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Verizon: How can your web sites suck so much?

One of my biggest peeve's of using Verizon has been their websites. Buggy and rarely useful. I especially love the fact that your cell phone charges are never complete, or clear nor do they let you change all of your options online.

Up until today my truly favorite part was that the bill payment section never told you what you owed. The would tell you what your bill was, but whether you paid it or not was something you had to do your own research on. This meant that sometimes I would think I made a payment but didn't, and ended up with a $600 charge, and other times I'd have a -$300 bill. Ridiculous. I wouldn't be surprised if I checked carefully I'd probably find I paid them twice and didn't always get credit for it.

Fast forward to July 15. I get an e-mail. It has a link to pay my bill. I end up in web site hell. Rather than explain it, I'll let the conversation I had with the representative speak for itself. Yet more evidence that laws need to be passed to have web designers publicly flogged when they make it impossible to navigate a web site.

Chat Subject: Home Phone Billing Question
Your Question: How can I pay my bill online? The previous website I could never tell how much money I owed. This one keeps sending me to the login and e-mail screen and never allows me to pay my bill.
A Verizon eCenter Representative will be with you shortly. Thank you. (14:03:40)
14:04:55 We apologize for the delay.You are next in the line. A representative will be with you shortly.
Agent Martha has joined. (14:05:10)
Martha : Chat ID for this session is 06666. (14:05:10)
Martha(14:05:20): Hello. Thank you for visiting our chat service. I will be happy to help you today.
Martha(14:05:25): What services do you have with Verizon?
Customer(14:05:33): None of the "pay your bill" links work correctly.
Customer(14:05:35): All of them. :)
Customer(14:05:43): DirecTV, DSL, home and wireless.
Martha(14:06:43): You are able to sign in to your account?
Customer(14:06:55): Yes. I wish I could send you some screen shots.
Customer(14:07:05): I get in and it takes me to a home page with e-mail and other windows.
Martha(14:07:26): At the top of the page does it say "accounts"
Customer(14:07:30): Yes.
Customer(14:07:53): Sorry, no.
Customer(14:07:56): It says Verizon Central
Customer(14:08:10): and it says various things, at the end "My Account | Support |
Martha(14:08:45): You are logged into the Verizon.net web site.
Customer(14:08:47): If I click on "My Account" I get to a new screen
Martha(14:08:52): You will need to log into www.verizon.com
Customer(14:08:55): which has a list on the left,
Martha(14:09:01): I will need to reset your password for you.
Customer(14:09:02): and says "Make One Time Payment"
Martha(14:09:07): What is the name of your first pet?
Customer(14:09:21): Wait, do NOT reset my password.
Customer(14:09:28): Why are you resetting my password?
Martha(14:09:38): You do not know the password for Verizon.com
Customer(14:09:46): Yes I do.
Customer(14:10:02): The problem is that I am at a screen that says "My Account" and it says "Make One Time Payment"
Martha(14:10:08): Then sign out of www.verizon.net and sign into www.verizon.com
Customer(14:10:09): I click on that and it brings me right back here.
Martha(14:10:19): Then you are signing into verizon.net
Customer(14:10:21): Why should I? WHy doesn't this link work?
Customer(14:10:27): This is where the e-mail took me.
Customer(14:10:37): The e-mail that had a link that said "pay your bill"
Martha(14:10:57): You had to sign into the page that the link took you to correct?
Customer(14:11:02): Yes.
Customer(14:11:28): which goes to verizon.com
Martha(14:11:38): You signed in with your verizon.net informatin.
Customer(14:11:46): Yes, and...?
Martha(14:12:01): And you need to go to www.verizon.com
Customer(14:12:50): Here, I guess there are two problems. I need to pay my bill, but I am also really frustrated with this bogus web site design that the links don't work.
Customer(14:12:58): If I go to verizon.com
Customer(14:13:09): and pay can you tell some one that this stinks for the end user?
Martha(14:13:29): The link works fine. You are signing in with your verizon.net information and the system know to take you to web site.
Customer(14:13:45): Fine, but then when I click on the link to pay my bill, it shoudl do that!
Martha(14:13:50): If you would let me reset your verizon.com password you could sign into the correct page and pay your bill.
Customer(14:13:54): instead I get taken round and round. That is NOT the system working fine.
Martha(14:14:09): You are on the wrong web site.
Customer(14:14:18): And that's YOUR fault.
Customer(14:14:29): Not mine.
Customer(14:14:38): I log in, and the links don't work. That can't be my fault.
Customer(14:15:35): So, let's do it your way. You can reset the password, but if I click on a link that says pay my bill, it should work. End of story.
Martha(14:16:00): It goes to the page you sign in with.
Martha(14:16:05): You are signing in with your vz.net info.
Martha(14:16:20): To get you to vz.com you have to sign in with that User Id and password.
Martha(14:16:26): The User Id is the same for both web sites.
Martha(14:16:31): But the password is different.
Martha(14:16:41): Do you want me to reset the password for vz.com?
Customer(14:16:53): Yes.
Customer(14:17:03): Now, all of these conversations are recorded on your end correct?
Customer(14:17:15): Please reset my password

To be clear, what's missing from this log is that Verizon does keep copies of this conversation and makes it clear that these chats can be monitored for "quality control purposes" so there is no expectation of privacy for either party. I'm sure more than one Martha works for Verizon.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What to Upgrade First on the Audi A4 (B8)

2016 Update: My recommendations still stand, but prices and links may no longer be up to date. 

I had to replace a 12 year old SUV and I went looking for something sporty.  I looked at the Volvo C60 briefly, but the salesperson could not give me the time of day.  The Audi dealership in Burlington, MA however was terribly friendly and willing to show me anything I wanted, and even offered me a great deal on a demo with a few miles on it, which I unfortunately passed up on.  In addition to looks, speed, handling and interior comfort one of the main reasons I went with the Audi was the aftermarket support.  I am an engineer by vocation and profession, and we like to change things.

So soon after purchasing I went looking for a local APR dealer to install a chip upgrade.  Lucky for me when I was ready to buy the upgrades were on sale and I got several programs for the price of one.  It's not like installing a rocket onto the back, but it is nice to play with all of that extra power now and then.  However, there is in fact a distinct downside rarely mentioned in the reviews.

The Audi A4 is actually pretty well balanced, in terms of the performance of the engine, suspension and brakes.  The 211 HP looks small, especially if you are used to Audi's feeling sluggish on the freeway.  The B8 is nothing of the kind from the factory.  It has plenty of torque in the low end and can spin up through the gears fast, especially with the Triptronic transmission in sport mode. 

After driving with the additional 30-40 HP from the APR mod I'm convinced of one thing:  It's the wrong modification to make first.  The reason I say this is that the suspension, which feels firm and sporty at first,  gets boat-like during turns and sudden changes.  With the stock ECU programming the limits of the suspension are just barely noticeable, but adding power gets you into trouble that much faster.  The better first upgrade is going to be a suspension modification, and there's two kits that seem to fit my needs and have been well reviewed in the forums: Stasis Touring and the Eurocode (really 3 kits, sway bars, links and Alu Kreuz) which overall cost about the same.   Obviously these particular kits are not designed to be radical or bring the A4 up to the racetracks.  In my case I need to be able to play chauffeur to clients and guests from time to time and I'm afraid having a sedan (or saloon) for guests and a sports car for me is out of the question.  If it wasn't, I'd be writing about the R8. 

I did a little research, and while Stasis can be installed by some Audi dealers, you don't seem to get any better warranty protection from Audi by doing so.  It voids the Audi warranty on the suspension exactly as if it had been installed by a third party mechanic.  On the other hand, I've owned several Audi's in the past, and I've never had a suspension problem before 70K.  After that, its' $3,000 per 7,000 miles.   My opinion on modifying your car is to do it early and enjoy the mods for the life of your car.  Don't wait until the warranty is gone and you are two years from selling it.  By that time you'll have misspent your car's youth!  Another thing going against the Stasis mods are that they do lower your suspension by about an inch.  Maybe in other climates I would consider it, but here in Massachusettes we have deep snow, slush, heavy rain and potholes to worry about.  Lowering the suspension by about an inch may just be enough to flood something important.

As a result I'll be going with the Eurocode upgrades.  For about the same amount of money you get the Alukrautz under-engine brace, sway bars, and upmarket links without lowering the suspension.  Mind you, it will void my suspension's warranty just as quickly, but given my experience with Audi, I have about 65,000 miles to worry about it.  If I ever move to warmer, more driver friendly climates I can add the lowering springs as well. 

To anyone looking to modify the Audi A4 with the B8 chasis,   no matter who you go with, do the suspension work first.  You'll be safer and feel more confident on the roads.  You may even decide that your Audi has gotten as sporty as you want.