Monday, February 28, 2005

GNER == Great New Expresses, Ridiculous rule enforcement.

OK, time for another customer service gaff. Before I start, a quick appology, this is pretty long, mainly because my customer complaint will be just a link to this entry (and partly because I have a 5 hour train journey to kill).

I was travelling by train from Edinburgh to London the other day, and since travelling on a Sunday, decided to upgrade to First Class (bigger seats, fewer kids, at seat power supplies, it's £15 at the weekend). In the last few years, the upgrade has been restricted to only 1 or two carriages (there are normally 3 first on the trains I get). So, being the good passenger, not hearing any announcements and having failed to see any staff on the platform prior to boarding, to dropped my stuff (4 items) off at a suitably vacant seat and went to search for a staff member to ask.

I found a female staffer several coaches down the platform who said, and confirmed when double checked, that coach M was to be used for the upgrade. I went off to move my stuff (from coach L). Prior to actually moving it I checked that there was space (due to having multiple items with me) -- there was, though I thought it was a smoking carriage. This deduction was due to the fact that for the last 20 years, a non-smoking carriage has been indicated by having non-smoking stickers on every window -- this carriage had none (it was actually a prett new train, so default non-smoking - other than a small sign at the end must be the new fashion). Thinking perhaps that only smoking upgrades were available (and I don't mean that in a Jim Carey way) - I looked along the platform to check again (I'd rather go to standard class than sit for hours in a smokey carriage). This time I found a guy who again confirmed, that it was coach M and that only part of it was smoking (there was in fact a partition to keep the cancer threat under control).

OK, time to move the gear. The coach only had a few people in it, so I found a table at which the reservations had not been kept -- excellent, this makes it likely I'll get the whole table for the journey. Shortly after departure I'd just settled with my paper spread, the laptop out and set up, drink out on the table etc, when the guard comes through doing a ticket inspection. Ok, ticket and wallet out, ready to buy the upgrade.

The girl sitting one row in front of me asked for an upgrade, only to be told that only coach K was available for upgrades. Err...? The girl said, she'd asked, and had been told to go to coach M. I mentioned, since in ear-shot, that I'd also been told by two platform staff that coach M should be used. I asked, that since we'd settled (the girl has also unpacked somewhat, with a laptop and papers out) could we just stay where we were? No. No way. Against the rules. I asked, since I really couldn't be bothered moving all my stuff (again), could the guard possibly check with a supervisor? "Already have", promptly came back, "he said you've got to move to coach K." At that, another girl, who'd been sitting farther up the carriage, passed by, at which the guard He then went on to ask if I wanted an upgrade, I replied I would if I found a suitable seat in coach K (not knowing how busy it'd be). Time to move.

A couple of journeys up the train each (since neither myself nor the other girl could be bothered packing up completely, just to unpack it again) I was ready to settle in the grandness of coach K (which looked remarkably similar to coach M). When the guard caught up with us, and I was paying for my upgrade, I asked for the name of the supervisor (always handy if making a complaint I think), only to be told that I was not to be informed of such a fact. Hmm, protecting a supervisor, seems the wrong way round - sounds an awful lot like it was a fictitious manager check. He said I could take his name though, which was awful decent -- though the badge on his jacket was a bit of a give away (perhaps if it wasn't, I wouldn't have got his name either?). He stated that he'd announced on the tannoy system which coach to use several times. Well, I must have missed most of these since I was trying to find staff to ask, and the one announcement I was aware of was very garbled (but see ****).

I asked what the reasoning for the rule was; apparently the passengers who have booked seats (which today, though not typically means that upgrade passengers are in a different coach *) don't like upgrade passengers being allowed in their coach. They don't like the fact that some people pay less for their tickets (err, see **). Whatever, the basis for the rule, that fact that the
train was so quiet, and that about 50% of the people in the carriage apparently got it wrong, seems to suggests that a little common sense and customer courtesy would've been reasonable. This debacle reminds me (partly of how old I am for remembering this..) of the Jobsworth Award that used to be given on the That's Life tv show. Maybe a 'net version of this is due. It could be just a vote page pointing at blog entries of corporate madness -- maybe the lazy web will sort/find it for me.

Ah... *****

OK time to wrap it up, got other things to read / do on this trip.

I won't (at this point at least) name the train guard on the web (it will go in the complaint reference though), not least because he very politely (which he was, to be fair, mostly*****) delivered a complaint form for me to send. He commented that he'd asked another passenger in K about the announcements, and they'd said they were clear. I'm sure a few of said K passengers had GNER badges on though...

* In fact, there's normally a different level of exclusivity. One coach is often reserved for full ticket price paying customers
rather than those who are on some sort of saver ticket, advance purchase etc.

** Which is insane, since on this instance, any first ticket other than a weekend upgrade was allowed, and there are BIG differences
in price. The trains from GNER still practice the old BR trick of making a standard fair, stupidly expensive (like an open
single***/return is something like double the "real" standard fare, available at any time for any train from the ticket office,
just to discourage people from getting on the train without a ticket. Fines by any other name. I think these days, pretty much
everyone expects a range in fares based on any number of factors, from availabilty, advanced purchase, group bookings, special
offers / bundles, etc etc.

*** Ok, I know it gets silly when footnotes have footnotes, but come on, what does open single mean?

**** In coach K the announcement that just came on while I was typing this, was pretty clear -- the previous ones I
heard were not remotely as clear -- maybe some dud speakers / naff ones in the vestibules? Anyway, that doesn't affect the
rigidity of enforcement silliness.

***** Just heard another announcement, not at all clear (and that's being generous), evidently from the buffet car (given the
content) -- maybe this was used for the garbled one I didn't hear properly earlier.

****** other than his quip that he's "looking forward to reading my letter"

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

TCR - Deal meisters

OK, so yesterday, I went to the London gadget mecca that is Tottenham Court Road. I went armed with only a few spec requirements and a list of a few laptop models I had seen on the web (from Acer, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba). I diligently meandered from shop to shop looking for a killer deal.

The most impressive range I saw was consistenly that from Sony. I was mainly looking at the B1XP (I want XP Pro), but also was quite enamerred (sp?) with the new X-black displays which were very impressive (there's even a 2nd generation of X-black out it seems). I'd heard about these before, but had never gotten around to investigating (i don't hang out in computer shops).

I was looking for a smallish (non-widescreen / 17") laptop with more than 800px vertically (I'm mainly going to be programming on it and I find vertical context hugely important when coding). Unfortunately, the combination of wanting XP Pro and a high res screen restricts the laptop range quite significantly, unless you want to push the price up quite a bit (was trying to keep around 1200 GBP inc VAT). The meandering continued.

After being through 6-8 shops I was becoming quite jaded with the task -- too many shops with too many models and too many variables to keep in my head. Also, as you progress through the shops the salesmen become keener on the sale especially if they can undercut their neighbour (it's real friendly down there). In this condition I stumbled into Shyamtronics, an IBM auth dealer. Now, I've never been a huge fan of ThinkPads, mainly cos I think the general styling is horrendous -- when compared to a Sony or many other brands, the look of a TP is pretty dire. However, they've always had a good write up, esp for being sturdy / reliable.

As you've probably sussed from the story so far, I caved in and bought an IBM laptop (T40) . It actually looks a lot better than the average TP, mainly because it's so thin. It has a hi res screen (1400x1050 i think), wifi, bluetooth, gbit ethernet, ~2kg, blah blah blah. The guys did a great deal (as far as I can tell) including a second battery (8 cell, chould last up to 8 hours!), took the RAM up to 1Gb, a case (thin one) and a lock. Laughin.

Once home, I had to start priming it with software - first of which was a new set of drivers and XP SP2 (it came with only SP1) -- a bit of a pain, esp if you're not technical -- but the broadband just kept ticking away with occasional reboots while it updated everything. Cool.

Next job - cancel the Dell order, while getting through to cust service, i ended up hearing the order had slipped into March.. glad to be shot of that. I have to say, that the Dell box I ordered probably would have been cheaper for the features I got, but the wait and the hassle and the lack of knowledge far outweighed the advantages.

I noticed Dion had a little hassle -- despite Dell saying (I'm pretty sure i've seen it anyway) that they may choose to send in multiple parts if its easier for them. Oh well.

One thing I have to say to almost all the laptop mftrs out there - your websites, describing the products, are terrible! No, really. No. Really. If you want a laptop from Dell / Sony / Acer, but don't know the model you want yet (hence why you are going to the site) it's incredibly painful to find one you want. All sites should have a decent search like LaptopShop . They have a search form, where you specify the bits you care about and they return a matching list. Wahey. You know, that kind of flexible search, is just the kind of technology that might just take off in the World Wide Web...

Monday, February 21, 2005

DELL == Dreadful Execution of Laptop saLes.

10 days ago I decided to finally order a new laptop. I couldn't be bothered trailing shops or comparing endless features, so thought I'd just go with the easy route and buy a Dell. What a mistake. Should've heeded Cameron.

I should have taken the hint when their website tortured me with incompatible service combinations between pages -- forcing me to guess the way to get only a single year of support. This practically constituted strong arm techniques to buy 3 years -- maybe OFT need to check it out...

While filling out the order, and progressing through the checkout I wanted to see what the expected delivery date was. It was nowhere to be seen. Thinking "hey it's Dell, it'll only be a few days", I proceeded to order the box. On the order confirmation page - tada! the expected delivery date. Why couldn't they have shown this to me prior to confirming the order? It is because, if you actually knew how bad it was going to get, you'd run a mile? Maybe.

OK, order sent. Now, I've had various issues with my credit cards recently, and I also wanted to see if the 10 day delivery was realistic or pessimistic, so I called. I really wanted the laptop asap, so was hoping to be told it would more likely ship in 1-2 business days -- seems reasonable to me for a firm with a warehouse of computers (a day's drive away), esp when I'm ordering a highly advertised, commodity model, nothing special (510m). To cut a long story short, 3 phones, about an hours worth over 2-3 days, a full rebooking, partial upgrade (yeh right) and a lot of confusion as to what's going on (largely the Dell customer service staff know very little about the reasons for statuses on their screens), I thought I had a non-blocked, non-on-hold order, just waiting to be assembled and rolled out the door.

Oh what I fool I've been. Having dilligently been watching the OrderWatch web page, to see if my order was being prepared and shipped, I hoped I'd know straight away of any issues. As if. The order was supposed to arrive tomorrow (22nd Feb), so I thought, on heading to the order watch page today, that I'd see a shipped status. No. Still in pre-production. Delivery pushed back another 4 days. OK. So I call.

Somewhat disconcerting is when you carefully listen to the automated phone service, type in the order number, check the repeated number and wait for a human... to be told by the system the order is not found. Oh no. Finally after the phone system has apparently bounced me through half a dozen exhanges (does this every time), I get through to a rep in Ireland (thankfully not one of the Indian service locations, 2/3 of the previous calls ended up there, and the shortening of my life is not worth the effort). The order is on hold^H^H^H^H I mean in pre-production. Why? Incompatibility -- of the carefully selected options for this very model from the Dell website. Right. Which bit? Can I change it? No. Windows XP SP2. "We don't have the disks". Okay. Really. Well, on further probing there's an incompatibility someplace with SP2. Don't know where. Or why. Or when they might have a solution. So the delivery date is pure speculation. Good. Just what I wanted to hear. I spoke to a supervisor who had just as much an idea over what the problem was, and whether it would be fixed soon, and who had no idea how to contact someone who might know. No, it's not our department...

The whole experience reminded me of a mad government department, with no responsibility being held by anyone. The guys reckoned that I should have been contacted, but I wasn't. Nothing on the order watch page, no phone calls, no emails.

I'm now left with no laptop even vaguely on its way. I think I'll probably cut my losses and go buy a Tosh or a Sony or a Mesh or something tomorrow. Looks like TCR is going to get a visit after all.

Thanks Dell, it's been an education. Don't think I'll be buying Dell stock anytime soon, I think it's got a way to go down yet...

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