Wednesday, November 30, 2011

O2 suck: Problem now resolved.

by Suw on November 30, 2011

UPDATE 5 DEC 11: Having been rather robust with my criticism it’s only fair now to be as forthright about the follow up from O2.

The web team at O2 got in touch after my rather angry rant last Wednesday and asked me to email them with details, which I did on Thursday. I was pretty clear in my post about what had happened, why I was so angry, and what I wanted them to do for me, ie give me an upgrade now.

I got a call on Friday from Alistair at O2 and I have to say, the experience was night and day. Alistair was lovely – he listened to me without giving me the silent treatment, he said he understood why I was cross and agreed that I should have been given the upgrade that I was promised. We ended up talking for about 45 minutes as I explained in detail why the three people I spoke to last week simple made me more angry the more we spoke, not less. Alistair agreed that my experience of O2 customer service had not been constructive.

The end result was that they offered me an upgrade to the iPhone 4S and a choice of tariff. I chose the 12 month tariff with the slightly more expensive handset fee as, when I did the maths it was actually cheaper that way. I can, apparently, reduce the tariff after six months if it’s too much, which I may look into. Although to be honest, what I get on this tariff is more, by far, than I got on the £46 tariff I was on before August last year, so I frankly feel like it’s a decent deal.

Alistair phoned me this afternoon to finalise the deal, after I said I wanted the weekend to think about it, and I should get my new phone within the next week or two.

I think there are a few lessons here for O2:

  1. Don’t break promises made during the sales process. Ever.
  2. If you have to change the rules, do it for all contract renewals and sales going forward, don’t apply changes retrospectively.
  3. “Listening” to the customer on a support call does not mean “falling silent whilst the customer slowly works up a rage because they feel they are being ignored.”
  4. Small olive branches work wonders. If the original customer service person had said, “Oh, gosh, terribly sorry. We should honour our promises, let me go and talk to my supervisor and get back to you,” and then got back to me with some sort of compromise offer, none of this would have happened. But not one of the three people I originally spoke to gave me any hint of compromise.
  5. Never, ever put the phone down on a customer, and never shout at them. If you do shout at them, expect them to shout back.

As Alistair proved, it’s not difficult to be nice, to apologise, and to find an acceptable compromise.

One last thing, though, O2: Please stop phoning people up and then asking them to prove who they are. It’s a terrible security antipattern. Alistair and I had a chat about it, and I asked him to escalate my point up the chain of command, but really, if you want me to prove who I am who I say I am to you when you call me, then you have to first prove that you are who you say you are.

So, all’s well that ends well, although it’s a shame that I had to throw a strop in order to get what I was promised. I can only suggest that, if you’ve found yourself in a similar position, that you too throw a strop and see if that works for you as well.


Back in August, O2 rang me up to see if I wanted to change tariff on my phone as I was paying for more minutes and texts than I was using. I expressly asked if this would damage my options for an upgrade when the iPhone 4S came out and was told that no, that wouldn’t be affected as I could just phone up at any time and upgrade. So I accepted a new contract for twelve months.

Today, when I phoned up to upgrade I was told that my upgrade had been an “offer” which had now “expired”. Well, I wasn’t very happy to put it mildly. I would not have entered into a new contract if I had realised it was going to remove the option of an upgrade, particularly as I’m on an old 3G which is so sluggish it’s almost producing its own slime.

I asked why I wasn’t told in August that the upgrade was an “offer” which would expire. Apparently, I wasn’t told because they didn’t know back then that they were going to limit their upgrade program. They clearly didn’t feel the need to tell anyone that upgrades were going to be stopped, because no one bothered to tell me.

I feel I have been lied to, deceived by O2. They promised me a free upgrade and my agreeing to the new contract was contingent on that upgrade. Then they just retroactively annulled that agreement, forcing me to wait until May for any sort of new phone. That’s unethical, not to mention terrible customer service.

I just spent 45 minutes on the phone with O2, getting increasingly angry as their customer service people failed to say anything other than, effectively, that I should simply suck it up because they have a clause in the contract that allows them to do whatever the hell they like. By the time that I got to the final person, in their disconnection department, I was livid, a mood that was not helped by being shouted at and having the phone put down on me. Wow that’s a great way to sooth ruffled feathers, O2. Well done.

O2 want to charge me £139 fee to cancel, but I’m going to look into the law on distance selling, because it seems to me that any promises made during the selling process should be binding. Companies should not be allowed to promise you something, no strings attached, and then simply change their mind. If you have any tips on how to progress with that, do let me know in the comments.

Regardless of what happens on that front, though, I will be leaving O2 at some point soon. It makes no sense for me to take on the 24 month contract at a higher monthly rate with an upfront fee of £99 that is their so-called “Fair Deal” upgrade to an iPhone 4S. Fair deal my arse. I’d rather swallow the disconnection penalty if that’s what I have to do than than stay with O2 one second longer than I have to. I will not reward unethical behaviour by any company.

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The last 18 months has taught me a lot about Kickstarter and putting together my own self-publishing project. This is the first of a series of blog posts in which I’ll go through what I’ve learnt, partly in case it’s of interest to anyone else but also to codify it in my own head so that, hopefully, I won’t make the same mistakes again. So, herewith Part 1!

If there was one overarching lesson that I’ve learnt doing Argleton, one thing that I really wish I’d thought of 18 months ago, it would be this:

Don’t go off half-cocked

Whilst there’s some truth to the idea that ignorance is bliss and that if I’d known what I was taking on I perhaps wouldn’t have done so, I think there’s more truth in the idea that I would have saved myself a lot of pain if I’d planned things better. Instead I bouncily assumed that it couldn’t possibly be that much work and that I’d have the whole thing done by the end of the summer. In 2010. Whoops.

So here are a few thoughts on how to make sure you’re fully prepared before you launch your Kickstarter project.

1. Finish as much of your project as possible
I naïvely thought that I could finish writing and editing Argleton whilst the Kickstarter fundraiser was underway, but promoting the campaign took more effort than I had anticipated, leaving me not much time to write. This had serious knock-on effects: Because I didn’t know how long the story was going to be, I couldn’t get accurate quotes for printing and so my rewards were priced by roughly guessing. I’ll go into budgeting issues in another post, but suffice it to say that guessing is a Very Bad Idea.

Another impact of having not finished up as much as I could was that it lengthened the time between people pledging support and my delivering my book to them. My ‘deadline’ for sending out the books just kept slipping and whilst most people were very patient, a couple sent me rather sharp messages questioning my commitment. I have to say that stung, but I could have avoided it if I hadn’t gone off half-cocked.

I should have had the book finished, critiqued, edited, typeset and converted into multiple digital formats, with all my rewards properly designed and fulfilment planned before I even considered launching my Kickstarter project.

2. Understand how much of your project remains
You can’t always finish everything up front. Had I hired someone to design my cover, for example, I would not have been in a position to do that until the Kickstarter money came in. That’s fair enough, but make sure that you know exactly what tasks are outstanding, how you are going to complete them and how long they are going to take. This allows you to be up front with your supporters about what’s left to do and how long they’ll have to wait for the finished thing.

3. Complete the design and prototyping of your rewards
Another really time-consuming part of the project was designing and prototyping my rewards, the books. Whilst they were easy to describe in text, they turned out to be difficult to turn into a reality. I learnt that I am not a natural graphic designer and that my ideas about what would work as a cover in print and in silk were very difficult for me to realise. The silk cover in particular went through about nine prototypes all together.

Had I gone through that process before launching my Kickstarter project, I would have learnt early on that I needed the help of a designer and I could have worked that into the project costs. I also would have realised how difficult the silk cover would turn out to be to actually make and just how long each one would take. I might still have gone ahead, but it would have been with eyes open.

4. Get your suppliers lined up
This is important not just for budgeting, but also to save you time when it comes to getting everything done and sent out. The first printer I looked at turned out to be incapable of doing the job in the way that I wanted: They didn’t have experience making books and didn’t have the right kind of binding technique which meant that when you opened the book, the pages fell out. Not really the result I was aiming for.

Finding a new printer, briefing them, and going through more prototypes was time consuming and set me back by months. In the end Oldacres did an amazing job, and I will be using them again on my next project so the relationship I formed with them is important, but I could have got there sooner. (Especially as they were actually the first recommendation I had had. :/ )

5. Understand your incompetencies
Obviously, I like to think I’m a half-decent writer, so the task of finishing and editing the story was easily doable. I’m also quite good at typesetting, having done that professionally in a different incarnation. But what I hadn’t really banked on was the fact that I’m a shit graphic designer and an even worse puzzle writer.

Not only did my weaknesses slow the project down (I’m still finishing of the puzzle, for example), they also made everything unnecessarily difficult. Had I looked at the puzzle before I launched, I would have realised how much effort it was going to be and might even have questioned whether it was even needed. In retrospect, I think the inclusion of the puzzle or geogame was more a statement of my own lack of confidence than a genuine contribution to the project.

6. Understand your dependencies
I hate to say it, but I should have Gantt-charted the project and thought hard about what was dependent on what. I wasn’t always clear on what could be done in parallel and what had to be done in order, and so I often defaulted to doing things in serial, thus delaying the project further. Partly that was a psychological thing: It felt easier to deal with one set of related problems at a time, rather than trying to solve issues on multiple fronts simultaneously. There’s no doubt at all that drastically slowed me down.

Had I sat down and worked out my dependencies, I would have been able to prioritise my to do list better. I would also have known when I needed to make educated assumptions, and what I would have to find out in order for those assumptions to hold water.

One good example is calculating postage. I hadn’t finished the story, so didn’t know how long it was, so didn’t know how many pages it would be, so couldn’t figure out the weight or find the packaging and so couldn’t make even a vaguely informed calculation as to the likely cost of postage. As it was, it cost a lot more than I had anticipated, as did the printing come to think of it, and I was lucky that I had raised more than I needed so didn’t actually lose money.

7. Don’t overcomplicate things
As I mentioned above, the geogame in the end turned out to be more of a gimmick that I hoped would get people interested rather than integral to the storytelling. Whilst I have done my best to produce something that is enjoyable, the fact that it has only now reached the testing stage shows just how difficult I have found it. I could have done without it and, if I had, I don’t think the project would have suffered at all.

Whilst most of the rest of the Argleton project was relatively simple, if time consuming, I did apply this rule to what was going to be my next project – a story told through the medium of a newspaper, complete with fictional character profiles, classifieds and sports page. I still love the idea, but during the planning process I realised that it was actually a very complicated project that would require collaboration with a number of people. I’m not ready to do that yet, although I will definitely be keeping that on my list of projects to look into when I’ve got a better flow of money coming in from my ebooks.

My aim in all of this is to produce a small but growing body of work, both electronic and in various physical media, which can give me an income. To this end I need to ensure that future projects are doable in a much, much shorter timespan than Argleton. Taking two years to do a novelette is not sustainable, so future projects will be much, much simpler and will hopefully complete more quickly.

Next time: How to think about your rewards.

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