Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How not to win customers... SMC Removals of Sandy #fail

We live in a quiet lane in a small hamlet, but unfortunately just outside the house is a short spur of public road which is often used by visitors to our neighbours (and lost drivers) to execute a three-point turn.  Generally it’s not a problem – but when dirty great lorries do it, at stupid o’clock, with the musical accompaniment of the reversing beeps it can be annoying.
Occasionally it can be *really* bloody annoying.  When drivers cannot manage their vehicles, and either do 15 point turns, or get jammed in the middle of a turn we often feel it necessary to nip out and survey their works and ensure that they do not either a) knock down our wall or b) drive over the planted verge that is in front of the wall.
Last week a removal lorry got almost completely locked in across the lane, and we had to go out and keep an eye on things.   In doing almost completely static 3 point turns they managed to churn up the tarmac.

So I thought I’d use their web presence to give them our feedback, which was a bit pointed but then we did want them to mend the damage to the road surface:
“We prevented your driver from knocking down our wall, and corrected their impression of a garden verge as being "just weeds"; however what remediation do you intend for the (albeit mildly) churned up tarmac on the lane outside our house where your driver… …was only able to move by turning the wheels on the spot…”

It was with some amusement that we received this back:
“It was actuall me who was driving the vehicle on the day in question.
Whilst I appreciate your wife being exrtremely irate that we came close to your wall, it was I believe reasonable to assume that the ground outside of your wall was not part of your garden.
I did apologise to your wife at the time for this oversight.
With regards to churning up tarmac, I would have thought that the last people to lay tarmac on that piece of road were the Romans in 55BC, and I am absolutely amazed that you are trying to seek some sort of recompense for what I saw was at best a dirt track, and in the short space of time we were there we saw large dumper and building trucks going up and down the lane.”

I don’t see this as a logical part of their “friendly and professional service”, I’d dispute the word extremely.  And of course the word remediation has nothing to do with recompense – we just want the surface re-instated.

Equally tickling is the dual assertion that the road surface is both dirt and tarmac (which was invented about 1500 years after the Romans left!).

I’d say it’d be better to mollify complainants than discharge aggressive, factually incorrect and facetious replies to potential customers.  Pissing people off is never a good B2B or B2C tactic

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why a lot of non-jobs should go

As you cannot fail to be aware, the UK is going through a massive planning exercise to remove large sums of expenditure from the public sector.  It's not nice, but it's a necessary part of getting government spending down to lower levels so that the country can live within its means.

I have a suggestion.  In many local councils and government bodies there is a swathe of jobs in recently popular areas.  The jobs are a declaration by the body that they take an issue seriously and are taking steps to sort it.  I'm thinking of jobs in environmental, diversity, promotion of recycling, you know the sort of thing I mean - jobs that pay £30-50,000 a year (along with the associated employers and benefits costs).

Compare this with the real world of manufacturing which is part of an economy that actually generates money for the country rather than just spending it (OK that's perjorative, but not unfair).  There, as far back as the 80's Quality departments were under pressure as manufacturing costs had to be clawed back for businesses to survive.  The thinking then (and some of this came from the Japanese manufacturing world), was that everyone has a responsibility in the company for quality.  It wasn't a bolt on feature that came after the widget came off the line - it had to be built in, every member of staff had to understand their role in ensuring that quality was to the necessary standards.

I propose the same for all these jobs in local and national government and organisations like the BBC.

Any job that relates to a policy that should be embraced by all staff, and acted upon universally should be removed and those responsibilities transferred to all staff as part of their normal job requirements.

So for instance: promoting equality in the workplace.  Everyone in any workplace should know that they are required to be fair to all people irrespective of race, creed, colour, religion, sexual orientation, shoe size (OK, that's a joke).  Anyone failing to do that should be processed by the organisation's hierarchy as a natural part of employment.  It does not need a flotilla of staff within the organisation to ensure this.
Equally for an organisation that requires this of it's clientele (a local council for instance), the staff should also be able, trained, and required to ensure that the treatment of the clientele, and (if necessary) the behaviour of the clientele is appropriate and reasonable.  We don't need a bunch of highly paid staff to ensure that this happens.

The bottom line is that government funded bodies need to learn to integrate their policies and standards into day to day life, and stop employing expensive staff who only create policies and procedures that self justify, and then create a further workload to ensure that the incumbents positions are secure.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The non-delights of being a @virginmedia customer, and their feeble approach to security

Now i don’t suppose anyone out there would expect an ISP to deliver a 100% performance given that a lot of their delivery is over third party (BT) equipment.  But I do expect a reasonable, informed and effective response to problems.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in the vain hope of getting that, but I do expect it!
My recent experience started on Monday when my secondary ADSL service (from virginmedia – a hangover from my time as an ntlworld customer in the 90’s) stopped working.  The line is used to give me some redundancy, and (perversely given the physical BT lines come on the same circuit) a better performance than my Nildram business service.  Because of this I use the connection for more domestic surfing to keep the load off the business network.
To give Broadband some credit, I assumed there were issues in my network or router for some time before I discovered by checking the virginmedia website that they had some ADSL provision issues.  My router was showing a connection, but had no IP or IP settings.  In about an hour, all came back and all was well.
On Tuesday, about 6pm the same thing happened.  After the first experience I hit the virginmedia site straight away and discovered they had another major outage.  So I gave them some time, and then tried intermittently to get the service (by rebooting the router, and occasionally trying the “IT Crowd” switch it off and on treatment).  By midnight it was still out, so I tried calling the helpline.  On the first occasion I spoke to someone who seemed a) 8000 miles away, b) sounded like they were 8000 miles away.  I asked her to turn up the volume (my phone was already on max), and during the process she cut me off.  So I went through the same tiresome menu options again (at *MY* cost), to get through to an agent who cut me off as they answered.
By take 3 they were clearly receiving a lot of calls (at midnight?) and I was asked what type of music I wanted to listen to on hold – not a promising question to be asked.  But I chose, and then a couple of tracks came in, to be repeated, and repeated.  At this point having wasted a substantial number of my earth minutes I gave up.
Two days later (and despite a tweet to the virginmedia account) I still had no connection.  So I tried calling again.  This time I got through to an engineer who on getting the details decided he should put me through to someone higher up the tech support chain.  I guess my use of the phrase “your DHCP service seems to be failing” might have over-stretched his technical skills.
So onto the next engineer – he clearly knew what he was talking about in terms of the technical background to the problem; but I was rather bemused by the requirement to connect to the router by a wired connection.  Eventually he accepted that I could connect using my mobile phone browser as I was able to give him the answers he wanted (about information on the router’s webpage) from the phone.  (Although this did come back to bite me later on when I tried to type in the password field!)
At this point (after checking some values were as they should be) things took some interesting turns…
  • He asked me to retype my password into the router.  And read me the password from their files!
  • When that failed, my password was changed, and then I had to type it in and it all came to life.  However as it was doing so he put me on hold.  After waiting 2 minutes to see why he could not talk to me I gave up, and hung up the phone – it was working and why should I help fund virginmedia further?
So this all begs some questions:
  • Why do virginmedia keep password information in clear text – obviously some customers with weak password policies may use the same password on more than one site (not recommended I know, but…) and therefore a data leak may lead an identity attack, or compromise other information or website access
  • Why can virginmedia staff change the password and then tell you they have done it – surely a good protocol would be to explain they think they need to do it, and ask if would be OK?
  • Why does changing the account password mean that their entire technical infrastructure will suddenly let my router connect and allow me to use the service?
  • Was there some deeper technical problem earlier in the week where client passwords were compromised or lost?
  • Why did the password change significantly remove a hardening approach by removing all upper case letters?
  • If a company offers a service with a helpline that costs the client, then why does it need 2 minutes of press 1 for a, 2 for b etc. to get through to the right line.  If you have that structure, why not give it out with the number and allow customers to route more quickly to the technician, thus reducing the cost?
  • If you are going to cut customers off – do you not have a moral duty to reimburse the costs the customer has lost by having to make the call more than once?
  • If you have had serious infrastructure issues – why are you not offering apologies to customers and refunds for a service paid for, but not received?

Monday, July 12, 2010

How not to deliver and electronic forms service. #HMRC #fail

When someone dies you are obliged by UK to complete a number of forms for the HM Revenue and Customs.
Intelligently they have created the forms as interactive PDF’s so that you enter the details, and if there are figures to be calculated it does them for you.  However I think their testing was somewhat limited.  I was using Foxit 3 on Windows 7 64bit and it was an imperfect experience…
When you first open IHT206-2 you get this
OK, it sort of makes sense, but what am I supposed to do if either a) or b)?
Then when you click on your first field, up comes this beauty – 8 times
What’s more it does not even say where the input value is on the form (it’s before I typed anything in!).  When I look through the document it looks like random text has been inserted into the numeric fields.
So at this point I thought a call to the helpline might be worth it (the clue being in the name of the service).  Getting through fairly quickly I spoke to a helpline operator.  However… …when I describe the problem, I was offered
a)      A paper form in the post
b)      A call back from someone who could help me fill in the form
I wanted neither – I wanted to report a failed document.  Someone might be ringing me back…
Some hours later they did call.  It seems they regard the 32bit Adobe Reader world as the only thing in town and other options have not been considered, let alone tested.  In the meantime I’ve discovered and installed Foxit 4 and it works a treat.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

FAO @MarcusduSautoy - my attempt at a fib!

When you
Things will seem quite clear
Home - the place where you can return
Is the place where you can relax and ease all your fear

Thursday, July 01, 2010

@BTCare - your data protection and customer service process are pitifully inadequate

Tonight I realised that CallerID had reappeared on one of our phone lines.  I had cancelled this as the line was rarely used, and generally took answerphone messages and therefore CallerID was largely useless, and BT (because I use another call provider) now charge £7.77 per quarter for the service.  This was support by an email I discovered from BT confirming the “request for a new service, and that it would cost £7.77 pq)
So I called the service and spoke to Sunil in Bangalore, India.
At which point he told me he could not talk to me about it because my name is not on the account.  This is despite the fact that my account is emailed to me, has been in my name since 2005, been paid for by me since then.  Clearly BT had, without any authority or request by me, changed my account details.
The situation took a Kafka-esque turn when “Because my name is not on the account” I could not be put through to a supervisor or manager to discuss the mistake BT had clearly made.
A series of entirely lunatic conversation elements took place.
Finally it appeared that there was a likely cause  - a few months ago my wife requested that BT actually put her business account in her name and not mine.  It seemed to me that it was likely BT had made a complete Horlicks of the request and not only changed my wife’s account – but also mine (a different BT account and a different phone number).
So she had to speak to them.  After a further series of discussions worthy of Kafka, and discussions with his supervisor, Sunil accepted that a mistake had been made and was gracious enough to talk to me.  At which point he accepted that a mistake had been made and would be corrected within 24 hours.  At which point I came to the CallerID issue.  Sunil now agreed he could discuss this with me and it was removed and I was assured that no charges would be made.  I requested an apology and compensation for the 45 minutes of my life that have been lost to this insane situation.
But a series of questions for BT.  If your policy is not to deal with anyone other than the named account holder
  1. Why did you process her email request on an account that was not mentioned or identified in her email?
  2. Why, when it was clear a mistake had been made do you refuse to let me escalate the complaint?
  3. Why is there no consideration for the fact that if the surnames are the same, then it might be that there is a connection?
  4. How is it that your premise is that BT cannot make a mistake therefore it cannot deal with a mistake?
  5. How is it that despite your prodigious defence of Data Protection considerations when on the phone, you are able to process a change to 1 account by someone who is not the account holder, and then execute *without request* the same change on another account again by someone who is not the account holder?

1st July 1916 - Battle of the #Somme begins

Lance Corporal David Albert Bryant S/9024 Rifle Brigade RIP

My Great-Great Uncle died on the first day of the Somme, yet it was only last year that our family found out he existed. Why it was kept a secret I don’t know, but I do know that my grandfather (who was 15 at the time) was named after him. Maybe the shock of his loss made it easier just to keep quiet. Different years, different times.

But Uncle David is (and has always been) remembered at Thiepval, along with over 70,000 other whose bodies were never identified or found.

Before my Father died earlier this year, we managed to get to the Somme to visit his memorial, and remember him properly.

Just 2 months and 2 days later, his brother Corporal Alfred George S/8324 also of the Rifle Brigade was killed.

Think you are clever #Outlook2010 ? No. (Take 2) #fail

You may have seen my annoyance earlier with Outlook 2010 and it's 'helpful' 'this is not the latest email' message here: http://corylus.blogspot.com/2010/06/think-you-are-clever-outlook2010-no.html
It's just got worse.
I received an email recently from someone i was trying to find and contact for my mother.  They replied yesterday, and I forwarded the email immediately to mum.  So today I replied to the person to let him know that I’d done so, and that she’d be in touch.  Guess what?
This is not helpful!  I don’t think it should squawk at me when I am replying to the latest message in the conversatino between me and the recipient.