When is a year not a year?

Sometimes I have to wonder about modern standards of customer service.

In this post you will find details of one mans struggle to educate several grown adults who had difficulties comprehending how many days, weeks and months there are in a year.

I had an issue recently with an energy provider who signed me up for a 1 year contract, but then when the year was up they insisted that the contract hadn’t finished yet.  Their view of a year and mine didn’t match up.

How complex can it be?  A year is variously defined as 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days (or 366 in a leap year).  We could get down to hours, minutes and seconds but there’s no real point in that.  If I sign up to a 1 year contract on April 27th 2017, then I expect it to expire on April 26th 2018.  It might stretch to April 27th or 28th depending on processing issues, but you get the general picture.

As a sensible consumer I follow the generally accepted good practice and shop around for the best deals when my various utility contracts are coming up to their expiry date.  When I went to move away from this particular provider recently they told me that I was still in contract and couldn’t move.

This provider decided that when they said “1 year” they actually meant “longer than 1 year” as they determined that the contract would end on the last day of the quarter in which the contract was taken out.  So, for example, if I took out a contract on 27th April 2016 they said that it would expire on 30th June 2017.  That means their year lasted 14 months and a couple of days.  In the extreme there could be a year which lasted 15 months.

I had some initial phone and email conversations with them where I stated the obvious – that a contract for 1 year is a contract for 12 months and not for 14 months – but was met with refusal to even consider my “argument”.  I’m using quotes here as there really is no argument about this.  A day is 24 hours.  A week is 7 days.  A year is 365 days.  Nothing in any contract anywhere is going to change these definitions.

After the first few communications I realised that I was going to get nowhere by going this route.  It became apparent that this was not just an error on the part of one person, or a mis-interpretation by a couple of people but was company policy, whether official or unofficial.

My first step in trying to get this resolved was to contact the energy regulator and get them to perhaps remind the provider what the rest of the world considered a year to be.  In Ireland this is the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).  The request was immediately sent back to me asking if I had exhausted the complaints mechanism of the provider yet.  Before the CER will take on a case, they insist that the individual consumer follows through the complaints process fully.  There is a certain logic to this requirement, but when it’s something as clear cut as defining the length of a 1 year contract (and it affects hundreds of thousands of customers on similar contracts) I was hoping that some short cutting might be in order.  Sadly, this was not to be.

My next step was to investigate the official complaints procedure of the provider to find out what had to be done in order to exhaust it and get back to CER.  Due to their regulated nature the provider is obliged to have a clearly defined complaints procedure available for consumers.  A quick search of their website provided the link and I printed it off and started working out what I needed to do.

The good news is that the procedure was relatively straight forward and can be summarised as below –

  • Fill in their complaints form and submit it, giving reasonable time for a response
  • If you are unhappy with the response then request that it be escalated, giving reasonable time for a response
  • If you are still unhappy with the escalated response then open a case with the CER

In the next post I’ll provide details of the discussions with the provider as they vainly tried to tell me that a year was not in fact 12 months and my eventual escalation to CER and the mostly satisfactory response I got in the end.

Meantime, it turns out that you can find 14 month calendars.  They seem to be useful for schools.  Check out www.vertex42.com for just such a calendar template.14_month_year

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Killer apps – do they exist?

These days we are constantly being told about the latest “killer app” that is taking the online world by storm. Some of these apps are popular only because people read about them and feel they should probably try them out because everyone is saying they are “killer apps”. After a few weeks the novelty wears off and there’s some new “killer app” that everyone is chattering about so people ditch the old one, get the new one and it all kicks off again.

I may be accused of being somewhat of a Luddite, but for me most of the apps that I have tried have added very little value. The home screen of my phone contains a grand total of 8 apps. Some of these I use regularly, but as I write this post I realise that I don’t use some of them any more. My home screen is about to become even less cluttered.

The first app on my page is a camera app. The second is one for viewing photos taken by the camera. To highlight the extent to which some apps have come to be regarded as commodities they have no name other than “Camera” and “Photos”. They may be provided by Google, or by someone else. Whoever made the apps isn’t doing a great job on the branding front.

The next app is Chrome, for browsing web sites. There’s not much to say about that one other than I need something to browse the web with and Chrome does me just fine.

To complete the top line I have the Android settings app. I used to use this a lot more but I’ve now realised that it has been a long time since I needed that urgently so I think a move to the second page is on the cards.

Across the bottom I have the phone app, an email client, the SMS app and WhatsApp. The email client used to be called “Blue Mail” when I started using it but I think it has been through a few rebrandings and is now called “TypeApp”.

WhatsApp is one of the few “killer apps” that I use regularly and which really has had a lasting impact on my day to day life. In my books it is genuinely a game changer. It has the ability to set up groups for any set of friends, or event, or anything of interest. This isn’t unique, but what I think sets it aside from other applications is that when people use it, by and large there is no expectation of a like or a response, or anything like that. Replies are optional.  It’s about getting information out there, not about getting feedback.

The point has been made elsewhere that a group in WhatsApp is normally a pretty accurate representation of a group with a shared interest, whereas the set of people who follow a particular feed on Facebook or Twitter really isn’t.

Bringing this back on topic, I think that WhatsApp really is one of the few killer apps out there.  I find that most of the rest of the apps are just different ways of doing the same thing, with different interfaces, different sets of people, etc . . .
What other killer apps do you think I could be using?

10 euro bloke

I have to admit to being an example of “10 euro bloke”.  I have a habit of walking into record shops (such as one of the few remaining Tower Records shops in the world, in Dublin) for a browse around and coming out with a bunch of those compilation CDs – you know the ones, “€7.99 each or 2 for €10”, featuring the best and worst of some one hit wonder band that was big in 1972.  I go in, spend €10, come home, listen to them and remember that while some of these compilations have some good stuff on them, there’s a reason that they faded away when originally released.

At last something back from the bank

Ever since the banking system in Ireland and around much of the rest of the world went boom back around 2007 the message coming out from the system was that retail customers (the millions of ordinary people like you and me) weren’t of value to the banks because the cost of processing our transactions was greater than the value to the bank of having our money on deposit.

Unlike in some other countries there was very little in terms of loyalty schemes operated by the banks here.  There used to be Amex Blue, operated by Bank Of Ireland as far as I remember, and this paid 1% back on all transactions.  This scheme was closed down a good few years ago though so I couldn’t even get the 1% on those purchases any more.

The only other similar scheme that I know of is the AIB Platinum Visa card which gives 0.5% back.  It’s only half of the old Amex rate but at least the Visa card is more widely accepted here than Amex was.

Some time ago I moved almost all of my business from Bank of Ireland to AIB, based pretty much entirely on the good customer service I received while applying for the Platinum card as well as the cumulative effect of the poor service I received from Bank of Ireland over the years.

Recently I got a letter in the post from AIB telling me that they were going to waive my current account fees for one reason or another.  I have to say that this cheered me up no end.  At last, something good from the bank.

Buying books online in Ireland

With the prevalence of Amazon, it’s very easy to forget that there are other online book sellers out there.  Every time I go to buy a book I automatically check Amazon.  Sometimes, after getting a price from there, I think I should probably go and check out some of the Irish book selling sites.  And then I spend ages trying to remember them with varying degrees of success.  Quite often though, I entirely forget to check.

Here’s a list of some of the more useful Irish booksellers with an online ordering facility.

  • Kennys – located in Galway, but some of their stock is fulfilled from other countries.  There’s free delivery for orders to Ireland.
  • Dubray – Irish owned (as far as I know) chain of shops in the general Dublin area.  I’m not sure about the price of postage, but they have a few shops near by.
  • Easons – A larger Irish owned chain of shops across the country.

Quite a number of book shops have a website, but don’t have an online ordering facility.  I emailed a couple of them last week to see what their responses were like.  Most of them didn’t have the book in stock but said they could order it in from the UK.  The prices quoted ranged quite a bit, but in fact it was cheapest at the first site I checked – http://www.kennys.ie.

Here’s a list of the book shops that responded to my email query in the order in which they replied to me.  They all replied courteously and gave the details I requested – whether it was in stock or not and what the price is or would be if ordered.  I won’t give the prices per shop as that’s really only going to be relevant to the particular book I was looking for.  You should contact them and get the price for whatever book you are interested in.

If you know of any other book shops that I could contact or add to the list please add a comment below.

Treasure

I’ve been spending some time recently going through boxes of ‘treasure’ which have been stashed away in the attic for many years.  The boxes contain real treasure like our wedding plans from a long time ago, early drawings by the children, letters we received from friends and each other over the years, and so on.  Originally the boxes were generally organised, but over time the structure kind of fell apart and what had started as a collection of treasure ended up being mixed in with definite non-treasure like 1995 Howard Johnson brochures, 1999 Hertz rental agreements, and other junk.

At the back of my mind all these years has been the knowledge that there was a lot of rubbish up there which really needed to be thrown out.  It could be argued that this isn’t strictly true as the only real downside was that it took up space in a box on the floor, but in reality it also hid a lot of actual good stuff from view and ultimately the point about having a treasure box is to keep important stuff safe.  It had been bugging me (just a bit) for a long time and I’m finding the process of getting rid of the chaff to be beneficial.