Saturday, April 28, 2007

Customer Service

I was all set to write a long rant about Adobe Software, whose latest upgrades to Photoshop et al officially shipped in the UK this week. Every time there's a new version I know it's going to be a nightmare of problems installing it (I never did get Adobe Acrobat from the last release installed, with Adobe support spending hours wasting my time before giving up with 'We know there's a problem with certain Sony laptops. Do you want to return the software package for a refund?!')

This new release is no different. In the UK we pay more than twice the price Americans do for the same software. Adobe UK justify this as being the cost of supporting the software in Europe! If you get a problem - and if my experience is typical, you will!- and you're American you can email technical support.

But in the UK, where Adobe Europe are telling all the magazines they justify the huge mark-up because of the superior support we get - we're told this facility is not available. Instead you can spend forever on hold on a telephone line!

Suffice to say that after half an hour on 'hold' and £350 down the swannie I still don't have software that will successfully activate, which means it will stop working in 30 days time! In the meantime hundreds of students are downloading cracked versions from the internet that they're getting for free. The whole anti-piracy thing is a scandal that penalises only legitimate purchasers, without in any way solving the problem of the freeloaders and thieves. Anyway, apparently I will have another hour on hold on Monday trying to get the mess sorted out. I'm hoping that this time I'll get someone who has at least a rudimentary knowlege of English picking up the phone, unlike my Friday 'technical support assistant'!

Fortunately, I have a happier story to share - excellent customer service from, would you believe it, the Post Office!

I've been meaning to replace my scrappy paper driving license with a photo card version for several years now, but getting new photo's done and working through the complicated DVLA application process (you have to send them your passport, even though it's just a replacement license you're after!) has meant that I've kept putting it off.

A few months ago I sold my Mini Cooper S. It's a nice car but BMW Servicing is a scandal in London, BMW central never even acknowledge the receipt of complaints about dealers, and if the Mini isn't used regularly it dies. Every time I've wanted to use the car it's been a case of having to call out Homestart to get the thing started! A car in London is an expensive luxury and with easy travel to my place of work via the train and underground I figured it was time to get rid of the wretched thing. My reasoning was that I can always get a hire car if I need one, although this assumes I have a legal driving license. And therein lies my problem!

I suspect that my tatty old 'pink piece of paper' license (or, more accurately, several pieces, after years of abuse inside my wallet) would not pass muster. And with my current contract employment ending on May 25th (I FINALLY realised that it really was time to move on - Lord knows it took me long enough!) there is a very strong possibility I will need a car for the next contract, assuming I can find one! And to get that car I'm going to need a driving license that doesn't look like it's been flushed down the toilet several times before being set on fire!

So Saturday morning has been spent digesting the ridiculously complicated DVLA leaflet telling you how to apply for a driving license, getting a new photo done, and trotting off to the Post Office to start the whole process off.

DVLA charge the princely sum of £19 for a replacment photo license, and selected Post Offices will, for an additional £4, give you a 'premium' checking service where they'll check you've filled out the form correctly and stamp it to say they've verified your identity and seen your passport so that you don't have to send it off in the post with the application, wondering if you'll ever see it again.

I'm used to long queues and slow, lazy, de-motivated staff in the many different post offices I visit on my various travels, so I was resigned to a morning of hell trying to chase down a post office that offered the service, and then wait my turn to get served. Given past, painful experiences I felt really lucky when I got the only smiley, perky sales assistant in the history of UK-wide post office staff, as my turn in the queue arrived.

"You're doing this just in time", she smiled as she stamped the form. "The price goes up next week."

"Really?!", I replied. "That's odd. My luck usually runs the other way. Nice to have some good news for a change." She gave me a funny look and went to check how much the price was going up by, and returned looking very conspiratorial.

"I shouldn't be telling you this - no wonder they're closing down post offices like this with people like me telling customer things - but I got it wrong. The price goes down on 1st May. It will be just £10 instead of £19 after Tuesday. If I were you I'd come back then and save yourself some money!"

So the 'approval' stamp (which is dated) was scribbled out, my form returned and I'll be £9 richer as a result. Now THAT'S what I call customer service. Alas good customer service is all too rare these days, and I have a horrid feeling that I'll return to the post office next weekend, only to find some bored jobsworth telling me that because my signature was originally dated April I'll have to pay the old, more expensive, rate. Fingers crossed!


shell said...

I'm so sorry to hear about all the software mess. I can totally relate! I also love the magnitude in which you wrote about both experiences (positive and negative). Check out a great interview between Fox and the president of a customer service company called Mindshare. He talks about the future of customer service and how "blogging" is changing it! Thanks for sharing your stories.

Ian said...

Thanks for the link Shell. Indeed customer service is important. I recently had to buy video editing software for my PC. Adobe Premiere seemed the natural choice but after all my experiences with the company I steered well clear and bought Sony Vegas Pro instead.

I sold the BMW Mini Cooper S and wouldn't buy one again. They're great when they work, but not when they have to be driven every 2 weeks to avoid the battery going flat.