Monday 14 July 2014

Customer Service with a Sting

Many of our customers, both businesses and individuals, will have heard that Westminster are to change the providers of their pay-by-phone service, which as we all know is extremely popular with Londoners, particularly for the way in which it doesn’t try to profit from drivers.

The new suppliers of this service are a company called Ringgo, who are part of a sizeable corporation servicing over 500 cities, yet when I tried contacting them to discuss how to register multiple vehicles for our business I couldn’t find any number listed on their website. I tried arguing with their automated payment system and after a few minutes of robot I managed to get through to an what I assume was a human only to find out that my options were either to send an email or call a 09 (premium) number at a pound a minute.

I have nothing against 09 numbers – there are lots of suitable applications for premium services, but as a policy we bar these from our phone system because there is no situation in which our employees should be calling them. Our reasoning is that any supplier who wants to charge us to talk to them isn’t really interested in our business anyway, and we are happy to find an alternative supplier. Except of course where this service is being provided by a public body such as Westminster Council, where choice isn’t a luxury we are offered, and the ‘service’ allegory doesn't really work because we aren’t the customer, we’re the hostage.

I’m not alone in thinking that the use of a premium number for a customer service line is unreasonable – The Cabinet Office seems to agree so rest assured that I’ll be taking this up with Westminster’s CEO, Charlie Parker.

In the meantime I’m looking forward to finding out how quickly Ringgo respond to support emails when we find out this Thursday that we can’t park our scooters, and specifically whether it’s going to be faster that the reaction time of Westminster’s friendly parking enforcement officers.

Thursday 3 July 2014

The Right to be Forgotten

Until today I’d never heard of  Stan O'Neal, but this gentleman has succeeded in making the news despite trying to achieve exactly the opposite.

O'Neal is suspected of using the new "right to be forgotten", following a ruling in May by the European Court of Justice that Google must delete "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant" data from its results when a member of the public requests it. I say suspected because he is the only person mentioned in the linked article, and if that’s the case he gets very little sympathy from me.

When Google received the take-down request it contacted Robert Peston who wrote the original article informing him of this development, which is a clever move because it’s galvanising the press into exposing the ECJ ruling as utter nonsense.

Peston points out that his reporting shouldn’t be classified as inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, and I believe the same goes for all factually accurate reporting – and remember that the original article is remaining in place – it’s Google’s link to it that is being removed. So we’re not actually burning books here, just making them inaccessible.

I see this as an ominous development, and would go so far as describing it as Orwellian because Orwell knew that once you control the news a person sees, you control what they think. I also think that sleaze bags - especially those in public life - shouldn't be allowed to crawl away from their sordid pasts.

Free speech aside, I am reminded of my first forays onto the internet in the early nineties primarily because it was utter rubbish. Unless you knew exactly where you wanted to go you were unlikely to find anything relevant because the search engines of the day were useless. Admittedly there wasn’t actually much content out there in those days, but now we’ve finally got so tantalisingly close to the font of all knowledge it seems we are looking for ways of turning off the tap.

It’s not just the right to be forgotten that jeopardises our future – most governments want to control us by restricting what we see; censorship starts by targeting the universally abhorrent, but pretty soon you’re into grey areas  and then it’s back to quoting Orwell (or Heine) again.

I’m passionate about the freedom of the internet because it transcends governments and borders – it’s the ultimate medium of communication; all we need to do is make sure we keep talking. And in the meantime we can use it to answer all the important questions like is there vitamin C in oatmeal (no), and is Stan O'Neal a total dickhead (you know the answer to that).