In the past, it was quite common for people to remain loyal to the first bank they ever opened an account with, opting to stick with it through the bad times and good.

Nowadays however unwavering customer loyalty is seen as rather a quaint relic of yesteryear and we have become a far more savvy lot of consumers. More aware of where better deals lie, we grit our teeth and overcome the administrative challenges that switching any sort of service or utility provider can require.

This switching strategy now includes our once simple TV. Increasingly linked to our communications and Internet, this centrepiece of our living rooms and our Saturday evenings is something that can’t be messed with.

We decided to look at how easy it is to switch between the main providers of paid for TV services – Sky and Virgin Media and asked four customers of each to test the other’s site using whatusersdo.com

First impressions

Users’ first impressions on each site were quite similar. Both sites have a slick look and feel with a large, rotating graphic section at the top. Users seemed to easily find their way to the first part of their journey but their experience became more complex from there.  

Some users looked specifically for information on switching to start their journey, while others looked for the different bundles on offer.

Both sites feature links to switching information but this was not necessarily very easy to find: 

Neither site seemed to address the practical concerns about switching that the users had such as whether they would be able to keep their telephone number or how to match the package that they currently have.

Choosing bundled services

Navigating the array of services of telecommunications and media companies can be a confusing but necessary evil with customers having to work out the marketing names and jargon first before having any hope of understanding the services on offer. (BT has been ‘expert’ in this field for many years). 

Virgin Media’s packages of TV, phone and Internet (or Collections as they are called) are named following a ‘status’ convention (e.g. Essential, Premier, VIP) which does little to explain the services they contain. 

Sky’s TV bundles at least take descriptive names such as Entertainment, or Sky Sports although this still caused our users confusion.

 

Both sites feature a ‘build your own bundle’ type feature to enable customers to assemble TV, Internet and phone services, with different levels of success.  

The Sky version is a wizard tool for customers who do not have a clue where to start but can give an indication of their usage habits for the media they consume. Virgin Media’s bundle chooser is unwieldy and confusing.

There is no clear start to the process and the user is deposited on a page where the language adds to the consuming – the differentiating letters – M, M+, L are downright unhelpful and the past tense (e.g. Broadband added, TV added) seems to suggest that you have already added something to your package before you’ve had chance to do anything (see screenshots below).

Clicking the large icons/tabs at the top enables selection of options within each, but shows no explanation of what they are other than the number of channels within the package.

I personally feel that when it comes to TV channels quality matters more than quantity (as there are only so many home shopping channels one can click through before getting RSI of the thumb) so this mechanism is simply not informative enough to confidently purchase from.

Pricing

Pricing information on VirginMedia proved to be inaccurate and confusing in some parts of the site. This user clicked on a category stating “Prices from £10 per month” but found that the prices started from £12.50.

Choosing TV packages

Should the user choose to start their journey by choosing a specific TV package, the experience on Sky is not so straightforward. The package builder tool features basic usability issues that make for a poor experience and probably discourage customers from completing their purchase online.

Usability glitches include: displaying two entries in the shopping basket list (e.g. Movies 1, Movies 2) from having clicked one add feature button which makes it unclear what basket entry is relating to which feature and showing error messages which fail to direct users to the solution (see screenshot below).

Adding to the basket

It wasn’t only the selection of nebulously titled TV packages that caused problems on Sky but also the selection of HD boxes. Users found problems with the ‘add’ buttons being unresponsive and were also unclear about the type and number of boxes they needed for the packages they chose.  

This clip demonstrates that the user was not confident enough to complete their purchase online: 

 

The Sky shopping basket mechanism itself was also the cause of problems. This clip shows a user becoming frustrated as she keeps finding that package items she has added have been deleted from her basket.

The Virgin Media shopping basket was not devoid of problems either. Having added one package or set of services, it is very difficult (maybe impossible) to clear your selections and edit your choice without deleting your cookies and restarting your browser.

Online chat

With a wide range of products, services and options and an experience that can potentially be confusing and overwhelming it is all the more vital to have the backup of effective online support.  

Our users did not always find this to be the case.

The introduction to the Chat function on Sky is deceptive. The screenshot below shows what appears to be a straightforward chat window, however it turns out that this is just an image and clicking on it opens another window where the user is required to enter certain information before the chat can commence.

The advice users received from the Sky Chat was not always clear: 

The Virgin Media chat was found to be slow and unresponsive which caused one user to give up on it altogether.  

Conclusion

Although our users were able to find relevant information about services, they would not necessarily have completed the switching process online.

Many were left feeling unsure about whether they had chosen the right selections or whether or not they could keep their number. Perhaps this is enough for Sky and VirginMedia, there are only a few media companies to choose from so they can rely on users resorting to the telephone for information.

From a user experience perspective however, if this is the first touch point with the organisation as a potential new customer, it leaves much to be desired.