Thursday, 30 January 2014

Article: IT’s compliment of complaints procedures

We in the UK have many things to thank America for and arguably the most significant of these are Freedom of Speech and now knowing how to make a complaint about poor customer service. If there is one nation that knows how to complain it must surely be America without whom we simply would not have learned how to take many a supplier to court for failure to deliver a service or for poor product that fails to do what the enterprise says it will.

When it comes Information Technology the provision of contact details for customers to complain is woefully lacking via official channels and instead what we are left with is a trial by media option as a precursor to court proceedings.

If you think about search engine providers, computer programmes and mobile phone providers that we use daily for business, firewall security and website hosts very few supply us with a ‘customer service’ button to click when we have a problem. Even when you manage to find a ‘contact’ button they rarely lead you to a customer service department and more commonly you end up with the home page appearing on your screen sending you back to your starting point. Make no mistake here, this is not by accident, this is by design and wholly intentional on the part of these service providers because if it isn’t, it suggests they are as thick as shit. They are in the trade of supplying information technology services and yet they are incapable of supplying the information of contact details for customers to point out that there’s a glitch. Below are just five examples of what we’re up against... the list is inexhaustible.

Seven examples of IT services that do not have easy access contact details to make a complaint
  1. AVG
  2. Blogger
  3. Facebook
  4. Google
  5. LinkedIn
  6. T-mobile
  7. Twitter

When a glitch happens in IT is invariably devastating. To give a couple of examples from recent times banking systems fail to work, emergency response services fail to get informed of life threatening situations and national security systems can also be jeopardised. Fortunately in the latter two examples people are canny enough to get round these things as their stock in trade is dealing with emergencies, so it’s only us ordinary folk that bear the brunt of IT screw-ups. Hands up who has experience of the frustration of not being able to make a call, send an email or even access the internet at a critical moment in your business or personal life?

You might think then that it is time to ditch all things computerised and revert back to the more civilised pace of posting handwritten correspondence, sadly though even that service relies on computers and IT technology and there too you will find there are few contact buttons that will lead you to a satisfactory customer service experience. At this point I am tempted to suggest semaphore, smoke signals, carrier pigeons, Chinese whispers and an assortment of trained pets, though I doubt we’d get far sending our goldfish to deliver our tax information to HMRC tempting though it may be to do so.

“How can you learn what needs fixing if you have no complaints procedure to tell you?”

 What we need is a ‘complaints’ button and a ‘suggestions’ button with full contact details of phone, postal and email addresses. However there is a slight problem with that in that with billions of people complaining at the same time over millions of glitches it would crash the system entirely. This is why we end up with frustrating situation after frustrating situation to wade through and it is also why the most powerful IT service providers of all are somewhat over endowed with their own self-esteem - which is a polite way of saying that they are complacently arrogant.

It used to be that money drove the world and money stems from business, now I think it is more accurate to say that it is IT. We do still have the power to complain via social media but only when it too works. Unfortunately... sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and even blogsites like this one on Blogger also fail to provide easy access contact details when there is a fault. It is perhaps understandable then that we have ended up with what we have now got with update after update to fix glitches complete with new glitches to replace the old ones to drive us all insane.

I personally intensely dislike the invasive nature of Google and Microsoft on my own PC as I now have to work extremely hard to stop them both altering the settings on my personal computer while allowing them to access it enough for the darn thing to work at all. To me it is an invasion of my privacy and right to choose. Most people do not have the knowledge to overcome such invasions and no doubt I won’t be able to for much longer either as I am not an IT guru.

Regrettably we live in competitive times business wise which, when it comes to IT, means we will continue to be swamped with ever more gadgets with ever more shiny buttons and ideas for us all to be seduced by, very few of which we need to function by. The solution might lie in banning all advertising for all IT products and services to reduce the number of problems generated as the more complex/sophisticated any system is the more points of failure it will always have.

“If it works don’t fix IT”

We, as consumers do not help by demanding that things are fixed immediately to provide the system developers no time to do it properly as their bosses do not provide them with the time to do so as they are paranoid about the loss of income during that period. We also do not help by trying to fix systems ourselves when we have next to no knowledge of how it was put together in the first place. Ask ten IT trouble-shooters to remedy your problems and you get ten different answers as to what the problem is let alone how it needs to be sorted. Why then do we assume we know better? In a way we do, as we are acutely aware of what won’t work for our desired use whereas the geeks that come to our rescue commonly pay little or no attention to what our actual needs are as they don’t tend to be up on social skills as it’s not their area of expertise. Personally I prefer things to work properly and for that to happen I would be more than happy to wait until they do (if I was notified beforehand) in preference to the perpetual loop of frustration that we have now.

I say this as one who helped design a bespoke program with a system developer whereby I explained to him how people actually use their computers and he ensured that the program was fit for them to do so their way, NOT his. The last I heard the program is still up and running and has never had to have a fix for any glitch. Tweaking to hone and make improvements is one thing, but that only works if you test drive thoroughly before you roll it out. The moral of the tale being that... if IT works DO NOT fix IT.

One can but dream that the IT sector finds solutions for what currently fails so regularly before it inflicts even more upon us especially with the internet of thingies well underway. I am determined to let as little of those ideas enter my home as possible purely because I could do without the stress of them not working too. 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Operations File: One Million Social Enterprises

Recently it's been announced that we're not in a recession any more, so everything is sorted now right? Wrong. People are still having to economise hard and many a Christmas was extremely meagre this winter with the prospect of yet more austerity measures looming for the most vulnerable of all. What would help is less indifference and apathy toward the increasing number of people being further deprived of the basics to sustain body and soul and a determination to do something about making things work for the betterment of all from everyone in the form of viable positive, constructive action. I’d best admit to being biased here, but I am now convinced that there is only one viable option left to go to town on business wise namely, social enterprises.

In my all too brief time at Social Enterprise East of England (I was made redundant in 2011 - cuts you know, what can I say) the first thing I grasped (almost) was what social enterprise really means. Confusion then followed as it is so fluid (no wonder I loved it) that it actually defies all definition and terms of reference when it comes to business practises. That’s actually brilliant news for it means that there is nothing on this planet, not even a government department in the most vicious dictatorship in the world today that could not operate as... a social enterprise with mere minor adjustments to their modus operandi.

In real terms the principle is this... instead of 75% clean profits it would mean a measly 50% clean profit with the other 25% going toward funding the essentials that keep all of us ticking over in the community. Note I am referring to clean profit, not revenue - how tiresome it is that so many confuse the two. With the rest of the profits one can easily still make investments, but people need cash now not after it has earned interest in a savings account. People need it to be able to survive, not to go out on the razz.

Yes, it's true, social enterprises make profits. What distinguishes them from other forms of business is how they use it. Translate their ethic into multi-national business practises and suddenly the whole world benefits and therefore becomes healthier and more productive, QED problem solved. That's the principle, though why people insist on complicating things with detail I shall never understand! Okay in practise, I cannot lie, it does get complicated, interesting and challenging, best you talk to an adviser for your particular needs as I admit to being no expert.

What follows are hints on how to make good use of the social enterprises and community initiatives which include many charities, Not-for-Profits, CICs and some voluntary groups (large and small) in to illustrate what has already been proven to be possible. Hell, there are even companies limited by guarantee among social enterprises - the mind boggles at the sheer diversity. Note the gaps still left to fill for all you budding logical and ethical entrepreneurs out there. In a sense, local shops count as social enterprises because they are already providing support to the communities they are located in, simply by being in situ.

Social Enterprise Ventures
Home and Community
Social Enterprise Initiatives
Food supply
Local farmers, GM foods and green foods
Food to buy for meals
Waitrose, Co-op, local farmers markets and shops
Transport (distribution)
TBA (Sorry, not my field but sharing vehicles can only help)
Electric and dual fuel cars, cycle routes, sharing vehicles, public transport
Clothing manufacturers
Master tailors, designers and cottage industries
John Lewis, local craft shops, charity shops and local shops
Building materials
Recycled Manufacturing of glass, plastic, metal, paper, wood and all waste products. New ways of using old products such as straw, mud, timber, brick, corrugated iron etc
Building our homes and communal facilities
Old tricks, new uses with mud, straw, glass and all recycled materials... it’s bound to get ‘artistic’ and very individual in taste so  expect planning permission to get harder on some ideas
Power and energy
Solar, Wind and Wave, making fossil fuels go further and nuclear fuel including it’s waste totally safe (ish) allegedly. Fracking is still to be proved to be safe.
Power and energy
Clockwork devices from radios to TVs to fridge freezers. Energy efficient lighting including using LEDs with rechargeable batteries
Health care provision
Never have we had more choice and that is just going to get ever better I hope, don't be surprised to see maggots being used more!
Health in the home
Alternative therapies and medicines from osteopathy to herbal teas
Leisure (environment)
Stronger laws to safeguard and protect our most valuable asset while also protecting the livestock that feeds us and encouraging renewable and sustainable projects
Leisure in the countryside
There will be more people wanting to use the countryside, hence cycle and rambling routes need to be carefully planned. Expect high fines to groups who wander from the beaten track but superb community initiatives in this area - we can still go out and enjoy it by helping preserve it!
Leisure (entertainment)
Just as business are having to use energy saving so too do art and sport venues via exciting LED moving lights in theatres, safer rigging methods and tools. Recycled paper, less wastage all round. Being inventive the arts are often at the cutting edge of new ideas.
Leisure (entertainment)
You haven’t noticed how much safer it is for the projectionist running a film have you? Good, you're not supposed to. We are now recycling unused tickets and equipment in our communities. We make our own handmade books, furnishings and furniture and games at home again. YAY!
Special events
It’s becoming ever easier to host an event absolutely anywhere at all due to new legislation and the inventiveness of us Brits. Woohoo! 
Special events
Weddings in tree houses or factories and funerals at sea or from the air, whatever you want can more easily be done through sheer community determination and spirit, so long as you tidy up afterwards.

For help in your area try these:

Some 70,000 social enterprises are helping the community already according to Social Enterprises UK. I suspect there are many more being shy about it myself. However it is still a long way short of one million enterprises that I believe should be our target, so... isn't it about time you nudged in that direction too via your place of work? Here's a guide as to who is already out there.

Working need not be a chore, it can be fun and moreover it can help the most vulnerable of all in our communities which may include your nearest and dearest one day AND help save our planet's finite and precious resources. Enjoy your work and enjoy your leisure time; do both ethically and you can only ever end up as very contented healthy bunnies indeed - what greater wealth can there be than that? Sorted... next! ;-)

PS: Happy New Year!