Archive for December, 2008

British Gas: Much better

Back in May, my patience snapped with British Gas’ customer service and whipped-up one quick mini-rant. After today, I’m happy to take this all back, as they’ve been absolutely fantastic.

Without gong into the fascinating and extensive history of the aging boiler, having got back after Christmas it was clear the appliance was sick. Very sick indeed. And that meant the house was cold. Very cold indeed. Three layers of clothing plus three forms of duvet were just about enough to keep me warm.

And here’s where British Gas came into their own. I rang up and got an appointment for the next day (today) ‘between 8am and 1pm’.

At 8am their engineer rang to say he’d be twenty minutes. Twenty minutes later, he was beginning to give the whole thing a clean and once-over, plus replacing a few parts. And then declared the boiler was on its way out so kindly left behind a form recommending the landlord replace the boiler before saying to call if anything went wrong in the next hour.

It might be because it’s New Year’s Eve and may be a bit quieter than normal, but the service was quick, efficient, friendly and excellent.

It’s all too easy to be somebody who sits ranting at a keyboard at any perceived slight, which is why I rarely like blogging about the failings of assorted companies unless they get to the point where it’s either let or steam or lose sanity. Last May, I’d definitely reached that point.

But I think it’s also fair that, if the same company gets something right, it’s only right that I redress the balance, especially considering I get a fair few hits each day for ‘British Gas Customer Service’.

Of course I’m not arrogant enough to assume what I wrote in the spring had any effect on them, but it’s nice that when dealing with a company you’ve had bad experiences with in the past, that they surprise you.

***NOTE: Since writing this a few of you have used the comments below t rant about your bad experiences with British Gas. That’s cool, I have no problem with that. After all, I did the same when I run out of patience with them last year. And, as I constantly bang on about the power of the web to get things done, I’ll leave them there unless the commenters want them removed.

What I will say, though, is if you’re upset with British Gas’ customer service (and lawd knows this doesn’t appear to be an uncommon occurance), you might be better letting off steam elsewhere. There’s probably some excellent consumer forums out there where people will be able to give you advice on how to kick them into action. And, if British Gas has any sense, they’ll monitor these places. Again, I’ve no problem with you letting off steam here, but other than catharsis, it probably won’t be a great deal of help in getting the problem solved.

Also, just to clarify, this post is nothing to do with British Gas whatsoever. I *always* disclose if a blog post is the result of a PR pitch. This one isn’t. I just thought it was only fair, after ranting about them, that I should at least offer praise for them getting something right.

And to people who’ve emailed me asking if I think their problem is acceptable customer service, the answer is it probably isn’t. But beyond that I really can’t help. I’m not a gas engineer, I know absolutely nothing about boilers and I don’t work for British Gas. I can offer sympathy, given that I’ve been in similar situations, but nothing else.

Seriously, just because I’ve had one good experience and one bad experience with the company doesn’t mean I know everything about how the system works or am qualified to offer advice on your boiler. If you’re really having problems, try Energywatch or Ofgem, or They will probably be far more useful that I can ever be on this. Much as I’d love to fix you central heating, I really can’t.

Right, hope that clarifies stuff. Rant away, although if you’re being exceptionally abusive I may delete your comment. And I don’t reply to abusive emails, no matter what you think I’ve done to my non-existent sister.***


The weirdest thing I’ve read all week

Tim Worstall branded an online extremist and a threat to democratic debate after an argument about economics with Richard Murphy (that I won’t even begin to pretend to understand) gets a bit heated, and one person on Tim’s blog calls Richard some rather rude names.

Gawd alone knows there’s enough political bloggers who could be accused of being a bit suspect with the idea of a democratic debate and particularly nasty when it comes to (somewhat pointless) online spats, but Tim would probably be bottom of that list.

In the earlier days of blogging Tim was one of those people who did as much as anybody to try and bring the community together, largely through the Britblog Roundup, but also via various other initiatives. A lot of the stuff was a bit ahead of its time and would probably fall under the social media banner now – and he’s not even a PR, marketing or tech guy.

He’s also one of the very few (reasonably) high-profile bloggers I can think of who has earned himself regular writing gigs for most of the mainstream press at one point or another, and has kept the gigs going for a number of years. He’s also very quick to pounce on any kind of assault on civil liberties.

His politics may not be anywhere in line with my own but there’s no doubt the internet – and blogging in particular – would be a slightly poorer place if it weren’t for Tim.

The most bizarre bit of all is Richard stating that Comment Is Free (which both of them write for) is the best place to fight a war against online extremism. The abuse on CiF may be moderated, but it’s often far more vicious than anything Tim’s regulars post in his comments.

Fine, by all means try and sort out flaming (and other people have tried and failed) but at least start in the right area.

Bad PR: Coming to a Twitter feed near you

Another day, another Twitter application springs up. And while Tweet Manager looks useful, it’s also a somewhat dangerous, especially if used by PR agencies or companies  who know nothing about the web and social media. Or, worse still, think they know about social media.

On one hand, Tweet Manager is useful for the prolific Twitterers to manage their accounts. You can auto-post a Tweet at a pre-set time, set up an autoreply (useful for holidays) and manage multiple accounts.

The latter is especially useful for people who handle several brands or feeds across Twitter – or want to perhaps split their personal and professional Tweeting, while the pre-set Tweeting could be very useful in certain circumstances.

But it’s some of the other services that are, as Steven Davies, who first flagged this up, just asking for it. Namely mass messaging.

This feature enables you to send a message to up to 1,000 users at any one time. Again, there are times when it could possibly be useful (a major announcement perhaps) but it’s essentially the Twitter equivalent of sending out a mass mail press release, and probably much more annoying.

Then there’s auto-follow, where the application will follow anybody who Tweets a specific word.

This is already a pet irritation of mine – I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve followed me (probably after a TweetBeep alert) on the basis that I’ve Tweeted a keyword.

Example in point. Not so long ago I Tweeted that I’d had so many emails in a day, my BlackBerry’s vibrate function had caused the device to throw itself off the table. Almost immediately somebody who offered ‘BlackBerry solutions and training’ started following me. Thanks for that.

So, put them all together and it’s now easier than ever for PR people to start spamming Twitter and giving the rest of us a bad name.

Imagine the pitch – a PR agencies pitches to a brand, with no real knowledge or experience of social media. They tell the brand they can set up an account on the hot new site that the whole media is talking about: Twitter.

Not only that, they can also make sure that they track everybody who talks about their product and then hit them all with targeted info (read: mass message).

Brand goes away convinced they’ve cracked the internet. PR then spams the hell out of people who just happen to have mentioned the word, regardless of it they have any interest in the brand or not. You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Just *being* on Twitter is not social media. Autoposting and not engaging is not a social media strategy. They’re fine for news feeds (which in themselves are quite a useful thing to have on Twitter) but not for a genuine Web 2.0 strategy. And mass messaging definitely isn’t a social media strategy.

The sad thing is, there’ll probably be a few PR people and.or brands who genuinely think that they’ve now cracked Web 2.0 because they’re posting stuff on Twitter. And then there’ll be those who know they’re not but will do it anyway.

Ok, this isn’t a Demya-type service – and I’ve no doubt that Tweet Manager was built with the best intentions in mind (and they ask users to use the service responsibly), and it does have some useful features. But we’ve already got enough problems working out how to fix email and PR. Let’s not have to do the same with Twitter.

Gary Elsewhere

Soccerlens: Droylsden v Chesterfield may well be the strangest cup tie of 2008.

(And, yes, I know there’s a spelling mistake in the first paragraph. I had a bout of insomnia on Sunday night and only got a few hours kip, so that was written, and then left for two hours before being proofed by a very very tired Gary. This is why subs are just as important on the web, people).

A few of my favourite odds and sods to round off the year

Otherwise known as the lazy blog post of cultural stuff I’ve quite liked in 2008, namely film, TV and music.

Film-wise, 2008’s film of the year should, by rights, be The Dark Knight, which was fantastic in every way. But an understated Pinteresque [1] comedy that starred both Colin Farrell and racist dwarves was also equally as good and, as such, I can’t pick between them.

In Bruges should have probably been discarded the moment you mentioned Colin Farrell’s name in conjunction with comedy and existentialism. But then it’s just possible writer/director Martin McDonagh saw Farrell’s performance in the sadly underrated and little-seen Intermission and decided he’d be perfect for the restless, foul-mouthed, hyperactive naive first-time hitman Ray. And the film world, it can safely be said, is all the better for this casting decision.

In Bruges’ joy lay in the characters and the script, while the plot took a back seat. Watching Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s mismatched hitmen lay low and bicker in the boring but culturally rich city of Bruges while waiting for orders from their psycopathic boss (Ralph Fiennes) was one of the cinematic highlights of the year. It’s also not often you manage to get a film that has a very soft, sweet centre but such a hilariously profane script that manages to offend pretty much every minority and country, often in just one sentence.

On the flipside was Christopher Nolan’s brooding, intense masterpiece. Had this been a cop film, it would be a shoe-in for Oscars. As it is, it may still get one.

If Heath Ledger picks up posthumous awards then there’ll always be a suspicion that, well, the academy voted for him because he’s dead. But that takes nothing away from his performance as the Joker, which is thoroughly deserving of every accolade anybody wants to throw at him. While Christian Bale’s Batman takes a back seat, almost out of necessity, Ledger’s Joker steals the show completely to the point you’ll completely forget Jack Nicholson ever hammed it up under the facepaint.

Such a majestic graphic novel adaptation has been a long time coming (the first Hellboy probably got closest in the action stakes, with Ghost World leading the way elsewhere) and, with the Dark Knight, Nolan’s raised the bar so high that most other superhero films might as well give up now. Or at least wait a few years. Certainly it puts a lot of pressure on the forthcoming Watchmen film, as if there wasn’t enough already.

On the small screen, sports aside, there’s been one show that has stood head and shoulders above the rest. Britain may be a bit behind on getting Dexter, but it’s been worth the wait.

Michael C. Hall is perfect as the police blood splatter expert cum serial killer, while the scripts are gripping, tight and very playful indeed. It takes a lot to make you root for a serial killer, even one who only offs bad guys, but Dexter pitches the show exactly right – somewhere between extreme black comedy and taught police thriller. Season 2 has already been on FX but comes to terrestrial (ITV1) in the New Year. I’m halfway through it on DVD and it’s every bit as good as the first.

Finally, music wise, the album that’s rarely been off my iPod since I brought it: TV On The Radio’s Dear Science. A mixture of funk, downbeat, noodling experimental electronica and, finally after several albums that promised but never delivered, some tight, killer tunes. A masterpiece from start to finish. Here’s a quick clip of the band performing The Golden Age on Later…

[1] I’m not using this word just to show off I know about his stuff now that he’s dead (although I’ve studied a lot of Pinter in the past). Rather that the film really did remind me a lot of the Dumb Waiter.

Depressingly predictable

The Ahmedinejad Christmas speech caused ‘international offence‘. Granted, he’s not the most tolerant man in the world when it comes to certain sections of society but then neither’s the Pope, and nobody’s stopped him broadcasting his message on Christmas Day.

Funnily enough, those who’ve said this is a cynical grab for ratings probably reckon without the British public’s desire to watch ballroom dancing or Coronation Street as opposed to a somewhat nutty president of a Middle Eastern country.

If it’s been said once it’s been said x number of times, where x probably stands for any number you want it to. Creating a big hoo-hah will give it more publicity than just the initial number of viewers would have done.

You may not agree with him. I don’t. But then I don’t write in and complain every time something I’m not a fan of comes on the TV. Rather than jumping up and down and shouting “Ban it. I don’t like him. Not fair!” why doesn’t somebody actually fire back with a few witty reposites that neatly take apart his arguments. Just a thought, like.

And, as Tim W says, “you’d be hard put to find any Church of England bishop who would disagree with what is said (rather than the man who is saying it or his attitudes or actions outside this particular statement).”

Final word: Sunny from Pickled Politics, who I don’t normally agree with:

“I don’t burn a candle for Ahmedinejad – he is clearly a tyrant and a racist. But there’s two fronts on which I find arguments against this C4 stunt a bit hypocritical.

1) The first is this threat that Channel 4’s funding should be cut or curtailed because of this. BBC News reports:

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, a member of the all-party media group, said: “Channel Four has given a platform to a man who wants to annihilate Israel and continues to persecute Christians at Christmas time. “This raises serious questions about whether Channel 4 should receive an increased public subsidy for their programmes.”

Criticise Channel 4 all you like, but I find it fundamentally undemocratic that a broadcaster should be threatened financially for doing things the majority don’t like.

I thought these people wanted free speech? After all, MA isn’t saying anything racially inflammatory this time. Should I be burning my license fee in protest everytime the BBC invite Nick Griffin on television?”

Peace on earth and goodwill to all men and all that.

In other news, I got a recipe book for over 400 soups for Christmas. That’s far more exciting.

Hope everybody’s had a safe, happy Christmas. Normal service about where the media’s going and all that jazz, plus a few odds and sods on football teams you’ve never heard of, resumes later.

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December 2008

Throw letters together and send them to me

Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com