don’t let your customer service suck

I don’t know if anyone around here has changed their utilities companies recently? I imagine that the vast majority of people, well probably everyone that will ever read this, use some sort of comparison site to find out what the best deal is for them. On these sites I noticed that there is often a customer service feedback score. In the past I had sort of wondered how can one utilities company’s customer service really differ so much from another. God how naive.

phone photo

Let’s take telephone services for example here. So surely at the end of the day it’s just not that difficult to screw things up. Right? After all, in the UK, BT (Openreach) control the actual physical phone lines and there is pretty much jack shit any other company can do to influence this. So if you have a problem with your line, no matter who your provider is, then you are at the mercy of BT. Seems simply and obviously who is to blame!

Enter SSE. They have managed to show me how you can balls up everything and not leave a single balls up left unturned. So if you’re reading this wanting to know how different can it be then these guys are top dogs.

First, they just totally lost my application. I got confirmation in the post of my contract. A few weeks pass and no more word from them, so I call, and they say they have no record. To make matters worse they then imply they don’t believe I had ever had a contract with them and had me sending emails with scanned versions of my confirmation of contract. Dick move. They should have just believed me, I mean at the end of the day I’m still a new customer for them, what the fuck does it matter when I signed up, even if they have different plans on offer by now, my original plan must still have been generating them a profit otherwise they wouldn’t have been offering it in the first place. Regardless, I persist – because they’re cheap and I’m poor!

clock photo

We then have a 1hr 20mins telephone call, during which the call centre operator attempts to sign me up to their brand new tariff (not what I want), this means I have to listen to a script being read to me verbatim twice, each of which lasts 20mins, the second with a single word changed.

The problem here is that the people calling you have no idea about your case, none-what-so-ever. Every time you call it’s like starting with a blank sheet of paper. Painful. How much better would it have been if the person calling me actually was fully aware of my case, knew the shite I’d been through before hand, and understood where in this whole process we were at. You just feel like an insignificant dot on their endless day. The legalese verbatim script thing was also painful, I assume it has to be done, if not, don’t waste the customers time with crap like that.

Ok. We must be nearly there you think. Oh no, fear not. So I ask for my router to be delivered elsewhere, as I won’t be at my house for a few weeks. No problem apparently (when I say no problem, I mean I’m put on hold for 5 mins while we find out it’s not a problem). Guess what? Haha, you’re right, they sent it to my house anyway. It then gets shipped back to the local sorting office 2 hours away. I eventually get it delivered to my local post office at my own cost – seemed easier than asking them to get it right. Clearly they have no processes in either the call centre or dispatch. It was as if each member of staff I ever spoke to had been on the job a day.

 

Fuck sake, I know, 650 words so far, this must end soon. Not likely. By now I’ve been given a date for the switch. I get a call two days before saying that it’s now not going to take place for a further 2 weeks, is it ok to still go ahead. Everything in my body is wanting to say no, but I need-their-cheap-service so I welcome the further delay with a smile and unbounded enthusiasm.

The original date rolls round and the switch (sort of) happens, WTF. Alas, no, they couldn’t get that right either as my existing provider informs me that they took over the broadband but left the phone line. Words just can’t describe the frustration. Furthermore, SSE never actually tell me this, they only seem to spot it when I call to ask them what is happening 10 days after the broadband switched! Clueless to the end.

So currently I’m still waiting for the phone line to be switched over (end of the month) over 4 months after I tried to make the switch. Customer service should be proactive. First you should notice if there was a fault and at least make the customer aware of it. They just can’t get anything right.

If any customers of Neonburn every have problems as bad as this please remind me of my post here, and I’ll hang my head in shame. Problems can and will always happen. It’s about how you deal with them that matters. With Neonburn, just about any semi-competent programmer can create digital signage software. In a sense that’s not what we’re selling. It’s digital signage software created by people that actually care about the customer.

And with that, we circle right back to the start, and conclude this is why you can have varying customer feedback scores….

scottish national economic forum

suit and tie photo

So a few weeks ago I attended the Scottish National Economic Forum in Edinburgh. The focus was on building Scotland as a digital nation Рwith the sub topic of cyber crime.

Now, I’ll hold my hand up and say that I wasn’t expecting much and with the 2.5 hour journey to get there expectations had dipped even lower!

The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of suits and ties! I understand that even making this observation sounds trite and, all in all, me a bit of a dick, but hey! The fact is that formality is not my thing, and indeed it does not chime with my experiences in the digital world. Maybe the atmosphere would have been more laid back, rather ungovernmental, without the formality. The fact is that most of the people attended were not in the tech sector or indeed under 40 years old. Maybe those points are related, maybe not.

Anyway the above is nitpicking so on to other matters.

 

One comment at the forum stood out on my radar. It was made by John Swinney who stated he thinks that they have the (early stage) startup scene and angel funding sorted in Scotland, he thinks the problem is now venture funding. Really! I don’t think this is true at all. There are nowhere near enough people starting companies. From what I can see people still have “the fear”, the completely-and-absolutely-no-risk-taking-I-must-have-a-mortgage-by-25-and-must-never-fail-or-be-seen-to-fail attitude. I attend or have attended quite a few startup/business meetups around Glasgow and quite frankly the scene is “quiet”. For me to feel this about Scotland’s largest city surely means it’s far from being “cracked”. It’s never going to be Silicon Valley so let’s not try to be. Onwards.

The workshop on digital marketing was good. Not exactly ground breaking but was nice to hear what some local marketers and government agencies were doing on the digital marketing front. What was quite poetic was the gentleman sitting next to me showing examples of new types of marketing material in the form of promotional gatefolds with embedded screens which is exactly what Neonburn (my business) can be used to create. Well I never!

network business photo

What followed was the ominous networking time. I say ominous as quite frankly I suck at it, I just find it completely unnatural, and it probably comes across that way as well! I do try though, fear not. Strange thing is I enjoy talking about my business, who would have guessed.

And finally. I was asked “are you looking to raise money” to which my reply was “no just making some sales would do rather nicely”. Is it just he automatic assumption now that to start a business you need to get money and without that you can do nothing? Surely it wasn’t always this way???

getting over the line

Why is getting over the line so difficult? When developing software and someone asks you how are you getting on, you always inevitably hear “it’s nearly done, just this, this and this” to do. Next week “this, this and this” are the exact same things. Your first thought is then to say “do we really need these things done before we launch/release?” Surely if they’re not essentially then you just release? The problem is, this will boil down to how you define “essential”.

 

For example, I have a really hard time with the concept of a MVP (minimum viable product). Maybe I’m just not the customer for someone launching an MVP as I would abandon it in minutes if it was (A) difficult to do what I wanted it to do, and (B) bug ridden. The thing is, I can’t honestly understand why anyone would tolerate an app with these shortcomings. Is it just the case that a product has to be 10% better to convince some to buy/switch? That seems low to me. I’d say in my case it’d need to be at least 50% better to motivate me to switch. (Those we made up numbers!)

In reality, I think I’d be more encouraging of MVP+ – basically MVP that does something but I’m not expected to deal and workaround shitty bugs all day, and you wouldn’t be embarrassed if you asked someone to pay for it. I don’t see a meaningful B2B product as something that you can do throw together in 2 weeks.

Having said all this, I think it’s important as a founder to realise when you need to show what you have created – what is the point in doing it otherwise. I’m one of the guilty ones when it comes to holding off for an MVP++! There comes a day when you need to get off your arse and take a risk – but just minimise it and don’t turn customers off for good by releasing crap.

So in summary, if your product is good enough that you’d feel happy charging money for it (assuming you have a reasonable moral compass) then it’s definitely time to let the world see it, otherwise I’d think twice.

PS. 50% better than others and I’d happily take money for it www.neonburn.com. Haha.

accountability and digital signs

One of the main concerns that you have as a single founder is forcing yourself to meet goals on a week to week (or daily) basis. Obviously the easiest way to achieve your goals (assuming you have taken the right step and set some) is to have customers pushing and pressing you for action. On the other hand, as a customer I wouldn’t be too happy having to micro-manage a startup on a daily basis. With co-founders this tasks becomes easier, as peer pressure kicks in and accountability becomes easier to manage.

 

One way to mitigate this problem is by using your blog to force a level of accountability. Given this, it’s with great pleasure (or more importantly as I said I would do in my last blog post!) I’d like to introduce my very-soon-to-be-live product Neonburn.

So what is Neonburn? Well it’s an online web app that allows you to easily create and design an interactive digital sign for display on an Android tablet or mobile device. The main benefits of using Neonburn:

  • Easy to create and design without any specialist knowledge or design skills.
  • The signs are interactive so you can control what happens when someone taps certain objects on the screen.
  • Signs remotely update when changed via the online app – ideal if you have new promotions that you want to advertise and don’t want to have to manually change each individual tablet, or maybe you don’t even have physical access to the devices at all.
  • No other apps on the device can be accessed once the app is deployed, and the device always boots to your sign, i.e. customers can’t interact with the device in ways that you don’t want them to.

The application is going to be of interest to you if you manage a retail store or public house and want to make your customers aware of your current promotions, while multi-site organisations will find the ability to remotely change signs in multiple locations simultaneously (without the need for a physical presence) invaluable. The interactive aspect of the signs are ideal for improving customer engagement in situations such as trade shows, or to create interactive displays at museums and galleries. It could also be used by retail stores looking to give customers an interactive tour of their products – without the need to directly involve sales staff. Finally it just makes for a very cool looking signs in your workplace – especially if you have propaganda a set of values or metrics that you want to ensure everyone knows about.

If you would like to be one of the first to try this out (or you want this product right now!!) then please sign up for the pre-launch newsletter on the www.neonburn.com website.

By next week the plan is to have the web app open to those looking to create some great looking signs and then by the end of next week to have the app on the beta channel of the Google Play Store. Obviously, anyone who’s keen to be involved in the process at this early stage can count on getting a discount before we open to the big wide world! Go on.