Dancing with the DVLA’s (lack of) Customer Services

Did the same man who designed the M25 also decide to turn his hand to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)’s customer services? That was the question running through my head today, glued to the phone whilst infinitely pressing keys to avoid the robot, speak to the human.

Let me explain why. I’ll try not to bore you.

I paid for my vehicle’s tax using the DVLA’s online system. You know. That new system from 2014 that signalled the death of the paper tax disc. The only problem is, it doesn’t work. I paid by direct debit for a monthly payment, the system decided to take a 6 month payment. Okay I thought – a little bug. So I cancelled the monthly direct debit (as a 6 month payment had already been taken) and got on with my life.

Right until the DVLA starting posting threatening letters, the scary sort in brown envelopes, saying that my vehicle wasn’t taxed. I apparently owed them £100 and if I didn’t pay the enforcement authorities said my vehicle could potentially be clamped and toed away.

The best bit? I received this letter on a Saturday. That precious day at the weekend when you’re still recovering from a stressful week. Even though the urgency of the letter demanded immediate reaction – the DVLA does not provide weekend customer support.

It gets better.

The DVLA have a Twitter feed. This @DVLAgovuk. So whilst I was cocking around with a phone, stressing that my vehicle would be imminently toed away. The DVLA had scheduled pointless uninspiring “so what?” tweets offering irrelevant advice such as:

No! I hadn’t lost my friggin’ driving license. Also, the chance that somebody would actually see that tweet, posted at that time, who had lost their driving licence and therefore would find value from that link just seems nonsensical. It’s clear that their Twitter profile is being run by somebody who clearly has no idea about social media. As a customer, it’s infuriating. There is just no customer support. Nothing. I tried. I tweeted.

It took 48 hours to get a reply – you guessed it, on a Monday. Just what is the point of offering social media support if you can’t provide weekend cover?

It’s clear that the DVLA’s internal setup is a complete mess:

  1. The social media department don’t talk to customer services on the phone;
  2. Customer services cold transferred my call to the debiting department, who had to hear out my case again;
  3. The enforcement team don’t talk to the debiting department, so believed my vehicle wasn’t taxed;
  4. Then we go back to the social media department, who didn’t bother following up with my case.

It’s a classic example of how not to do customer service. Sadly, it’s a common one. There is nothing particularly exciting or challenging about this blog post. It’s just another customer who has had a bad experience. Poor me. Boohoo.

We shouldn’t think like that though. The DVLA should build a system that works. Imagine that. Delivering excellent social media service – talking to customers and knowing who they are through every step of the resolution process.

Clearly the customer services person on the phone was all too familiar with my kind of case, “As you can appreciate sir. We deal with thousands of applications everyday. Things go wrong.” Err yeah, thanks.

My case got resolved eventually but only after plenty of stress, phone time and dealing with a disorganised system that didn’t know my case.

When eBay sides with the Troll

I’ve been a member of online marketplace, eBay, for 7 years and have never had any problems. Whenever others have been worried to transact on eBay I’ve always been the first to defend the security and customer service systems it has in place. Yesterday, this all changed.

A user called ‘ilovecarolvickers‘ has been winning items across eBay but not getting in contact or paying for any of his wins. He then proceeds to leave sellers with false negative feedback, usually about the condition of the item. Why? Because he/she is a troll, existing only to waste people’s time on eBay and to making selling impossible.

He has done exactly the same to me:

ebay feedback

Naturally, I have been through the eBay resolution centre to cancel this transaction (which will take me 7 days) and have reported the user as fraudulent.

Here is a copy of my message to eBay:

mymessageebay

I also followed this message by a shorter one stating that since my message, the user has also left me false negative feedback. Want to see eBay’s response to me?

Hello Mike,
Thank you for writing back to us about the negative feedback you received from your buyer “ilovecarolvickers” for the phone (item 300873812812) they’ve won. I understand you’d like it to be removed as it is untrue.

Mike, I reviewed the feedback the buyer left and found out that it does not fall to one of our feedback removal criteria. Therefore, we can’t remove the feedback.

Please understand that for Feedback system to be fully effective, it needs to stay between members. If eBay got involved in Feedback disputes, people’s opinions on buyers and sellers would be replaced by eBay’s opinion. That’s why we’ll only remove Feedback ratings and comments under very limited circumstances – we won’t remove Feedback on the grounds that you think a comment is untrue or undeserved. This is because the feedback was the other member’s overall assessment of how it was to transact with you on eBay.

If you’d like to know our feedback removal criteria, you can copy and paste the link below to a new browser in order to review our feedback policy.

http://pages.ebay.co.uk/help/policies/feedback-abuse-withdrawal.html

Though we can’t remove the feedback outright, we have alternatives that are just as effective in resolving your feedback concern.

Your first option will be the feedback revision. Often, disputes involving feedback are best resolved through open and honest communication between members. Once you’ve resolved the issue with the member, you can submit a feedback revision request through us and your buyer will be notified of your request to have the feedback changed from negative/neutral to positive.

This response by eBay was a cop out and if she had read the background to the case, eBay would have know that getting in contact with the other member is impossible. Why? Because he is fraudulent. Here is my very frustrated response to eBay:

Hi Rita,

I’m asking for the feedback to be reviewed as it is wholly untrue. The transaction NEVER happened and his review was over the quality of the phone. He never received the phone because he never paid. He never paid because he is a fraudulent user. Please assess his other feedback.

I understand you would like eBay users to resolve matters between themselves but this is impossible as this user is only on eBay to troll others.

I am shocked that eBay would allow such behavior and not protect the rights of its innocent users.

Please reply to this message ASAP with a resolution to the matter.

In conclusion eBay need to back up its innocent users and properly research each case. This whole mess is making it impossible me to transact on eBay and has left me with an extremely low 66.7% Positive Feedback rating. Not only this but another new user with zero feedback has now bid on my new iPhone 4S listing – genuine? I’m not sure. I have a horrible feeling that trolls are taking over eBay.

Can sellers trust eBay anymore? No.

Does eBay support its innocent users? No.

Will this case be resolved? I hope so and if it does I’ll update this blog post.

Please share and comment on this post. I really want eBay to resolve this issue but so far they seem to be doing nothing.

[UPDATE 18/03/2013: Finally eBay have agreed to remove the false negative feedback on my account and to drop their charges against my unsold item. I’m relieved the situation has now been resolved.]

Facebook is not a PR Godsend

I’ll begin this article by casting my mind back to early 2010. As part of a second year University assignment (overseen by the observant Richard Bailey) we had to deliver a PR presentation to Gloucestershire Police. The brief instructed us to build a campaign to curb the amount of binge drinking locally over the festive season. The class was split into groups.

In my group we decided that in order to fulfil the client’s objectives we should arrange a number of publicity stunts and thought provoking materials which could be distributed to drinking establishments. We came second place. The winning team won because they were brilliant (all the group members are good friends of mine) but also because they mentioned FACEBOOK.

Why didn’t my team mention Facebook? It wasn’t relevant for our campaign. This invokes me to make an important point.

Facebook isn’t always necessary
On a number of occasions client work has resulted in a conversation concerning Facebook. Every PR campaign is different but most of the time I find myself asking:

  • Will Facebook effectively raise awareness?
  • Will Facebook effectively raise sales?
  • Will Facebook cause any user conversions (outside of sales)?

In my experience Facebook’s effectiveness surrounding raising awareness is good but difficult to measure. One cannot consider ‘likes’ alone which makes ‘mentions’ the only worthwhile factor. In terms of conversions and sales I have found other websites which work much better in comparison to Facebook.

The most important factor isn’t so much the tactics which a campaign uses but instead…

What is your narrative?
PR is primarily concerned with finding a narrative, a story behind a product/service. This is in direct contrast with advertising (in all forms) which shamelessly shouts features and benefits in order to charm consumers to part with their money.

The number of organisations who are on Facebook shamelessly promoting themselves is staggering and this indicates a poor PR strategy. Your narrative has to be believable, cross channel and targeted towards specific publics.

If you are a client then consider what benefits using Facebook has for your product, service or organisation.

Man cannot live on social media alone
Stop using the term “social media”, it is limiting. Instead talk about Digital PR, talk about blogger engagement, talk about forum discussions – in fact stop talking and instead listen. If you are talking about Facebook then also discuss measurement methods.

Social Media: Digital ADHD?

Each year we ritually ponder upon our own frailties and answer with a New Year’s Resolution. In 2012 I am going to slow down.

To slow down brings connotations of a great writer bathing in self-gratification of his own success as if to say, “Enough is enough. Today I have achieved everything that I would have hoped for in life and the rewards have been generous in return.” This New Year’s resolution is not about laying pen upon the desk but instead acknowledging the destructive nature of social media.

Without a single hesitation each of us willingly part with small pieces of personal information each day. Just gaze upon your own Facebook timeline – every like, comment, picture or status lines the pocket of an executive somewhere. This is no bias towards Facebook but applies to many other social networks. It is a price many of us have come to recognise for online communication but I am no longer willing to part with time.

The online metric lingo translates to ‘dwell time’, it is a money spender. Television has proved that a captivated audience is a powerful one. Not just for advertising purposes but for assisting entertainment columns with their direction and inspiring chat on sites such as Twitter. Eventually our time is translated into money.

Every lost minute poses the question over the fruitful alternatives that are available for our attention.

With the exception of textbooks I have spent an abysmal amount of time reading in 2011. It takes a lot for me to feel remorse for lost time but in this respect 2011 was ill-spent. Disregarded books lie on my book shelf in placement for aimlessly browsing the internet – social media is a huge waste of time.

As a budding member of the public relations industry it is neither sensible or respectful to publically post such a statement. Dwell time acts as an important metric for this blog so I could seem arrogant to demand your time here but to advise less time on other parts of the digital landscape. It is not my aim to be polite but to steal Al Gore’s phrase, point to the inconvenient truth.

Social media has become a contagious ADHD. Our evolutionary glands are tickled with each flick of a browser tab releasing more endorphins. Our attention has become more focused upon quickly draining content than to seek depth. Content variation keeps our minds in a state of lingo which I believe affects the quality of information we seek.

Members of the media are quick to accuse journalists of churnalism but the crime could be warranted the punishment; the amount of time we spend reading articles is abysmal. What is the purpose of a journalist to spend, already exigent time, to produce an article online? It would only have an average dwell time of 20 seconds (industry standard).

The perpetrator of the crime shouldn’t be the journalist for posting the message but instead for the reader spending such little attention on the article. It is far more natural for a reader to scan the key points of the article than to generously spend their time patiently scrolling downwards to the conclusion.

It is upsetting.

Has quality been sacrificed for speed? In my eyes, yes. Books, magazines and newspapers exist for a person to enjoy with depth. Online exists for quick entertainment, procrastination or researching references. Consumption habits differ between each person though. Which returns me to the subject of this blog post.

My New Year’s resolution is to slow down. To teach myself to weigh time between tasks and to enjoy the comforts of a book. 2012 is set to be an enlightening year.

Apple ignore onslaught of angry iPhone 4S Owners over “invalid sim” error

Thousands of iPhone 4S owners are experiencing “invalid sim” errors. Users report that after a few hours of their devices being switched on an error message appears showing “invalid sim” which results in the phone dropping their phone signal. The only temporary fix is to switch the iPhone 4S off and on again.

Over 71,000 people have viewed the ‘Sim Card Failure No Sim with iPhone 4S Anyone Else?’ topic on the Apple forum. Posts date from 15th October 2011 with many begging Apple for a response but none has been given to date.

It is not uncommon for mobile operators to have faulty sim cards but it strikes unusual that all these “invalid sim” errors are coming from iPhone 4S users who have the latest version of iOS installed.

Already this evening I have experienced this error on my iPhone 4S five times. Vodafone have indicated that it may be a faulty sim card but my research shows that this issue clearly lies with Apple’s latest iOS update. As an Apple customer, a consumer who has parted with a generous amount of money for their mobile device I expect a response and a fix for this error.

Apple… are you going to ignore me too?

What Online Adverts can Learn from History

Yes, I do online advertising for Microsoft but everything written here are my own views. Blah, blah, blah.

Rubbish

When one speaks of online advertising it is common to get lost in impression figures but what has been slipping for years have been Click Through Rates (CTR). The era of serving unsuitable advertising online has come to an end. Advancements in contextual targeting (most controversially shown by Google reading your email), cookie storage (to track interests) and using user profile data allow for relevant ads to be served. It is a well-known fact that Mark Zuckerberg has never been keen on online advertising but Facebook has tried targeting ads to at least make content useful. Advertising should be useful but more importantly, beautiful.

A little known fact is that I enjoy collecting old adverts. It is something of a hoarding attitude which I caught off my granddad. The below Schweppes Ginger Ale advert of mine is a work of art, it tells a story of a bygone era when computers didn’t exist as they do today.

 

Schweppes Ginger Ale
Schweppes Ginger Ale

Which is the problem – too many companies rely upon simple image manipulation programmes for their adverts. It is a quick way to stamp out a .JPG file but in turn devalues the whole integrity of the online advertising industry.

Yet the problem comes from the publishers and agencies:- they accept shoddy art work. There should be some sort of standard behind ads because for the user these little bits of shit keep appearing on the side of our webpages, as banners across pages and sometimes in the actual body of text.

Yet talking about online advertising intrusion is a topic for another day. For now I just wish some advertisers would put more effort into their online adverts.

Rant over.Nuff Said...

 

99.5% of Social Media Experts are not qualified to do their role: A call for accreditation

Gary Vaynerchuk in an interview with TechCrunchTV announced that ‘99.5% of Social Media Experts are clowns’. A bold sentiment (albeit opinion) which I have decided to publically agree with. Social Media Consultants and Experts have faced a backlash, none more potent than Peter Shankman’s article for Business Insider ‘Why I Will Never, Ever Hire A “Social Media Expert”’

Yet a blog post like this could be said to be doing disservice to myself. The more acute of you will know that I have titled several past positions on my LinkedIn as “Social Media Consultant”. I believe part of the issue with calling oneself a Social Media Consultant is time orientated; a lot has changed in the last 2 years.

The Problem with being a Social Media Expert

  1. Being a social media expert is a self-proclaimed title. There are no industry accreditations, qualifications or guidelines. Therefore the title is meaningless and “Expert” cannot be justified.
  2.  

  3. It is 2011 and social media has become a common way of life. This links in with Peter Shankman’s quote, ‘Being an expert in social media is like being an expert at taking the bread out of the refrigerator’. Social Media is now global and everyone I know is part of at least two online communities.
  4.  

  5. Social Media is only one part of the marketing mix. It frustrates me to the core when unqualified Social Media Experts have the cheek to call their activities Public Relations when they have no knowledge or training experience in PR. Companies who listen to such people are in danger.
  6.  

  7. Social Media ROI is rarely thought of (which links into point 3). It takes a real expert to understand Social Media as one part of a larger plan. Measuring this ROI is something I rarely see when it comes to Social Media. What exactly is the benefit to your client? How can you defend the value of your service? (Don’t even think about saying you got x amount of Facebook ‘likes’ or Twitter follows)
  8.  

  9. Little notice is ever taken to the audience you are trying to communicate with. A classic example of the online service FourSquare which boasts 10 million users. However 60% of those are in the US and the details of regular active users is rumored to be tiny (not helped by Facebook places). It is a service which is worthless for a UK audience. How many people do you know who actively use the service?
  10.  

  11. Experts rarely discuss the risks, only the benefits. This is probably my most risky point so far but I believe it to be true, social media can go badly wrong. Just look at what one tweet did to Redner Group today. In my opinion being a part of a social media is a necessity but remember to have a crisis plan.

The Value behind Social Media
I believe the secret behind social media is not setting up an incredible Facebook page, creating a Twitter profile which makes you look like a God or showing off your diverse life by checking into every establishment using FourSquare. Instead it is about content, the products or services you offer. The real gold behind Social Media is your company or charity.

The art of you sharing this gold online is not about reaching out to a Social Media Experts but instead organically learning through what others are doing online. Interacting personally with your audience. It is a sentiment which is uttered by Chris Brogan time and time again. Social media is a human business.

Finding the Right End of the Stick
Don’t get me wrong. There are those who are better at Social Media than others but I do believe this is only 0.5% of those experts out there. Such a small statistic puts all companies at risk who need some advice from an expert which calls for a definite need for an industry standard and accreditation.

None better to deliver that would be aligning social media to where it truly belongs, in the hands of the CIPR. I am for accreditation of the role and not an individual qualification, that is the subject for another blog post.

Social media needs to link back to the basics of marketing.

 

What are your thoughts?

 

Lazy Journalism: I was targeted

The biggest challenge for the modern day Journalist is the speed to deliver. Investigative Journalism for the most part has taken a backseat as many who have the opportunity to report news will aspire to follow the easiest path to do so. I got the opportunity to speak to speak with a PR Professional who works for a large organisation in London (Not Microsoft) who explained that when meeting with a Journalist to have a story published that on the most part a Journalist will either ask for a press release or a simple video which they could feature on their online news portal.

In my eyes this removes one of the responsibilities Journalists used to provide society, to be against the establishment and investigate news. How is true investigative Journalism possible when news stories are simply built from press releases and videos? It doesn’t make sense. If a Journalist attends a press conference held by government then in many ways they have already failed. They are being told information and they are reporting on it, this is simply news.

The questions which aren’t being tackled anymore are the goings on behind the news and it shows throughout society. People read the papers and without thought will build an opinion around an issue which was clearly never investigated by a Journalist and probably comes from a political faction within government. It is lazy Journalism.

The reason why I bring all this up? I have been the target of lazy journalism, when journalists republish news from acts of citizen journalism. A couple of weeks ago a friend and I came across a bus which had caught fire in Cheam village. I decided to take a video of it on my iPhone and then it immediately got published to YouTube. To my surprise I then found MY video of the burning bus in Cheam covered on the Local Guardian website which then explains the incident in rather poor detail.

What an outrage. Firstly I have never given permission for the video to be used on the Local Guardian website and secondly why do I want my reporting of an event to be copied by a Journalist? In many ways I have contributed towards a certain Journalist’s pay check. The story was a result of citizen journalism. I reported the event as it was happening.

Surely I should get a cut in the profits?

To play devil’s advocate I did upload the video to YouTube and set as public, the Local Guardian only had to embed the video on their news article page. Still, they have stolen my news – I reported it, not them. Plus, no matter of the legalities of embedding a video on a webpage; surely they require my permission to do so? Isn’t it only polite? Or at least send me the link showing “their” coverage.

This is lazy Journalism, yet it is what the Journalism industry has become. Instead of the Journalism industry worrying about news monetisation methods, media moguls should focus on their Journalists. Which Journalists are lazy and when is true Journalism going to return? Forget speed, focus on investigating.