Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Excess energy not required

It's great when a big company does a simple thing well.

I had another red letter from EDF Energy today. I always pay my bill late. However, this was more serios: it promised a scheduled disconnection for tomorrow. The letter wasn't sent first class. It was dated the 14 August.

I had actually paid the bill on 30 June. However, I had done so online and paid it into the gas account rather than the electricity account - entirely my fault.

I called the call centre to sort out the problem. I was waiting for less than five minutes before speaking to an operator. It took the operator less than two minutes to spot the problem and after three minutes on hold, they had transfered the money to the correct account and I was promised that the matter was resolved.

EDF resolved the matter so quickly that I was really pleased not to have to get cross or become assertive with the call centre operator.

However, with a bit of extra thought, the company could be even better. The billing system could do with a reassessment.

In the old days it was fair enough that the warning letter said that you need take no action if the bill had been paid in the "last few days". However, now APACS have ensured that all inter bank transfers are immediate - and with the automated creation of non payment letters - it should no longer be necessary.

Instead, if letters were only generated when payment had not been received (and were sent first class or by email where possible) the energy suppliers would ensure that fewer unnecessary letters were sent and that where there were errors (as in my case) the customer didn't just ignore the letter thinking that the matter had been dealt with.

Three Crowns but no wise men

Our family went for lunch at the Three Crowns in Stoke Newington on Sunday. I don't recommend it.

The pub is quite new and has taken over from bars and restaurants that have been unattractive. The Three Crowns, however, is a real improvement.

We've had lots of good dinners there before, and once before on a Sunday lunch. On that occasion we went in on spec and were told we could only have one hour before a reservation. We asked for desert (with 15 minutes remaining) but were refused because they could not get it to us before the reservation.

This time we booked in advance and had a reservation for five at 2.30pm. We were seated at 2.55pm at a table in the corner. The arrangement of the tables had changed since we were last in. I was sat on the end of the table. Unfortunately, the seating positions were such that I had to get up and leave my seat for the family behind to be able to leave their table. Worse still, I had to leave my seat in order for the restaurant staff to serve the table of two by the window.

The food was fine. The 12.5% obligatory service charge (automatically added) was not. We won't go there again when it's budy. We didn't pre-book to wait an additional 25 minutes for a table which was that poorly positioned.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Michael Johnson becomes a legend

Running 200 metres in 19.32 was insufficient. However, on BBC's Olympics coverage Michael Johnson was talking about Martyn Rooney, 400 metre runner.

He then mis-spoke calling him Wayne Rooney. An American, in Beijing, knowing something about football? Our recent sporting success must have made us more influential!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Losing their way?

I used Twitter for the first time last night. For the uninitiated, it's a way to follow short SMS style updates from friends (or you can subscribe to keywords to track what random people are talking about). There have been some wonderful uses of Twitter, which has done some great things.

I used it to update four Liverpool fans on last night's game, free of charge, who couldn't watch it live.

I won't be using Twitter again. I received an email this morning saying that they could no longer afford to pay to deliver texts to people. I could still use it to send texts to twitter, but they won't get distributed.

Twitter blames this on mobile phone operators, whom they hoped to persuade to not charge, but failed to convince. They seem more surprised than I was.

So what's the point of Twitter now? Are they just another fleeting dot com without a business plan or have they opened up enough relationships that people will adapt to find new ways to use the service

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

What do Brown and Obama have in common?

Neither have an emotional bond with their electorate. Brown did have, with most of the Labour party following his 2005 conference speech. That's possibly one reason holding some back from getting rid. But he certainly doesn't have an emotional bond with the country - one consequence of the botched election.

Despite his better public image, Obama doesn't either. It's what the pollsters meant in the US after the Germany trip when they said that 'he hasn't sealed the deal'. I'm not sure he has an emotional bond with African Americans - see the criticisms of Jesse Jackson. He certainly doesn't have a bond with all Clinton supporters. And doesn't seem to have an emotional bond with white working class Americans.

Certainly neither's fortunes will improve without connecting emotionally with their key audiences.

Mixed service from Homebase

Last year there was a sunny Friday evening. I set-up our new barbeque, a wedding present, and went to Homebase to buy the gas. On getting home I realised that the gas didn't fit the regulator clip. Then it started raining. We cooked under the grill.

I found the receipt for the unused gas. I paid £45 for a full container of gas and to rent the bottle. I expected to get only a 50 per cent refund on the gas but a full refund for the bottle. I only got £9.96 - 50% of the price of the gas and nothing for the bottle.

What was good was that Andrew, the person who served me, was really keen to help. He checked the terms and conditions and spoke to three different colleagues (including his manager) to make sure he was treating me properly. I was really pleased about that.

However, not only were Homebase unclear when they sold the original bottle, but their deal was a lot worse than my local BP garade where I bought the right bas bottle. Not only was it much cheaper, but they will return the deposit for the bottle.

If anyone from Homebase reads this then I'd be grateful to understand whether this is in line with the terms and conditions but - the wider point - whether it's fair that they get back a £35 bottle full with gas without returning the price for the bottle.

Trimming customers or margins?

I got my hair cut yesterday at Toni and Guy. I haven't been there since April but returned after they sent me a questionnaire accompanied with a £10 voucher.

It was quite a good customer questionnaire, with just five questions and clear multiple choice answers. It got me thinking about my experiences of the company over the seven years I've been going to the salons, having read The Ultimate Question last week. To save you the half day that it took to read the book, it asserts that companies which focus on their net promoter index (the number of advocates minus the number of detractors) will outperform their sector.

I'm not an advocate of Toni and Guy. They do appear interested in their customers. Not only did I receive the questionnaire but in the salon, there's now a 'black book' for customers to give their personal details in exchange for exclusive offers. I've not experienced that since my first visit in 2001.

Yet my problems with the company persist. When I first attended, I thought Toni and Guy to be the best of the high street salons. Now I only consider them dependable - you know they're not going to rely on an electric razor and you'll get a tapered finish on the neckline. However, I can't remember the last time someone made an effort when massaging the peppermint conditioner, when I was given water in a glass rather than a white plastic cup or when I was given advice about the cut or appropriate products.

To cap it off, I got questioned when I handed over the voucher and told that in future, I should only attempt to redeem it from Monday to Wednesday and if I notified them when booking. No such restrictions were offered on the voucher itself.

It appears to be another company that has expanded its salons at the expense of quality, where getting good staff is secondary to filling salon capacity and where fully satisfied customers are an after-thought.

I hope I'm wrong and that they or you will correct me if my experiences are unusual.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Something new I've learnt

The Betfair Blimp has got its name from aeronautics, not clever marketing alliteration.

Aircraft were given two categories A - for rigid aircraft (including Airships which hold people - think Max Zorin in A View to A Kill) and B for limp aircraft - or blimp.

There you go!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

TfL - must do better

No, there hasn't been a storm on Kingsland Road. Nor is this evidence of wanton destruction of the environment by 'hoodies'. This is the destruction wrought by a tow truck courtesy of Transport for London.

Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased they came to enforce the red route. I have counted as many as seven illegally parked cars at the top of our road alone. Red route enforcement is rare round here.

However, it is a shame that the height of the crane lifting the car meant that it also removed these branches from a tree. And it's also a shame that the tree wasn't pruned more strategically.

Worse still, the whole operation took 40 minutes, meaning that if TfL did take action on our little side street, it would take more than half a day to remove all the cars.

I wonder if TfL will take responsibility for this, or even report it so that it can be cleared?

Monday, 4 August 2008

Pedant's corner

I don't like to be too rigid about the use of certain words, despite having the distinction between smell and stink (you smell, I stink) drilled into me from an early age.

However, I was taken by this particular tautology. Unfortunately, it comes from the chief executive of the UK communications regulator, Ofcom.

Ed Richards says he wants to "initiate a concerted dialogue" (my italics).

Advertising America

Advertising in America is different from the UK. On the street there are far more (larger and taller, brighter) signs for shops and restaurants.

On the TV there are far more adverts, from more varied customers. A playing of The Titanic lasted an hour longer than the film for the constant interruption.

I expect the cost of advertising in much lower. Some local TV networks carry ads from estate agents where they talk (badly) as the picture shows still shots of a house for sale. Dire viewing. One network taking CNN has a section of the Sunday morning show sponsored by a company called Waste Management (amusing to fans of The Soprano).

There was one TV show almost completely uninterrupted. The first of the second season of Mad Men. Who said the Americans don't do irony?

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Denham calls for focus

John Denham (my former boss) has written an excellent article in the Sunday Times. In it, he says that:
a) there's a strong case for Labour which needs to be made more clearly
b) that a summer of leadership speculation will get in the way of Labour making that case

He concludes: "The triple whammy of credit, oil and food is transforming political debate beneath our feet. In Gordon Brown we’ve a prime minister who understands these issues better than anyone else in British politics."

Denham's article has made me reconsider whether we need a new Labour leader. But, on balance and despite all of the profound damage that another leadership election would cause, I still believe that a new leader can only be better that what we've got at the moment. Why?

a) Gordon Brown is unable to make a strong case for Labour. He simply can't communicate with the people who we most need to talk to
b) I don't believe that Gordon Brown understands how to address the challenges facing Britain. Even if technically his policies may work, will he create a perception that he can help Britain (important, given how little influence a single nation state can have on these global issues).

We've witnessed this with the difficulty of winnning political credit for tax credits and the debacle not only of the 10p tax rate abolition but also the way that the solution was conceived.

There's also the Martin Jol affect. Once speculation has started as to whether a leader can continue, that becomes the dominant issue, making it impossible for the leader to break through that. Denham experienced that today in a BBC interview.

I'm not gung-ho about a leadership election (I regularly dream about Labour's plight). But we've got to safeguard the medium term future. That's not to sacrifice the next two years. Rather, it's that our ability to make the Labour case will influence the policy direction of the next government, whoever is in power.

Great British brands

I posted earlier that I had not seen many British brands whilst in the US, except for Shell and First Group (school transport).

It's not actually true. Considering Friedman some more, I realised that I had experienced the following UK exports:
  • Duffy
  • Adele
  • Coldplay (in fact, enough of them to possibly create Americans fundamentalists hell-bent on destroying the UK)
  • Snow Patrol
  • Anthony Hopkins
  • the London Symphony Orchestra
  • Keane
  • Newcastle Brown
  • Football (in low volumes)
  • the world wide web
This is exactly what Friedman was on about.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

America's future

Being in the US - during a presidential election and with the Beijing games less than a week away - it's hard not to think about America's place in the world.

It would still appear dominant. I've noticed only two British brands that I can remember: First Group and Shell. I've not seen any French brands, even giants like Danone or L'Oreal. And whilst the restaurant next to my hotel is called Bombay Indian, and further down the road is a Sushi bar, they are all Americanised.

However, China is clearly on the rise and the long term omens for the US can be read negatively, whether it's the ageing population, the medicare bill, the future of social security, the state of some of the infrastructure. How the US responds now will be critically important.

Thomas Friedman suggests that globalisation has brought about the outsourcing and offshoring of 'left hand brain' jobs - those that requires processes such as taxation, HR support, computer programming, call centres. He says that in order to succeed, Americans will need to excel at right hand brain skills: art, innovation, concepts.

This reminded me of Robert Kagan's thesis - essentially that in the realm of foreign policy Europe is from Venus and America from Mars. Kagan argues that USA will be dominant over Europe because the 'harder power' will triumph but that elements of both are important.

So the question that struck me is: As emerging and developing economies translate that growth into international power and influence, will the USA be drawn closer to Europe? If so, what impact will this have on foreign policy, the fight against Islamists and the centre of economic power?

Friday, 1 August 2008

Obama strategy

There's been a lot of talk in the US of the role of race in the presidential election - for the first time in the campaign. What we do know is that:
  • McCain likened Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in an attack ad
  • Obama told some rallies that McCain was going to try and scare them by highlighting that 'he didn't look like the other presidents on the dollar bill'
So who benefits? The consensus is no one, because it's silly season and we're about to all watch the Olympics. The polls are now neck and neck after Obama had apparently a nine point lead last week. So perhaps McCain's ad has worked.

However, there was a protest by three African Americans at an Obama rally today who were suggesting that Obama wasn't talking enough about black America. This follows on from an attack on Obama by Jesse Jackson.

So perhaps it's actually an attempt by Obama to shore up his base before the last two months before the general when he will have to reach out to those middle American voters with whom he's yet to 'seal the deal'.
Business Haabaa Free Website Directory
Human edited search engine friendly web directory, add your site free!