Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rip Off Britain

I saw a link on the BBC website to submit story ideas for Rip Off Britain - so I submitted this idea - something that has been bothering me for a long time.

One of the biggest rip offs in Britain today is the selling of concert tickets months if not years before the actual event.

Typically events from major music and comedy stars sell out within minutes of going on sale, for example earlier this year I bought tickets for Michael McIntyre’s tour for dates in September 2012, almost 18 months before the actual show at the O2. The O2 has a capacity of over 20,000. The tickets are sold for £35 each, that is a total of £700k gross ticket revenue for just one show.

Michael McIntyre’s tour has over 58 dates, 6 of which are at the O2. I decided to do some quick maths for his entire tour – the dates for which are published here

Tickets for the tour went on sale at the end of March, 2011 and according to the Daily Mail sold out quickly

So, over £24m was paid out, about 18 months before the events. What happens to that money? Presumably some of it goes on fees for the venues, booking agents etc. – but I assume a substantial part of it gets paid to the artists up front. The Daily Mail article says not, claiming that he will "only" make £2m from the tour if it sells out. So who is getting all that money?

But what really concerns me is the fact that I have to pay the money so far in advance. If I bought 4 tickets for the show, costing £140, I am missing out on the potential interest for that amount. Over 18 months that is equal to approx. £6.50 at 3% savings rate. So the actual cost to me of the tickets is £146.50, approximately 4.7% more than the advertised price.

Now that doesn't sound a lot, but if you multiply that by the total amount of tickets sold in the tour, that is 688,200 x £35 x 4.7% = £1,132,089 of missed interest by fans who bought tickets for this tour. How many big tours are there every year, 10, 20, 50?

If I place an advance order on Amazon for the latest album by Coldplay, or new novel from JK Rowling, they do not charge me anything until the product actually ships. So why should we be paying all this money so far in advance?

These big stars could advertise their tour as early as they like, but don't actually put tickets on sale until a month or two at the most before the shows. Anything else and I believe they are ripping off their loyal fans.

What do you think?

Last Day of NaNoWriMo

So this is the last day of NaNoWriMo and I have to admit defeat. I started OK, lost some groujnd, then pulled it back about mid month. However, this has also coincided with a manic period at work and something had to give.

But I don't think it's a complete failure, I've written more in the last month than I have done in years and I think it's good stuff too.

So my personal commitment is to keep on writing and get this novel out of my head. Obviously long term goal is to be published, but that, as they say, is another story.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 14 of #Nanowrimo

So after Day 14 of NaNoWriMo, I am up to just over 17,000 words. To hit the goal of 50,000 words by end of November, I need to maintain another 2,000 per day. From a practical POV, I am totally capable of creatively writing 2,000+ words per day, but it is a combination of motivation and time that stops me.

I wrote over a 1,000 words on the train to work today and aim to do it again on the way home, but yesterday was a different story. On the train into London I didn't get a seat, nor on the way home, so no writing there. When I finally got home about 8.45pm, I knew I should write something, but the combination of TV and family meant it was soon past 11 and I was just too tired.

I suppose if you are talented and lucky enough to become a full time author, you don't have these issues, but I'm a long way from that. But I will persevere, this is the most writing I have done for years and I feel really good about it

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

NaNoWriMo Day 8

So Day 8 of NaNoWriMo and it's been a busy few days, unfortunately mostly Birthday related at the weekend, so not as much writing done as I would like. After 7 days (not counting today yet), I'm only up to 3,737. Which is an average of only 467 words per day.

So to hit the 50,000 I now have to do over 2,000 per day for the rest of the month...ho hum

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Day 1 of Nanowrimo

Spent several hours planning and writing last night, in a Mcdonalds of all places, whilst waiting for Hannah at her Irish dancing lesson. Only managed 790 words, but that was after a lot of planning and laying out several sections before actually writing something - could have written more, as was in good flow, but had to go and pick Hannah up.

If I get back into that flow today, then I hope to write 2-3 times that and get my stats back on track to write 1666 words per day. Note to self - must remember to update stats on the Nanowrimo site each evening as today it thinks it's Day 2, so my average is 395 words per day and it's predicting I will finish next March!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Taking part in National Novel Writing Month

After years of procrastination, I decided that drastic action was required and have signed up for NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. That works out to 1,666 words per day.

Now nobody expects to have a bestseller at the end of this, at best you will have a rough first draft - but as several of my author friends have told me - just get it out, get it on paper, onto your computer, anywhere than in your head - you can then edit, rewrite etc far easier because it's out.

Looking back at my pas efforts to write a novel, the best I did last year was writing about 7,500 words over a couple of months - so the pressure is on. The good news is that I still like that idea and plot, so can use the same broad outline and characters.

Just to add extra pressure and no doubt to give me an extra outlet for procrastination and do anything other than actually write anything, I will update this blog, my Facebook and Twitter profiles with my progress.

All comments, suggestions, offers of beer welcome - email me

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Successful Conclusion to Churchill Dispute

This actually happened a few weeks back, but I've been on holiday for two weeks, so no chance to update before now.

After disputing the offer I was made by Churchill, I finally got to speak to a far more reasonable and understanding person in the Customer Complaints team. He agreed that it wasn't just about specification, but also about the brand of the product - even though this is not clear in the policy wording.

We haggled a bit over the final amount, but in the end I am pleased with the result and believe it was a good compromise that allows me to go out and buy a laptop of similar style.

It's a shame it took several complaints and emails before getting to that point - I even had to chase up after receiving a letter promising a prompt response, after I had waited two weeks.

Personally I think Churchill Insurance keeps the language on their policy deliberately vague in their policy for this sort of issue, as I doubt many people would push as hard as I did. If that is the case then I do not like that business style, as it comes across as trying to provide a minimum level of service and not caring about the quality. If you compare that with the level of service you get with a brand like Apple, it just doesn't stack up.

Anyway, a good result and yet another reminder that it pays to be persistent and stand up for your rights

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

If at first you don't succeed...keep going

After a couple of days of waiting and playing phone tag, I’ve just come off the phone with one of the senior team in the Claims department at Churchill Insurance. Unfortunately, their position has not changed and they are only offering a new laptop based on spec not brand.

He explained that this is their company policy, but had no real answer when I challenged this as this is not stated anywhere in the current policy wording.

The matter has now been passed to the Customer Relations team, who will apparently write to me first before contacting me.

In the meantime, after writing the original blog, I tweeted about the situation to a few consumer advice gurus and had some feedback from Paul Lewis of BBC Moneybox

His first response was “New for old should mean what it says. Challenge the claim and if no joy then go to Ombudsman.” When I explained about the age of the laptop and the specification issue, he replied “Problem of advancing technology. Decide what you think is fair, ask for it, and if no then complain, if no again go to ombudsm”

I agree with him and think it is fair to have my old Sony laptop replaced by another Sony Laptop, not a bulky plasticky feeling Samsung. I will wait to hear what response I get from Customer relations.

In a related matter, they have agreed, in principle, to replace the software on the laptop – the major cost being Microsoft Office Professional – have submitted estimates to replace this and am waiting again to see what they offer.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Do you believe your Insurance company?

I can feel another dispute coming on, this time with Churchill insurance, a dispute over a home insurance claim.

Specifically, this dispute is arising from the definition of “as new” also known as “new for old”.

In this case an old laptop was accidentally damaged and has been assessed as uneconomic for repair – so far so good.  The laptop was a Sony Vaio, a premium brand, which when bought for over £1200, was described as a “desktop replacement entertainment machine” and in independent reviews, it was described as "Extremely elegant and time proof design” and  T3 magazine said “It looks hotter than a bikini-clad Caprice, has a great screen and uses the latest tech. All in all, it's hard to beat.”

The insurance company has offered, as a replacement, a Samsung laptop reviewed by PC Advisor as: “Build quality is also fairly solid, if a bit chunky and plasticky feeling. It’s a well-rounded package and certainly worth short-listing if you’re shopping for a no-frills laptop under £500”

On the face of it, hardly a good comparison.

So how can the insurance think this is a good replacement?  Well they say it is because it is a much better technical specification than the original laptop – which it is.  Not surprisingly of course with Moore’s Law driving tech specs higher and higher every 18 months – it’s impossible to buy a brand new laptop with the old specification.

So why am I unhappy?  Well, although, I would get a new laptop with a much better specification than I had – I am a bit of a brand junkie and Sony have been my brand of choice for a lot of my high tech kit for a long time (excepting my Apple iPhone)

Personally I don’t think replacing a high end (in  its day) well designed premium brand laptop with a chunky, plasticky no-frills laptop is what “as new” means.  Choosing a new laptop isn’t just about processor speed, RAM and Gigabytes, it’s also about the emotional Brand choice.

 However, this is where the problem comes in - there is no actual definition in the policy of “As new”, certainly no mention of “equivalent or better specification”.

For curiosity, I checked the policy documents for a few other major insurance companies and they are all just as vague.  The only one that is different is a mention on a review site I found about how Sainsbury’s Bank interprets “New for Old”.  It says:

Sainsbury's Bank offers you peace of mind at affordable rates and with superb customer service. Policy holder's claims are handled promptly allowing the policy holder to rebuild or replace that which is most important. With the “New For Old” feature, the policy holder who paid £125 for a brand new television in the 90s will be able to get the same quality of television today even if that television costs £300. Why? Because Sainsbury's Bank sees you as a person not just as another account or policy holder; because Sainsbury's Banks understands if you are comfortable and believe in their service, you will continue to be a client year after year.

I think this type of clear and unambiguous language is exactly what consumers need and I applaud it, although I couldn't actually find this on the current Sainsbury's bank website.

I then telephoned the Association of British Insurers and asked if there was an Industry best practice about the interpretation of “new for Old” – surprisingly there isn’t.

This is main reason, why I have decided to pursue this a bit further – I wonder how many people just accept this type of replacement, glad to have their kit replaced. 

But I don’t think it should be this way, Insurance companies looking for every opportunity to minimise their payout.  Policy documents need to be explicit about what “New for Old” actually means so when consumers are shopping around for the right policy for them, it is clear what they are getting.

If you know of any case studies in this area, please do comment and let me know, or you can reach me via Twitter

Friday, June 24, 2011

123-Reg - Problem resolved, but core issues remain

As of this morning, I now have 4 working websites, with 4 separate webhosting packages - effectively back to where I started over two weeks ago - except the packages I now have are better and allow the use of Wordpress.

So, overall I am better off, but I would have preferred not to have had the inconvenience and hassle of this whole experience.

In the end, 123-reg did the right thing, sorted it out and apologised.  However, looking at some of the comments I have received after writing this blog and describing my experiences on Twitter, I think 123-reg still have some significant issues with their products and services. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

123-reg - The end maybe in sight

10.15 this morning I get a phone call from the Senior Technical Consultant at 123-reg, he mentions specifically he is calling because of my email to Thomas Vollrath and the catalogue of errors over the past two weeks.

He apologised profusely for the experience I have had and has offered to give me 4 seperate hosting packages - one for each domain - at no cost, to resolve this experience.  It's clear that the Shared web hosting and domain sharing package at 123-reg has some significant issues, so I agreed with him that this was probably the most reliable solution.

He was also apologetic about the way the customer service and support teams have dealt with my issues and reassured me that this is not how they want to deal with customers.

So, top marks to 123-reg for a prompt response to my blog and email, but the fact remains that it should not have had to go that far.

What was also interesting, was that he had clearly read my blog in detail and tried to respond to some specific comments that I made, for example, using a customer complaint as an opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive one.

So, I hope the end is in sight, I've had this call - he has followed up with an email telling me what he will do, now let's wait and see if they actually follow through quickly

I hope 123-reg learn from this experience, rolling out new products and services is always difficult, but a core part of this process is not just testing that things work, but effectively preparing other parts of the business, namely technical support and customer service, to be able to deal with issues or avoid them completely.  The guy who called me freely admitted, that I should never have been offered the shared hosting package with the intended use I had outlined - if that is the case - why didn't Customer Services know this?

123-reg - Listening but will they answer?

After I posted my blog rant about 123-reg yesterday, I sent a link to the post to their MD, Thomas Vollrath by email, Linkedin and Twitter.  I also tweeted about it directly to their main account @123reg

So far no answer, but I did get a read receipt for my email at 23.45 last night

I did get a request from @123reghelp asking if they could help and could I DM them with the details of the problem.  Only issie is that they do not follow me on Twitter, so I can't DM them.  I commented back to them that it looks like their Social Media capabilities match their levels of Customer service

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

123-reg webhosting - Named and Shamed as providing poor customer service

It’s been quite a while since I have written on this blog – I really should get out of the habit of writing only when I am complaining about something – but I tend to use Twitter for my day to day comments.

So this post is about another example of poor customer service and my struggle to get a decent response from a big business when something goes wrong.

In every case when I have a complaint like this, I always try to go through the internal customer service and complaints process and only resort to this type of activity when my patience is exhausted.

So this time it’s about webhosting.

I’ve used for many years as both to purchase domains, manage my email domains and host my websites.

I have 4 separate domains hosted with

  • – a personal page really only bought for the email domain
  • – a corporate site for my consultancy business
  • – a corporate site for an Irish Dancing business
  • – a corporate site for my partner’s virtual PA business
For each domain I had purchased just the basic hosting package as none of the sites have high traffic.  The original package did not allow installation of any software such as Wordpress or Drupal, just basic HTML

I recently decided to move some of the sites over to use a CMS system and chose Wordpress for the broad range of Themes available as well as the ease of use.  I logged into the website to look at upgrading my webhosting to allow the installation and I noticed that all the packages had been updated to now offer Wordpress as a free app for all webhosting packages.  I also noticed that they were now offering shared hosting for multiple domains in just one webhosting package.

So instead of having 4 separate webhosting packages with 4 separate domains – it looked like I would be able to have just 1 hosting package with 4 domains hosted within it.

(Technically this was the first mistake made by 123-reg by not offering existing customers the benefits of their new packages, or being ready to offer them to old customers who notice the change – why do businesses alienate their best customers like this – customers who actually already paying good money for their services)

So I called 123-reg on Wednesday 8 June and talked to their customer service teams – I explained what I wanted to do and they told me that as an existing customer the new packages were not yet available for me – only to new customers, but it was suggested if I upgraded 1 of the hosting packages to the next level – business hosting – I would get all the new services and then I could cancel the other 3 hosting packages and get a pro-rata refund on the unused portions (they were annual packages)

This sounded good to me, so I agreed – I paid for a new annual package (about £75) and was told to copy my websites into the new webhosting, then use domain mapping to point my domains at the new versions.  I was also advised that the DNS change could take up to 48 hours  but should happen very quickly as it was all within the 123-reg shared hosting.

I copied the files across and then tried to use the domain mapping to point the domains to the right place.

Mistake 1

Unfortunately the 123-reg control panel can be a bit temperamental – I could see exactly what I should be doing, choosing a domain, then choosing where to map it to – but every time I tried, in multiple browsers, the form never populated with data so I couldn’t actually do it.  So I raised the first support ticket on Thursday 9th June.

I got a very fast response to my ticket – within 6 minutes – telling me the domain mapping had been put in place but that I should wait up to 48 hours for the DNS change.

Content with this, I got on with installing Wordpress into the one domain that was already within the webhosting and started to build a new website.

48 hours passed and I could see no change to the hosting listed for my domains in the 123-reg control panel.  To see if anything had happened, I logged into my webhosting via FTP and made a small change to one of the site homepages and then refreshed the site – no change was reflected, so I could tell the domain was still loading the old version of the website.

I posted an update to the ticket stating that the domain mapping had not taken affect and it had been over 48 hours.

Mistake 2

This time it took 2 days to get answer (Saturday to Monday) – telling me that the Domain mapping wouldn’t work until the old webhosting had been deleted and could I call their Customer Services to resolve matter.  Why should I have to call them, costing me money, when what they had told me to do didn’t work?

Hoping to resolve this matter quickly, I did call and spoke to a customer service team member, who frankly, did not know what they were talking about.  First they claimed that the person I had spoken to the previous week had done the wrong thing, pointed the domains to the original webhosting and said what I actually needed to do was web forwarding and he transferred me to a technical helpline.

The second person I spoke to disagreed and said no it was definitely Domain Forwarding and said I needed to speak to another team – again I was transferred.  This time I sat on hold for 20 minutes until giving up in disgust.

I raised another ticket and asked for somebody to call me back.  Nobody did.

If it is clear that a customer has an unresolved problem and the company admits it was their fault, surely best practice would be for someone in the customer service team to take ownership of the problem and try to resolve it, not keep passing the customer from team to team?

12 hours go by and get an answer to my ticket saying, the three old webhosting packages need to be deleted before any Domain Mapping will work, only the Customer Relationship team can do this so please call them.

Mistake 3

I telephoned and tried to resolve the matter over the phone.  The person I spoke to again didn’t seem to know what was going on and what was the best thing to do or who was the best person to speak to.  I asked to speak to a supervisor and was told nobody was available.  I asked for a supervisor to call me and was told we don’t call customers.  I insisted that somebody call me back otherwise I would take the complaint further and I was reassured someone would call me.

Nobody called back and my original ticket with the history of the issue was closed as resolved.

Companies who do not have an effective complaint escalation procedure are missing an opportunity to turn a negative experience in to a positive experience through good service. 

I recently had occasion to use an Apple Genius Bar repair service in an Apple store in London and the end result far exceeded my expectations, leaving me with a very positive feeling about the business – one which I proceeded to share to my professional network via Social Media

Mistakes 4 & 5

On 15 June, I opened a new ticket, referenced the old ticket and asked for a call back

Within three hours I had a reply asking me for more information – obviously the agent replying had not bothered to read the original ticket.

I did however then receive a call back from a supervisor.  I explained all the problems I had been having. She was quite brusque with me and stated:

  • I should not have been told I would get a refund on the old packages, they don’t do that
  • I really need to talk to a technical person who could resolve this for m
  • As a gesture of goodwill, she would extend my new webhosting package by 1 year 
I accepted the year extension and asked her to put it in an email to confirm what she had done.

I was then put through to the person the supervisor said could solve all the problems and was immediately told, actually no, I still need to speak to the webhosting team and she was about to transfer me. 

I told her that I had no confidence in that team and had been assured she could help.  So in the end, she proceeded to delete the original hosting and set up the domain mapping I originally had tried to do a week ago – it took less than 5 minutes.

I was told (again) it might take 48 hours to resolve the DNS changes and in that time all three of my other domains would be unavailable.

Unhappy with this, but content that I seemed to have found someone who actually knew what they were talking about, I resolved to wait for the domains to reappear.  I also reminded her that I had not received any email from her colleague about the extension to my webhosting.

If a company chooses to offer a service such as multiple domain hosting in a shared web hosting environment, then they have a duty of care to existing customers to deliver a high quality service that minimises disruption to a customer’s business.  In addition, if a customer service rep promises to do something, they must follow through.

Mistakes 6

17 June came around and none of my domains had reappeared – in fact, if anybody tried to access any one of the three domains, they were immediately redirected to the 4th domain that was sitting in the root of the web hosting – a totally unconnected brand – very confusing for the visitor.

I called the helpful customer service agent back asking for help and she said I needed to now speak to webhosting team – but she promised to talk to them first and explain the situation.  I waited on hold and then she came back and told me that the failure of the Domain Mapping was a “known issue” and had been escalated in their engineering team – but no idea when it would be resolved, so I just had to wait.

If a company experiences a major technical issue that requires escalation, surely they should notify affected customers ASAP, especially customers who have already raised this issue independently?

Mistake 7

I added a comment to the ticket on Saturday 18 June, complaining about the lack of contact, the outstanding issue and the fact that as it was the weekend, no doubt nobody would respond to me before Monday

If a company delivers a service in a 24/7 environment such as webhosting, then a 24/7 customer response should also be available

Mistakes 8 & 9

Monday 20 June, still no response (as expected) and now I notice no email being received on one of my domains.  I update the original ticket and add a new one for the email issue

I receive an answer within 10 minutes, stating that it looks like what I want to do and have always wanted to do – namely, have multiple domains in one webhosting all using Wordpress is actually not possible.  It actually says:

“However, this is an oversight I believe in the way 123-Apps and the new "mapping" features work together and will need to be properly investigated and debugged by our development team"

The reply then goes on to suggest a possible temporary solution and asks if I want to proceed.

I give my permission to proceed and immediately my three other websites are suddenly available, but now the 4th - Wordpress site – is now not loading correctly.

When a company discovers that one of its services is flawed and is not delivering what has been promised, they have an obligation to resolve the issue ASAP and discuss the resolution with affected customers – I would suggest this should not be done by technical staff but should have been raised to a more senior level

Mistakes 10 & 11

Over the next two days, I have regular dialogue with the technical support agent trying to resolve this issue and get all 4 sites available.  The agent tells me at one point:

“So basically, by trying to fix things with workarounds, we are clouding the original issue and making things worse for”

So he freely admits this is a workaround and the core underlying system IS FLAWED.  I try several times to talk on the phone with him, but repeatedly told “we don’t do call-backs” so we continue using the ticketing system.

Finally by re-installing the 4th website from a back-up earlier in the week, we manage to get the site back up and all 4 of my sites are available.

I ask if there is any reason why I should NOT install Wordpress into any of the other domains and I am told:

"No, I can think of no reason why you would not be able to install Wordpress as either a 123-App or directly from Wordpress for any of those mapped domains"

So I attempt to install Wordpress into one of my other domains but although it says it installed, when I try to access the Wordpress Admin control panel, I get a failed page.  So I uninstall, thinking I will try again.

I don’t know why, but I decided to check on the status of my other domains and discover, that my 1st Wordpress site has disappeared – I login to the webhosting by FTP and I can see the whole site has been deleted and I realise what has happened.  My attempted installation in one of the mapped domains resulted in Wordpress being re-installed into the root of the webhosting and it overwrote my other site – when I deleted it – the website was deleted too.

I update the ticket and call the entire webhosting system from 123-reg a pile of shit – obviously a personal opinion.

I state my disgust as the level of service, poor quality of the product and the catalogue of errors over the past two weeks – I ask for a call back by a supervisor.

The immediate response is sorry we don’t do call backs, but here is our address if you want to write to us.

Enough is enough – I put my blogging hat on and tweet about the crap service.

I used to work in a business that had a simple strategy for dealing with problems – if you discovered a problem, you own it until you can pass it on to somebody who can resolve it.

How can a company like 123-reg owned by Web Fusion Ltd., claim on its own website to deliver outstanding customer care when its customer service agents openly admit their own products are flawed, fail to resolve the core problem and then hide behind a customer service doctrine of not actually calling customers when they have made a complaint.

I have sent a link to this blog via LinkedIn to Thomas Vollrath, MD of Web Fusion – I have also tweeted him, but I will not be able to read what he might say as he has protected his Twitter profile and I can’t follow him, without his permission.

 I’ll let you know his response (if I get one)