Pipex Internet – rip off!

I’ve been with Pipex for quite some time and an annual contract with them was due for renewal in July this year. So, I rang them to see if I could get a deal in order for them to keep my business. Here’s the timeline of what’s happened and who I’ve spoken to. Unbelievable as it may be, you really couldn’t make this shit up!

Pipex main number: 0871 222 5550

Thursday 12th June 2008 – afternoon
I spoke to Tom in the retention dept – he offered a reduction of monthly charge from £24.99 to £14.99 +free wireless router to be sent to me within 5days.

Wednesday 18th June 2008 – afternoon
Carla in customer services – she has the record of status change to my account pending, but nothing about the router.

Wednesday 18th June 2008 – afternoon
I rang the retention dept again to speak to Tom if possible. Spoke to Nicola in the retention dept. She went and spoke to Tom, who remembered the conversation with me. She promised to sort it all out for me and gave me a reference number: 338xxx (I won’t mention the full number here!).

Thursday 3rd July 2008 – 6pm
Spoke to Ram in Pipex customer care. He confirmed the ref number, the conversation with Nicola and that the router was supposed to be sent out. He couldn’t explain why I’ve not received it. He’d check it all out and re-action the order.

Friday 11th July 2008 – 5pm
Tristram in Tech Support (as I couldn’t get through to any other dept!!!) – He couldn’t pull up records of reference number I’d been given. He said I need to speak to retention dept again!

So, I rang the number he gave me for the Retention Dept: 08450722865. This number pointed me to: 08712226366. When I rang, this number then pointed me to: 0871 222 5550 – Back to square one!

Friday 11th July 2008 – 5:15pm
Spoke to Rachel in the Cancellation Dept – She authorised release of the router and put note on the account that it should be sent and with me within five days and confirmed that the reduced payment would be in effect from July.

I finally got the router! Payments continued to come out of my bank account for £24.99.

Tuesday 30th September 2008 – 11:45am
Spoke to Christenson in Customer Care – Gave him names and dates of all people I’ve spoken to, along with the reference number. I explained the overcharge and asked when it would stop and when the refund would be applied. He told me to ring Credit control dept as customer care can’t change amounts. Number: 0871 2212212 – This number is just the same as the main one!

Tuesday 30th September 2008 – 11:50am
Marius in credit control – He says they can’t change amounts or issue refunds until customer care apply a note to the account to this effect! I have to ring customer care back! He says there’s no record on the account for a reduced payment.

So, where does that leave me? I haven’t the patience right now to ring the incompetent arseholes again. Basically, Pipex are defrauding me of £10 per month and deny all knowledge of all the above. Fucking priceless.



The best Firefox Add-ons…

Another post in “The best…” series. These are all very subjective, so I don’t doubt there will be dozens of Add-ons not mentioned here which probably deserve the accolade. I can never quite work out whether to call them plugins, Add-ons or extensions, so will go with Add-ons.

As a long time Firefox fanboy, I do have a list of Add-ons which always get installed on each PC I use. Firefox does suffer a bit the more Add-ons you have installed though and is worth bearing this in mind. Not only is there a memory hit, but they also impact on startup times and potentially bring stability issues into the mix too.

So, without further ado, here’s my very short list of the five Firefox Add-ons I find most useful, and why. In no particular order:

1. Adblock Plus – An absolute must. There are so many websites plagued by ads these days that you really need an Add-on capable of blocking them. Adblock doesn’t trap every ad, but can be manually set by you to block specific adverts if needed.

2. NoScript – This Add-on blocks all Java and Javascript content on sites, unless you tell it otherwise. Once it’s switched on, it is up to you to allow sites to execute scripts. As many scripts can be used for less than honest means, it gives you one more layer of security while browsing. Flashblock is similar, but covers Flash content.

3. CustomizeGoogle – I like Google and use it a great deal. However, there are too many adverts and I really don’t like the idea of cookies being kept in order to keep track of what I do and where I go. Enter the CustomizeGoogle Add-on. You can use this to alter many different things Google does behind the scenes. You can remove ads, prevent Google from tracking the links you follow, improve security by forcing the use of HTTPS for GMail, and so on. Essential if you use Google a lot.

4. IE Tab – Despite the fact that Firefox has been out long enough to be well established, some sites still refuse to display properly, or at all (my bank, for example!). So, rather than having to fire up Internet Explorer, you can select to open a page/site using the IE engine, but as a Firefox tab.

5. Download Statusbar – A very simple, but effective Add-on for serial downloaders, like me. While you’re downloading files, icons appear in your Firefox statusbar for each seperate download. Each icon displays the name of the file and acts as a progress bar.

So, there you have it. I could have gone on and on with a longer list, but decided to limit myself. A few other Add-ons I use which are worth looking at would include: PicLens, Speed Dial, Flashblock, ColorfulTabs and Hyperwords (for Firefox 3).


Hoyle Bros – Customer Service second to none!

Ok, to even the balance a little and as we’re on the subject of used cars…here’s an interesting experience we had a few years ago with another local car dealership. This is an example of excellent customer service and restored my faith that there are some good car dealers out there.

The dealer in question is Hoyle Bros. They are based in Denholme (West Yorkshire) and specialise in 4X4’s, mostly Japanese. We were looking to buy a Landrover Discovery and Hoyle Bros had one in stock that fitted the bill. The price was good, it looked to be in good condition and was automatic. I had a test drive (Note: actually before having to do any deals!) and decided to buy.

My wife and I sat with one of the owners and sorted out a mutually agreeable deal over a coffee. There was no pressure, no hard sell and it was all very informal and friendly. Perfect! They were more than happy for us to go ahead with an AA inspection too. So, subject to the satisfactory inspection, we had a deal.

I booked the AA inspection for the next day, at a cost of £250 to myself. I would very much recommend this to anyone who knows as little about the mechanics of a car as it can save a lot of money in the long run. To cut a long story short, the AA inspector couldn’t get the car started on the day and found a major fault with the vehicle. It turned out to require a repair costing around £1,500.

This turn of events surprised everyone, not least of which, the guys at Hoyle Brothers. I was going to put this one down to experience. After all, it’s got to be better to lose £250 than have a £1,500 repair bill on a car you just bought! I needn’t have worried though…

Hoyle Brothers were obviously not happy about any of this and were very apologetic. My wife and I said, no problem, no hard feelings. They explained that they’d checked the car over as usual and had it prepared for sale. Nothing had shown up as being a fault. Even my test drive was fine.

As a gesture of goodwill and because they pride themselves on good customer care, Hoyle Brothers offered to refund the £250 we’d spent on the AA inspection. They were adamant that their philosophy is to make the experience of buying from them and the after sales service good enough to make people want to come back. To say we were impressed by this is an understatement!

If this is typical of the sort of service people can expect from Hoyle Brothers, then I cannot recommend them highly enough. I would buy a car from them without hesitation in future.


Wilsden Autos – No sale, no test drive! Eh?!

What a day! I’ve just returned home after spending the past few hours of this glorious Sunday wandering around used car showrooms. Not my ideal way of relaxing, but it needs to be done.

Anyway, in almost 25 years of driving, I have purchased a number of used cars and spent many hours in literally dozens of showrooms, shopping. In all that time, I cannot remember ever encountering the strange and rather illogical way in which Wilsden Autos (Wilsden is a village just outside of Bradford in West Yorkshire) do business. Perhaps they have their reasons, but I’m damned if I can figure them out, or more to the point, am willing to put up with them as a “customer”.

I had a twenty minute walk around Wilsden Autos this afternoon, looking at the cars they have in stock. All well and good. They do have one make and model in particular that I’d been looking at for a while in general and knew I’d want it.

The car they have in stock is around about the right money, age and spec and I have the money sat in the bank waiting to be spent. I’m fairly easily pleased and would hardly have been a difficult person to make happy as a customer.

So, after a quick sit in the car, I asked the hovering salesman when I could make an appointment to test drive the car. He asked when I’d want to? After a brief discussion with my wife about working times, we agreed any evening next week and suggested as much.

The salesman said “So, are you happy with the car, spec and price and can we do a deal?”. Not so fast. I decided not to say what I wanted to in response, as I really detest pushy sales people. I asked him how much he’d be willing to drop the price and he said a couple of hundred.

Anyway, this is the punchline and the part of the very short conversation when I thanked him for his time and walked away….

Apparently, Wilsden Autos don’t let people test drive their cars until a deal is already done. Nope, this isn’t a joke! This guy actually wanted me to do the paperwork and agree to purchase a car for £6,500 without my actually driving it! Erm, hello?!?! I don’t know what the weather is like on his planet, but it’s sunny here today.

He flatly refused to let me test drive the car until I did a deal and just said “That is how we do business. No deal, no test drive. That’s it”.

Now, here’s a direct quote from the front page of Wilsden Autos website. Which in light of their salesman’s comments, is very misleading: “We welcome any trial or inspection of our vehicles…“. Call me picky, but doesn’t the word “trial” mean “test drive”? How can you “trial” a car without driving the damn thing? Isn’t that the whole point?

Here’s another I found quite ironic under the circumstances: ” We are committed to providing the very highest level of service to all of our customers…”. I wonder if anyone imparted that little gem to their salesman?

I said my goodbyes and will spend my money elsewhere. Perhaps I am a little niaive, but it seems fairly reasonable to me that I should be allowed to have a go in any car I may wish to buy before signing away such a huge amount of money?

Anyway, my wife and I are still quite perplexed by the business philosophy of Wilsden Autos. So, I’ve decided to email them with a request that they comment on this blog post with an official explanation as to why they choose to lose customers in this way. Perhaps their salesman just couldn’t be bothered moving a few cars (at their convenience!) in order to let me test drive it? Was he suffering from sun stroke?

Never let it be said I don’t give people a fair crack at the whip. I will give the people at Wilsden Autos a chance to balance out this post with their take on it. As I have done in the past, I will post their reply (within reason) here for all to see. I sit with baited breath awaiting their reply. Definitely watch this space…!

The really disappointing aspect for me is that I always try and support local businesses if possible and would rather buy from a local independent dealer like Wilsden Autos than one of the multi-region franchises. I also do have the money to spend and would have bought the car without a second thought after a decent test drive as I did fall in love with it. Oh well, maybe Wilsden Autos make so much money in this booming economy that they can simply put people off who are cheeky enough to ask for something so fundamentally obvious as a test drive up front!


E.On – Heartless and Useless!

Here’s yet another tale of woe about one of our seemingly out of control utility companies. Not content with cocking up in other ways, it appears they try to outdo each other with their callous and bloody minded methods of treating customers.
The BBC have reported on a story about E.On (crap name by the way guys!), one of the UK energy suppliers. An 84yr old man, who also happens to be a veteran of WWII tried to take his own life due to a mistake made by E.On. Yep, their screw-up led this poor man to attempt suicide.

The upshot is that when they installed new meters in his home, they wired them incorrectly. As a result, the gentleman had been charged thousands of pounds more than he should and simply couldn’t pay the bills.
Energywatch, the ombudsman found E.On to be culpable after conducting a report. They didn’t mince their words and slated E.On for their incompetence and horrendous treatment of this man. E.On were told to write off the £6,500 bill and apologise.

So, chalk one up to another great UK company who doesn’t give a toss about the people who they are supposed to be looking after as customers. Stories like this make me sick. There is absolutely no excuse for it and no reason why anyone should have to suffer this indignity. Shame on E.On.

Well done E.On. You have almost taken first prize for the most heartless and incompetent company in the UK!
If you’d like to read the story yourself, go here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/7490287.stm


Amazon – What happened?

I can’t say I’m overly impressed by Amazon any more. In days gone by, I knew I could shop with them in confidence, have my order dealt with and shipped by Amazon and that I had a single point of contact for help. Not any more. Now, it seems the majority of things for sale on the Amazon site are sold by 3rd party organisations. The companies who set up as merchants or partners are just using the Amazon site as a virtual shop window. This brings us lots more choice and potentially value for money. However, it also brings up a number of issues for the customer to be aware of.

1. Gift vouchers – I recently received a £20 Amazon (UK) gift voucher for my birthday. There were a couple of things I wanted for my PC, so I spent ten minutes looking through the products and picked one. It wasn’t until I got to the checkout that I realised that I couldn’t use my voucher to pay for this item. As it wasn’t a product being sold directly by Amazon, my gift voucher was useless. When I looked back through the list, Amazon don’t actually sell the item at all. It’s very frustrating and a bit sneaky of Amazon to keep this info to themselves until you get to the point of actually paying!

2. Postage – As Amazon have many merchants and 3rd party companies selling through their website, it now means that you can’t guarantee you won’t be stung for postage! Not only does each vendor have their own pricing structure for shipping, but if you buy several items which all come from different sellers, you’re going to end up paying seperate postage charges to each of them!

3. Reliability/Ratings – Each merchant has a rating, similar to the feedback system on Ebay. This is fine, but what happens when things go wrong? As you’re buying from the Amazon site using their payment systems, but actually purchasing from another company, who’s liable for sorting out problems or following up and actioning complaints?


Samaritans – Why I left as a volunteer…

Before I go further, I want to make it clear that this post is meant to be constructive criticism, nothing more. It is based purely on my own experiences. Please note that anything written here which may be deemed confidential has been altered enough to ensure I have broken no rules, nor betrayed anyone.

A few years ago, I was a volunteer listener for a local branch of the Samaritans. For those of you unfamiliar with the organisation: The Samaritans provide support (mainly via telephone) for people who are in despair and suicidal. There are branches throughout the UK and phone lines are manned by volunteers, 24hrs per day, 365 days per year.

As a volunteer, I was taken initially through a rigorous and very challenging selection and training program. Without going into detail, this is designed to ensure each candidate volunteer is not only the right “sort” of person, but is capable of dealing with some of the very traumatic issues callers want to discuss. I’ll leave you to fill in those blanks.

I’m not giving away any confidential information or secrets away by telling you that Samaritans are almost exclusively there to listen to people talk about their feelings. The whole philosophy is to be completely non-judgemental and to provide an ear for people who want to die or who are in despair. This is a unique service and gives those people in such an awful position some help. Contrary to popular belief, the Samaritans will not try to talk anyone out of suicide. This is understandably a very controversial issue and further details are beyond the scope of this post.

So, other than to try and paint a positive picture of the Samaritans, why am I telling you all this? Well, after around one year of being a volunteer, I had to take a temporary leave of absence. My domestic circumstances prevented me from fulfilling my time commitment to the them and I had to put my family first, quite rightly. This time-out distanced me from my role as volunteer for a while and gave me some time to think about one or two things that had been bothering me. Ultimately, these concerns caused me to leave. What follows is a brief discussion of what my concerns were, how they fit into the context of the organisation’s beliefs and why I decided that we weren’t compatible. It saddens me still, to think of this.

I consider myself to be a caring sort of person and would never let anyone suffer if I was in a position to help them in some way. I have been trained as a Samaritan volunteer listener, a bereavement counseller and hypnotherapist. In addition, I have 40yrs life skills to draw upon and have personal experience of losing someone to suicide.

Perhaps things have changed in the few years since I left, but it was made very clear during my training that we were there primarily and virtually exclusively to listen to people talk about feelings. Callers were to be gently steered back to feelings if they strayed into the why’s and wherefore’s of their problems. At first, this made perfect sense to me. However, after gaining experience of being a volunteer, I began to see this philosophy as limiting and a source of frustration for some callers. As one person said to me; “how can I tell you how I feel without telling you why? The two are intimately connected!!”.

Let me give you an example of a particular call I took one evening. This conversation between myself and a lady who called has never left me. The gist of the conversation was that she rang Samaritans because she didn’t know who else to call. The lady said she was in her 80’s and very lonely. The last of her friends had recently died and none of her family were still living. Basically, she was completely alone. She didn’t particularly want to die, but couldn’t see any point to life any more. It had been some time since she’d spoken to another person and she just needed to hear another voice and to have a bit of a chat with another human being. Virtually none of this ten minute call was about feelings. I just spent the whole time giving her exactly what she needed…some close human contact. She had a bit of a cry during the call, but thanked me at the end. She said she couldn’t tell me how much my being there for her at that moment meant to her as she had been sat at home alone desperate to speak to someone. What was the primary subject of the call? Nothing. All she needed was a kind word and someone to lend an ear. I felt honoured to have been in a position to provide that for her.

For me to take this call in the way I did broke all the rules of Samaritans as I’d been taught them. To be honest, I didn’t really think about that at the time. My conscience would never have let me either try to get this old lady to talk about how she was feeling or bring the call to a close. I doubt either would have been any help to her under the circumstances!

I can understand why each call has to be controlled to some extent. The Samaritans are there for a specific purpose. However, as with all things in this life, there have to be exceptions to every rule. I didn’t admit to anyone else on duty the whole story of the call as I should have done and that was something else I found hard to reconcile. The support for each volunteer within the organisation is exceptional, but I didn’t feel that I wanted to share that call with anyone else because I knew I’d ignored the basics.

When I sat and thought about this call, plus one or two similar ones afterwards, along with what the Samaritans required of me, I felt I couldn’t continue being a volunteer.

What this says about me as a person or the Samaritans as an organisation is not for me to say here. I was in the wrong from their perspective, yet my conscience is clear because I know I helped the old lady.

I don’t regret leaving, but I do miss being in a position to offer help to those people who need someone there at the end of a phone.

As a last point. If you do feel in despair and want to die, please do call Samaritans. They are there for you 24/7. Do not let me put you off. The Samaritans provide a unique and amazing service to those people who need it most.