Monday, March 15, 2010

Have you ever been experienced?

Well, I have. And I'm not even talking life experience here. That would be a much longer post. I'm thinking here of user experience, on which one always overdoses when moving into a new house, which I have just done. Countless calls to customer service centers for thankless exchanges, invariably with people possessing either unintelligible accents or preposterous speech impediments. It's all part of the fun. Today I tried to inform an insurance company of my change of address, only to be told that it had to be done in writing. "How about email?" I optimistically asked. "Sorry sir, it has to be in writing, on paper." I pointed out that if I sent them an email and they printed it out, it would be in writing, on paper. I think you can guess how that little exchange ended. I just got back from posting the letter.

Anyway, on to the telecom-related angle here. I signed up to Virgin Media on the day I moved in, using their online registration site, which I must confess was amazingly smooth and well-designed. Nine out of ten so far. Installation date was estimated at the time at 19th March, i.e., 15 days after placing the order. I then got an email (and courtesy call) a couple of days later to tell me that my installation would take place on the 24th, or 20 days after placing the order. I know that Virgin's "fibre optic" service is blazingly, blindingly, orgasmically fantastic, and I was a satisfied customer previously, but can they really be seeing such astonishing demand that it takes three weeks? And why an estimated average install time of two hours? There is an existing cable drop and phone line in the flat, so it should be a simple case of plugging in the modem and router, job done. My guess is that their databases may not be all that hot, or maybe they're allowing for extra clean-up time after their invariably techno-blaring vans run over some poor cyclist, as nearly happened to me recently. Oh, and while the tech is on site, I might ask him to look at the street cabinet just in front of the house, which is, predictably, open for all the world to see.

So, in the meantime, I am using a "mobile broadband" (/irony) dongle from Orange. The house sits at the top of a hill, so reception is great throughout the house at all times, though it is a bit flaky with what seems like a lot of latency on the uplink. Anyway, it works fine for what it is, but I got curious about data usage and went on the Orange site to look at my account. I have both a handset and a dongle, so two separate SIM cards, and I was pleased to see that for the handset, I am able to get near-realtime updates on data usage. Stupidly, I expected to be able to do the same with the dongle, but no cigar. For some unknown reason, Orange doesn't log this in any way that anyone can see, not even their own call center staff (believe me, I have asked them). The usage only becomes visible if the dongle goes over its 3GB limit, at which time overage charges (I have been quoted everything from 5p to 15p per MB, all from the same call center, clearly on Tyneside, though the actual charge is 2p, confirmed) kick in.

The first person I spoke to in the call center erroneously told me that the overage charge for data was GBP3 per MB, which alarmed me, which is the only reason I became interested in this issue in the first place. I was also told that, as my first generation dongle doesn't have a built-in data meter, I should download one. So, I downloaded NetMeter, which seems to yield erroneous readings (for example, when I plug my handset into the laptop to charge it, it registers a download of 50MB or thereabouts, which is plainly absurd).

Apart from the obvious training issues in the billing help section, I am baffled as to why Orange meters usage on one product in a granular way which is helpful to the user, while having a complete lack of visibility on the other, despite the fact that both are just SIM cards connected to radios on a common billing system. On a fourth call to the company to clarify what is going on, my agent kindly offered me an additional 2GB free for the next three months, in recognition of the confusion and misinformation I had been fed. It also slipped out that overage charges are capped at GBP30 - 40, depending on the contract, no matter how much overage, and they won't shut the user down, at least not on the first offence. The things you learn when you call the Orange call center four times on the same subject...

So, last stop on my rant is the Facebook IM function. It astounds me that a company which has built itself up so impressively by understanding (and arguably, transforming) the way people connect and communicate, can apparently be so complacently satisfied with this primitive POS. Recently, I have missed a number of attempts by friends and family to chat, because I was either in a different browser tab and didn't notice the pathetic text-flash in the Facebook tab, or I had the sound turned down so that I couldn't hear the single impotent little "pop" that accompanies a new message. The Facebook clan, if they thought about it at all, probably thought they were clever in making the chat notification unobtrusive, but there was a reason that rotary phones had a loud metal bell inside, so why ignore the lessons of history?

Gee, this blogging thing is fun. I may have to try more of it sometime soon. I could even start a disaffected consumer blog. Too bad that Hank Williams has already taken the most appropriate blog title ever for that sort of thing - "Why Does Everything Suck?"

2 comments:

Sammael99 said...

You always come up with the best post titles, even when quoting Jimi...

chris said...

Hutchison 3 dongles post you an '80% used' message, and I persuaded them to stop me when I reach my 3GB limit. Only problem is that last month, that meant 12 days into the month...c'est (as they say) la vie...