Monday 28 February 2005

Presence without essence - Internet

Snail mail, no call

I just received mail in the post from a renowned retail and catalogue services concern in the Netherlands with an Internet presence [1]. The contents suggested that I call to arrange when I would be available to receive my order.

Such communication should not be strange; it does have an element of customer service which until quite recently was not to be expected in the Netherlands.

It can only mean that organisations are implicitly working on some other aspect of their business model and fabric that allows for their employees in the customer-facing departments to feel a little more involved as representatives of their organisation and a very interesting touch of shared responsibilities.

However, this mail came about when I was shopping around for some exercise equipment, this time, an exercise bicycle having already acquired the Total Gym XL and the Ab Burner which is usually advertised as the Ab King Pro.

The history of my desires for a perfect body over the laid-back approach of easy-living without the complications and vain-glorious hedonism is not too well documented, but work is apace at getting fitter and looking better. Suffice it to say, the gym on the second floor of my apartment block has been visited thrice, however, not in any attempt to break any sweat, even though aerobics presents an interesting spectacle.

Left in the pre-history of e-Commerce

The issue on view here is the number of companies that have an Internet presence but have not fully inculcated the essence of being on the Internet, having a web present and offering opportunities to transact business with them.

The first observation was months ago when having observed what the Ab King Pro does for working on the abdominal muscles on one of those ubiquitous and at times utterly loathsome shopping channels [2], I went to their web site and placed an order.

Having been an Internet user since 1994, I have been rather confident of Internet transactions since 1996 when I could book flights on the British Midland site then called - it was awfully nice to be able to eliminate completely the middleman and enjoy the convenience of seeing all the options and making your own choices to your particular convenience. The foray into e-commerce in its infancy encouraged my subsequent activities of conveniently preferring the Internet ordering system to the calling the customer service or sales desk.

I had inadvertently mistyped my credit card details, which eventually turned out to be convenient, because having placed the order, it offered no record of the transaction on screen or by email, even though that transaction had successfully registered an email message to their sales department. Basically, on the tip-off of a friend the gym kit was obtained for about a quarter of the price at a retail outlet [3] having done the requisite research on the Internet.

Premium call deterrent

In fact, the charges for calling the premium rate number are outrageous; where the possibility of keeping you connected for over 30 minutes is likely, with 20 of those minutes being on a waiting queue because all sales people are engaged. When you finally get connected to the "friendly" sales person, just hope that you can both agree on a language for your dialogue and that what you are ordering is what is being offered. Once before after waiting over two and a half hours, I was put back in the queue because he spoke Dutch, I spoke English - How is that for communication breakdown?

Unreasonable form options

Anyway, I made this order on the company's web site, only to find out that there was no means of payment, rather someone was going to call me to arrange delivery. There was a restriction of only allowing fixed line phone numbers rather than mobile numbers which offer a sense of contactable ubiquity. Eventually, a letter arrived rather than the call a good seven working days after.

What is most irksome about this is I now take the cost of the phone call they were supposed to make and probably for all their Internet presence; I would have to pay at the doorstep when the goods are delivered. In arranging a window for delivery which at times is based of a 4-hour morning or afternoon, I am prepared to be surprised if they offer evening deliveries at no additional cost.

Aspiring but despairing

The most amusing of these Internet presences without essence firms was a personal computer firm; it took the best part of 2 weeks to adequately shop around for a laptop. What was quite striking about it was the fact that it was nigh on impossible to walk out of over 8 PC shops with a ready-built computer, everything required a waiting period of days in some instances.

I then decided on the convenience of Internet-shopping for a laptop and did get one of the best specifications I could find. As I placed the order I suddenly realised the order had been confirmed without a means of payment. Then I called the firm only to be told I could pay at the door. That was plainly and utterly inconvenient for the risks and circumstances.

With much persuasion we agreed on making a bank transfer, and then the parcel arrived through the regular parcel delivery service. Having gotten the impression that a company courier would deliver the laptop and collect the payment at the doorstep, they used the regular post.

Ideas should fit in your strategy

In conclusion, it is evident that those who have jumped on the e-commerce bandwagon, did so without securing a think-through of what they intend to achieve by having a web presence. The concept of basic web presence is now Internet pre-history, the Ice Age of thawing of innovation just before the dawn of the DotComs.

If a company is interested in engaging customers in an interactive choice-driven environment that allows them to make quality decisions on products of interest, then they should complete the process by offering the full experience of convincingly ordering, knowingly paying and confidently expecting service of those orders or requests.

Just being a supermarket style trolley which never gets to the check-out till is no fun to either the buyer or the seller. The start-up of an e-commerce business could incur large initial costs, but once the audience and marketplace is established, it is still no operation for the faint hearted.


[1] Wehkamp [2] Telsell [3] Perry Sport [4] Computerland 

Wednesday 23 February 2005

A full circle of consequence

To the present
I have been ruminating about how to tie up the loose ends that made the year 2004 such an eventful, turbulent, interesting and ground-breaking year.
If you have been a follower of my blogs, the year started on both a cynical and anxious note.
Cynical by reason of the fact my manager exhibited every trait of management except one that included responsibility, integrity and leadership, the event are quite vividly played through the months starting from May to when I finally left the employ of that company at the end of July.
Anxious as a result of what I read out of Tom Peter's book Re-Imagine! [1]. Getting close to 40 and after working 15 years in all manner of Information Technology roles was I up for the COBOL graveyard and ready for a new lease of innovative influence?
The real question being; how do I avoid the former and attain the latter?
My life at work had become a sordid tale exemplified in this major rant by Tom Peters.
My overall rant, in brief: People … in enterprise and government … are by large well intentioned. They’d like to get things done. To be of service to others. But they are thwarted … at every step of the way … by absurd organizational barriers … and by egos of petty tyrants (be they corporate middle managers, or army colonels, or school superintendents).[2]
Even you might begin to nod your head to that.
The youth are coming to make you irrelevant
The realities that present themselves signify that a younger generation is picking up these skills faster, better, snappier and cheaper and it appears that the only thing one can leverage is a wealth of experience and an appreciation of corporate politics in the face of unscrupulous middle management tyrants [2] who have done well to lose every ounce of humanity for the excellence in acquiring filthy lucre and demonic influence at whatever cost.
The first quarter represented a time of serious searching for inspiration especially after it appeared that my vision had been obscured and ambition seriously curtailed by the fact that the section that brought my manager fame was now a minuscule entity in his grand empire.
When I finally decided in the next game plan, my boss would by none of it, not only was he hostile he was consummately against the notion that I had the ability to pursue a Masters of Science degree in Information Technology and recommended vendor certifications the equivalent of doing evening courses in knitting and embroidery rather than dressing up supermodels for catwalks in Paris, Milan and New York. One is not given to hyperbole but this comes close.
From that point it was clear that following that path was a dead-end job.
Get out and look out
Having placed my marketing literature online prospecting for new opportunities, an agent who has handled my affairs came across my resume and was on the phone promising to get me a job, which he did in 4 weeks; however, it took 7 weeks of unnecessary pain, aggravation and outright malice to take up that position.
In that time I had begun my orientation with the Online University curriculum of the University of Liverpool undertaking a self-sponsored Masters in Science degree in Information Technology. [3]
I first heard about this course in November 2003 when a good friend of 17 years asked me to provide him a character reference as part of his assessment for eligibility for the course, it was a short note of just 3 paragraphs, which in some way may the Admissions Officer think that I was just as eligible for the course on the strength of my recommendation.
I am enjoying this
At that time, I was of the view that a Masters degree can only add prestige and nothing else, however, in the 6 months before I finally committed to undertaking the venture, I realised that a masters degree is really a stepping-stone to a research degree and work is apace on attaining that goal.
Having completed 2 modules and reflected on my ability to excel at a programming module at a later time rather than now, my next module includes an exciting read on e-Commerce, an opportunity for prose, philosophy and ideas such that one can get carried away.
A wonderful life
The year ended on a rather poignant note having been battered by a couple of drunk and drugged kids, but I got up and walked away to the poor service of replacement glasses that had an unfitting frame.
Meanwhile, one argues what all the fuss about security is when a crime committed in Amsterdam cannot be reported at just any police station in Amsterdam, especially the one outside the hospital where one received treatment.
But Hey! As long as there is life, there is life, there is love, there is faith, there is hope, there is a future so bright and a healthy dose of cynicism - perfection is accentuated by its flaws.
[3] University of Liverpool Lifelong Learning - Distance learning with Laureate Online Education