Monthly Archives: October 2012

No really, poor service is not good

Ok another post on the sadly too common theme of poor service.  This time it’s from our lovely UK (privatised) utility companies.

It’s been all over the UK press recently with pretty much all of the power companies bringing in a pretty hefty price increase – just before the winter kicks in and we all start using our heating properly.  Clearly the rubbish timing is a coincidence.  Average increases in the region of 10% seemed to be the standard.  So I was prepared – or so I thought.

Woke up this morning to find a nice letter from the lovely people at npower – our power company (who we use for our electricity and gas supplies).  A 3 page letter from them that started off with an apology…

npower saying sorry

Ok, they know it’s not good news and want to be open with me.  Next the reasons…

npower listing their excuses


Ok – turn over the page, it’s then the increases, hidden deep in what can only be described as rocket science (and even though I actually do have 2 degrees in rocket science it’s not easy to understand).  They’re planning a 20.3% increase on our electricity and an 18.0% increase for gas.  Did I misread that?  20+%?  I’ve never seen an increase anywhere like that.  Has inflation suddenly changed?  Have the national papers got the average that wrong (and I know it’s an average but this is way off)?  Is it an error?

A quick check on Twitter and it’s not just me.  Lots of people with similar nice letters recently, with the very same reasons (or shall we call them excuses), and with increases – but none quite this high.  Some people even with no increases.  Now maybe I see this in a very simple way but what is it about my supply that means I need a larger increase?  Pass – but npower customer services surely will be able to set me straight.

A nice 0800 freephone number to call and then a multitude of rubbish menus to go through – entering my account number, listening to it, entering my date of birth, pressing the number 6 a few times and a few more.  Then a message saying we’re experiencing a high volume of calls due to the recent letters, oh really?  And you weren’t ready for that?

An irate customer


A message then to say they could call me back in about 45 minutes.  Ok, sounds a good idea.  So then about 2 hours later I get the call, and yes more menus and information I have to enter first.  Then the agents on…

I explain the problem and that I’d like to understand why my increase is so much – good question she says.  So then tells me the reasons in the letter – ok that tells everyone why there’s an increase but not why we’ve had the bombshell we’ve had.  She then tells me it’s the region we’re in.  Say what?  Is Twickenham so different in how we receive our power, that they need to charge us twice as much more?  Then she says, it’s also based on our low-ish usage.  Huh?  We have a low-ish usage so the increase is higher?  Nonsense.

Let’s escalate – time for the manager, please can we speak to them?  A 5 minute on-hold pause.  Then, the agent has spoken to the manager and they say the same.  What?  Did “Can I speak to the manager?” not make sense?  So second attempt…

The manager now says the same – and then completes it with we can’t really tell you, we don’t know.  Oh, that’s ok then, so it’s some sort of lottery that even the rocket scientists at npower can’t really explain and it’s ok not to explain to customers, we just charge them 20% more.  Or it’s a secret.

The morals and how this isn’t a good example of customer service…

  1. Don’t send out generic information when what you’re actually saying is very different.
  2. Ditch the menu after menu after menu system – it’s not friendly and no-one likes it.
  3. Employ more staff when you know you’re going to get busy, very busy.  Plan better.
  4. Empower your staff so they can talk to customers and give them real information.
  5. Tell the truth and keep it simple.
  6. Listen and listen again, and understand what is being asked.
  7. If someone needs to escalate, let them – don’t do it for them.
  8. Don’t do something that is guaranteed to lose customers.

The moral?  Well, if I want to keep warm – and today it’s cold – I’m pretty powerless to do anything with npower, the price increase stays and they’re not listening.  But I can switch to someone else.  And yes, no doubt they’ll also have an increase there but there’s a chance that it won’t be an obscene one and they might be able to tell me why….

Happy days, and a nice story in the book on how to lose customers.

The same day also, that a story about how npower mis-sold gas to someone and have been taken to the small claims court and the person has been successful in winning an harassment payment from them…

Digital pricing – it’s not difficult

Still on the digital books theme as I’m loving iBooks on the iPhone right now.

Pretty much the only reason I visit a real bookshop these days is to browse and let the kids enjoy kiddies book sections. Inevitably I go away and order online (yes through Amazon), for the printed book, as it’s cheaper and not just a bit cheaper.

Last weekend on such a browsing session, I spotted a book called “The Art of Running Faster”. It looked great, (and yes I’m trying to run faster) so I went to Amazon but then thought no, let me check on Apple’s digital bookstore. And yes it was there and about 30% cheaper than the printed one. Sample downloaded, read and enjoyed and I went to click the buy button. Suddenly the price had jumped up to more than the printed book in the real shop. Say what? Why on earth have they done this? Convenience yes but more expensive to download and read on my phone? No thanks. Right now we’re in the transition to digital for books so we need to be incentivised to buy digital. You don’t get more features, it’s just a bit more convenient. It should be cheaper.

What to do? I decided to check out the Kindle app on the iPhone – a first for me – and it was there and even cheaper than the first cheaper price on iBooks. Brilliant. So buy I did, and boy is the purchasing process on Amazon good. So simple and quick. A top result. And yes the Kindle app works well. iBooks now has a competitor.

Please please get the pricing right. Digital should be cheaper. The production costs and other costs of sale should be cheaper. Help us consumers make the transition to digital. Don’t have wildly different prices across digital shops and not more expensive than physical…

iBooks – yes it works (or digital books are now main stream)

Another nail in the physical content coffin – books. Back on the commuter trail into London, I’ve been using iBooks on the iPhone (my trusty 4S) for a while now. It’s near perfect for train reading. You can hold it in one hand, navigate through the book with your thumb and one finger and with the right type of books, you couldn’t ask for a better reading (consumption) experience.

The books I’m reading right now are a series of history books – “History In An Hour“. Ok so they do take me, a bit more than an hour – 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there (journey in isn’t one hour) – but they’re very readable and hey I’m learning something. South African history, World Wars One and Two, The Afghan Wars (there have been a few), The Cold War and The American Civil War to name a few.

The huge plus with reading them on the iPhone, is the convenience. The phone’s pretty much always with me and very accessible. No more having to carry books around with me, that take up more shelf space at home. Yes I am a huge fan of printed books and my home office wall resembles a small library. That bit about physical books I love and also reading for the little Nobles, but there is a need now for me for digital books and Apple’s iBooks application is the answer. The genius of Apple usability and customer experience helps big time!


Silence for a bit too long – new position back up in the city (London) and lots to do, so quiet on the blog front.

US court to rule on ReDigi’s MP3 digital music resales

But a very interesting article I saw tonight – yes again on the BBC – about a pending court ruling about whether MP3 music files can be resold.  Hmmmmmmm.  Makes you wonder.  As an individual I bought them, as long as I’ve not copied them I should be able to re-sell them.  I can do it with physical goods, so why not digital?  For a business though?  Well why not – you get second hand shops (including for music, videos and games and books) for physical goods and they’re total legal and everyone’s happy about them. What difference does it make that it’s digital, just a different medium for consuming the content?  None really – other than it’s potentially easier to copy the content.

One to watch in the courts – and will it set a precedent?  US only?  Music only?  Watch this space…