Customer service sadly lacking

20 Oct 2014

thumbs down

I had just returned from a few days staying with family in Italy and was feeling extremely relaxed indeed.

However I knew when I got back that I would have to waste at least 30 minutes of my life trying to change broadband providers, and I was dreading making that phone call.

Turns out I was right to dread it. It was nearly an hour of my life and I still haven't got the outcome I asked for.

Considering I was after a simple MAC code - you would have thought I was trying to crack the secrets at Bletchley Park during World War 2.

I have been a customer with AOL Broadband for more years than I can remember - I believe they are part of TalkTalk now as well. Name and shame? Absolutely.

After being cut off twice - one guy kindly phoned me back, only to claim that my account didn't actually exist. Amazing then that money has been taken from my account on a monthly basis considering the account didn't exist.

However he finally found me and then I was passed onto another person (after 15 minutes) who would 'definitely have the MAC code I was after'.

This person then tried to bully me into staying with existing provider, and wanted to go through some 'offers' that would tempt me - but I said about 15 times (listen to the recording if you don't believe me) that I didn't want to hear them, I wanted my MAC code, I have been offered a deal I'm happy with from another provider, and basically wanted to get on with my day.

At one point this person said she was 'not going to give me the code until I had listened to the options'.

Excuse me, but when a customer wants something, you damn well give it to them.

For years, and entirely my own fault - I have watched AOL/Talk Talk offer brilliant deals to new customers, but never once have they bothered to contact existing customers and see if they could help them save money.

Only now, when I want to leave does this become an option?  I don't think so.

At the end of that exasperating conversation, she then informs me that it will take up to five working days to issue the MAC code, and that if I dared to cancel my direct debit, steps will be taken to claim what is owing.

Oh really AOL?  What will you do? Come to my house that you didn't believe actually existed?

If this is their idea of customer service, I am very glad to be turning my back on them - it can't come soon enough.

I suggest you sit down with your staff and give them some training on how to handle simple customer requests, and perhaps ask yourself why a customer wants to leave in the first place.

Angry is not the word. But please, next time you send me a press release lauding the brilliance of your products/services  - I'll just refer you to this blog.

Sexism is alive and well in tech apparently

09 Sep 2014


Now this is a controversial subject I know.

But apparently, and according to research from online accounting firm Crunch, a total of 71 per cent of female tech workers have labelled sexism as an industry problem.

The firm questioned 500 male and female tech workers (not sure what percentage of that was actually women) and found that 43 per cent of those women questioned have witnessed or experienced sexism in the workplace. This is compared with 29 per cent of the men polled who said they had witnessed or experienced sexism in the workplace.

A combined 51 per cent of female respondents said the sexism problem was 'moderate' or 'extreme', while 32 per cent of men said the issue was widespread.

But despite this, according to the research less than half (45 per cent) would report a sexist act to management.

Now one thing this research failed to do was to actually define what they class as 'sexism' or a 'sexist act'.  Were we talking some smutty comments, or someone actually being taken advantage of blatently and either physically or verbally bullied because of their gender?

According to the dictionary sexism is described as "prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women on the basis of sex".  But it happens against men too, in certain industries, and that shouldn't be forgotten.

On a personal note I have had loads of comments made in the past, mainly alcohol fuelled, at various events, and have just laughed them off - there was no harm meant at all. It was all a bit of fun, and I certainly give as good as I get.

However there was one occasion involving female members of the CRN team where lines were crossed, and those involved were lucky to get away with their actions.

People who know me, are aware of my views on 'Women in IT' - I have written a fair amount about it in the past, but I feel that by highlighting it as an issue, too much is made out of it.

Historically it has been men that went out to work and the women were expected to stay at home and raise the family. This was the mindset well into the 80s, so it is to be expected that many industries have more men than women working in them, particularly in senior positions.

But things are changing and they are changing at the right pace. Women are being promoted on merit and not because they are women.

I still think meddling governments introducing boardroom quotas will set the industry back, not move it forward.

And when talking about sexism, I think we need to be very careful indeed.

Of course when people are being sexist, they should be pulled up on it and dealt with accordingly depending on the severity of the case, but in many instances I truly think people need to develop a slightly thicker skin and more of a sense of humour.

I would welcome any thoughts on this.


Polishing my shield

02 Sep 2014


It is that time of year when I generally brace myself for an avalanche of emails.

The day that the CRN UK Channel Awards shortlist is launched. We held the first stage of judging this morning after all the judging panel had spent many hours reading the hundreds of thousands of words that made up the entries this year.

I may say this every year, but more entries than ever before are of a higher standard than last year, but there are still some that have a way to go.

I cannot go through every entry with everyone, but as I'm the only one of the judges that reads every single entry I can give this advice - please READ the criteria and top tips to entry on the dedicated Channel Awards website before even starting an entry - they really are there to help. It was obvious to me that many of those entering had not. Therefore they didn't stand a chance of making the shortlist.

All those shortlisted will now go onto the second stage judging panel which meets in October, and it is there that the winners are decided.

I also must stress that any firms making the shortlist of the big three - Reseller of the Year, Vendor of the Year and Distributor of the Year - must actually come into the Incisive offices on judging day and present to the judges to be in with a chance of winning. Any firm choosing not to come in will be removed from the shortlist.

It really is a difficult job for the judges, and deciding who will be shortlisted is never easy - quite often the decisions are so close and there are just a few points in it - so congratulations to every company that has made the cut - it is no mean feat.

To those that didn't make the shortlist this year, please don't give up, there is always next year.

There is also one other category that is not judged but is intead an Editor's Choice Award - this will be announced on the night as well.

Best of luck to all those nominated in the shortlist and congratulations once more.

Apprentice bonanza

14 Aug 2014

Firms turn to school leavers

According to research from a top apprenticeship firm QA Apprentices, the number of school leavers applying for IT apprenticeships is at an all time high.

Apparently there is a 108 per cent increase in demand for IT apprenticeships from school leavers seeking a route into tech careers, aside from the traditional university route.

The research follows the latest round of 'record' A-level results in the UK - where the usual pictures of fresh faced blonde and brunette female students celebrating straight A results adorn every front page of national and often local papers and websites.

There is no doubt that this is good news for our industry, with more and more firms realising the benefits of training their own batch of apprentices and bringing in raw talent from the ground up.

As I reported at the CompTIA ChannelCon event in Arizona last week, the younger generation of workers (known as the Millennials) are obviously more tech savvy than their Generation X predecessors, and are fiercely loyal to their employers, wanting nothing more than the business to do well so they can further their careers.

QA's research also revealed that there is a 40 per cent rise in the number of employers seeking IT apprentices.

So it all points to a positive future for the apprenticeship initiative.

i was lucky enough to not have to pay for university tuition fees when I went back in the dark ages, but if I were faced with £9,000 a year fees i too would look for an alternative way into the workforce. Times are very different these days and fair play to the youngsters that just want to get straight into work and earning a wage.

Just because you have a degree, doesn't mean you are the right person for the job - experience counts just as much.

I do wonder though how many more years the A-level results will keep going up - considering I took mine nearly 22 years ago (OH MY GOD!!), I must have been really thick, because they have improved EVERY single year since then.


Lessons learned from the USA

04 Aug 2014

Friends jumping

This week I am really suffering in the name of my work by sitting writing this on my hotel room balcony in Arizona in 38-degree heat.

Well, someone has to take one for the team. It is a tough call sometimes.

I am attending this year's CompTIA ChannelCon at the Marriott Desert Ridge resort in Phoenix, and as ever with the Americans, everything is done with just that little bit more enthusiasm than anywhere else.

Since taking over the Channelnomics brand as well, I am learning quite a lot about the American approach to all things business, and it is certainly different.

While the British are reserved, self-effacing and quite often self-deprecating, the Americans are often the opposite - confident, keen to share their viewpoints, and very very positive.  I can understand their inherant desire to whoop along with things quite often. It is just an inbuilt mechanism going back to their Spring Break days - and good on them!

I have a number of meetings plumbed in while I am over here, and I am sure I am going to be drowning in positivity - but that certainly isn't a bad thing.

There seems to be more openness to actually attending face-to-face events over here, despite the considerable distances travelled to achieve that, with business leaders realising the importance of meeting up with and speaking to peers from across the country.

They are not afraid to share ideas and be vocal about their thoughts either, unlike their more reserved British cousins.

However the one thing that the UK channel still holds the trophy for is partying - no-one can party like the UK channel. My head after the UK Channel Awards is testament to that!


What a rip-off!

23 Jul 2014


We all hear the cries of 'Rip-off Britain' from various national newspapers and TV programs, but a recent Which? study into UK vs US pricing of IT goods proves this is indeed the case.

Us mugs here in the UK are ripped off left, right and centre. And the IT industry is one of the biggest culprits.

Take Apple, for example, which charges £1,499 for a 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro in one of its UK stores, but yet in the US it is the equivalent of £1,144 after tax. And we all know that iTunes is far more expensive over here than it is in the US. For the SAME service.

But let me not stop at Apple, the whole damn lot of them are at it.

And not just the tangible items either.

For example, an annual subscription to Adobe's Creative Cloud imaging software (according to the study) will cost over £200 more in the UK, and other services such as Amazon Prime and Spotify are also more expensive.

Microsoft are also guilty of charging over £150 more for a copy of Office in the UK. The list goes on.

When asked why, some of the companies told Which? that it was because of 'different operating costs in each country', or 'exchange rates', 'local import laws' and 'taxes'.

But interestingly others declined to comment, including Google.

The irony is not lost when 'tax' is cited as a reason for ripping the good people of the UK off, when some of these companies have been found sadly lacking when it comes to paying their fair share of tax in this country.

I would love to hear all of these firms' explanations for this phenomenon. I have wondered about it for years.

Countdown to Channel Awards entry deadline

13 Jun 2014

Tables of guests and industry luminaries at the 2011 CRN Channel Awards

As the 80s song goes - It's the Final Countdown!

Well not quite, but there ARE JUST DAYS until the Channel Awards deadline runs out and I really don't want anyone to miss out this year.

Now in their 21st year, the CRN Channel Awards is a firm fixture in the industry diary and an excuse for a good knees up, as well as reward and celebrate success from the past 12 months.

We have 24 categories to choose from, so there really will be something there to suit everyone whether they are a reseller, distributor or vendor.

All I would stress is to read the criteria and entry top tips carefully ( they can be found here) and when writing an entry, bear in mind that the judges will be reading thousands of words in each category, and to be in with a shortlist chance, the entry has to really stand out.

Wow them with facts, figures, testimonials; and if you are a vendor, make the entry relevant to the UK market - the judges do not want to read generic entries that have no relevance to CRN's audience.

I would also advise sticking to the word count - we really are cracking down hard on entries that go way over this year - it is not fair to those companies that do play by the rules. We will ONLY read up to 1,200 words of each entry, all the rest will be ignored.

For those entering the 'big three'  - Vendor, Reseller and Distributor of the year - be prepared if shortlisted to travel to London for the second Judging Day in October to present your case face-to-face in front of the judges.  Again, you MUST be prepared to come in on the day, or there is little point in entering.

I am always amazed when people act surprised that they have to come in on the day - it has been this way now for four years so it is nothing new.

Apart from that, lecture over! Best of luck with your entries and I look forward to reading them!

To find out more about the awards, categories and criteria - click here.





Ukuleles coming to a workplace near you?

20 May 2014


Those of you in the industry who know me, know how passionate I am about the ukulele.

I've endured the laughs, the p*** taking and the bemused expressions, but it could be that I actually will have the last laugh.

I have been playing for about 19 months now and it literally has taken over my life - the ukulele community is fantastic and is growing at a rate of knots with events all over the country. It is a really social little instrument, and great fun.

The thing that annoys me the most is when you mention a ukulele someone always mentions George Formby and cleaning windows - aarrgh! I have to restrain myself sometimes to not punch them in the eye.

I am in a local ukulele band and we have an absolute blast. And there is not a Formby song in sight. We turn up at local guitar open mic nights and by the end of it have converted a few more people to the magic of the uke! Plus the bookings are starting to trickle in so we must be doing something right.

Non-ukulele people would be surprised to hear the songs that can be played on the humble uke - in fact it can pretty much play anything. And above all else it is FUN. And that fun is contagious.

Thanks to Ant and Dec playing the instruments on one of their Saturday night shows recently, the ukulele teacher who taught them a few chords, has popped up with an idea to bring the ukulele to the corporate environment in teambuilding 'workshops' through her company Musivate.

Her theory is that people who make music together will get on - and that is absolutely true. You cannot argue when you are jamming - apart from over the song that you want to play next.

I know another group of ukulele fanatics that go around schools all over the UK teaching the kids to play the ukulele too and it is very popular.

I'm not sure how I would feel though if I were at an IT conference either in the UK or abroad, and saw industry people in suits all strumming away on ukuleles - it would be a bit of a surreal experience with two worlds colliding, and probably not in a good way!

But how can I argue with anything that promotes the ukulele and its general brilliance?

Views - both channel related and everyday life observations - from CRN Editor Sara Yirrell. If you have any gossip that you would like to share with me please do get in touch and also we would love to see your comments at the end of the blog.

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