Misplaced priorities

If I want to sign up to any given mailing list, the first thing I have to do, after giving them my email address, is click the link in the confirmation email they send so they know that
a. I typed my email address correctly
and
b. I actually want to be subscribed to that mailing list

On the other hand, if I want to create an account on, ooh, let’s say Amazon for example, apparently all I have to do is fill in the @&!#ing form. No validation whatsoever.

In other words: I am now getting emails from Amazon India to my GMail account.

Would you like to guess how much use the first-level Amazon UK customer service representatives are at helping resolve this?

Temporary residents

Guinea pigs

Just pootling around on Sunday morning when the doorbell rang. It was our neighbour.

“My cat regularly brings me mice, but he’s brought something different this time. Can you help me identify them?”

Somewhat cautious, but a lot curious, I followed her next door and upstairs to the bedroom where her daughter lived until she moved out just a week ago. And there, in an open tank in the wardrobe, were two tiny balls of fluff. Very very tiny. But unmistakably… guinea pigs.

A quick look over revealed that one had a scratch on its head, but they were otherwise — physically at least — unharmed.

My neighbour explained that she had heard squeaking at around five that morning and had gone downstairs to find her evil black cat playing with the first of them; she took it away from him, put it safe, and went back to bed. The cat, obviously annoyed, went out and came back two hours later with the second, which she also rescued. At some point there had been a third, though the cat must have tired of playing as the only evidence of that one was a lone leg.

I don’t, or at least didn’t, know much about guinea pigs — they weren’t one of the creatures I considered when I originally researched what pets would be best for us to keep — but I did have a feeling that the milk and bread she’d given them wasn’t right — so I offered to take them, clean up the scratch and do a bit of research as to what they needed. I also put a lost and found notice up on Streetlife and tweeted about them, just in case someone knew someone who was short some baby guinea pigs.

I had grossly overestimated their age, assuming that they were born pink, hairless and helpless like other rodents. Oh so wrong.

Guinea pigs are born fully-furred, mobile, and able to eat solid food from day one

So, rather than being a couple of weeks old, they were no more than a couple of days old.

My neighbour made noises about taking them back, but knowing that she was about to go out for several hours and that she knew less than I did about their care, I said that I was happy to keep an eye on them.

We got some goats milk and I begged a scoop of guinea pig nuggets from the local pet shop and with hand feeding every hour or two I managed to keep them alive.

And they were still alive the following morning. Even better, the one with the scratch, who was unsurprisingly in shock yesterday, had perked up immensely and was eating well. The other one had decided to be distressed whenever I took the first out for feeding and demonstrated the guinea pig alarm call; it’s surprising how loud a sound can come from a tiny bundle of fur. After keeping rats who only ever squeak when they’re annoying each other, it was weird to have these creatures be so vocal.

Guinea pig noises are utterly adorable

Social media had failed to find their owner so the chance of returning them to their mum was vanishingly small; we’d even tried knocking on a few doors in the area, but no joy. Now the important thing was to find someone who could look after them properly. Time was ticking. While I was prepared to look after them, we were going away for a wedding later that week and that was a deadline that could not be moved.

Someone on Streetlife had suggested talking to a nurse at the local Blue Cross who keeps guinea pigs, but, it being a bank holiday, there was no answer.

I had come across Furry Friends Animal Rescue some time ago, so I dropped them an email to see if they would be able to help. They said yes, but also gave me the name and number of a woman who runs a guinea pig rescue and is closer to me than they are.

One quick phone call later and we had a home for them. We hopped on a train and, within an hour of phoning her, handed over the little fluffballs. It hasn’t been the best start in life for them, but at least they have a chance now with someone who knows what they’re doing.

Google Account: sign-in attempt blocked

[Note: I am too depressed by the general election to even begin to talk about it, so instead I’m having a rant about tech companies’ inability to communicate usefully.]

Every now and again I get an email from Google with the subject “Google Account: sign-in attempt blocked”.

We recently blocked a sign-in attempt to your Google Account.

Okay. Want to tell me why? No?

Sign-in attempt details
Date & Time: Friday, 8 May, 3:16 p.m. BST
Location: London, UK

Well, I am in London and several devices are powered up here.

If this wasn’t you

Not really enough information here to be able to tell one way or another. Was the sign-in attempt on the Google website? From my email client (on phone, iPad or iMac)? Or maybe my feed reader refreshing in the background as that uses Google as a login? Any hints?

Please review your Account Activity page at https://security.google.com/settings/security/activity to see if anything looks suspicious.

Google wants me to work out whether something was suspicious. When it has presumably already decided that it was suspicious, given that it blocked the attempt…

Whoever tried to sign in to your account knows your password; we recommend that you change it right away.

Oh! So this was a person trying to get into my account. Bugger.

If this was you

Again… Give me something to go on so I can tell if it was or not…

You can switch to an app made by Google such as Gmail to access your account (recommended)

So… It was an app? I’m confused… And how about a link to a page with information about apps made by Google? Just a thought.

or change your settings at https://www.google.com/settings/security/lesssecureapps so that your account is no longer protected by modern security standards.

Well that sounds like a jolly fine idea. NOT. And that linked page? On it there is just a warning that this will make your account vulnerable and an option to turn “Access for less secure apps” on and off. I’m not sure what else I want to see here, but somehow there should be something.

To learn more, see https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/6010255.
Yours sincerely,
The Google Accounts team

That support address at the end? At first glance that looks like it might have some useful information. It even lists some apps that don’t have “modern security standards”. Like the iPhone Mail app on iOS 6 or below (we’re on iOS 8 now)… It also says that I should see a “password incorrect” message when they block an app. Nope. Never seen that. The rest of it is just a repeat of the “get a Google app or turn off security” advice in the email.

After reading the email, I go to the Account Activity page and, yay, there is more detail.

For a start it tells me the IP address the access attempt was made from. Why on earth isn’t this information in the email along with the date and time? Seriously, this one piece of information would immediately avoid any panic, as, so far, it has always been my home IP address. So yes, it was me or one of my devices.

It also tells me that “Google blocked a less secure app from accessing your account.” So, not a person who knows my password then. An app. An app that apparently cannot be identified, even though it is almost certainly Apple mail on either my iPhone or iPad. But of course, the type of device the request came from can’t be identified either.

I’m starting to think the problem is Google’s, not mine.

I’m also not sure which I’m more annoyed about: the useless scaremongering email or the fact that, according to the activity page, Google has blocked a whole bunch of other (unidentified app/unidentified device) accesses in the last week and not bothered to tell me!

I’m all for online services keeping an eye on login activity, watching out for anything that looks a bit dodgy, and letting the user know when they spot something. But if the contact with the user is unclear (app? person?), doesn’t give all the relevant information (IP address and BTW it was an app) and gives confused instructions (change your password now, oh, was it you?), then they might as well not bother. A lot of people will either just panic at the mention of blocked sign-in attempts or will ignore it completely because they don’t understand it or are too frustrated to try and figure it out.

Communicating technical information to people is hard, especially when you don’t know their level of expertise. You don’t want to confuse people who just know how to use the apps they need, and you don’t want to treat people who are technical as though they know nothing. And you can’t assume that either group will be prepared to research past the information in the email you send them. So, yes, it is difficult. But it is vital to get it right, especially when you’re dealing with security issues.

Catch-up

Wow… Far too long since I posted here. Longer than I thought it was. In my (partial) defence, I have been busy creating another blog for my cardmaking endeavours and that took far more time than I might have hoped. Still, it’s done now and, as much for my reference as for anyone else, I now have an archive of all the cards I made in the last eight months.

Add in much bouncing around the health service, followed by the general stress of Christmas and the New Year (not my favourite time of year) and I have completely failed to get focused enough to give you an update on Rocket and Rommie, and I’ve not even mentioned the new littlies: Quorra and Yori. So that’s two blog posts I shall be working on. And I really must take the time to try and get some decent photos of the girls as well. And update the ratties page. And…

Finish each day

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. – Ralph Waldo […]

Debenhams: How not to do customer service #3

Still no delivery – colour me shocked – so I used their email contact form to ask where it is and whether anyone was actually trying to resolve the problem. And, yes, I did know the answers to both those questions when I asked them.

Three days later a reply arrives.

I am sorry to hear that your order has still not arrived in store for you to collect. 

Why don’t I believe that? Maybe it’s something to do with the general level of insincerity I have encountered combined with the apparent inability of any of your customer service representatives to actually do anything.

After further investigation I can confirm that unfortunately your order appears to have been lost in transit.

I was pretty sure it had been lost in transit the first time I called you, three weeks ago. And it’s not as though this was CityLink or UPS or a.n.other courier’s fault: this is you sending an item within your own network. It only had to get to my local Debenhams store.

Due to this I have now issued a full refund. Please allow 3 – 5 days for this to appear in your account. 

Thank you for giving me my money back, you’ve only had it for a month. And thank you for checking with me before cancelling the order. You may note an element of sarcasm here.

Regrettably we are unable to send replacement items at the present time. 

Seriously? You must be the only retailer on the planet who cannot send out a replacement order when something has been lost. 

If you still wish to receive the original item ordered, please visit www.debenhams.com and place a new order.  Alternatively, please contact us on 08445 616161 where an advisor will be happy to place the order on your behalf.

Yes, I will go and re-order the same item for substantially more than its original sale price. And I will believe that this order will arrive unlike the other one.

Oh, sorry, no I won’t.

I have ordered from small companies, medium-sized companies and large companies and I cannot think of any that has given me worse customer service than Debenhams even when, or, rather, especially when, things have gone wrong.

And I am still boggling at the idea that they cannot send replacement items.

Debenhams: How not to do customer service #2

Annoyances” or “I’m frustrated already, don’t make it worse

  • Be consistent
    Have consistent and accurate information in all your communication, whether on the website, by email or on the phone: there should be one fixed period of time after which an order is considered lost.
  • Communicate
    When your order confirmation email says “to keep you up-to-date on the progress of your order you’ll receive regular order status updates” make sure that that happens. That was the last status email I received. Eighteen days ago.
  • Track delivery
    You know when or if an order has been delivered. Do not automatically send me an email requesting that I “review [my] recent purchase” ten days after I ordered it; I would love to review my purchase but you’ll have to deliver it first.
  • Be relevant
    Don’t check the stock level at the delivery store, announce that the item is in stock there, and then tell me that I would have to buy it again as they can’t use that stock to fulfil the order. It’s a pointless and useless piece of information that serves only to frustrate me further.
  • Be sincere
    For your sake and mine. If you simply parrot your apologies and repeat how the system won’t let you do anything, all the while sounding as though you’d like nothing better than to hang up on me, I will, perversely, keep you on the phone until I am utterly bored of explaining exactly how unhappy I am.

Debenhams: How not to do customer service #1

Consistency” or “when should I contact customer services?

I place an order online for collection from store.

The order confirmation email says to contact customer services if I don’t get an email notifying me of delivery within the estimated delivery time. The estimated delivery time, according to the website, is four working days.

After five working days I email customer services. The reply says to contact customer services if the order hasn’t arrived after ten working days from the order being placed.

After ten working days I phone customer services. The system “won’t let” the customer service representative do anything until eight working days after the order was despatched. The order wasn’t despatched until five working days after the order was placed.

Eight working days after it was despatched I call customer services. There was a meeting yesterday where they clarified the policy so that the rule is now eight working days from when the order was placed. Though whether this will be reflected in the emails they send out is anyone’s guess.

And what do they offer to do when the four ten thirteen eight working days have passed and it still hasn’t arrived? Refund and re-place the order thereby starting the process all over again.