Foafexperts – The Customer’s Mate Down The Pub is Always Right

Learning

Learning

There is a term in the world of mysterious Fortean events to describe the sort of story that starts with “Apparently…” and is about some paranormal event witnessed by a “Friend of a Friend” hence they are called “foaftales”.  It seems though that the foafs have moved beyond the esoteric and become experts on absolutely everything.  Maybe it’s the internet’s illusion of knowledge – you can of course search and find many true answers on the net can’t you – but more often you encounter members of the public with no prior involvement in the industry they’re dealing with telling the person with many years of experience either what they know or how to do their job.  As they say a little knowledge is a bad thing.

For example a customer who when told they need safety glass in a door replies angrily “it doesn’t need toughened, it’s only an internal timber door” or others who say “the double glazed units were obviously made wrong because they’re not supposed to break down (get condensation inside) at all, I know how they work” to the one who wanted a sealed unit straight away “I shouldn’t have to wait, I know how long they take to make” – really, would you like a job?  I also encountered a customer with no prior experience of double-glazed glass units who insisted that I was measuring the thickness of the unit he’d brought in wrongly, as was an equally experienced colleague, and told me I needed to get a measuring caliper – I did and came up with the same measurement, surprisingly.

Part of this is someone who knows a little about a subject who wants to show off to their friend that they’re some kind of expert, other times it may be someone trying to promote themselves by appearing knowledgable.   Sometimes the person may be trying to help but more often than not, they’re not.

So many people seem to have a father-in-law who’s “in the trade” and knows that what you’re saying is wrong – this is almost always just a feeble attempt to prove that they haven’t made a mistake.  As for said expert often, who am I kidding, mostly, it turns out that they’ve either done a bit of DIY or they’re a joiner when the problem would be, for example, brickwork related, or worse still related to making the windows which is like a taxi driver saying that he’s an expert in assembling radios.  I’m a glass cutter by profession, I know next to nothing about making Murano glass vases so I wouldn’t try to tell a glass blower how to suck eggs, if you see what I mean.

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Rebooted Music – Buy, Buy and Buy Again?

Many CDs

Many CDs

Sometime in the early 2000s I bought an REM album, in a record store, and on the sticker on the case I saw the words “DELUXE EDITION” and made the mistake of not inspecting it closely. It turned out that the rest of the (much smaller) words on the sticker said “also available as a”. Hmm.

Since then I generally check if an album has a deluxe version at release but generally I don’t tend to buy albums until they’ve been out for a while, which is helpful these days.

The reason being the trend of artists (or perhaps the labels more accurately) releasing a deluxe version six months or more after the first release and expecting fans to buy the whole album again. Some bands do it right, releasing an EP after the main album and reissuing the original packaged with the extra tracks for those who are catching up but more often than not they don’t.

One noteable current example that is being commented on regularly on the radio station I listen to is Ed Sheeran’s “X” which I bought when it first came out, it’s now also available as a deluxe version and a deluxe-deluxe (Wembley) version too, with different extra tracks.  The same was true with both Ellie Goulding albums I have, there are many others I’m sure.

Our modern methods of listening to and buying music kind of makes this a moot point these days, you could just buy the extra tracks from Amazon, Google Play or iTunes, often for less than the deluxe CD but if you want to have the actual album in your hands it can get a bit pricey.

Once you’ve enjoyed an album it’s nice to be able to get just a little bit more but doing it that way, while benefiting the labels, is just going to be bad for the artists as even if the reissue isn’t their choice it’s them who often get tagged as being cynical money-grabbers.

Don’t Panic…

…I tell myself.  I recently ordered a number of items from retailers on Ebay, all small, couple of pound items some from the UK some from China.  I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon though – this is important.  I received confirmation emails, then despatch confirmations for all items, from Ebay.

Then I received an email from Amazon saying my order had been despatched.  WHAT ORDER!

Before opening the email I googled the company listed in the email header, it was real, a well-known marketplace seller.  I tentatively opened the email, knowing that in spam or phishing emails the “from” address (amazon.co.uk) can be spoofed.  It was a normal Amazon despatch message containing my home address and sent to my usual email address.  The thing was that there was no products listed at all but there was a link to parcel tracking that I didn’t click of course.

When I eventually checked my real-world mailbox this morning I found a large flat cardboard envelope with Amazon.co.uk emblazoned across it.  Uh, huh?

I opened it and immediately understood.  Inside was a despatch note from the company listed in the email, on Amazon stationery so to speak, and the item I’d ordered from the UK Ebay seller.  I finally realised – the email had said it was from the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) section – I’d bought from a seller under one name on Ebay but the item was despatched from their stock held in Amazon’s warehouse under a different name.  I hadn’t realised that FBA extended beyond purchases from Amazon Marketplace to Ebay and elsewhere too.

If the product had been listed on the emailI would have realised sooner but as it was I spent yesterday morning changing my Ebay, Paypal and Amazon log-ins and passwords to be on the safe side.

The strange, confusing world of online shopping logistics.

99p is The New Free

Yes, it seems it’s ebook week on The Lunch.

Free books

Free books (Photo credit: randomduck)

On just about every high street in Britain there is some kind of mis-named Pound Shop, selling things for 99p, and it’s a well-known psychological effect that we think that 99p is vastly cheaper than a pound because it has less digits, even if our subconscious obsession with lower numbers in buying but higher in selling leads us to all have jam jars full of pennies.

The odd thing though is a shift in the area of “free” goods.  On Amazon and other ebook stores there are thousands of free ebooks, some are actual out-of-copyright classics, some are good books simply written for the enjoyment of it and given away, others are free just to be generous and helpful.  The problem is that we often assume that if something is always free then it must be of lower quality, whereas we will eagerly grab a book that’s normally £3.99 but is reduced for a day to £0.00.  This idea of low quality is reinforced by many writers and journalists who have said that only crap writers do it for free [Andy looks at own not-for-profit blog and sighs].

This is a problem for new authors who are publishing solely electronically – price it too high and buyers might not want to take a shot at an unknown, give it away and it’s likely that people will see the words “FREE = CRAP” with memories of bookstore remainder bins in the back of their minds.

There has emerged a middle ground, more and more books are being published at 99p, cheap enough to be a potential throwaway purchase but someone thinks it’s worth actually charging money for which gives you a bit of confidence that it’ll be worth it.  It also feels like you’re getting a bargain even if it’s not reduced.

Amongst the ebook chaff there is wheat and if this idea gets it noticed then it doesn’t matter whether crap gets sold at the same price – that’s what Amazon’s reviews sections are for.

 

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Who Did The Work, Exactly?

Woman with phone screaming.How do you make someone feel like nothing more than an automaton, like some kind of puppet operated by an all-knowing master, how do you make someone feel like they’re pretty worthless?

I’ll tell you.  It’s happened to me, it’s happened to many people I know, it happened to my mum and her colleagues when she was a care assistant at an elderly people’s home.

As the staff member you spend much time finding out information, you carefully manufacture something, you arrange for some work to be done, you do all you can to make an elderly relative’s final months as comfortable as possible – add your own job role here.  At the end of the process the person who you’ve done all this for – i.e. the customer, the client, (in my experience usually well off, a business owner) doesn’t say thankyou to you but instead says, to your face, “oh, pass my thanks on to [insert boss/manager’s name here] and tell them I’ll owe them a bottle of wine for all he/she’s done.”

Well, you’re welcome, you think.  You may not be doing the job for the thanks or praise but a little of your soul gets worn down.

 

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The Personal Touch

so happy smiling cat

so happy smiling cat (Photo credit: [puamelia])

I’m currently enjoying my week off but on Monday I did have to go to the bank to pay the only bill I don’t pay by Direct Debit and also pay some money in to my account.

As I’ve written about before I’m no fan of the new automated paying-in and bill paying machines with which I have a difficult history, so as the bank was quiet I went to a teller without being dragged back to the machine this time.  I said good morning and so on and told the lady what I wanted to do, she then told me that I could do the same using the machines, I told her in a round-about way that the machine and I are not on amicable terms at the moment.

She glanced at her screen after I’d put my card in the reader and smiled, saying “one thing the machine can’t do is wish you a Happy Birthday.”

Which gave me a smile and a warm feeling inside which technology just can’t match.

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Too Soon? (Er, No)

Mince Pies

Mince Pies Before Xmas

Well, it’s that time of year again, dark evenings, warm fires, mince pies.  Yes, it’s Christmas.

What?  Christmas is still in December?  Really, because I swear last week I bought some mince pies, all wrapped in Christmassy packaging and the best-before date was in November.

By now we all know that shops start selling Christmas paraphernalia around August and pubs have a little Christmas tree in the corner to advertise their Christmas lunches in September but why are they selling mince pies in November?  Yes, I suppose you could freeze them to get round the two-week best before limit but really, are we at risk of a shortage, are we facing a mincemeat deficit?

And yes I bought some, as you can see above, and have eaten them well before the big day.  Naturally, well it is (nearly) Christmas and I still have half a tub of ice cream to use up.

Bills and Shopping: The Rise of the Machines

Point Four Touch Point of Sale Till

Point Four Touch Point of Sale Till (Photo credit: Cyberslayer)

It’s not that I don’t like banks, or that I’m in some way un-British and avoid queuing it’s just that I don’t like being required to go out on some cold, damp Saturday morning when I’d rather be sat by the heater reading.  This is why most of my bills are sorted out by Direct Debit, even my credit card which is paid automatically every month – as it’s exclusively for online use rather than credit as such.

However there is one, variable bill which I don’t do this way – the electricity bill, because I don’t want them taking the money if they’ve over-estimated it.  So once a quarter I trudge to the bank.  The last couple of times I’ve been intercepted in the queue and guided to the paying-in ATM which can, I am assured, be used to pay bills and sure enough it did, it scanned the bill, took the details from my card and printed me a receipt.  It lacked the friendly hellos and brief chatter of talking to a teller but it did its stuff efficiently without having to wait with the other customers and their queries that computers can’t resolve (yet).  It’s amazing what technology can do isn’t it.

When it works.

This time I queued for the ATM, a member of staff asked if I was OK with doing it myself, “yes,” I replied, proudly, stopping short of continuing with “fear not, I have done this before”.  The woman ahead of me was though clearly having trouble paying a cheque in and was becoming increasingly frustrated by the machine.  Some people would have been mortified at causing a delay for others.  When she went in search of a real person I approached the anonymous grey box, inserted my card and then my payment slip which it chewed a little, thought about and then spat back out at me.

The member of staff who had by now redirected the cheque woman to a teller dashed over, I tried again but still it said it was having trouble reading the slip.  “Oh,” said the smart-suited bank woman “I think it has trouble with the new smaller payment slips.”  Right, so it’s the electricity company’s fault.  I was redirected to the queue for the tellers too, while reflecting that it’s lucky there were still real people present to do the job. The banks say this is to do with improving customers’ experiences, to reduce waiting times and so on.  A while later a man ahead of me was plucked from the queue and escorted to the same ATM, poor unsuspecting soul, like something out of Nineteen-Eighty-Four he walked by, towards the room 101 of automated banking technology, “good luck” I silently whispered.

It’s becoming ever more common though, in the supermarket there have been self-service checkouts for a while, and now the incredible sounding Hybrid Checkouts – you get your own conveyor belt to play with, like your own Generation Game.  A tin of beans.  A lettuce.  A cuddly toy…

I like checkouts with people on them, you can say hello, chat a little, they do all the scanning stuff.  I know someone who can scan goods quickly, accurately and have a riveting conversation with you at the same time, all you get from a Hybrid Checkout is the infamous “unknown item in the bagging area” message.  Which is a further complication – having to precisely place your items in your bag instead of lobbing them in haphazardly.

They say it’s quicker, denying the accusations that it’s to do with saving on the costs of staff, as do the banks.  They encourage you to use them, “it’s for your own good” they virtually scream as they drag you by the basket towards the robot cashiers while you whimper “but I want to talk to the nice lady on till nine.”  I have been known to linger at the end of an aisle, apparently choosing coffee until I see a gap on a conveyor then dump my groceries onto it before they can have my basket away from me.  True story.

I’ve seen people using the Hybrids, repeatedly scanning a loaf of bread while looking around for help.  My friend on the till would have scanned it first time.  If you’ve got alcohol or something else that needs authorisation then you’re left waiting until an assistant can come and release you back into the community from whence you wandered, happy and smiling, ten minutes earlier.  Just nipping in for a bottle of wine and a curry you said.  Now you need something more substantial.  “What kept you?” your partner says as you get into the car.  You mumble something about bloody technology and drive home, which is something that, for now, you can still enjoy doing yourself.

Just In Time

Old 3-Paned Window

Old 3-Paned Window (Photo credit: Big Grey Mare)

If you were about to drive to the other end of the country but needed to get a new tyre for your car first you wouldn’t get up that very morning, take the wheel off (assuming you had no spare) and then try to drive to the tyre shop.  I know I wouldn’t.  Some would, I’m sure.

I say this because something similar happens with disturbing regularity – people ring up wanting some glass that either takes three days to arrive or is out of stock and they immediately panic “but the door/cupboard/etc is going out tomorrow” or even more preposterous “I’ve already taken the old glass out.”

There are two rules in work like this – “measure twice, cut once” and “don’t remove something until you’re sure you can put it, or something, back.”  I can’t at the moment think of a more succinct way to phrase the latter one to make it more snappy – as things have to be these days, inevitably.

Again it’s another example of the expectation, instilled into us now, that we should not expect to wait for anything, which as I’ve said before can snowball as one person promises something to be ready tomorrow and expects everyone else to fall in line.  And in that lies a third lesson “don’t assume anything” especially regarding delivery times.

Everything’s Better With Bacon

Horse And Cart

Horse And Cart (Photo credit: foilman)

To be honest I quite like the adverts for the UK’s EE phone network featuring the always-connected Kevin Bacon, even if I’m not a fan of the name “EE” – at least I can still say I’m on Orange if anyone asks.  The latest ad dips into popular colloquialisms for its inspiration and shows Kev dragging a “shedload of data”.

My first thought was where they could go next with the idea:

“Why you lugging a cart of manure Kev?”

“That’s not manure, it’s data, it’s a metric shit-tonne of data.”

There you go EE, have this one on me.