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Thu, 19 Jan 2012

ServiceMagic: when spamming goes wrong

I've used a website called WorkBidder as a convenient way to find tradesmen to do tedious little jobs for me. It was a useful service. But I won't be using them again, because they've started sending spam. And not just the usual crap, this spam seems to be carefully crafted to tell me that they do not have the best interests of customers* at heart.

It reads:

Are you looking to take on more work? If so, WorkBidder has teamed up with ServiceMagic, UK's leading provider of work leads, to offer you a one-off special deal:

blah blah blah

We limit your competition to no more then 4 contractors

Never mind that they seem to have confused me, a lazy bastard, with their tradesmen, but that last sentence is the killer. Limiting competition - that is, setting up a cartel - is done for one reason only: to raise prices. Therefore I will not use them again, and I urge you not to either.

* yes, I know, I'm not their customer, the tradesmen who pay them a commission are their customers. I don't care.

Posted at 21:09 by David Cantrell
keywords: business | etiquette | spam
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Wed, 23 Mar 2011

Customer service, again

I have had more awesomely bad customer service, and more pretty damned good service too. Again, the bad service was from Vodafone, and the good service from a company that I don't even pay.

As I mentioned in an earlier installment, I was unhappy with Vodafone and decided to fire them. I eventually went back to O2, because even though they weren't great (their data network is slooooow almost everywhere) they do at least offer service throughout London. And so I needed to get a PAC code from Vodafone so that I could port my number back to O2.

Both O2 and T-mobile were able to give me a PAC code immediately when I was bouncing around between telcos earlier. Vodafone at first appeared to be able to do that, with the nice gentleman in their call centre reading it out to me there and then. Unfortunately, after he'd told me "VCN50753" the call dropped just before he told me the last digit. (Hmm, the call dropped. Think that might be why I'm changing telcos?) I called back, only to be lied to and told that it was completely impossible for any of their staff to tell me a PAC code and that I would get it by SMS within four days. Naturally, I didn't. Over the next 11 days I called them four times, each time being given new excuses and being told it would take another two days - two "business days", of course, because apparently their computers get the weekend off work and don't generate codes then. Finally, a "manager" (yeah right, it was just some other call centre grunt) did it yet again, this time "following the correct procedures". Of course, the SMS I was promised never arrived and when I called them for the last time, someone just read the damned thing out to me over the phone. It was VCN507532. So, for thirteen days they had the code and just wouldn't give it to me.

Last time, I said that fixing the customer's problem isn't the most important thing in customer service, keeping the customer informed is. Well, if there's anything worse than bad communication it's wrong communication. I was lied to for two weeks. I don't particularly care that for those two weeks I had to have two phone contracts, but I care an awful lot about being lied to.

I was a Vodafone customer for a long time a few years ago, before my flirtations with T-mobile for a coupla years (because their data plans were a lot cheaper) and with O2 (because iPhones were originally tied to them), but the old Vodafone, four years and more ago, treated me well. On the rare occasions I had to talk to them they just got shit done and I didn't have to call them twice on the same subject. They had a damned good network too, with good coverage everywhere. I doubt I'll ever go back to Vodafone again. They've let their technology go to shit and what used to be a good voice network is now a piss-poor data network and a piss-poor voice network, with woeful coverage even in the centre of London. But continually lieing to their customer is the ultimate sin.

And the good service that I mentioned right at the beginning? Because of a stupid bug in the iPhone software - it doesn't come with a to-do list application - I use a third-party application called Toodledo. My list is also available to me on my desktop via their website. And I found a bug in the webby version. I reported it, and cynically expected to maybe get a terse acknowledgement a week or two later and then nothing more. What I got in reality was, at the very beginning of the next "business day", both an acknowledgement that yes, there was a bug, but also a brief but helpful note with a work-around. Again, good customer service, from a small company, who I'm not a paying customer of, simply comes down to quick, clear and true communication.

Posted at 19:59 by David Cantrell
keywords: etiquette | rant
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Tue, 8 Feb 2011

Customer Service

I have recently had both some spectacularly good customer service, and some really quite poor service. In a great example of "you get what you pay for", the bad service was from Vodafone, to whom I pay a chunk of money every month, and the good service was from Sourceforge, who I pay exactly nothing.

Since my mobile contract with O2 ran out just over a month ago, I've been trying to find a better provider. First, I tried T-mobile. They were cheap, and while their coverage was no better than O2's (and that's why I left O2 in the first place) I don't really mind when they charge only a third of the price. However, I couldn't stay with T-mobile, because of their appallingly bad software. Someone sent me an MMS, which T-mobile notified me of, inviting me to go to a webshite to look at the image. That webshite chastised me for not using IE6, a decade old web browser which only works on Windows. In particular, it doesn't work on mobile phones. You know, the platform T-mobile's customers use. In fact, that website didn't work with any of the four browsers I tried on three platforms, and the message was lost. So fuck T-mobile, with a pineaple. I lasted ten days with them before firing them for gross incompetence, and switched to Vodafone.

Unfortunately, Vodafone haven't exactly pleased me either. For some bizarre reason they saw fit to censor my web access from my phone, and to charge me for the privelege of turning the censor off. I grudgingly paid up (it was only a quid) only to receive a text message with words to the effect of "the censor has been turned on, your web access will now be filtered". One quick call to customer services and it was fixed, the phone-drone (who was actually quite helpful) telling me that this was a common problem, because the wording on their website was wrong. So, it's a known problem, but they can't be arsed to fix it. They also failed to notify me when someone left me a voicemail, so I picked up an important message several days late, and despite me specifically buying a tariff for iPhone users, visual voicemail doesn't work. When I emailed them to ask them to sort it out, I got what is obviously a canned answer to a vaguely related question, but not actually what I wanted. If they can't fix that tomorrow, I'm firing Vodafone too. Trouble is, I'm running out of alternatives. Any suggestions? Must have excellent 3G coverage in London, excellent voice coverage nationwide, and usable (if slow) data coverage in Ruralistan. Must support the iPhone's shiny features. Must not be T-mobile beause they're incompetent cunts.

As for Sourceforge, they recently had a bit of a problem with naughty people trying to break in to their systems. They proactively spotted the problem. They notified all their users. When I emailed them with a query I got a personal response within a couple of hours, pointing me at a couple of webpages which they were keeping updated with status reports. That's good customer service. Fixing the customer's problem isn't actually the most important bit of customer service (Sourceforge still haven't fixed everything a week later) - the most important bit of customer service is communication. Communicate quickly and clearly and customers will put up with an awful lot.

And also I should give Apple an honorary mention. I went into their shop yesterday (and damnit, it's a shop, not a store), and was served by a Sikh gentleman with a Magnificent Beard. Hurrah!

Posted at 23:37 by David Cantrell
keywords: etiquette | rant
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Tue, 30 Nov 2010

Public Service Announcement

It is November. If you have your Christmas decorations up already - if you've even considered thinking about maybe putting them up - you are in a state of sin and are an Abomination in the Sight of the Lord, Cursèd for all time.

Christmas decorations are not permitted to be displayed in homes and offices until one week before Christmas day, and are not permitted to be displayed in shops until two weeks before Christmas day.

Thankyou for your attention.

Posted at 23:34 by David Cantrell
keywords: etiquette | rant
Permalink | 3 Comments
Mon, 10 Nov 2008


What's the point of umbrellas? To be effective, their diameter needs to be slightly more than h * sin(ϑ) (where h is your height and ϑ is the angle of the rain from the vertical). So, if rain is falling vertically you need an umbrella with diameter slightly more than* the width of your shoulders. If rain is going horizontally, you need an umbrella slightly wider than you are tall. If rain is coming down at 20° from the vertical, you need an umbrella diameter just over 0.34 * your height, and so on.

Given that rain can subtend any angle from 0 to 90° from the vertical, then unless you wish to be your umbrella supplier's very best friend in the whole world, you need a Very Large umbrella. And yet, no-one carries such a thing. Indeed, I don't think anyone makes such a thing suitable for anyone other than midgets. So we see that every umbrella user has, from the point of view of keeping themselves dry, made the wrong decision. Their partial solutions are no better than what they would achieve by wearing a good coat and a hat.

Unfortunately, their partial solutions come at the cost to everyone else of getting poked in the face by the metal spikes at the edge of the umbrella.

* the value of "slightly more" is a function of ϑ and the shape of the human body. A good approximation would be to assume that a person's width is h/3 and their depth is h/4.

Posted at 22:21 by David Cantrell
keywords: etiquette | maths | rant
Permalink | 2 Comments
Sun, 16 Dec 2007

Public Service Announcement no. 1

Using airport codes like EDI to refer to cities (EDI is the code for Edinburgh) is neither big nor clever. In fact it makes you look like a bit of a dick. Similarly, using airport codes to refer to airports (eg saying "Ell Aitch Are" when you mean "Heathrow") also makes you look like a bit of a dick unless you are both:

  • in the travel industry; and
  • talking to someone else in the travel industry

Thankyou for your attention.

Posted at 21:26 by David Cantrell
keywords: etiquette | transport | travel
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Tue, 12 Jun 2007

On The Buses

Thanks to the AWESOME POWER of mobile interweb, I'm writing this on the bus to work. Sitting oposite me was an extremely fat woman. But for the last mile, while the bus went past several stops, she has been standing right in front of that seat leaning on the seat back for support. Why she would do this I don't know, but she has refused to move and let someone else take the seat. It's at times like these that I am grateful for our absurd gun laws, as I doubt that a jury would pay much attention to my "she had no manners and deserved to be shot" defence.

Posted at 09:39 by David Cantrell
keywords: etiquette | london | transport
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Wed, 6 Sep 2006

An etiquette question

When one goes to a restaurant and finds that one's neighbour is one of the waiters, what should one do? I got drunk (well, more drunk) on sake and broke crockery.

Sorry Geoff.

Posted at 00:30 by David Cantrell
keywords: drinking | etiquette
Permalink | 2 Comments