In an article this week on TMCnet, the research firm TeleGeography reported that US subscribers using VOIP services rose 18 percent in the last quarter to 18.2 million with Vonage being the largest provider with 1.95 million subscribers. Why are they still the biggest? Massive media campaigns on the web, TV, radio, and sporting events helps…a lot. And don’t forget the catchy jingle and celebrity endorsements. But all that stuff just gets the consumer to the web site (retail sales excluded). What happens after that?
Of course once the consumer turns into a subscriber, keeping them is a whole other story. This blog, as well as many others, has touched on what appears to be widespread customer service problems. In fact, I still get responses to a post back in September on the runaround I received when I wanted to cancel my Vonage service. And my story wasn’t even one of the crazier ones. (Check out Tom Keating.)
Since cancelling Vonage in August, I’ve been keeping busy blogging about the a wave of emerging voice over Internet services. I haven’t applied for any other national broadband phone service, like Primus or Shaw Digital Phone, in my area. I’m happy trying various softphones and of course my PhoneGnome.
But, I decided to take a fresh look at the Vonage web site and see if they are doing anything differently. In my opinion, for all their faults once they’ve got you, Vonage does a lot that’s right.
1) Clear description of services/plans above the fold, with enough text to explain what the plan is all about without clicking
2) Site navigation is SIMPLE: tabs to products, services, availability and features are clearly identified
3) Upfront explanation of device bundles, including what’s free, what’s extra, and information to help figure out which device is right for me
4) Special promotions, deals, and other creatives are below the bread and butter products. This is important (I think). To me this says that our products are the most important thing we have to offer, not the limited time sweet deal.
Packet8, Lingo or SunRocket just don’t communicate as well. These three providers all had the basic residential and business plan info above the fold, but I found it took more clicks and more reading to find the additional information I needed. Comcast Digital Voice was the most annoying. Perhaps because they are basically an entertainment company, they feel they have to “entertain” me while selling phone service. A whole bunch of flash nonsense. Stupid. And they won’t tell me anything about their products/services until I tell them my address and zip code.
I guess my point, to make a long story even longer, is for emerging products and services to learn a few lessons here. Speak clearly to your audience. Communicate your product and services upfront. Explain what’s included (device bundles, software) and what’s extra BEFORE the sign up process. I don’t want to see a small asterisk footnote that says the service works with the purchase of $75 VOIP adaptor right at the very end. And finally, don’t hide behind walls of flash animation and annoying forms that make users type a bunch of stuff.