Saturday, 17 August 2013

Friday, 16 August 2013

Sunken Egyptian City of Thonis-Heracleion

There is something so poignant about a find like this. It`s a treasure trove of past glory, and yet a reminder of how even the mightiest and most glorious can fall:
Sunken Egyptian City of Thonis-Heracleion
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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Are we protecting data or protecting people?

On Sunday, my confused and flustered 85 year-old mother fainted in church and was admitted to the local A&E. They checked her ECG and blood pressure, but did not test her for a urinary tract infection (one of the chief causes of sudden confusion in the elderly). It also did not occur to them to inform her next of kin or a neighbour, or to ask her how she was going to get home, or even if she had the fare for a taxi home. On being discharged, this confused, vulnerable, elderly woman somehow WALKED the two miles home, where she went to bed, exhausted. Quite by chance, her next-door neighbour happened to bump into someone who had seen Mum collapse in church. He rang the doorbell. There was no answer. So he phoned my sister, who discovered, TEN HOURS after the event, that Mum had collapsed. When my sister went round, Mum had absolutely no recollection of any of what had happened. My sister has taken two days off work to chase our excellent family doctor to find out that Mum has an infection. When my sister rang the hospital for information, a curt staff nurse informed her that she could not pass on any details of Mum`s case even to her next of kin, on the grounds of data protection legislation. Wonderful! So we can protect our data, but we can`t protect vulnerable people?
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Thursday, 1 August 2013

Darwin Awards for customer service, a little rant

You`d think the state of the economy in recent years would have taught businesses to value their greatest assets, their customers. Not so, it seems, at least not with one or two of the better known dinosaurs. But then the dinosaurs probably had no idea they were going to become extinct, right up to the moment that meteor hit! Here are some suggested Darwin Awards for customer service by companies that could have been expressly designed to send their customers running to the competition. They are in no particular order. They all deserve to go extinct! Darwin Award No 1: A London theatre ticket booth that considers it way beneath them to given you directions: Arriving in London for a matinee performance of The Mousetrap, I got off my bus a stop too soon and missed the street where St Martin`s Theatre is tucked away. Obviously, Chinatown is not the ideal place to ask for directions, so I ploughed through to Leicester Square and thought, "Why not ask someone at a theatre ticket office? They must be able to give directions," I thought. I thought wrong, at least at this booth:
"Could you please tell me how to get to St Martin`s Theatre? I`m a bit lost," I said. "No," said the charming young customer service dinosaur sitting in the booth. And as I walked away, he shouted after me for good measure, "I`M NOT A MAP!" Fortunately, the nearby competition at
took a rather more positive view of their customers. The young lady sitting in this booth not only gave me helpful directions, but actually gave me a little map with the theatre marked on it! I found it in three minutes. Thanks SBO! Darwin Award No 2: Curry`s of Scarborough:
. On a visit to my very elderly Mum for a couple of weeks in Scarborough, I discovered that her fridge freezer and microwave both needed replacing, so off I trotted to Curry`s, as Comet had gone out of business (You`d think Curry`s might have learned a lesson from this, but apparently not). The first thing I noticed was that there were no staff around in the upstairs showroom. I had to go and look for someone to come and help me. You wouldn`t get that in John Lewis, that`s for sure. Knowing the measurements of Mum`s fridge space, I had picked out a fridge in a couple of minutes. A salesperson who looked like a walking sleeping tablet reluctantly slouched over to a computer and looked up the model. This was a Sunday. "We`ll be getting some of these in next Friday, he said." "Can I reserve one now and pay for it and get it delivered later?" "No, he said. "No." "I`ve also chosen a microwave I want to buy. Can I pay for that now and have it delivered at the same time as the fridge freezer?" "No," was the reply. "You`ll have to get a taxi." (I had got there by bus). If all this hadn`t been for my 86 year-old mother, I would have given up right then and there, but I needed to get all this sorted before I left in six days time. "So, I`ll have to come back next Friday then?" "Yes," he said, and went back into his Curry`s hibernation, while I sloped off. So the following Friday after work, I went back to the Curry`s store, went through the same rigmarole of trying to find someone interested in serving a customer, and found the same hibernating sleeping tablet upstairs. I had a printout of the fridge freezer model I wanted and handed it to him. With a zombie-like expression on his face, he looked up the serial number onscreen and announced in a dead-pan voice, "These are not due in for another two weeks." "But you said you were getting a delivery today." "They`re not due in for two weeks," he repeated. "In that case I`ll go and buy my fridge freezer somewhere else," I said, and walked away. "OK," said the salesperson. And that was that. From Curry`s I walked into town to Victoria Road, found a private local electrical goods dealer, saw exactly the size fridge freezer I was looking for, for the same price as at Curry`s, paid for it, and got it delivered the same afternoon. "I`ve just come from Curry`s," I said to the man. He burst out laughing. "Don`t tell me!" he said. "I get so much business from them, it`s ridiculous!" "Good for you," I said. "It is," he said. So congratulations to Curry`s - a Darwin Award definitely goes to you for supporting local businesses! Darwin Award No 3: Southwest Trains Having spent nearly half my lifetime living outside the UK, the price of train tickets in this country, and the cramped, dirty conditions of the trains, amazes me. It must be the most expensive place for rail travel in Europe. In most parts of Europe, if you buy a train ticket to and from an airport, there is a logical assumption on both sides that you are probably going to fly somewhere, and back again. This implies the possibility of delays, which are allowed for in this kind of ticket. In most countries, you can also just turn up at the station on the day and buy a ticket to where you want to go, without having to take out a mortgage. But not in the UK. It`s cheaper for my son at university in Glasgow to fly to Bristol than to get the train. But anyway, last week I flew in to Stansted airport an hour later than planned. This meant that instead of getting the 20.20 out of Waterloo I didn`t get there till nine and had to take the 21.20. As a result of the delay, and even though I explained to the conductor that I had had a delayed flight, he insisted on my paying £34 for a new single ticket from Waterloo to Sherborne. Now where I work I am expected to give value for money, and I do. I`ve always taken the view that if you offer good value, and added value wherever you can, you can`t make a mistake. Somewhere down the line it will bring rewards. So, having coughed up my £34 for a second fare, I`m sitting there on the train thinking to myself, "Here I am, squashed into what is euphemistically called an airline style carriage, with virtually no legroom (and I`m not tall), a dirty smelly toilet at the end of the carriage, and a conductor whose mission in life seems to be to take money for nothing. The idea that you only deserve value for money for a rail ticket if you buy it months in advance and bind yourself to a specifically timed connection is, frankly, a lousy idea of customer service. So I`m sitting there thinking of all the things I could have done with that £34. I could have saved myself the rush and stress of belting across London to catch the last direct train to Sherborne from Waterloo,and stayed the night at a private house I know that offers B&B for £25, and then done an exhibition or some such the next day. For under £34 I can get a RETURN fare to London from Sherborne on the National Express coach. So, the next time I popped up to London two days ago, I did just that. I took the coach. And as I boarded the coach back from London at 4 pm yesterday, one of the dispatchers at Victoria Coach station got on the bus to check that a lady who had missed her coach an hour earlier had found her way safely on to the next connection. Now that`s service. I`m planning to go up to London again in the middle of September, and I already have my coach tickets. So another Darwin Award for customer service, this time to Southwest trains. Being of a certain age, I`m old enough to remember the Christmas rail strike of 1984. I`ll never forget what a grand job the dispatchers did then of making sure that all that extra volume of traffic got in and out safely.
And finally, after all these tales of woe,a Darwin Award for an award-winning company that has raised the benchmark for customer service, not alas, in the UK, although they do run coaches here from the Czech Republic. I`m talking about the legendary international coach and travel company
. Compared to the journey described above, picture this: a 400 kilometre journey on a luxury coach with plenty of legroom and the facilities you would normally expect on a long-haul airline flight - stewardess service, with free newspapers and magazines handed out at the start of your journey, onboard loo (of course), free hot drinks served by the stewardess during the journey, and low-cost cold drinks and snacks for sale, as well as a screen in front of every seat, where you can watch a selection of films in either Czech with English subtitles or in original English, play computer games or listen to up to seven radio channels. And all of this for 400 kilometres for the price of a National Express ticket to London, or less! Where the Darwin Awards are concerned, I`m sure that I am not alone. What`s your story?!
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