Customer Service and AA Insurance


ImageSome nice person hit my car some time in the last few days, whilst it was parked unattended. I’m not sure where it was, probably in a supermarket car park. No note or apology, they obviously didn’t feel any remorse. This is what it looked like. The hole at the top isn’t my exhaust, it’s where one of my fog lights was mounted before the bracket got smashed in the impact.

Anyway, I rang AA Insurance, got answered within a minute, by a Kiwi in Auckland, I’m not joking! If you have rung a call centre recently, you have probably (as I have with other companies, not to be named here, but you can find them in this blog) waited for anything from 20 minutes to an hour, listened to repetitive Muzak  advertisements and soothing statements of how your call is valued and thank you for waiting.

We went through the obligatory security questions, talked about the incident, some brief friendly conversation with an operator who was very friendly and empathetic, I listened to the honesty statement and agreed that I was being truthful and understood that this was being recorded. I was then told all my options, claim number and what to do next. From the time to picking up the phone to hanging up, feeling pleased despite the stress of the accident and knowing I was going to be without my car for a week, took less than 5 minutes.

This morning, as per the appointment, I took my car to the AA Insurance depot, met with one of their friendly efficient team, had the car assessed, at the time of my appointment, on the dot, paid my excess (ouch, would have been less if I had details of who had dented my car and wallet) and 5 minutes later was in a complimentary taxi back to my office.

I am not used to getting customer service like this. It is that rare that I felt I wanted to share my story and my endorsement. Not only did I get great service, it didn’t take long, I didn’t have to wait and I felt like they cared about me. Generally the experience with large corporates, utility companies and insurance companies seems like they are super friendly when they are signing you up and after that they don’t have time for you.

Its not over yet, I am without my car for a week, but when it comes back, I have a lifetime guarantee on the workmanship and they will have my ongoing loyalty. Just  a footnote, people do business with people and providing great caring service is the best form of marketing. It’s rare enough for me to make the effort to share this story. Thanks again AA Insurance.

Air NZ Customer Service


I was going to blog about 3D Bio-Plotting today and if this is of interest to you, bookmark or subscribe to the RSS feed. This is going to be a very exciting disruptive technology that has the potential to have a huge impact on our life expectancy and the health industry.

In my last blog I wrote about how John Donahoe, CEO of eBay has a good understanding of what business eBay is in and it isn’t helping people buy and sell things online, or about their recent purchase of Red Laser for comparison shopping.

I wonder if Air New Zealand really understand what their business is at times. If you read their Vision Statement and Guiding Principles, it doesn’t say anything about the travel experience, or about the social relationship with customers or being the facilitator of people’s dreams. In fact a lot that Air New Zealand does is about that, but at times they seem to lose track of that and of course their major focus is on delivering a dividend to their share holders. The bottom line is people do business with people, like me. Individuals who have feelings, not just bums on seats as they say in the hospitality business.

In What Would Google Do, by Jeff Jarvis, still one of my favorite books, this is what he says about airlines:

Air travel’s business model today is based on overselling seats, billing us for checking bags, charging us for pillows and pretzels and just about everything they can think of but air………………. Does that sound familiar. I know it is hard to run an airline profitably, but as someone who has traveled around the world at least a dozen times, there have been many years where I spent 4 months of the year travelling, I understand that traveling is stressful and tiring and little things like being stuck in transit at San Francisco Airport for 8 hours because the Air NZ counter doesn’t open till 90 minutes before the flight and they don’t have an interconnect deal with their partner Lufthansa can be frustrating. They don’t engender loyalty, which I can assure you cost them a lot of money from me from time to time. I have also declined the two invitations to take out an Air NZ Platinum American Express Card. Why would I support an organisation like that, which doesn’t put me first?

Anyway, I started this blog because of frustration over my latest experience with Air New Zealand. Now I have to say that all the people I have spoken to at their service center have been friendly and polite and helpful to a point. But they fall down on some simple things like detail.

So here’s what happened. Last year my wife an I booked flights to Sydney to attend a wedding in Hunter Valley. Prior to the wedding, we were told that my father in law had weeks to live as he had a recurrence of cancer that he was not going to beat. We had to cancel the flight for which we paid $944.20 including taxes and Air NZ said that due to compassionate grounds they would hang on to our money and allow us to rebook at a later date within 12 months, which we thought was reasonable.

I re-booked in January for a trip at the end of this month (I have flown with Air NZ a number of times since then including a trip to Rarotonga in October). I gave my credit card details for the $150 re-booking fee (for 2 of us). Yesterday I went to print off the tickets and organize travel insurance and there was no email. I rang the call centre to find out why and after being transferred and disconnected and waiting a while to speak to someone again, I was told that the flights had been cancelled because they hadn’t been paid for. I was flabbergasted. I gave her my credit card details on the spot, but on checking yesterday, my card account had not been debited. I have already paid in advance for accommodation and we had both applied for leave etc and made arrangements to meet friends over there etc.

Anyway, the nice friendly chap I spoke to went and spoke to his supervisor and apparently, they can still get us on the same flights, but it would now be more expensive for the transfer fee of the tickets. They wanted to talk to the call center person who arranged the booking for us and she is not back until Monday, so they will get back to me on Monday or Tuesday.

So here’s the thing. I have no certainty for one or two more days that I will in fact get those flights and I may have to pay more for my tickets than the extra $150 which in itself would mean that we are paying $1,094.20 for 2 return flights to Sydney from Auckland, at the same time that Flight Center is offering one way tickets for $79 plus taxes (including one bag) at their travel expo.

I can’t believe that the supervisor couldn’t have just authorized the deal on the spot and taken my credit card details once again. What does it cost them for their time to document the discussions, chase the previous consultant who I believed had booked my flights, confirm back to the consultant who I spoke to yesterday and then have him ring me on my mobile to hopefully tell me they will honor the arrangement we had made in the first place. My cost is of course stress for myself and my wife as to whether we will be on the flights booked, that we won’t lose the money we prepaid for accommodation and so on, and it certainly sours our anticipation of a nice little holiday.

On top of that Air New Zealand have had the use of just under a thousand dollars of our money for free for a year. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper and more expedient to just say, sorry, something has gone wrong here, we can’t explain it, but if you will give us your credit card details again, we will send you a confirmation email in around 15 minutes. We hope you enjoy your trip with Air New Zealand. Then I would be writing a blog saying how wonderful and caring Air NZ was, even after they had clearly slipped up. It’s been my experience that often its not the problem but the way it is dealt with that makes all the difference. Frequently when a company has a problem and deal with it well, they will end up with more loyal clients than they would have had if the problem had not occurred in the first place.

OK, I’ve had my vent and will let you know if Air NZ fix things for me or not.

In the meantime, what about your experiences with airlines. What do you think of their visions and their customer service? Do you feel they have a good balance between customer service and shareholder satisfaction? Are you loyal to a particular airline? Why?

I’m almost off Orcon 696 reconnections since 23 June!


As I am writing this my home has no landline phone, we can’t call and can’t be called.

In April we got a DM in the mail saying that Orcon was now able to offer ADSL2 from our local phone exchange through Orcon and that they had an awesome deal to offer us.

The catchy DM letter was signed by Scott Bartlett, the CEO and was full of promises such as:

“Quite simply, we’re not like other phone companies. The’re more than happy to offer an average service to as many people as possible.”

“At Orcon we’re the opposite. We choose our customers very carefully, then go out of our way to deliver truly ourstanding product performance ………………….”

Not only was I being chosen, but if I signed up before the end of May I would get a free modem / wireless router and a 2 for one pass to the movies for a whole year! This deal looked too good to be true, but I looked at their ownership from Kordia whom I have dealt with for business in the past and so I signed up to the top plan. I am a heavy internet user with my songwriting, poker playing, blogging, photography and so on, basically I am a geek. The Platinum Plan for $120 a month would give me 25GB of data at great speeds, free national toll calls and one country of international calls free for up to an hour per call, sounded like heaven.

If I remember rightly I signed up mid week and got emails to confirm that it would all be up and running in a couple of days and not to worry about anything, they would cancel the old account and everything would be amazingly wonderful.

Thursday afternoon I get a phone call from my wife saying that the phone was dead and that I needed to rush home because there was a major family health crisis and the likelihood that a family member might not make it through the night. I rang the Orcon Help Desk before I left home and the response was like, thankyou for telling us, we will refer this to the technicians and we should have your phone on by Wednesday next week. I just about hit the roof and was in real emotional distress when I rang Orcon again when I got home and asked for a supervisor. The response was sorry but the supervisor isn’t in the room right now, I’ll get them to call you back. So I gave them my mobile and waited for the call. It never came so I rang back again after an hour or so and was told, sorry but the technicians and everyone that could help you have gone home and there is nothing we can do right now. We will get back to you. Brilliant.

In desperation the next morning I emailed Scott, having found his details on the net and got a call from his PA who was awesome, she arraged for redirection of the landline to my mobile so we could at least get through the family crisis. Some of the people who needed to talk to us didn’t know our mobile numbers.

Anyway, eventually it was all connected and life was going to be amazing, the speed was awesome, I was able to upload my songs to my web sites in no time flat. All I needed now was the movie tickets to arrive and my faith in Orcon was restored. On that note it is now almost August and the movie tickets haven’t arrived, but given the rest of the sorry saga, that is just par for the course.

I play poker 2-3 times a week and am doing well, in fact this Saturday I a playing in the regional championships having qualified over a 3 month period of evening tournaments. I noticed that during games and sometimes doing music uploads etc that the connection was dropping. I lost out on a couple of major games including a qualifier for the World Series Of Poker, having beaten more than 2000 people in the first qualifier. In the middle of the qualifying game, when I had bet most of my chips, my net disconnected and my cards were automatically folded taking all my chips. This became a regular exercise.

Since May I have made numerous phone calls to Orcon, had 2 technicians come and check out the phone lines, disconnected all my phones from the jack points, reconnected them again, rebooted the modem, disconnected the modem, pulled the plugs out, replaced line filters and then the same all over again.

Now I must say here also that I am no dummy. I qualified as a Technical Service Officer with Telecom, I have written books’ lectured around the world and represented both Telecom and Vodafone as a wireless computing consultant and am a Past President (elect) of the NZ Wireless Data Forum. I owned and ran the NZ SmartPhone and PDA Academy and have been considered an expert in mobile data communications.

In desperation I emailed the CEO again and someone called me and started the process again and got a 3rd technician to come in.They found some corrosion at the local cable box and we started again. Fortunately on the last visit the problem happened while the tech was here so he could see what was happening. Eventually towards the middle of this month they replaced the port at the exchange and things improved.

They never called me back or told me what was going on, each time they wanted to start the process over again and I had to tell them to go and read the notes on their CRM, once they couldn’t even do that because their servers had crashed. Hey I’ve been in ITC most of my career so I know shit happens.

Just on this issue, here’s a quote from their website:

Reliability
Orcon has always believed in developing good systems and excellent people. Over the years we have focused on building one of the most stable and reliable systems in New Zealand, and the more we grow, the more control we have over key services. We constantly examine the current setup, looking to see how we can improve our reliability.

Is it that bad or am I being a whinger and anyway your playing games, I mean really it’s not like its that important (If you were playing a game for $1,000 and you lost the game because your internet connection dropped repeatedly, how would you feel), well you decide.

From June 23 (6 weeks or so after I first complained of this problem) to today according to Orcon’s reports, my internet connection has had to reconnect 696 times!

Now read this from their web site if you are still with me.

Monitoring reliability
Reliability and excellent system practices are only as good as your monitoring. We have three dedicated servers, whose sole job is to ensure that connection speeds between machines and response times from our network meet strict guidelines that we have mapped out. If these aren’t met – say for example, a server response time is not quick enough, all our technicians’ cell phones are instantly contacted by the monitoring computer, supplying details of what might contribute to possible faults.

We have developed systems to monitor helpdesk calls. If more than a certain percentage of calls are of one particular nature, technicians are notified and the event is thoroughly investigated.

My wife wants me to give up and go back to Telecom, she doesn’t care about the movie tickets, she feels very uncomfortable without the phone working, especially as we are expecting to become grandparents in the next 2 weeks. Not everyone has our landline number and of course to call our landline if it works is free.

Everyone has problems from time to time and I judge a company generally by how they resolve the problem. Orcon has had nearly 3 months. The disconnections have reduced, we even had one day a few days ago without disconnections, but we hardly used it that day either. This to me is a systemic failure of all their systems and If I don’t get satisfaction soon, I might be tempted to take them to task on failing to honor their commitments and failing to deliver on their promises.

Are you thinking about moving to Orcon? I’m wishing I hadn’t.

P.S. If you want to ring me, don’t bother with the landline, they still haven’t fixed it.