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30 November 2007

St Andrew's day

The BBC reports that Scotland is to mark St Andrew's day. For more information see or You can read about St Andrew on the gateway to Scotland site or on the soc.culture.scottish FAQ, the first online guide to Scotland and hosted on this site.


28 November 2007

Scottish Software Awards 2007

News from Silicon Glen (yes, it's more than just electronics), the winners of the Scottish Software Awards 2007 have been announced. Congratulations to all who entered, and especially to the winners.


27 November 2007

Welcome to Scotland

The Scottish Government has just spent £100,000 apparently to come up with a new slogan for Scotland to replace "The best small country in the world". The new slogan is to be "Welcome to Scotland" with the Gaelic translation of "Failte gu Alba" as you can see from the picture in the BBC article.

100K pah, I could have done it for a fraction of that figure. Oh, I already did.

See the comment dated 9:11pm 27 Aug 2006.

The comment was obviously far too ahead of its time and didn't take full account of inflation either.

Aye, right


Towards a gold standard for contact centre service

I find a good part of my lunch hour is spent dealing with fairly useless contact centres. I would probably get more out of my lunch break and be able to do more interesting things than listen to boring hold music if contact centres improved their quality of service. Things haven't improved much in many years, I recall spending long hours on the phone to Alliance and Leicester in 2001 - often it was half an hour before they even answered the phone.

In response to the lack of initiative and progress in contact centre customer service, I propose the following initial list as targets that contact centres should aspire to, in order to offer gold standard customer service rather than the poor quality crap we have to tolerate at present. No particular order here and feel free to add your own ideas.

1. For an independent company to assess contact centres for typical and peak wait times until you get to speak to someone (including having to work through the menus). Then customers can make informed independent choices regarding which companies waste the least amount of time. These timings should then be published centrally with the worst offenders named and shamed.

2. For companies to aspire to a high level of standard rather than unacceptably long queues and to publish their standard on their website (and on the site mentioned in 1). e.g. "We aim to answer 90% of calls in less than 10 seconds". A standard that some companies actually meet, yet others would laugh at the idea of answering a call within 10 minutes.

3. For information to be available on what the busiest and quietest times are for the contact centre and their hours of opening so that I can make an informed choice about when to call them.

4. To have a facility to turn off hold music. This means that if I am in a long queue I can put my phone on speakerphone and get on with my job without annoying the rest of the office with a tinny version of Vivaldi's concert for hold music annoying everyone around me.

5. When using phone menus, every menu must have a "help" or "none of the previous options apply, I'd like to speak to a real person rather than a robot" type option.

6. Again with phone menus, they must have information on how to go back to the previous menu.

7. An option that if you have waited more than a certain length of time (e.g. a few minutes) in a queue, that there is always the option to leave your number and have someone call you back where your call has reached the front of the queue.

8. A fast track menu system so that you don't have to wait for all the announcements before you can progress to the next menu - you should be able to interrupt any menu and advance quickly without having to hear all the options. Many contact centre menus already do this but it's worth mentioning anyway.

9. To publish the contact centre menus on the company's website so that I can work through them quickly via a web browser, click on the relevant menu option and then to open up Skype or similar and jump straight in the the relevant queue that I've just clicked on.

10. Not having to repeat my details every time the call is transferred, including when I have to transfer from an automated system to an operator. Surely the IT systems at the contact centre can do this?

11. The ability for the contact centre to text or email relevant information in the event that you can't write things down very easily (e.g. driving, walking down street carrying mobile and briefcase, etc.)

12. An acceptance that excessive wait times is not only exceptionally poor customer service but in the false economics of saving money for the company, it actually wastes time for the customers of the contact centre. Since cc operators are usually on less than the average national salary, the implication is their customers' salary average is near to the national average and thus more than the contact centre operator's wages. This means it is a false economy employing insufficient contact centre operators and transferring the consequent wait time onto people whose time is more "expensive" and who would probably be happy to pay a higher premium for shorter wait times.

13. being able to access my account via the same lookup procedure and security procedure used by operators (i.e. if I don't have my policy number, I can just enter postcode, security answers etc). Banning the use of "usernames" for telephone access. My address, security details etc are enough.

14. If you end up in the wrong queue, the centre should be able to transfer calls for me without me having to hang up and start again

15. When the contact centre phones me, they use a legitimate number that accepts return calls and which announces the name of the company (i.e. not like Powergen). This implies the said number is not withheld, a very irritating practice.

16. Operators that have a good command of English. This especially applies to companies thinking of outsourcing their contact centre to Asia.

17. If I don't select a menu, then the options are only repeated twice before I am put through to an operator. They are not repeated indefinitely, nor does the system hang up on me.

18. Being able to easily speak to a manager/supervisor/complaints department.

19. Being able to dial straight into a relevant queue so that I don't have to pay to wait on hold. 20 minutes on hold on a mobile calling internationally is not funny.

20. On completion of a call, being given the option to provide feedback there and then on what I thought of the service given (e.g. press 1 for delighted to 9 for unhappy, etc.)

21. Being able to email the contact centre without having to go through menu spaghetti.

22. Using a phonetic name field (in addition to the usual name fields) in the customer record so that people with names like mine, difficult foreign names etc can have the correct pronunciation of their name recorded, thus meaning that time isn't wasted explaining how to say the name.

23. Treating email as important as fax and phone and providing a response within a "phone call" order of magnitude turnaround. It can be done for a phone call, yet for email response some companies take 5 days to respond. I'm mailing you via a medium that works at close to the speed of light because I want a quick response, not because I want it to sit in a backlog for a week.

24. Employ operators in the contact centre that don't talk over me, listen, and have a good level of knowledge of the topic I am phoning about.

Any more to add to this?


26 November 2007

First year contracting

Today marks the first anniversary of the start of my career full time contracting, so here's a look back on the previous year including some of the things that I did that were by products of that transition and the associated lifestyle and most of which I wouldn't have done had I still been a full time permanent employee in my previous job.

Here goes:

Was Project Manager for grocery, one of the world's leading e-commerce sites

Was Project manager for a major public sector project in Northern Ireland, part of the Causeway programme.

Gained security clearance

Bought laptop for working away from home

Bought PRINCE2 course, studying in my spare time

Went to the gym a lot

Went to over 80 live performances

Considerably improved my singing.

Turnover of my company that I founded in 2001 is now sufficient to require VAT registration. Filed first VAT return, very boring.

Got RBS Black card.

Visited debating chamber at Stormont

Met the Minister for Enterprise in Scotland

Appeared in the Belfast Telegraph, helped with research for programme on Ulster Scots

Learned about what really makes a good hotel and that few hotels are actually worth staying in for more than a few nights before total boredom sets in. Campaigned against rip off WiFi rates.

Significantly increased my income and moved house.

Admired Central Scotland and the Ayrshire coast from 16,000 feet on a clear blue day, several times.

Was Information lead for a Techcrunch 40 company, Crowdspirit.

Met lots of interesting people from all over the world.

Got used to 4am starts every Monday.

Walked from my bedroom to work every day.

I can now drink in a smoke free pub anywhere in the UK, something I campaigned for on national TV in 1990.

Became my own boss.

20 November 2007

It's a PIN, not a PIN number

For months we have been told by the banks about Chip and PIN. Chip and PIN this, chip and PIN that. Use your Chip and PIN. Chip and PIN blah blah until we're fed up hearing about it and over 20 months after its widespread roll-out we still have signs telling us about chip and PIN.

PIN = Personal Identification Number.

PIN Number = Personal Identification Number Number. How silly is that?

Yet there's a large number of organisations that really ought to know better who think it is now necessary to suffix the acronym PIN with the superfluous suffix 'number'. Maybe we could just change it to PI number instead?

Please enter your PI ?!

Here are the organisations so far that ought to know better:

1. The Royal Bank of Scotland. On their cashline machines, it states "Please enter your PIN number". Also applies to their Ulster Bank cashline machines in Northern Ireland.

2. Orange. No surprises here, fresh from winning the "worst contact centre award" when you call to collect your voicemail, the greeting states "Please enter your PIN number".

Please feel free to add your own examples...

17 November 2007

Bollocks security

Continuing the theme of e-mail/Internet security.

Tonight I wanted to set up a new bill payment. The bank, in response to customer paranoia about Internet security and phishing attacks now require me to carry my bank cards and their calculator like number generator that I now have to take with me on business if I want to set up a bill payment. No thanks. No, I don't want to trail a variety of calculator like devices around with me one for each account or service I might want to use. I think the encryption offered by the bank site together with the random letters and digits from a security password is secure enough.

However, aside from that, let us now look at the two options the bank presents:

1. Log onto the website, have it over a secure encrypted channel, type in a customer number securely, random digits from two separate passwords securely and use the calculator device to randomly generate a number. Pretty secure huh?

2. Alternatively, use a phone, have the conversation in clear text, have the audible key presses recordable by anyone in earshot with a microphone, no need for the card reader calculator device either. Set up bill payment successfully.

Does the analogy of having 50 billion million trillion zillion locks on your front door and only 1 on your back door apply here?

Which way do you think a burglar would want to break in?

Why do banks and other sites continue to believe that the phone is a secure means of communication?

10 November 2007

Orange wins the worst contact centre award, thanks to this blog

Check the link. Clearly still surpassing themselves in the worst contact centre award stakes and following on from their outstanding showing in this category last year it is clear there is no let up in form in the poor customer services stakes this year either. Why only a few weeks ago I phoned to ask how I collect voice mail for another orange account from my own phone and after 15 minutes of being passed from pillar to post the person still didn't understand the question, never mind actually give me an answer.

Meanwhile I posted the same question on the group who answered it correctly in less than 30 minutes, without me having to be on hold waiting for an answer and without me having to play irrelevant menu hell either. Maybe Orange should outsource their contact centre to usenet, it certainly provides a more useful service.


09 November 2007

The Untouchables, Belfast

Greatest gig in town. Every Monday, Benedicts Hotel, Bradbury Place, Belfast. 11pm-1am. Best entertainment I've enjoyed in years! Check out their facebook group.


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