Friday, 30 November 2007

Tradesmen (18) vs. Homeowner (4)

With the influx of Eastern Europeans into the UK, especially into the melting pot that's London (at least now, you can say it is a place that is multicultural), you could be mistaken into believing that the oversupply of, if not necessarily adequate supply, of fully qualified tradesmen would bring about a levelling of the old demand vs. supply conundrum; to the advantage of those in need of a good servicing. Sadly, the past few weeks have put paid to that shining beacon of hope.

Seventeen different electrical companies over a three week period were called. The only brief, to come around and do nothing more than provide an estimate (preferably a quote), for a full flat re-wire. Nothing to large; just a modest sized two bedroomed ground floor flat, with easy parking - so no nasty traffic warden charges been added onto the final bill as extras - neighbours to die for, gorgeous flower gardens, the only fly (A380 size), most of the wiring dates back to the 1930's and the modern bits have been badly bodged, although not quite to the standard of the 1986 film; the Money Pit.

Initial thoughts had me chasing my own logic wondering whether it was worthwhile leafing through the Yellow Pages, the Phone Book or even the Thomson Directory, just to garner companies who's inclusion would prove some trailing history and not just flyby night operators. So it was, that after a brief flurry of activity, five numbers were called.

And that's were it all started going wrong.

People promising to come round or call back, but despite calls to them not neither bothering to come around nor call to say they weren't turning up. Forget the NICEIC, Trust Mark, Part P blurtings, I'm surprised any of them are allowed to carry the symbols or perhaps they need to be re-tested whilst having the inclusion of a new module titled 'how not to lose potential customers'.

So back to the drawing board and this time contacting another eight companies. To only go through the same procedure as with the first five. So 13 companies later, it was time to try a new tack and this time looked up a referral site, were you simply type in your requirements, contact details, then any interested parties would view and get in touch, but up to a maximum of four unless paid for membership – that should have instantly set of the clarions, but when in time of need. A smoking fuse box isn't to be sniffed at...

But to be fair out of four, all four turned up. All four arrived within their stated time, it was amazing, hope started to rise from burnt ashes. But that was the height of [%%] and from there it rapidly unravelled downhill.

After contacting 18 companies for re-wiring we are left with only 3 estimates and one quote, although when going through and spotting errors it necessitated an amendment and re-quote, that was done within a day! Sadly it was still the same quote with the same information. Either Electricians, whom I would have naturally viewed as forming a natural constituency of computer geekdom, are slightly less knowledgeable than the average person out there, or they think that every home owner's wet behind the ears and will more or less take everything at face-value and just sign the cheque at the end. Although I would be surprised if the last five which popped around had even begun wet-shaving!

But perhaps they aren't too bothered to earn (and from the three figures so far received it seems to be somewhere from £3,000 to a bit over £5,000) which been an estimate means it will probably come in at around £6,000. However, obviously £5k+ is not a sufficient enough carrot

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Environmental concerns

Most boring pompous clip in the name of a good cause, to help the environment, must go to:

Admittedly these behemoths aren't aimed at the average Joe/Mary on the street, who happens to live in a bedsit flat or tenament overlooking patchy roadworks and broken fences. The FAQ portion of the website does - to be factual - say that! So full marks to them for popping that particular bubble. Although I Would have enjoyed a couple of them placed on the roof whizzing around from sunset till dusk, cutting down on the every increasing energy costs. But perhaps they are better off somewhere sunnier with loads of hot air, like the Ghobi desert, Sahara, San Diego, Congress... in fact any sunny place which just has the few odd days of scudding cloud cover, which might otherwise spoil the party.

But seriously, climate change is coming up fast on the inside lane as one of the most destructive series of events that might bring about the demise of many species, and take us down to the level of sticks and creaky parchment. Either that, or the gathering together of a global network of terrorists bent on world domination, or bio-weapons unleashed by desperate nations as resources get scarcer; and of course how could we forget the holy grail of hot-headed despots everywhere, with fingers itching to unleash their WMD's!

But, on a somewhat more serious note, how many disasters would it take before electricity, gas, water supplies in a few key countries are knocked out with the ensuing turmoil of food scarcity, resultant upsurge in population migrations? How long before the comforts and luxury's, so many of us in the 'developed' (sic) world take for granted, evaporate like clarity in a blizzard.

If we (or rather the Politicians) don't plan for it, make effective (efficient) use of renewables, with the knowledge of what's (possibly) just around the corner then we deserve our fate. A shame that the greedy billionaires out there are more concerned with feathering their own nests, looking out for number one without remembering that for the world to survive it's not a single horse race.

We are social animals and in general, when under direct or indirect stress, are more inclined towards selfishness, deviousness, battening down the hatches and thinking of oneself.

So if things are bad now, and we only have to look at the increasing number of disasters over the past few years to see how some sections of the population would behave, just imagine how much worse it will be when disasters are more frequent and on a far larger scale!

Time to watch those Mad Max films again, or maybe just a Marx Brothers film with a fine selection of chocolates flown in specially, from around the world!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Burning Olympic dustbins.

It's been a fun day, starting late in the morning with the burning down of a bus depot in east London. Part of the slowly growing 2012 Olympic area. Luckily, at this stage, no one appears to be hurt!

The only depressing bit occurred whilst watching every other scrolling news report, strap-lining across the bottom of the screen saying, "not thought to be an act of terrorism", as if every incident, scorched bit of earth, is down to a bunch of huddled terrorists in the eastern borders of Pakistan plotting (even if they are) to do everything in their power to down the democracies of the west.

More likely its a contractor not wishing to fork out the exorbitant cost of having to legally dispose of all that crap. What better way of saving a fortune whilst also collecting a bit of insurance by having the whole lot go skyward, instead of to recycling.

Here's a few ground level pictures from roughly, 9.3 miles away...

Monday, 5 November 2007

Customer service - the elusive fleece.

In this, the speeded age of the fulsome broadband experience, more and more people are getting used to quick replies, instant-action-purchasing (even if the goods might take a couple of weeks to arrive), browsing the globe; instant gratification all at the click of an anonymous button! 

Many companies (good and illicit) are out there, searching for the best way of making money – and anyone who has worked in an Investment Bank above the level of cleaner will know that most of the massaged figures and egos that need soothing, mean that they have to work harder chasing us for our dollars, pounds, euros or yen, eager to part us from our cash, whether hard earned or not.  

So with an eye on the virtual world, the activity of venturing into 'real life' establishments usually;
  a) sends me scurrying back to the keyboard,
  b) leaves me amazed at how far behind so many real world (bricks & mortar) businesses are,
  c) how badly most are failing, in relation to their customer service,
  d) constantly wondering why so many people still stick with them - inertia!
  e) is it me, or have people been taking to much notice of reality shows.

The main incidents which brought home the disparate ability of companies to get things right are Nationwide,, Sainsbury's, Curry's .digital, and finally Holland & Barrett. I shall go through a brief run-down of the varying experiences.

Nationwide – Online, remarkably good service. Far better than the Co-operative Bank, HSBC, or Lloyds TSB offerings. Sadly most of that effort appears to have come at the expense of the retail arm and its high street offerings. Offline - going into the door, you are greeted by a forest of people, slowly moving shuffling forward. Two receptionists, one sitting the other standing are both talking, proactive isn't the first term that springs to mind. Friend goes over to the counter and commenced the 20 minute wait to be seen by (considering the queue is nearly out the door and it's way past lunchtime) the only cashier which is open out of three. After 10 minutes the chatting receptionists turn to the growing sitting group which has been patiently gathering and finally asks “does anyone want to be seen?”. Nationwide had taken over the Portman Building Society in August 2007, and as just goes to show that the accountants bottom final swish of the quill carries far more weight than customers having to wait half an hour. In one particular location the bigger Portman Branch had been closed, whilst a much smaller Nationwide branch (less than 30 seconds walk) remained open and which now services three times the customers. As the cashier said in sad resignation, “It's always this busy since we took over Portman, there's just no extra staff!”. Surprised there hasn't been a riot.

Amazon – Online, excellent exemplary service when ordering and for delivery. If your goods are electrical then sadly that's where things can start to go wrong and fall down. That's were the problems start, as they try fobbing you off by saying you need to return the item back to the manufacturer when in fact if the goods are defective they should replace or refund. However books and Cd's have always been delivered in full functional order.

Sainsbury's – Online, as Amazon and Nationwide, very good and easily navigable, but somehow manage not to have what you order in stock on the actual day of delivery, so they either don't send anything or if the do, the substitute is not acceptable.  Offline - usually the queue in one little local is around 20 people strong, with it been positioned so close to the tube station. But more often than not, all the tills will be open and the staff, speedily conducting customers, purchases.  Speedy, friendly and very efficient.  But to the experience... popping into my local to obtain some mince pies, double cream and bread; hadn't realised it had been a long time since I'd set foot through the doors and was somewhat confused.  In the end had three members of staff finding me the cream, taking me to the bread, and showing me the location of the mince pies.  Couldn't ask for better service.  Shopping would be so much more an enjoyable experience, if we all received the same treatment.

Curry's .digital: Offline, pop into the store and as you wonder around aimlessly (practically devoid of shoppers just after lunch time - with over six members of staff), it takes five minutes for one store assistant to simply look along the aisle and make sure no items were been lifted or touched, before another store assistant finally pipes up and queries if any assistance was required.  Online, very good.  

Moss Bros: Offline, you wouldn't wish this slovenly (their bearing as opposed to dress) bunch of depressing shop fitters on Imelda Marcos, let alone wishing to help in the purchase/hiring of any item.  Online, too much time spent trying to navigate around.

Holland & Barrett: Offline, pleasant and courteous staff.  Within seconds of entering the store greeted and asked whether they can be of help.  Highly recommended.  Online, what can I say but excellent.

With the Christmas season (for those who believe or just enjoy the festivities) there will, no doubt, be people wishing to purchase a whole hoard of goodies, whilst paying the least number of pennies. So here is the OFT website (for those based in the UK), which should be thoroughly scanned to ensure you are aware of your rights, whilst avoiding the spivs, scams and schemers.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Blissful awareness.

At the age of six, I had my first sexual experience. At the age of nine I attempted to incorporate a bank whilst in junior school for the benefit of fellow classmates; but that, was soon lanced!

When my becoming a banker scheme was discovered, teachers - in concert with a large high street competitor - allowed the opening of kids accounts. Parents, who obviously couldn't recognise a bargain when it slapped them around the face before dropping into their lap, naturally consented. I was even going to offer an incentive, 1.5% above the bank base rate. Sadly all the initial takers dropped by the wayside and suffice to say I, reluctantly, conceded defeat.

But been young, full of it, and at the time un-cowed by the slightest knock back; I flitted through the next batch of hatch-able plans.

So it was, that by the age of 11 whilst coming up with some exceptionally moribund prose, I helped out in the local Tandy store, a mere five minutes leisurely stroll from the front porch. Nothing illegal, I eagerly threw my services at them. First befriending, by popping in on a daily basis, and informing them of how geeky and into Computers I was, and then after a couple of months, what could I do to possibly help? Well the thought of possibly getting a recommendation from the Manager for employment in the chain at some future stage, floated across my eyes like a mirage.

Amazing how much practical knowledge can be gained by working in an electrical store, so boxes were unpacked, things placed on shelves or arms, and in return they allowed me to use brand new computers which came in-store with the odd break for soliquid refreshments.

Before that particular plan had a proper conception, it come to an abrupt end! Namely in the form of a new manager and assistants – personally, It was more a case of not wanting an 11 year old with more knowledge showing them up over the rubbish they started selling. But with the knowledge gained, I eventually badgered my parents into purchasing a Sinclair ZX-81, still shudder at the thought of that monstrosity. Very surprised it never melted, and as for the printer paper...

At the tender age of 12, I produced my first batch of gunpowder – with ingredients purchased from Boots, and made small sachets which I sold at a profit to fellow schoolmates, but I wanted more. Sadly when the form bully got hold of some and didn't pay, the nasty thoughts which deluged through my mind made me hastily decide to call it a day. Before something happened, that I would have later regretted.

It was all downhill from then on, until I reached the ripe old age of 18. But it was at 19, with another set of dismal exam results clutched before me, that I started work on my first symphony. Then in the maelstrom of moving over the following two years, the finished piece my pride and glowing joy, I'd misplaced – and with the memory of a fruit fly as much as I tried, could never re-create the full piece. But every now and then, odd haunting bars bubble up, so perhaps one day it will make another appearance.

Did, films, photography, acting, holidaying, even running a club. Kept up to date with the mad technological flow of the InterWeb. Sort of held down jobs, but as I've found out over the years, there is nothing more dispiriting than working for people who really shouldn't be given given the slightest sniff at power - let alone put anywhere near a 'managerial' role - and who if exhibiting any form of hankering for climbing up the greasy pole of careerism, be given nothing more satisfying, than a good Tasering.

Now, for some happy pictures...