Usability - Productivity - Business - The web - Singapore & Twins

By Date: February 2005

Buying Broadband - The saga continues

Did I hit the replay button? Today my little email was answered:
"Dear Mr Wissel

Thank you for your email.

We seek your kind understanding that for technical enquiries, please use
the online form at ..."

Well. Should we add that to: customer service boo-boo? Typically I now would move on. The web form they point me the second time still required an user-id from an existing customer. However I'm curious how the story unfolds further. So I'll be a little persistent:  

" Hi there,

it looks to me, that you don not want my business! I asked a presales question and if you are not able to answer that, PLEASE ask your technical staff yourself and come back to me. If you ever have bothered to look at you technical support online form, you would have realized, that one mandatory input is a USERID. Since I don't have one I can't even use the form.

If you would have read the mail thread, you could easily see, that this recommendation of yours didn't work before.

PLEASE: I'm willing and ready to spend money. I'm ready to buy the most expensive ADSL package you offer. The only thing missing is a confirmation: YES your phone line does support 3.5k. Or: We don't know, we will test it on installation if it is too slow we change your plan to 1.5k or whatever.

Neither you nor I want that you loose a customer and add a story in the tech community, how incapable your sales is.


Posted by on 22 February 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: Buying Broadband

Sunday afternoon thoughts: Craftsmanship

These days software is considered an industrialized product. One has clear processes, a proven methodology and a team of well trained IT people (architects, analysts, developers, coders, testers etc.). Still many projects fail spectacularly. Hug Macleod spells out the truth (while in a different context): " This isn't a record store. You can't just hire a bunch of college kids whenever there's an upswing." Software, despite all processes and tools is a craft. I haven't come across a craft that does not require apprenticeship and devotion to learn the spirit of it. Even with the greatest tools you will find the moment where you need "some magic happens here". Katie dissects RUP and shows that little gap.

A lot of blame for the lost art goes to the MTV generation with the need of instant gratification (why learn how to operate a parachute if bungee jumping seem to offer the same kick). Blaming the youth is a sport that's popular for thousands of years, so I don't buy it. Digging a little deeper I find a very different reason: fear of failure: we have to be perfect on the first shot. We are embarrassed if we fail. Companies only hire the top performers (and who develops them?). I think the solution for the dilemma is to put more focus on the craft, listen more and be ready to improve one step at a time.

Posted by on 13 February 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: Software

Buying Broadband

I'm ready to switch. Currently I'm using cable with a nominal speed of 3 Mbit. However the international gateways of my ISP are under dimensioned (they do some basic blocking by law here - no playboy.com for me) my effective speed is way lower. Now the main competitor introduced a ADSL based service with the same nominal speed. I'm ready to switch, especially since they sweeten the deal with free unlimited wireless access at my office Starbucks.
Knowing how much ADSL depends on the quality of the copper cables (and the worrying state of the wires in our block) I went to the shop and asked. OK I not really expected an answer, so getting an URL was OK. When filling in the feedback form I had to decide between sales enquiries and technical support. Since technical support extended the form with a lot of categories to fill in to describe your ACTUAL problem, rather then enquiry the availability of a service I opted for sales enquires. I wrote:
" Hi there. I'm very pleased, that you offer new speedy broadband connections. I'm very interested in the new 3.5k plan. However I wasn't able to find any information if my landed phone line could support that speed and how the testing would work. My phone number is 6xxxx... Could you
a) Provide information on the process
b) Test my line

I go a nice reply:
" Dear Mr Wissel,
Thank you for your email. We seek your kind understanding that for technical enquiries, please use the online form at  <same URL I used before> to email to our Technical Team. To access the Technical Support form, enter your contact information in the Personal Details section and choose the following in
the Feedback section:
Nature of Feedback: Comments/request/suggestion, etc
Subject: Net
Type: Technical Support"

Since I'm ready to spend money with them I was a bit disappointed by that answer, which I expressed in my reply.
" thank you for the reply. My question is: can you sell me the service that you advertise. So it is pre-sales. I'm not sure if that is a technical question for support. Anyway as a matter of customer service I would expect an answer like: "Our technical department can answer such questions, I have forwarded your enquiry to respective team, your tracking number is...". Of course throwing it back to somebody who is willing to spend money with you is cheaper, thus bearing the risk of a lost sales opportunity. So your seek for my kind understanding failed."

OK, I went back and filled in the tech support form. One item on the list is the USER.ID. Of course I don't have one. I'm a potential not a current customer. A nice JavaScript prompt tells me, that I need a valid userid. It didn't accept "n/a",  "none" or an empty entry. Since I'm very persistent if I want something, I reviewed the Javascript validation and found out that anything between 5 and 8 characters would work (This will haunt them when the customer base grows). So I got my form to validate, only to be greeted by an MS-OLE database error without any help how to continue (basically the original Microsoft error page). Stay tuned for the next instalment of this saga.  

Posted by on 11 February 2005 | Comments (1) | categories: Buying Broadband

Buying insurance

Technology is supposed to make our life easier? (Ok for the ones who fell of their chairs laughing, come back and read on). I was walking with an insurance agent through the process of filling in an application for a life insurance on the agent's laptop.

Technology wise it was very impressive. The whole application is browser based and when the agent started it up, Tomcat and a database booted up (took about 2min+). It also had a digital write pad to sign the application. I don't know if it is working, since we failed much earlier.

The application nicely showed how the internal working of the insurance is and what shortcuts were taken to get it to work. (I'm German and a Singapore Permanent Resident -- which is important further down).

First we had to fill in all particulars including my wife's and my children particulars (since they will be the beneficiaries). Part of this is the IC number (IC = Identity Card), which is basically the Primary Key for every Human in Singapore. Unfortunately we were sitting at Starbucks (Insurance agents do that a lot) and I didn't carry the birth certs of them with me.

So the application complained: IC is missing. Since the number is checksum validated filling in 000000000 wouldn't work. Bummer - end of show. If the person (architect, developer, steering committee etc.) designing the application would have gone to real client situations with their agents, they would know, that information is ALLWAYS incomplete. So kindly remarking: “This information is missing, we added and item on the checklist, you can continue now” would have been the sensible thing.

Since I’m very persistent when I want to find out about software, we simply entered my IC for my boys and could continue. The local database already had my IC, so a check was missing here. I ask myself what is more critical: an information that is missing and can be completed or false data for the sake of data entry.

We continued filling in the form and I waded through screens and screens of meaningless questionnaires. To be fair: I exactly knew what product I wanted and the agent pointed out, that is was a requirement by law, so clients are well informed before making a decision. This is kind of an improvement since on paper you can be asked to sign without event looking at the questions.

Next bummer, I was asked to fill in a foreigner questionnaire. This confused me, since PRs are treated like citizens. Questions like: Why do you want to buy insurance in Singapore, What happens if you leave Singapore etc. We finally figured out that something must be wrong when the “Legal Status” field only offered “Employment pass, Social pass etc. but not Permanent Resident”. So we canceled this questionnaire and went back to the base data.

When inspecting the form in more detail we found out that there is a nationality in the system called: “Singapore Permanent Resident”. Since I only scrolled to “G” I missed that entry. Seems like a requirement has been added and adding a new field was too complicated (like: if not defaultNationality (Singapore) show Status: PR, Employment pass etc). Happy that we found the “bug” we updated the base data, only to be prompted “Data is inconsistent” when we wanted to continue with the save application. No further explanation or suggestion was provided what can be done to fix this problem.

Guess what: I didn’t buy insurance that day!

Posted by on 07 February 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: Singapore