I say, you do

I’ve had a lot of trouble with couriers this week, or at least it’s felt like it, and it’s struck me that acting on feedback really is a bit more than just doing what customers say. For a good customer experience, you have to fix the problem instead.

In reality, I just had one problem – a parcel gone missing – but resolving the problem took two extra days’ waiting, three generally aggravating calls and four emails assuring me that Amazon wanted to be the ‘most customer-centric company in the world’.

That desire seems at best a stupid thing to say on emails only generally seen by the very customers you’ve pissed off, and at worst just a lie. Does Amazon really want to be the most customer-centric company in the world or is that just what they want to tell us.

I know that it’s a lie because this week an Amazon Logistics courier turned up at my flat to deliver something that wasn’t on his van. Which did show he was dedicated, but also that something had gone wrong.

The net result of the mistake was Amazon shipping six Dell monitors from Fife to Weybridge and four back from Weybridge to Fife, stopping on the way to drop the other two off with me, in Hampshire. Where I wanted them to be.

Mistakes and errors happen but I’m not sure being ‘customer centric’ does actually mean running some kind of Tour De England for Dell Monitors in my honour. Not least because I don’t even watch sport on principle.

When things go wrong, I don’t actually want anyone ‘taking this very seriously’ or even apologising for the mistake. They happen. I’ll live and you, call centre worker, don’t really care all that much. I’m fine with that. So why the farce of multiple surveys and despatching multiple monitors all over the place? To make me feel like you were doing something, I think.

On a similar note, I don’t think I understand why Royal Mail have gone to the effort of developing this page on their website to explain a problem rather than just fix it.

It’s the best example I’ve ever seen of a ‘customer-centric’ policy being implemented and yet it’s the worst example of caring about the customer experience. Doing what customers say isn’t solving their problems.

Waiting for my letter and pondering how I’d ended up in the mid 50s somehow waiting for messages transcribed onto paper and driven from one part of the country to another, I imagined the conversation that led up to that page being born.

“So, Bill thanks for coming to this meeting. We’ve not had chance to catch up for a little while and I have to tell you the emails have been mounting up. We seem to have a little problem with the tracking tool; people are telling us they don’t know what we mean when we say their parcel has been subject to an outward RDC Volumetric Acceptance.”

“Well that’s terrible, John. We really must sort that out.”

“Definitely. Yes, no. We really should action something ASAP. So a couple of the customer complaints have asked us to put up a page explaining what all these phrases mean. Do you think you could get that looked at and get Sam and the web guys to get it online by COP Tuesday? We’re really keen to put the customers at the centre here.”

“Brilliant John! I’ll get on it straight away. Thanks for calling me over for this chat. It’s been really insightful. We really do need to be doing more of this ‘explaining’ stuff to our customers. It’ll just make the whole experience more frictionless.”

I mean, would it really have been more effort to have changed what the website displays to make it seem less like having a tracked letter delivered required a degree?

Would it really have been all that expensive to get someone in Weybridge to pop the two monitors that had already headed down from Scotland back on a van to me, instead of on a van to Scotland to swap places with the four they were sending down in my direction?

There’s a big difference between customer-centric and doing what customers say they want.

Acting on feedback should be more than just I want you get but all too often it’s not, because they’re all too busy being customer centric to actually think of how to fix the problem in the first place.

Preparing to go car free

It disgusts me that I’ve now had a driving licence for eight years, just because of how old it makes me feel – but for eight years and seven months I’ve loved driving and now I’m preparing to give up my car again.

It’s the third time I’ve had to go own-car-free. First was when I went to University (a practicality), the second time when I started working in London in a job which paid me not nearly enough to live, let alone have a car and now I’m doing it again because I don’t want to spend all of my 20s in debt.

If this time is anything like the last two times then not having a car will have the same side effects. Any of these sound familiar?

1. I WILL BECOME THE LAZIEST PERSON YOU KNOW, AND I WILL NEVER SHOW UP TO THAT THING

I’ll avoid going places more than I already do because everywhere is suddenly far further away, trains only go places I don’t want to go and have timetables that make the trip impractical and I’m not getting a taxi because then I might have to talk to the driver

2. I’LL NEED A CHANGE OF CLOTHES WHEREVER I GO

The only time I’ll ever be arsed to go out is when it’s raining, and no matter how heavy it looks I’ll always assume it won’t be too bad. I will arrive everywhere with my hair flopped forward, hair product dripping into my mouth and my clothes more useful for putting out chip fat fires.

3. THE THREE POINT CHECK WILL FAIL EVERY TIME

I’m male. I have, and carry with me at all times my phone, my keys and my wallet. The three point check takes place when I first leave the house and every 30 or so minutes until I’m back home again, when I promptly lose all three without noticing.

The only way I can currently spot my keys through a quick pat on the outside of my jean pocket is because of my chunky car key. When it’s gone, I might as well be sedated because I’m going to spend three months freaking out that I’ve lost my keys.

4.MY LIFE WILL GET SHORTER

When you drive somewhere from here, it takes about 30 minutes. When you get a train from here, it takes about an hour and a half. Doesn’t matter much where you want to go – it’ll be further away.

Which means less time to do whatever it is that you wanted to do. So what’s the point? See #1.

Selborne to Alton

5. I WILL BROWSE CAR WEBSITES FOR THE NEXT FEW YEARS

Despite knowing my choice is for good reasons, it aint gonna stop me looking for ways to get back on the road. No longer having a car I’ll suddenly need to know everything about all of the cars that I’d like to buy.

The best tyre to buy for a Fiesta ST? Probably in my head by next week. 0-62 time of a Fiat 500 Abarth? Yup, that’ll be there too.

Just 15 months and 30 days to go.

#642Things: LIVUNG

It’s your worst nightmare isn’t it? You never think about it as you walk past people on the street, sat on the pavement with their manky sleeping bag, bits of newspaper, their scruffy jumper and the obligatory dog. This is one of those things you wake up in the middle of the night sweating over, this.

I’ve always been different. Right back to primary school people always used to be able to spot it and, of course, they’d pick on it. It’s what kids do isn’t it? Seek out the ones who just aren’t quite the same and then make sure they know about it; more fool them though because every one I’ve ever met who was bullied at school has turned out far better than the ones who spotted it. It must be something about late-developing genius, not having the skills to blend in early or something means you stand out from the crowd when you’re older. Couple it with just a little tiny bit of genius and there you go: a success.

Well this is me standing out now, Mum.

Sat here on the closed lid of this toilet, waiting for the cleaners to shut up shop so that I can have free rein over the place for another night.

I was reading about it a few nights before it happened: when most people get made homeless they spend a few weeks, maybe a few months, doing what they call ‘sofa surfing’: staying with friends, switching between them, perhaps never telling anyone the full story of why you’re there or ever mentioning that you’re, y’know. That you don’t necessarily have a home of your own at the moment.

It means the homelessness figures are all wrong, so it’s a right pain for the Government to work out just how many of us there are. Not that I’m in their figures either. I don’t suppose even the most attentive homeless charities have taken to scouring their local IKEA after hours for the distinguished modern hobo have they?

It’s quite a good place to stay, when you think about it. I’ve not been doing badly out of it anyway – it’s been nine months now that I’ve been here, and the 99p breakfasts still haven’t lost their edge. I’m getting a bit sick of meatballs to be honest.

IKEA’s got just about everything a middle class person without somewhere to lay their Waitress organic quinoa might want. A comfy bed for the night, every night, no matter what kind of mattress you prefer. There’s sofas, desks, chairs and more cushions and rugs than you could ever want to lie on and the moonlight shining through the skylights dotted about the place makes it feel just a bit romantic.
The day times here are easy: I try and get out as much as possible but spending the day here an be a lot of fun and less hassle, especially if it’s raining out. The one thing this place doesn’t do well is washing or drying clothes.

I designed 4 kitchens today; the first time round I acted the customer and pretended I’d got an absolutely massive one. I had them putting everything in.I think we ended up with about four coffee machines and all at different heights so that my dwarf wife and her 7ft tall step-son could both have easier access, and then two for me obviously. Because sometimes I like decaf.

By my fourth time round I switched roles, and I ended up designing the kitchen for this lovely couple who’d come in with their 18 month old daughter.

She slept for most of the consultation, but towards the end – just when we were discussing the merits of a stainless steel sink over a granite one – she woke up and there wasn’t a peep out of her. Just a lovely smile. Even she must’ve liked the kitchen.

It ended up looking lovely on the screen and they were so pleased with it. They said I could pop over for a cuppa once they’d got it finished if I had the time.

The night times are a bit harder. There’s just so much time.

It was all so sudden when it happened that I didn’t think all that much about it. I just had to find somewhere to be, and I wanted to get a new bookcase. So there I was. In IKEA. And here I am waiting for the cleaners to finish up and lock up. They won’t be long now, I suspect. They’re normally done by about 11, which is quite impressive if you think about the size of this place, and they’ll be long gone by11.30. Then it’s all mine.

I usually wander about at first. The toilets, where I hide from the cleaners each night from about 9pm, are at the very front of the store so every night when I emerge it’s just like the first time I walked in through the door. I head straight for the beds. Through the pre-made living rooms, past the bloody kitchens and into the ‘desk and chair’ section.

They really do keep that hydraulic fake-arse running all the time testing the seat, you know. It scared the absolute shit out of me the first night when I heard it: I’d forgotten it was there, and it sounds so odd in the dark when you can’t see what’s happening and you remember that you’re creeping about in an IKEA store after it’s closed, looking for somewhere to sleep.

I don’t know what I thought it was but I was almost certain I’d been caught and I was about to get slung out, or worse slung into a cell somewhere. Maybe it’d be better in a cell?

It’s good to have a bed each night, don’t get me wrong, but living in IKEA isn’t the easy ride you might think. I mean aside from the farts that a diet of cheap bacon and eggs and meatballs and chips generates, there’s the problems finding a plug to charge your phone, the constant fear of being caught, and the bloody one-way system.

You’d never be able to get lost in your own house after nine months living there, would you? Yet, I can still manage it in this place.
If I’ve learnt anything from these last few months it’s that short cuts are never shorter routes to where you wanted to be. They all lead to the children’s section and in my case an hour or so of trying to get comfortable sleeping on a rubberised, garish sofa. I dread to think how much urine it hasn’t absorbed.

Nope, never believe short cuts are going to get you where you want. You get offered everything you’ve ever wanted, a chance at happiness, to do exactly what you want without all of that pesky admin and agro.

Then they find out, and they have to go and spoil it.

Picture by Fernanod on Flickr

A week with Apple Music

It’s been a little more than a week with Apple Music now, but today I reinstalled Spotify and walked away – but I didn’t want to.

If you read my blog earlier in the week, you’ll know I’m not anti-Apple at all and I’m pretty convinced that they’ve created the future with Apple Pay. I’ve got a MacBook Pro, an Apple Watch, two iPhones (I’m still not sure what to do with the 5C I keep in my desk drawer really), an iMac and an iPad. I’m really sold on the whole Apple thing, but Music just isn’t quite right.

When I pick up an Apple product I expect that I’ll work out how to use it pretty instinctively, but I’m still struggling with Apple Music. I’ve never read instructions for any of my other Apple products, but with Apple Music I’m increasingly feeling like I need a Reader’s Digest guide for it – and that’s just because of the awful UI.

I think it feels more like I’ve been given accidental access to full-length previews of songs on the iTunes store than a dedicated steaming service

There’s plenty of people around the Internet saying the same thing about the UI being awful: on OS X it feels badly wrapped off from the iOS App and on both you can get lost in a set of menus in search of an option that doesn’t exist.

Clicking on a song takes you to the album, clicking on an album takes you to the artist and I’ve no idea what clicking on an artist does but I can only assume it’ll have something to do with downloading a U2 album.

Basically, I think it feels more like I’ve been given accidental access to full-length previews of songs on the iTunes store and not that I’ve signed up to a shiny new streaming service.

Even the little things, which Apple are usually so good at, aren’t quite there: My offline playlists don’t work when I’m offline, I’ve somehow ended up with entire albums in playlists instead of individual songs and when I click play on anything there’s a noticeable pause while it considers playing it.

And don’t even get me started on why everything you search leaves you in the ‘new’ tab, or why you have to turn off connect in restrictions to get a bloody ‘Playlists’ button on iOS.

The whole thing looks like a marketing team leading the development schedule, the development schedule leading the UI and no one having the balls to mention that even before it became a music discovery and streaming app, iTunes was already a mess.

I’m sticking around for now, but only because I want it to be better than it is. I mean, they fixed maps eventually didn’t they?

A week with Apple Pay

After a week or so of using Apple Pay almost exclusively, I’m convinced it’s the future.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been carrying around some kind of payment or loyalty card on my phone. It started out with an unofficial app for my Tesco Clubcard and it’s only grown since.

I bet you’re the same, carrying around loyalty and payment cards for Starbucks, Subway, Costa, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Nectar, Cineworld and countless other one-time things like Airline tickets. It’s worked really well and, while I’ve said before that I’ve scrapped loyalty schemes, I’m guilty of carrying round more loyalty cards on my phone than I ever did in my wallet.

With success often there comes problems and the Passbook phenomenom is no exception. Without fail, almost every single time I’ve paid using my watch or phone since Apple Pay launched there has been some kind of untidiness about the transaction – and it’s Passbook’s fault.

Perhaps there’s an argument that retailers should have been preparing their staff better, perhaps card payment merchants should have contacted shops with contactless to let them know something new was coming that would work in their store, or perhaps it’s just something that needs time to bed in but I’ve been shocked by how confusing store staff have found the whole thing.

My first transaction, at 8am on the day Apple Pay launched in the UK, was confused – the Barista assumed I wanted to scan my Costa Card and turned on the scanner, not the card reader – but that’s not as bad as the Starbucks Store in Southampton this week who made the same assumption, only to find that cancelling it and clicking ‘card’ froze up the store’s tills.

A lady in McDonald’s just tried to make me insert my phone into the card slot. #ApplePay— Nic (@picnarkes) July 15, 2015

The staff member serving me at the coffee shop by work that I use on a regular basis had to call her manager when I paid with my watch, essentially accusing me of breaking their till or committing some kind of fraud because she didn’t think Apple Pay was allowed in her store. On the whole, I’ve just met massive problems with trying to communicate clearly how I’d like to pay.

“I’d like to pay with Apple Pay” is the obvious one, but that’ll only work in some places that have signed up or understand it’s just the same as contactless. Even in Nando’s (an official partner) asking that and presenting it to the chap serving was met with “what’s that?”, and that seems to be the theme.

I tried out asking “Can I pay by contactless?” and that worked in Hampshire, but trying it London was just met with someone looking confused. The same of “I’d like to pay by card” in shops I know support contactless, and of “Can I pay by Apple Pay? It’s just a contactless card.”

It seems the wrong way round, but I’ve actually found the language barrier with so many staff in retail in London means Apple Pay has a far better user experience than in our buzzing capital and I’m not sure how we fix that. Perhaps it’s just a case of waiting, and paying using Apple pay as much as possible.