Nice One Orcon


317019_10150310135863188_76190173187_7703929_5794010_nWhy is it that the little things are so hard? Why do I really dislike credit departments? Do you know how yours talks to your customers?

So today I got home after a long but great day at the office. I found a ‘letter’ from Orcon saying that I had 5 days to pay my overdue account or risk getting my phone and Internet disconnected. I previously took up the option to pay by American Express to make sure that it was always paid on time, along with my power bill.

I rang Orcon and their credit department answered way faster than their support help desk ever has, less than a minute! I gave them my details and said I had received the letter and the person on the phone (Philippines accent I think) responded with “and when are you going to pay it?” I was taken aback. As far as I knew, it was always paid on time by Amex.

It transpired that my Amex card expired at the end of July, but I never received the replacement that American Express subsequently told me they had sent. I didn’t receive anything from Amex asking why the card had not been authenticated, nor did I receive anything from Orcon saying the account hadn’t been paid. I spend over a thousand dollars a year with Orcon, so at least a response like “How may I help you?” Rather than “when are you going to pay?” might have been nice.

So Orcon, I paid your account, that I didn’t know was overdue, on my Visa and American Express will no longer get a commission on that monthly transaction.

If you know that’s how your ‘Accounts Receivable’ treat your customers, you should also know that they don’t like it.

The last company that spoke to me like that was GE Money, through which I once bought a Canon SLR camera on 12 months interest free and was about 5 days overdue (because I didn’t get a reminder note from them). That was about 5 years ago and I have never used them again and told lots of people who follow me, my story.

Maybe it’s time to shop around and see what packages your competitors are offering, Orcon….. I’m sure my blog and social media followers would welcome my opinion. For everyone else, if you use 3rd party call centers, it’s a good idea to check them out as a customer once in a while and see how they are representing your business, because they are your front desk, especially if you don’t have a bricks and mortar presence.

How to Get an Honest Fare From a Cab Driver


There is an international conspiracy. I’ve said it before. They get all the people who want to be taxi drivers, to a secret location, indoctrinate them in how to milk a fare and then send them to countries they haven’t been to before and where hey don’t speak the local language. 

This morning I read a blog on Freakonomics, entitled Why Don’t More Professional Drivers Use Traffic-Enabled GPS?. It’s obvious isn’t it? They want to get the biggest fare out of you that they can.

One way to get an honest fare out of a cab driver is to agree on it in advance. That’s easy if you know what it is worth.

Airports

Airports

Airports are a prime opportunity and I’ve been ripped off in more countries than I can remember at airports. In New Zealand there is a great service called Air New Zealand Taxis. You can select from 14 airports, enter details like your start or end address, what flights you are taking and then select from a variety of taxi types. I note they even offer helicopter now, but I don’t think that’s an option for the budget conscious.

So you choose which mode of taxi you want and they guarantee to get you to the airport on time. You pay in advance and they even monitor the flight arrivals and departures so if your flight arrives a couple of hours late, your taxi driver will still be waiting for you holding up one of those cool board with your name on it.

If they make a mistake, as one did with me last year and overshoot your freeway exit and have to take a 15 km detour, it’s their problem, and doesn’t decrease the thickness of the lump in your back pocket (if you still carry folding).

Back to traffic. I have been a TomTom Go Live product user since they launched in New Zealand and Australia and it is awesome! It is good because they have good data derived from a combination of fleet managed vehicles (large numbers of them) and data from TomTom users. The GPS Car Nav PND’s have a SIM Card in them and get their data in real time (within seconds despite coming via Berlin). What makes it really powerful is the algorithms in the background that know how to interpret data.

I have been involved in car nav and the development of real time traffic in NZ and Australia and have worked with several brands of car nav. I have seen good systems and not so good systems. Now I must admit that my current TomTom is a little dated, but it has the latest map data. It’s probably time for me to do some testing of the latest devices and apps from various brands, but if you are wanting to know what the best device is for you, this blog is still worth a read.

Like a lot of guys, I believe I have a great sense of direction. However, I have learned that the GPS car nav is better at it than I am. It looks at all the possible ways I can go and pretty much every time I thought it was wrong, it was me that was wrong. It also keeps evaluating, when it has real time traffic. Often while I am driving, my TomTom tells me that I am still on the fastest route, or that there has been an incident and there is now an alternative route which will save me (x) minutes. I now trust it.

That doesn’t mean I trust all real time traffic apps. I have tested other apps in the past which interpreted normal rush hour traffic as an incident and led me to take a longer route which was unnecessary. There have also been times when I knew where I was going and didn’t bother using my TomTom with real time traffic to disastrous results,

So back to keeping the cabbie honest. The easiest answer is to take your trusted car nav application with you and tell the driver where you want him to go. Remember, you are the customer. If he isn’t happy with that, grab his taxi number, get out and find another one who is more trustworthy.

So, how about it? Tell me your taxi stories. I’m keen on the good, the bad and the ugly. Please share a comment. What real time traffic navigation  products have you used? How did you find them?

Why is Telecom Making 1500 staff Redundant?


telephoneTelecom is once again making a large number of staff redundant. According to Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran up to 1,500 people will lose their jobs. This is the result of a planned restructure, although Telecom is not prepared to confirm the numbers. My question is how did Telecom get to a position where they were so overstaffed? You don’t suddenly find you have 1,500 people more than you need on the payroll, do you? 

I started my career with Telecom as a Technical Service Officer back in the day when they had 26,000 staff and was part of NZ Post, which all changed back in the late 1980’s. I joined them because at school they taught us that the communications age was on us and I had a fascination for the future from the age of 7 or 8, reading the Science Fiction greats.

I went to Post Office Technical Training School on College Hill in Auckland and enjoyed a phenomenal education, covering all elements of technology from engineering and how transistors work, through to how exchanges work, management and people skills and everything in between. My training included working in the different types of telephone exchanges, working with fault-men, linesmen, cable jointers, engineers, radio and much more. I loved my job. I loved learning and was one of only two people over the years to score 100% in most of my exams.

I recognized early on though, that the ‘system’ that provided people with 40 year gold watch careers was fatally flawed and whilst the education was world class, HR was pretty much non existent. Promotion was based on a system called ‘Reporting’ where each year we were asked to rate, rank and comment our colleagues, who spent the month before, almost like politicians going to all the colleagues, saying “I’ll give you a good report if you do the same for me.”

PeterI saw totally incompetent people rise to the top of the flock, whilst others continued to work their 24 hour shifts who really should have been making the move into management, because they had the people skills, experience and the ability to take on senior decision making roles. That was my second experience of the Peter Principle, the problem was that it wasn’t one off, it was institutionalized. Telecom was an old school Government Department and whilst many of us worked very hard, those who didn’t want to, could graze on the effort of those who did. If the organisation was better managed and only staffed by people who wanted to work, we could have easily cut 5,000 from the staff without significant reduction in productivity.

I left Telecom at the time, because I wanted to grow into a management career, but I also wanted to be working in the industry with a company that was forward thinking and fortunately I found  7 year career opportunity at Tait Electronics, who I subsequently left to move to a more senior level in another ICT company.

After I left, Telecom made many of my colleagues redundant. 6 months later they found out they couldn’t function without their skills and brought many of them back as contractors (some of whom stayed for more than 10 years) on a significantly increased pay scale. They did the same jobs, but as self employed people, and it cost Telecom much more.

There seems to be, in my opinion, a major problem that creeps into corporates. The bigger they get, the more politics comes into play, just as it did back in the day. They become inefficient, decisions are often made in the interests of senior people, rather than in the interest of the company. They add on staff to grow empires and create division after division of people to fill roles that aren’t necessarily needed, often at the cost of other areas that are not well served.

Telecom spokesperson Andrew Pirie told Stuff that “while job reductions would occur across the board at Telecom, many of the cuts would be to middle management functions in administrative areas such as finance and human resources.” That begs the question of why there are so many people in those roles in the first place. I can understand that there could be a couple of dozen people in a company of that size that from time to time need to change roles, departments or as focus changes, may find their positions redundant. I have to ask though, how does a corporate get to a position where they have 1500 people more than they need?

Who is responsible to the shareholders and the staff for allowing this to happen? Are the shareholders asking questions as to why their share value is going down, if those staff were redundant, why were they employed? What has changed? The classic result then would be that someone will have to fall on the sword, but I think perhaps the discussion should start with Minister Steven Joyce asking some serious questions. Problem is, he’s still asking questions about Novopay. Don’t get me started on our education system. I’ll leave that for another day’s soap box about how we are paying lip service to the importance of the future of our children, tomorrow’s leaders and the teachers who we have been let down so badly, but continue to serve for the sake of the children.

So the good news is that Rod Drury of Xero and Ian McCrae of Orion Health are looking for quality staff and are struggling to find them here. The bad news is that Telecom is saying that most of the people being made redundant aren’t the ICT people that Rod and Ian want.

On Ray Kurzweil and Thinking


I was reading a current article by Ray Kurzweil in this month’s edition of The Futurist and it got me to thinking a little. Here are a few random synapse connections from me.

He talked about how the digital neocortex will be be much faster than my wet-ware and that the roughly 300 million pattern recognisers in our biological neocortex will allow us to think in the cloud, using billions or trillions of pattern recognisers.  The IQ part of my brain thinks this could be amazing, although I would worry about dendrite overload or glutamic acid over stimulation, which is associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s. It’s one thing to connect my brain or nervous system to additional memory, but to extend the processing in and out, is something that I think may require a lot of very careful study.

Earlier this week I wrote a blog about a potential future condition, Google Glasses Separation Syndrome. I recently introduced my daughter to the brilliant book, Flowers for Algernon which follows a similar thread. What happens when you expand a person’s capability to the point that it changes their existence and then potentially remove it again.

I noted that Ray perhaps doesn’t like driving very much because he talked about self driving cars alleviating the requirement of humans to perform the ‘chore of driving’. Sorry Ray, I love driving and so do a large percentage of the people I know. I appreciate that you now work for Google and they are pioneering driver-less cars, but I don’t want to live in a city where eventually the law requires hat the ‘network’ takes over my car. Yes there are benefits in road safety etc.  but with systems such as Fleet Management, MobilEye, and the incentives of PAYD Insurance the roads will become safer without requiring us to take our hands off the wheel.

So IBM‘s Watson won Jeopardy, cool. It is an amazing AI and I love that it is now being used to look for cure’s for cancer amongst other things. But if you start thinking about Watson, a digital neocortex and singularity, what about EQ? It’s one thing to be able to identify things, to be able to locate information, to be able to combine apparently disparate bits of data, but how about feelings, intuition, id and ego? These are the things that make us human.

I like where this is going, but I also want to keep that which is me. Watson might be able to write a hit song by understanding the formulas and this has been tried before. But the song I wrote about a boy whose father lost his job at the plant and asks Santa to find his dad a job, while his mother sits and cries in the bedroom, or the one I wrote about a guy who returns from a tour of duty in Iraq to find his best friend is now sleeping with his girlfriend, that brought tears to Desert Storm vets isn’t going to come from an AI. An AI may understand the chemical reactions of the brain and intellectually that these experiences can cause people to be sad.

The ultimate AI could use impeccable logic to say that humans are bad for the planet, they are frequently illogical, their emotions cause them to make bad decisions and basically shouldn’t be here. Perhaps when Watson really ‘thinks’ about cancer, it might determine that humans are in factor a cancer on this planet and should be booted down. Then we will be left with the singularity which will contain all information, ask why and then boot itself down because having access to all the information in the world, does not impart any meaning.

 

I’m Tired Of You Amex


At a quarter past 5 this morning, my phone started vibrating on my bedside cabinet. My wife stirred next to me, asking “What’s that?” At that time in the morning, in the middle of a REM state, your mind starts racing, your heart starts pumping and you’re thinking someone in your family is hurt, sick, in crisis.

Several times over the last year I have had battles with American Express charging me whopping late payment fees for my account. It transpires that we did automatic payments the day prior to the due date through the National Bank (now ANZ) but it typically took 3 or more days for the money to trickle through to Amex, even though our bank statements showed that we had made the payments on time.

We asked for explanations from the bank and from American Express and no one could explain. It just seemed to go into a black hole and of course no one really understands black holes yet, so they couldn’t explain where the money went, why it took so long, nor how a few days later it would appear, LATE, into our Amex account. Maybe it has something to do with cosmic string overnight cash rates, but if so, the interest certainly didn’t come to us to help pay with the late fee.

AmexSo we agreed with Amex that we would pay several days earlier than the due date (funny how they ping consumers when the average company takes 72 days to pay their 20th of the month accounts) and they put us on a text service where they would let us know when the account was due and when they received the payment.

Up until now those TXT messages came through at a reasonable hour, but this morning (maybe reduced fees for out of business hours SMS?) they decided to TXT me at 5:16 AM.

Well thanks Amex, I know you aren’t going to charge me a late fee. but I haven’t slept since you woke me up and have a long day ahead with important business meetings. I just want you to know that this is not cool or helpful, and I’m kinda annoyed. I’d ring you and try to wake you up, but I’m sure I’d end up talking to a nice person somewhere in the world where it is business hours.

Perhaps someone can look into your systems and think about putting in a few rules?

Will Bitcoin Become the new Cash?


I’ve written a number of times about mCommerce and digital wallets. Now we have loads of companies offering services for electronic payment. These include the Apple Passbook, and many apps using NFC or other means to exchange money. The key thing that joins the hundreds of apps available is that they are legitimately tied to credit cards and banks. As such they provide audit trails and of course tie the world economy together as much as that is possible.

In the future I have postulated that actual paper money will decline and potentially phase out. I could see that happening in New Zealand faster than many other countries. We only have a small number of banks and clearing houses and as such were able to be the first country to mass adopt EFTPOS in the retail environment. Many people no longer carry cash.

However there is of course the grey market and one of the challenges there, is that people who do not want their money transactions audited. There is a global economy like this. People who are paid under the table for their work, people who deal in illegal activities such as drug sales, stolen goods and others. There are also people who just want to opt out of the system or at least flip it the bird. Cash of course can work around the system easily, there is money laundering and people will accept cash for most things as I experienced a few years ago when I watched a guy buying a used Ferrari with folding money he pulled out of his denim jacket pocket.

Much of this money circulates around the system but not through it and this is a challenge if hard cash currency ceased to exist. Or is it.

Yesterday I was on my way to a Microsoft Cloud presentation (which I will blog about on one of my blogs) either SoLoMo Consulting, or Imersia). I was a little early, so I sat in my car and read the latest awesome TNW Magazine on my iPad. Its a great magazine which I recommend you read if this blog is of interest to you, because it is the Money issue. There I learned about Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is “Bitcoin is an experimental new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world. Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority: managing transactions and issuing money are carried out collectively by the network. Bitcoin is also the name of the open source software which enables the use of this currency.”

Effectively here is no bank, no fees, no audit trail. There are all sorts of businesses, even retailers, who will accept payment in Bitcoins just as businesses accept payment in other forms of money, such as Bartercard Dollars. The difference again of course is that Bartercard still connects to the banks, has an audit trail and the Governments continue to collect their taxes.

Ultimately my question is, will Governments allow this sort of  “experimental currency” to continue? Can they stop it? It appears to already have a massive following. You can buy a coffee with it, you can play poker with it. There are sites where you can buy and sell Bitcoins such as Mt. Gox and there ar others too, although I noted that one of those has dissapeared and I noted a story there that Barclays had stopped allowing people to trade with them.

So what happens if the authorities stop Bitcoin? (assuming Google or someone else don’t buy them, but Bitcoin does seem to have an anti-establishment feel to it, but it could be all about the money).  Well there is also Dwolla,  LibertyReserve, and a host of other systems. I suspect that as cheap smartphones gain mass adoption in the blue collar world, there will be more interest and demand for ways to continue to do ‘cash deals’ without cash.

Futurists are talking about the Local-Global Duality with shifting borders and changing geopolitical landscapes. The one thing keeping us together as countries, or pulling us apart is money. Financial institutions and Governments  are struggling to maintain a status quo that will keep countries running. As countries grow deeper in debt after the GFC people rush to take their money out of the banks for fear of losing it altogether, which in turn intensifies the crisis.

Farmville Tractor

ex

I’m not saying I agree with currencies like Bitcoin. I still want my roads and infrastructure, order and safety in my community. I believe that one way or another money from illegal activity still works its way back in, like the guy I watched buying a car for over $30,000 in folding. I do suspect however that we will see a proliferation in ‘currencies’ like this in the future. I also suspect that the criminal elements in our societies could be the ones with the most to gain from them, but also that there will be many scams which will be developed to trick people in giving up real money for virtual currency which they will never be able to repatriate. Silly really, when they can legally create computer games and sell virtual stuff and pay tax on legally earned activity with much less risk.

Orcon I Was Wrong


I’ve had more than my share of troubles with my ISP, Orcon in the past and I haven’t been slow in coming forward sending them brickbats.

I thought this was another of those occasions when I checked my account and it was quite a bit over what I expected. The PDF of the accounts didn’t show why and I didn’t think to check on-line  which I could have done, because the amount I was being charged appeared to be about the same as I was paying before I signed up to a new plan.

I didn’t call them about it straight away because I had spent so much time in the past waiting for their call centre to answer and if there is one thing I can’t stand it is waiting in a queue listening to musak, ads and being told that my call is important.

Yesterday I received an email asking me to respond to an on-line survey and thinking they were in the wrong, I gave them 2 out of 10 for service and explained why.

Today I was delighted to receive a phone call from the call centre on my mobile, discovered that the invoices were in fact correct, I had gone over my data cap of 30GB, but not enough that I should go to a higher plan. I also switched to a new plan that was slightly better than the one I was on and cancelled a service I no longer require.

So while I have no problem in complaining when I feel I’m getting a raw deal, I also want to compliment them on their quick response. I didn’t expect a call at all and I was really impressed with the prompt and friendly service. So this time, thanks Orcon. 10 out of 10.

Now if you wouldn’t drop the connection momentarily from time to time when I’m on-line playing poker and am going all in on a monster hand and playing for real money I would not only be happy, I’d be over the moon.