Posts tagged ‘customer service’


Consumer’s choice: how I bought a car from the UK over the ’net and shipped it home

01.10.2017

Originally published at Drivetribe, but as I own the copyright it only made sense to share it here for readers, too, especially those who might wish to buy a car from abroad and want to do the job themselves. It was originally written for a British audience.


Above: The lengths I went to, to make sure I didn’t wind up buying a car with an automatic transmission: source it from the UK and spend ten months on the process.

One consequence of Brexit was the pound falling, which makes buying out of Blighty very tempting for foreigners. When it comes to buying a car, the savings can be substantial enough for a buyer in the antipodes.
   My situation in New Zealand was neither driven by politics nor currency: it was the lack of manual-transmission cars. When I last bought a car for myself in 2004, the market was roughly 50–50 between manuals and automatics. Today that figure is 90 per cent in favour of automatics, meaning those of us who prefer shifting gears ourselves face a major difficulty. We either limit ourselves to the few cars that come on to the market that are manuals, or we switch. Considering it was my own money, and a five-figure sum at that, I wasn’t about to contemplate getting something that I didn’t like. Britain, it seemed, would have to be the source of my next car.
   There were certain circumstances that made this a lot easier.
   First, you need friends in the UK.
   Secondly, you should browse Auto Trader, Parkers and other sites regularly for months on end to get a feel of the market.
   Third, you should be looking for something that’s relatively new, to ensure compliance with the laws of both the UK and your own.
   When my old Renault Mégane I Coupé was written off in an accident, the logical thing would be to buy the Mégane III Coupé. However, if you live in a right-hand-drive country and you’re not in the UK, Ireland or South Africa, you’re out of luck, unless you fancy going to an RS. And I simply didn’t need 250-plus horsepower to go to the post office or up the coast.
   There were two powerplants common to Renaults in New Zealand: the 110 bhp 1·6, and the 2·0 automatic. That left me with one choice, and 110 bhp was sufficient for what I needed. I also looked forward to the better fuel economy, even if New Zealanders pay less at the pump than Brits.
   I was fortunate that I didn’t need a replacement car in a hurry. For years I had a “spare car”, one that my father had bought and I could use now that he had developed Alzheimer’s. The other stroke of luck was that I had contemplated getting a newer Mégane III Coupé anyway, and had been browsing UK sites for about six months at that point. I knew roughly what a good deal looked like. Finally, the esteemed motoring editor, Mr Keith Adams, and one other school friend, Philip, had offered to check out cars should I spot anything in their area.

I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. That’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in

   While my circumstances were unique, there are plenty of other reasons to look to the UK for cars.
   A friend looking for a Volkswagen Eos reckoned he would save NZ$10,000 (£5,850) by sourcing one from the UK. This is largely fuelled by the greater depreciation on UK second-hand cars, and the savings potentially mount on flasher motors, such as Audi Q7s or Bentleys.
   While Japan is closer, and the source of many used cars in New Zealand, some buyers have had to buy new radios to match New Zealand frequencies. There’s also the disadvantage of dealing in a foreign language with a very different legal system should you choose to do it yourself.
   The disadvantage of a UK import is that speedometers will be in mph, whereas New Zealand adopted the newfangled metric system decades ago. However, on a more modern car with a digital dashboard, the switch shouldn’t be an issue, and that was the case with the Mégane.
   For a Kiwi buyer, the first step is to check the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) website, which has useful worksheets on private car importation.
   In summary, the car must comply with New Zealand standards, and it helps—for now—that cars that have EU type approval will. The car must have a vehicle approval plate or sticker, or a statement of compliance. The NZTA worksheets and website are detailed and go through further specifics.
   You should, for peace of mind, order an AA or Dekra inspection. AA members in New Zealand can expect a discount from AA in the UK, and this shouldn’t exceed £200. Any faults need to be remedied before you purchase the car, or you should walk away.
   Of course, you need to be able to prove the ownership of the vehicle: that means an invoice showing that you’ve purchased it (this should have the VIN on it), plus the V5 registration document. Since it’s being exported outside the UK, the relevant part of the V5 noting thje car will be leaving the country will have been sent to the Department for Transport by the seller. The seller needs to put this in the courier to you.
   I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. You can do a lot yourself, but it pays to have an extra pair of eyes to ensure you’ve dotted the is and crossed the ts, and in New Zealand, that’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in.
   Online Logistics isn’t interested in profiting based on the price of your car, unlike some services. They set standard fees for shipping, and arrange insurance, which it’ll need on the way to New Zealand. They do ask that the car departs from Felixstowe, and they will ship it to Auckland.
   They will require the VIN, so they can double-check that the car meets the required standards, the invoice, and the original copy of the V5.
   Once it’s on New Zealand shores, it has to go through several inspections.
   The first is an inspection by the Ministry of Primary Industries, which makes sure that there aren’t any bugs. It could order that the car be fumigated, and this can set you back around NZ$400. Once done, you’ll get an MPI sticker saying the car’s passed the biosecurity inspection.
   Customs will then sting you GST (the equivalent of VAT) on cost, insurance and freight.
   An NZTA-approved organization will then inspect the car to check for structural faults. Online Logistics took care of this part, so you don’t need to hunt for an approved one yourself. Once that’s done, you’ll get a pink sticker from NZTA.
   The fourth step is getting the car certified. Again, Online Logistics has a company it contracts to do this, and this is where you’re likely to see your car for the first time. Certification will confirm that the car meets safety and emission standards, gets the VIN recorded into the database, gives you a registration form so you can get the car registered in New Zealand, and issues a warrant of fitness (MOT). Certification can be strict: cars that have had a poor repair job done in the UK will not pass until it is redone in line with New Zealand standards, and this is where the importation process can fall to pieces. That’s why it’s important to have that check done in the UK before purchase. Stay well away from category D cars, and aim for low miles.

Having identified the model I wanted, I had to trawl through the websites. The UK is well served, and some sites allow you to feed in a postcode and the distance you’re willing (or your friend’s willing) to travel.
   However, if you rely on friends, you’ll need to catch them at the right time, and both gentlemen had busy weekends that meant waiting.
   VAT was the other issue that’s unfamiliar to New Zealanders. GST is applied on all domestic transactions in New Zealand, but not on export ones. This isn’t always the case in the UK, and some sellers won’t know how any of this works.
   One of the first cars I spotted was from a seller who had VAT on the purchase price, which logically I should get refunded when the car left the country. I would have to pay the full amount but once I could prove that the car had left the UK, the transaction would be zero-rated and I would get the VAT back. I was told by the manager that in 11 years of business, he had never come across it, and over the weeks of chatting, the vehicle was sold.
   Car Giant, in London, was one company that was very clued up and told me that it had sold to New Zealanders before. They’re willing to refund VAT on cars that were VAT-qualifying, but charged a small service fee to do so. The accounts’ department was particularly well set up, and its staff very easy to deal with long-distance.
   Evans Halshaw, however, proved to be farcical. After having a vehicle moved to the Kettering branch close to Keith’s then-residence after paying the deposit, and having then paid for an AA inspection, the company then refused to sell it to me, and would only deal with Keith.
   Although the company was happy to take my deposit, Keith was soon told, ‘we will need payment to come from yourself either by debit card or bank transfer as the deal is with yourself not Mr Yan,’ by one of its sales’ staff.
   I wasn’t about to ask Keith to part with any money, If I were to transfer funds to his account, but not have the car belong to me, and if Keith were to then transfer ownership to me without money changing hands, then the New Zealand Customs would smell a rat. It would look like money laundering: NZTA requires there to be a clear chain of ownership, and this wasn’t clear. Evans Halshaw were unwilling to put the invoice in my name.
   I’m a British national with a UK address—again something a lot of buyers Down Under won’t have—but Evans Halshaw began claiming that it was ‘policy’ not to sell to me.
   The company was never able to provide a copy of such a policy despite numerous phone calls and emails.
   Essentially, for this to work and satisfy Customs on my end, Keith would have to fork out money, and I would have to pay him: a situation that didn’t work for either of us.
   Phil, a qualified lawyer, offered to head into another branch of Evans Halshaw and do the transaction exactly as they wanted: head there with ‘chip and PIN’, only for the company to change its tune again: it would not sell to me, or any representative of mine.

The refund from Evans Halshaw never materialized, and I found myself £182 out of pocket

   This farce went on for a month and involved a great deal of calls from me into the small hours of the morning.
   The matter eventually went to the group’s lawyer, David Bell, and between him and me, it was sorted in 10 minutes.
   Evans Halshaw did indeed have a policy not to sell to a foreigner, never mind that he was also a Briton. What their first staffer should never have done was take my deposit in the first place.
   Despite knowing it was me who paid the deposit, the Kettering dealer began believing it was Keith who was the buyer.
   When Mr Bell knew all the facts, there was a moment when the penny dropped for us both: he had been told that Keith was the buyer all along, and advised accordingly. Once I knew where the mix-up was, everything made sense.
   It wasn’t helped by belligerent staff who refused to answer questions directly.
   However, on knowing of their error, Evans Halshaw refunded my deposit (albeit minus the credit card fees I had paid) and offered to refund the AA check, in exchange for the report. I willingly gave them the report, but the second refund never materialized. Neither the dealer principal at Kettering nor Mr Bell responded, despite reminders, and I found myself £182 out of pocket, along with goodness knows how much in long-distance phone charges. I still wonder how this is one of the country’s largest dealer groups, with this blatant disregard for the customer.
   Two weeks later, the perfect Mégane popped up. It was all a blessing in disguise. It was the colour (Cayenne orange) of the car I had on my computer wallpaper years before. The mileage was very low. And another friend, Andrew, was willing to pop by and look at it, sold by a very easy-going seller, Andy Mudge of Thames Fleet Purchasing. In fact, he proved so amenable I referred others to him, and he was more than happy, as with many other dealers I had spoke to in the UK since the Evans Halshaw affair, to sell to a British national based abroad.
   The car passed the Dekra check with next to no issues, and Andy was willing to cap the freight charges of the car from his Maidenhead property to the port for £100. (It’s advisable to have the car transported, rather than driven, to the port, as I won’t have paid for the tax as the new keeper.)
   The car was non-VAT qualifying, making life easier for both parties. I paid Andy the amount by wire transfer, added a pony on top to cover the courier of documents (V5 and handbooks) and the spare key.
   The one feeling I hadn’t expected was to see thousands of pounds leave my account and have nothing to show for it. The car took just under two months before I witnessed it for the first time, having flown up to Auckland to collect it (another NZ$100), with a 600 km journey south back to its new home in Wellington.
   Many months later, I’m thrilled with my purchase. There are, to my knowledge, only two non-RS Mégane III Coupés in New Zealand, both in the same colour. It has an engine for which I can get parts, and there are sufficient commonalities with the Méganes sold here when it comes to brake pads and other items. It had taken a considerable amount of time but it was eventually worth it. After all, if it’s your money, you should get what you want. If you don’t want to drive the standard New Zealand car—and looking around that appears to be a Toyota Auris Automatic—then the UK is a very ready source of cars.

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Posted in business, cars, globalization, internet, New Zealand, UK | No Comments »


Avon walling

21.01.2017

A week ago, Avon found an inventive way to get its brand noticed in peak-hour traffic.
   I could make this about how people don’t know how to drive these days, or about the media fascination with Asian drivers when the reality does not bear this out, but let’s make it all about Avon—since they are the ones who have actually inspired a full blog post today. To think, it could have just been on my Instagram and Tumblr and I would have let it go, since the following video is over a week old.

   To be fair, as well as posting on my own platforms, I thought it would only be fair to alert Avon about it on its Facebook. In this age of transparency, it’s not good to talk behind someone’s back. I would have used the website advertised on the side of this Mazda (avon.co.nz), but the below is all I get. (You can try it yourself here.) I told Avon about this, too. They need to know one of their people is a dangerous, inconsiderate, and selfish driver who is ignorant of basic New Zealand road rules, namely how a give-way sign works and how to change lanes. And if I were in their shoes, I’d want to know that the URL emblazoned in large letters on the side of my fleet of cars is wrong.

   It was ignored for a while, now my post is deleted.
   Immediately I had these five thoughts.
   1. Its brand isn’t that great. When you’re starting from a poor position, the best thing to do is try to work harder. As a network marketer, Avon can’t afford to have an office that doesn’t deal with complaints. I might even be a customer. In any case, I’m part of the audience—and these days, we can affect a brand as much as the official channels. For instance, this post.
   2. In the 2000s and 2010s, social media are seen as channels through which we can communicate with organizations. Going against this affects your brand. (There’s a great piece in the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing, vol. 3, no. 1 that I penned. Avon would do well to read this and integrate social media marketing into its operations.)
   3. If you’re an Avon rep and you know that the Australia–New Zealand operation ignores people, then what support do you think you can count on? My post will have been seen by many people, and a follow-up one today—informing them it’s poor form to delete comments—will be seen by more. It discourages more than customers—its distributors surely will think twice. (I’m also looking at you, Kaspersky. Another firm to avoid.)
   4. Advertising your website in large letters and have it not work is a major no-no—it contributes to the image I (and no doubt others) have on Avon as, well, a bit amateur.
   5. This is a US firm. If you’re an exporter, isn’t now a really good time to show that you care about your overseas operations? Nation brands impact on corporate ones. Now I’m beginning to wonder if Avon might not be that interested in overseas sales any more. Their new president, with his stated views on free trade, has said in his inauguration speech that they need to ‘buy American’ and ‘hire American.’ Let’s delete stuff from foreigners!
   The question I have now is: wouldn’t it have been easier to apologize for its representative’s inability to drive safely, and thank me for telling them their website is dead so they can get it fixed? The video contains the registration number, so Avon could have had a word to their rep.
   This is all Marketing 101, yet Avon seems to have failed to grasp the basics. I guess the folks who flunked marketing at university found jobs after all.

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Posted in branding, business, interests, marketing, New Zealand, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Bypass Auckland when you can

21.11.2014

It’s a shame I had to write this to Auckland Airport today (salutation and closing omitted):

I’d like you guys to know that on Monday night, your inter-terminal bus never came. Passengers (around 20) were waiting at the stop at domestic from 9.45 to 10.15 p.m. The airport staff I spoke to were really surprised at this, too.
   I don’t mind the walk but there was an elderly lady among the passengers who didn’t enjoy the gales blasting through that night. I helped her with her huge bag to international, and I am sure another passenger would have helped her if I wasn’t there, but it’s a shame this had to happen.
   During our walk, we never saw the bus pass us, so it looked like the 10.30 p.m. finishing time that you advertise was not observed that night.
   I hope you can look into it.

   And Novotel, no, it is not cool that if someone orders a drink at the restaurant, pays for it, and decides to finish the remainder in his room, that you would try to charge him again the following morning (note: at 6.30 a.m., before any cleaning crew came) for consuming an ‘in-room beverage’. Thank you for not charging when I disputed it, but, again, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. (Having no free power outlets by the desk but two where the kettle is also seems a bit odd.)
   It’s more reason for travellers to come to Wellington, where we’re fairer.

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Posted in business, culture, New Zealand | 1 Comment »


When referring to your Australian office might not be a smart thing to do

02.08.2014

There are some companies that do not realize that we live in a global community.
   And there are at least two who have done themselves a disservice by referring our account or enquiries to their Australian representative.
   We left Rackspace in 2013 although, for most of the 11½ years we were with them, things were fairly good. I had issues with them in 2005, but they weren’t serious enough to depart. In the last year, the server fell over regularly, and suddenly we found ourselves being referred to their Australian office.
   From then on, I just got jargon from their rep who tried to get us on to the “cloud”. When I asked about further specifics, I heard nothing back, and when I sent another query to the company, I found her response rude and dismissive. The sense I got was, ‘How dare you keep asking questions on how much you expect to spend.’ I can’t remember her exact words, but I seem to recall she used the, ‘As I told you before’—when in fact she hadn’t.
   So we left. It was a sad end though I still think the world of Rackspace’s techs. The guys running their Twitter are second to none as well. The guys in the US are fantastic and are completely on to it. But, as I told one of the Kiwis working from their Australian office, I wasn’t going to stand for their rudeness after paying them a fairly hefty amount each month.
   He explained that they were rude in Australia, which is a pity. I wasn’t sure if he referred to his company or to Australians in general, because I certainly haven’t found the latter to be the case on my visits there, and I haven’t encountered that in 99 per cent of Australian organizations.
   Before the Australian office was opened, we had very cordial dealings with our Texan and later Hong Kong account managers. I get why they want to localize: it’s to serve different time zones and, in many cases, to serve different languages. But, for goodness’ sake, make sure that you hire people who have had some training on how to talk to customers.
   I was always under the impression that the account manager is the one who doesn’t talk technobabble, the one who translates all of that to human, in order to secure your business. She’s not the one who joins in with the throng in a game of “us and them”—and in Rackspace’s case, undoes a decade’s worth of hard-earned goodwill, earned largely by the US staff.
   Interestingly, they were replaced by a small Australian firm run by an expat New Zealander, who tells me that there is some rudeness in the Aussie IT sector. Maybe that’s what the Kiwi at Rackspace meant.
   Hugo Boss is the other story, to whom we sent a query for press images, at their German HQ. We were referred to their Australian office. And from there we never heard back. Luckily for us, we wound up using catwalk imagery from Berlin Fashion Week, which we can access. They got their story, one which looked at their history and how it impacted on their design, written by one of our associate editors, but I’m not convinced they deserved the two pages in Lucire.
   And now we’ve been referred again by a European label to their Australian PR. I won’t name this company this time, because the rep might not have had the chance to respond yet. Or the enquiry is somewhere in their system. But it is a company for whom we had a username and password for their press database, neither of which works now. (That is a whole other story—companies which take your data but upgrades mean that you have to sign up again. I am looking at you, Telegraph Group plc.)
   She was nice enough and asked which images we sought. The reality, as I explained, was that we often didn’t know ourselves till one of our editors went through the image database for something that fitted with the issue’s theme. In addition, as we at Lucire produce magazines for the international market-place, the Australian season would be off. We needed to get access to the European database.
   Companies like Hennes & Mauritz, Swatch or Bang & Olufsen have no trouble comprehending this, but it amazes me that some still do. A New Zealand-HQed company does not necessarily produce things strictly for the New Zealand market. Why is this so hard to understand? Globalization has been around for centuries, and surely in the electronic age, it applies even more regularly.
   Of course, in future, this compels one to start lying. Or I’ll use one of our alternative addresses in New York or London, but I’ve only employed that in situations where they require a local address. I’m proud of being a New Zealander and letting people know that this country does amazing things internationally. That’s why we went to that last label, who sells next to nothing here, in order to give them some publicity.
   We’ve also been approached by what I believe is an Australian SEO firm wanting a link for their client in one of Lucire’s online articles. That’s all well and good, but I had to tell her that the au.companyname.com domain would have little relevance for the site’s readers, 38 per cent of whom are in the US. Less than 10 per cent are Australian. However, I can imagine behind the scenes, they were employed to get these links from regional publications, and we never hide our Kiwi origins. She didn’t do anything wrong, but again the reality of globalization changes initial perceptions.
   If I wanted the local rep, I would approach them (as I have done on many occasions, e.g. with Chanel or L’Oréal—and both companies are smart enough to get me the information I need from their French counterparts if required nearly immediately, so there are no hiccups). But the first two situations are ridiculous because they seem to suggest that their regional reps don’t understand the global links in modern business. In the first case, not everyone dealing with IT is a boffin. In the second, palming things off to a regional office simply doesn’t work.
   Then you wonder how they could even have global marketing and sales’ ambitions.

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Posted in business, globalization, Hong Kong, marketing, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


I might not have Facebook, but I do speak Ebonics

16.06.2014

Forty-nine hours and counting, which makes it the beginning of day three without Facebook.
   I didn’t really need it yesterday, so there’s something to be said about habits breaking after a couple of days. However, for work, I have needed to go on there: while Sopheak is covering for me as far as Lucire’s social media are concerned, I’m checking the finalists’ pages for Miss Universe New Zealand today. The problem now: many are coming up blank. Also it’s now impossible for someone to add me as an admin to their page (Facebook tells them I’m not a member and that it needs my email address).
   Facebook has been resolutely silent despite Tweets to them, which makes them worse than Google. At least Google has a support site where people lie to you, after which they go silent when they realize you have them over a barrel. At Facebook, you know you are getting ignored, and there’s no real way to file a bug report (if one of the bugs is you can’t post, then how can you post?).
   This bug appears to be spreading, if Twitter chatter is anything to go by, although things haven’t changed much at the unofficial forum at Get Satisfaction. However, I did find two posters at Get Satisfaction who have been out for six to eleven days.
   One Tweet of mine, strangely, did make it through as a cross-post; I wasn’t kidding when I said that being able to post is now the exception rather than the rule. (This, again, reminds me of the dying days of Vox.) But no one can like or comment on that post. If you’re a Facebook friend of mine, you can give it a go here. At least those who visit my wall and can see it (not everyone can) know something is up with Facebook, and that the site is, once again, broken.

On one of my visits today, this quiz intrigued me. It’s from MIT, and it ‘examines people’s knowledge of English grammar. We are interested in how this is affected by demographic variables such as where you live, your age, and the age at which you began learning English.’
   After completing the quiz, it made the following guesses about my English and what my first language is.

Language

   It does appear my dialect is African American Vernacular English, and my first language is English. The second choice of dialect, ‘New Zealandish’, is an odd one: does this mean Australian? Or a bad impersonation of Kiwi (Ben Kingsley in Ender’s Game or, worse, Steve Guttenberg in Don’t Tell Her It’s Me)? There’s a possibility my mother tongue is Dutch or Hungarian.
   One out of six isn’t good, but I suppose I should be happy that we even come up in the survey, and that there are sufficient quirks to New Zealand English for it to be identified by an algorithm.
   One is allowed to feed in the correct details, so hopefully the algorithm improves and other Kiwis won’t have such way-out results.
   Or, it means that if our government wants someone to visit the White House, I am the ideal interpreter.

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Posted in business, humour, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


It took Rick Klau to sort it out, again

10.12.2013

In 2009, when my friend Vincent’s Blogger or Blogspot blog was deleted by Google, I fought on his behalf to get it back. Six months on the Google support forums, nothing.
   One day, a friend on Twitter told me that with Google’s deletion of John Hempton’s blog, as publicized by Reuter journalist Felix Salmon, Blogger product manager Rick Klau had intervened, and had it reinstated. Maybe I should approach Rick, who had a stellar reputation was being one of the good guys inside Google.
   I did, and within a day, he had sorted everything out.
   Six months using the official channels, one day getting the boss involved.
   Admittedly, I began getting suspicious of Google’s Blogger service, even though my own blogs never fell foul of the Googlebot. Google then announced that it would end FTP support of blogs anyway, so I decided it was time to pack up and leave.
   One by one, I deleted my blogs from Blogger, and I watched the number drop slowly inside Google Dashboard.
   Google Dashboard always lagged a bit, but between the start of 2010 and today there was a problem: all my Blogger blogs had been deleted, but Dashboard continue to record 1.
   And so began another saga with Google.
   Again I used the official channels—the support forums—and got no response.
   Rick had left Blogger—he would up being YouTube’s product manager for a while—so I contacted his successor, Chang Kim. Chang passed it on to Brett, one of Blogger’s staff.
   Brett told me the name of the blog I supposedly still had. The weirdest things are these: I’ve never heard of this blog, so it’s definitely not mine; but, I do know the gentleman in Canada who owns it, and he tells me that I have never had any connection to it, nor has he ever added me as an author. I responded to Brett at the time and told him this, but the conversation was dropped.
   I never knew if Brett was on the level. What if Google had not properly deleted all my data as I had asked it to? What if the 1 reflected that? Or if it was a bug, then really Google needs to fix it, so being a good netizen, I really should point out this discrepancy.
   I started a new thread this year on the Google support forums, and it was answered by our old friend Chuck—the chap who fenced with me at the end of 2009 asking irrelevant questions and ignoring specific answers. He asked yet another irrelevant question, I gave him a specific answer, but this time, he just dropped it (a typical experience, I might add, for anything that falls outside routine matters on the Google support forums). I suppose that’s better than fencing and keeping me on there for another half-year.
   So, would Google ever sort this out?
   One evening, I decided I would turn to the one person inside the company who showed some responsibility for his company’s actions: Rick Klau.
   Rick’s with Google Ventures now so he had no real reason to get involved in an enquiry concerning a branch of a company he left three years ago.
   But in classic Rick fashion, he stepped up.
   And while it wasn’t 24 hours, it was a single weekday. Rick asked me one question the day after my enquiry, I answered it, and a weekday later, he had sorted it: my Google Dashboard says I have no blogs with them.
   Three (nearly four) years using the official channels, one day getting the (former) boss involved.
   Google might do some questionable things, but it has at least one good bloke working for it. If only everyone was as professional as Rick Klau.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | 5 Comments »


Business etiquette 101: don’t threaten lawsuits against a customer proposing an idea which you later adopt

30.11.2013

Interesting to spot this link. When I started Autocade in 2008, I approached Haymarket, letting them know I was a Classic and Sportscar reader since it began in the 1980s, and I was inspired by the Sedgwick guides that it ran then. Autocade was to be an online cyclopædia that would use a brief format, with original research, of course, but I would welcome the input of C&SC if it so wished.
   As I recall, the response from the boss was condescending. His staff were so busy there was no way they could ever contribute to such a venture, he told me. That was before the threat: if any part of the Sedgwick guides wound up in Autocade, there would be a lawsuit.
   All this in a single reply, to someone who told him he was a customer since 1983.
   This link illustrates that the first part of his response was complete bollocks, as the guide now exists online, and has done so for nearly three years. In fact, C&SC solicits input from the public. They have taken the Autocade approach.
   And seriously, did he think another publisher would be stupid enough to reproduce the guides online for all to see?
   No, Haymarket has not broken the law: anyone is free to do a guide with their own, original content, and they are free to solicit outside help.
   Nor do I particularly mind seeing this guide online (right down to the ‘most recently updated’ column) because it helps with research—anything is better than the inaccuracies, assumptions and rumours that pass for facts in Wikipedia. There’s only a tiny bit of overlap with Autocade in terms of the eras covered, so the two sites complement one another.
   But it smacks of gross hypocrisy.
   Not only are they doing something they said they would never do because they lacked the resources, they threatened a loyal customer when they had no basis to do so.
   In essence: Haymarket Publishing once threatened me with a lawsuit for proposing an idea, one which they have since adopted. Yes, it really is that simple.
   I lost a lot of respect for a certain Haymarket big-wig that day, someone whose work I had read and admired for decades. It’s surprising to think he hadn’t learned some basic rules in business.
   Brands are not steered by market dominance or big corporate mouths. They are, instead, steered by everyday people, who you should work with, rather than make unwarranted threats against.
   Oh, after reassuring the chap that Autocade would have only original content (after all, he may have not known that New Zealanders are generally law-abiding), I never received an apology for his unprofessional behaviour.
   Even a note of thanks now would be nice for borrowing an idea they were presented with five years ago.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, UK | 1 Comment »


New leadership could help Google break through its adversarial, user-hating approach

15.04.2013

There have been quite a few tech posts here of late, but there are a few points that can be drawn. The first was how deceptive some brands can be for people who would rather not peel back the top layer to see what lies beneath. Even when the media expose their wrongdoings—as the Murdoch Press did with Google’s spying through Iphones—the general consensus might remain unchanged. Google has a major cultural issue: when I tell them that something’s wrong with their system, their approaches are one of two: the first is to argue that you are wrong and they are right, no matter what the evidence is; the other is to bury their head in the sand because the “official” explanations are exhausted. If they take their head out, they realize the Emperor has no clothes. Google is where Microsoft was accused of being in the 1990s, when it almost missed the boat when it came to the World Wide Web: a firm that didn’t take in outside feedback, getting more and more out of touch with reality. When your volunteers and fans start behaving badly on the support forums, long before I ever had an issue with Google deleting my friend Vincent’s blog, and you tolerate it, then something’s wrong.
   It can be contrasted to a related discussion I’ve had at McAfee, which seems to begin with the notion that the customer is right, and they have a chance to improve their product. Granted, McAfee’s programs can be buggy, but at least they admit that there are different configurations and there’s a chance that they’re wrong. This thread that I started, querying an issue with its SiteAdvisor product, wasn’t met with cynicism. Hayton, in particular, has stayed with this issue for days, investigating and digging so that I can have a better experience with McAfee’s product. He’s identified an ad network that we used that leaves something to be desired. Now we have a chance to improve our products, too, and we’re going to phase out those particular ads once our OpenX server is cleared by Google (which could take months).
   Companies, organizations, and even cities would do well learning from the latter example. If you know the other side is a rational, decent person—and at some point in your adult life, you will have developed this instinct—then admitting that you’ve got something to learn, something to improve upon, is a useful opportunity to make things better. Paying a bit of attention and working with a customer, audience member or constituent helps both sides improve.
   It seems obvious to most of us, though it remains a distant target for the house of G. It may take new leadership to inspire and ensure a cultural change, otherwise it’s just business—or, in some cases, politics—as usual.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


In praise of Zoho Mail

31.03.2013

Now that all of our email, bar a handful of client accounts, are going through the paid version of Zoho Mail, I couldn’t be happier.
   When we shifted things over, my friend and web development expert, Nigel Dunn, suggested either Google or Zoho. He’s a big fan of Google, and I can see the good side of the company I bash regularly. But I opted for Zoho, and anyone who’s followed my ongoing privacy battles with the big G will know why.
   It turns out I had a Zoho account anyway, thanks to Gabriel Weinberg and his Duck Duck Go team. But to go from the freebie that I’ve had for four years to a paid one was quite a big step, since we hadn’t ever done this newfangled cloud email before. However, I have to say I am very impressed, because of one major thing: Zoho’s customer service.
   For starters, it exists. No more going to abusive Google forums where cocky users, in their worshipping of the cult, make it all your fault. Zoho staff actually write back to you. In fact, they put me on to their support system after a while and they’ve been dealing with my enquiries really quickly in there, too.
   The longest wait I had was a question about Eudora, because I wasn’t sure how to get the Zoho POP mail working with an older program. While most answers came in 24 hours, this one took a week—but I’ll turn a blind eye to that one, given that it’s one out of a heap of questions I fired at them and it’s not a program they knew well. (For Eudora readers who are reading this, you turn on SSL, but you choose the ‘Required, alternate port’.)
   The replies are courteous and make you think that India knows customer service considerably better than the United States, or Australia for that matter: you’re treated as you would expect, and they don’t start from the basis of “the customer is stupid”.
   Even before I became a paying customer, Zoho treated me with respect.
   Good service isn’t just the province of Indians—just yesterday I blogged about how well Tumblr handled user enquiries and reports, despite reaching 100 million users. However, you sometimes wonder if they are the exceptions in a world dominated by the likes of Google and Facebook.
   The real kicker is this: the system works wonderfully when it comes to combating spam. I get thousands of messages per week so not having spam is a good thing. Our old Rackspace box, at best, killed about 50 per cent of the spam that came in. Granted, we chose our own blacklists, so this is not Rackspace’s responsibility. However, we used the ones we were recommended by experts.
   Zoho gets rid of over 95 per cent, maybe more, of the spam. After a day, I’ve had no false positives, and only a tiny handful has crept in. My emailbox, as downloaded in Eudora, is almost as untainted as it was in the 1990s, and I am not exaggerating.
   For those of you who use Gmail and are sick of the ads, this should appeal: Zoho is ad-free. No more using your personal data and linking it to advertising across all websites where Google and Doubleclick have their banners. As we become more concerned with online privacy, I’d say this was a very good thing.

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Posted in business, India, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Vodafone sends me invoices and spam (and I’m not even a customer)

29.09.2012

I recently posted this apt quotation on my Tumblr:

It’s marketing 101—[Vodafone New Zealand] seem to breach the rules quite regularly and you’d have to hope that these significant fines are a signal to them that they can’t continue to do that.

It’s from Sue Chetwin, CEO, Consumer New Zealand, on how Vodafone is cavalier about staying within the letter of the law in the Fair Trading Act.
   I can believe it. Because Vodafone sent me an invoice for 22¢ on September 7:

   And it is the principle: because since 2006, I have not been a Vodafone customer. And since 2009, one of my companies has not been a Vodafone customer. In fact, since March 2009, I have no ties with Vodafone whatsoever, either personally or as a director of a company that uses Vodafone.
   On the same invoice is an ‘Opening balance from last statement’ for $4·21, which they debited from my credit card on February 25, 2011. But that time, I received no invoice—they just went ahead and did it.
   When I called Vodafone, I was told that the charges were made on a calling card that was still valid. Problem: I have never had a calling card with Vodafone.
   And now, today, they revealed that they took $24 in 2010.
   But as Vodafone is guilty of 21 breaches of consumer law in a July case alone—and was found guilty of misleading customers over Vodafone Live and its $1 a day services the year before—you can summarize that something is very rotten there.
   I’d swore I’d never go back—nek minnit, they’ve acquired TelstraClear. Oligopoly much?
   At Vodafone’s request via Twitter, I have emailed them the following. It does contain the usual pleasantries at the beginning and the end, omitted here for brevity. This summarizes the entire case so far.

This is further to SS’s request on Twitter that I send you these details. I will note that two customer services’ officers on the call care centre have also been investigating.
   Attached you’ll find a bill that I was sent via email on September 7. You’ll see it’s for 22¢, and that in April 2011, another $4 was debited from my credit card. A phone call to Vodafone today revealed that over $20 was taken in 2010.
   The problem with all of this is that I have not been a Vodafone customer since March 2009. If you want to split hairs, I actually haven’t been one since 2006, I believe, but one of my companies was between 2006 and 2009.
   Here’s what I recall.

• Became an Ihug customer in 1998, but left Ihug for Saturn in 2000. I kept some toll calls with Ihug but switched back to TelstraClear some time during that decade. Your records show the account was closed in 2006—although I was also told a contradictory statement that the account was not closed.
• Lucire Ltd. was a Vodafone customer on a three-year contract between March 2006 and March 2009. I am a director of that company.

   Here’s what I understand from Vodafone (gleaned from conversations on September 8, 9 [I think] and 29).

• In 2010, Vodafone debited over $20 (I believe $24) from my credit card. In 2011, it debited $4. In 2012, I get a bill for 22¢. (Note: I’ve never received a bill from you since I left except for the 22¢ charge.)
• I have been told various things. On September 8–9, I was told that the 2011 and 2012 charges were due to a calling card. (Note: I have never had a Vodafone calling card.)
• Today I was told that the charges were due to toll calls. (Note: TelstraClear has handled all my toll calls since 2006, if not before.)

   I was promised a refund of the $4 in one of the early September phone calls. My credit card statement shows no such refund. I have confirmed that the credit card details you hold are correct. Worryingly, they are also current—which they cannot be if I left you in 2009 and my credit card originally expired that year.
   I also began receiving spam from you this week for a cellphone number that was with you, but has not been with you since 2009.
   Here’s what I don’t get if I was still a customer:

• I don’t hear from you guys for three years. All of a sudden I start getting spam from you;
• I’ve never received a single invoice from you for the money you’ve taken—at least not till September 7, 2012.

   So I’m pretty sure you know that I’m not a customer of yours.
   Now, I’m willing to take my share of the blame. I should be reading every line of my credit card statement. But, I’d also like you guys to refund what you’ve charged since I ceased being a customer.

   There’s also the buggy Air New Zealand site where they shifted the blame to me for not clearing the cookies or understanding how the back end of their website works, but I’ll leave that for another day. What they didn’t figure was my taking screen shots of what I did.

PS. (October 15): Vodafone has just emailed me asking that my credit card details be updated. So much for ‘We have made sure your account is cancelled.’ But since they updated them unilaterally in 2009, I imagine they will just do it again. Air New Zealand, meanwhile, sorted out its bug and apologized, so there will be no post about that.—JY

P.PS. (October 15): I’ve been on the phone with Vodafone. Now I’m told that in June 2009, I was charged $116·30; in July 2009, $43·43; in August 2009, $63·51. All for toll calls. All while not being a Vodafone customer. The amounts appear to have been debited from my credit card each time. No invoice was ever received this end though Vodafone claims that they sent them to me via email. This is dodgy already since I have never opted for emailed invoices, and that they had always come in the post prior. Lucire Ltd. was a Vodafone cellphone customer till, I recall, March 2009, and up till then, I had invoices mailed to me. I was an Ihug customer (allegedly till 2006) and also had invoices mailed. So why the change? I still find this very, very hard to believe—it’s as though Vodafone cheekily took money knowing that I was not a customer and is using email as an excuse—just as it originally claimed that I had a ‘calling card’ and that that was the reason I received my 22¢ bill.—JY

P.P.PS. (October 15): TelstraClear says I have been with them for tolls since May 6, 2008, which is later than I thought, and also later than the 2006 date Vodafone gave in the last September phone call. It doesn’t change the core argument though, but it does give us a precise date on which to start any inquiry.—JY

P.P.P.PS. (October 16): Chris from Vodafone calls and can find charges almost every month from May 2009, a few in 2010, and one in 2011. He’s promised to get them refunded. It really sounds like I’ve paid for tolls twice. He’s as puzzled as I am why I have never been posted bills since that was how Vodafone always did it while I was a customer till March 2009. Apparently the 2011 refund was never done.—JY

P.P.P.P.PS. (October 27): No sign of any refunds on my credit card statement.—JY

P.P.P.P.P.PS. (October 27): Aimée says she has organized a refund of NZ$433·11, which appears to be the total debited from me without notice between May 2009 and April 2011. (More disturbing is that my previous credit card expired in November 2009, so how they managed to continue billing without my updating my details is beyond me.)—JY

P.P.P.P.P.P.PS. (November 3): Vodafone emails me a PDF credit note for $433·11. Is it over? I hope so!—JY

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Posted in business, culture, New Zealand | 3 Comments »