Monday, 2 December 2013

Define: Churner

Somebody is bound to ask "what's a Churner?". It's a term coined and used to describe massive companies with terrible customer service. It also explains why they have terrible customer service.

Churn (v.) is about customers lost and gained and is sometimes used as a measure to describe the difference between the two. By managing Churn (n.) to be positive, companies are able to ensure their customer numbers are always on the increase.

There are two aspects to managing Churn: minimising the loss of unhappy customers and gaining new ones. Traditionally, this is achieved by
(1) Keeping existing customers happy with excellent service and rely on their personal recommendation to gain new customers and
(2) Advertising worthwhile benefits to prospective customers to gain them.
These are the two simple and obvious things honest small firms and true cooperatives do.

However, when a company is massive it can afford a huge, constant, saturation advertising budget. Even if an advertising campaign is basically daft such as O2's "Be More Dog" (what does that mean?) or tells lies, such as BT (whom I caught telling porkies in TV adverts three times on the trot), plenty of gullible customers will be intrigued, amused or taken in and wander in through the 'front door' of the massive business and sales techniques will persuade them that O2 or BT or whatever is better than anyone else in the same market. All mobile and broadband providers and their equipment are basically the same and cost about the same but If they can gain enough customers through advertising and nothing goes wrong, they don't even need to provide a level of customer service which would satisfy a dog. Sorry dog. Just so long as the number of new customers out-paces the leavers, they are laughing. And they do. Behind your back, but in your face.

So you see, massive advertising campaigns and poor customer service go hand in glove. If there are increasing customer losses because they employ minimum-wage, unskilled, under-trained, call-centre staff who provide poor service, they just increase the advertising budget to attract more new customers. Just so long as losses are manageable, companies don't really care, though this doesn't stop them using JFDI* management techniques in call centres to make everyone think they care. They do not. It is all about the cost, you see. They just use the poor service they have engineered as an excuse not to reward call centre drones (as they see them) with any honey. That's why so many are unhappy places.

Companies who say "your opinion is valued" or similar are probably lying. They really want you to go away rather than interact with 'expensive' customer service operations. Only if you want to give them money is contacting them likely to be quick and efficient. But phone them with an unusual query or write a letter of complaint? They are happier if you die and are replaced by a newbie they can fleece. This is why online chat is like swimming through treacle and you are kept on hold listening to deafening music for 40 minutes if you try and phone Churners and stab every button on your keypad. Press number five if you have lost the will to live. They would rather you went away. Or you can 'do it' online yourself which costs them no wo/manpower whatsoever. If you make contact, the wheels can come off when they have staff who can't use the phone, write letters and what you want to do or ask isn't catered for on their particular window onto the limited and creaking Customer Management System.

So, Churners are usually massive companies who rely on an influx of new customers whom they may bribe with special offers, while the fewer disgruntled, angry, let-down, long-term customers who expect a little loyalty in return, can go and fornicate with themselves.

The financial sector - banking and insurance - have been behaving like this for years. LloydsTSB springs to mind: they even behaved like this towards their own pensioners (me). But their pigeons are coming home to roost and now that the new bank switching service is up and running, they are losing disgruntled customers hand over fist. Quite rightly so. Similarly, the insurance cost comparison sites have made it much easier to switch insurers, though they simply shaft you with ridiculous insurance renewal premiums so demonstrate their disdain for your loyalty slightly differently, don't you Direct Line et al?

You pays yer money and takes yer choice, or so they say, but please be aware that the old maxim "bigger is better" only applies to a penis. Sometimes. Really massive corporations who behave as Churners are worth avoiding at all costs. Watch out for Churners. If you get caught up by one because you have the temerity to ask a simple question, write a blog about it, complain to them on Twitter, call them out on their facebook page. These greedy companies who pile on customers at all costs and shave their customer service operations to the bone need to be called out and their practices forced to change. Or they should simply die. I think we will soon see some changes in the banking sector because the feet are marching already. Away from the PLCs and towards the mutuals and the Spanish.

I have already mentioned a few companies I consider Churners: O2, BT, LloydsTSB and you can probably think of others. Did you receive bad service which seemed to be institutionalised? Does the company advertise widely and hoover up new customers more quickly than it loses 'old' ones? Do they simply not give a damn about you?

This is why Sky and the Big Six energy suppliers are crap too, in case you hadn't realised.

Churners. Vote with your custom. Take it elsewhere.

Please add your own examples to the comments below. It's time we fought back.

*JFDI = Just F###ing Do it - the Churners' and the NHS' management style of choice.

[Tim Hill, the author of this piece, worked in retail banking from 1973-1998, was a training manager and now has his own independent training consultancy.]

Monday, 4 November 2013

O2. Oh dear.

The Manager
Correspondence Department
Telefónica UK Limited
PO Box 202

Dear Sir/Madam

Well, the first thing to note is that your address as quoted on your web site is wrong (pedantically, Houghton Regis is not a Post Town and the department should be above the company name) but I am writing to you really because I find it impossible to contact you in any other way. Brilliant. A stroke of genius by a telecoms firm: force us to write letters to an incorrect address. Do you prefer them in longhand? Green ink perhaps? 

You probably expect me to phone 202. Tried it. That is not going to happen again. Last time one call took 42 minutes and your lily-livered call handler hung up on me without resolving my query.  I may have lost my temper to her obfuscation but you are employing the wrong people if they are incapable of apologising for your institutionalised delays and dealing with shouty, angry customers. Talking over us, arguing back and transferring us from pillar to post is never going to work. I would have thought you had plenty of practice to get this right. Do you train staff at all?

I took to Live Chat several times - like crawling uphill with an elephant on your back - but what I asked to be done has not been done. So that was another pointless waste of my time. Where is my PAC code and acknowledgement of contract cancellation? Plus Live Chat is not available as I write this. Now is the time I have set aside to sort this account out: I do not intend to waste another half day waiting for O2 to employ enough people to handle the volume of enquiries it receives. Your excuse that query volumes are exceptional are nonsense. Delays happen ALL THE TIME and therefore your staffing levels seem always wrong. Do you think all customers are stupid?

So, I have to resort to squashed dead trees and the world's most expensive fluid. Why can I not simply write this in an email? Or on a web form? You are a telecoms company for heaven's sake. What is it? Has nobody taught you how to deal with spam and loonies? I know you wilfully abuse the Data Protection Act (by retaining credit card expiry dates and 'renewing' Continuous Payment Authorities - the clue is in the name) so I imagine some misinterpretation of yours stops you using email and so on. Sheesh.

My original query was to ask about why my phone was apparently not barred from making premium-rate calls. I had asked for this to be put in place years ago as I was once caught out by a rouge dialling virus on a land-line with a PC and didn't want the same to happen with a smartphone. However, I have since been caught out by a Missed Call Scam to an 07005 number which I thought was a mobile but turns out to be a follow-me premium number. So, my original question still stands: is my phone barred from making outgoing premium-rate calls?

I think you get the picture. I refuse to pay any bill, as it stands, because I do not expect to find premium-rate calls being billed to it as I asked them to be barred. That is why the Continuous Payment mandate has been cancelled by me. You do not answer my queries or do as you are asked: I no longer can trust you with access to my Credit Card and will pay nothing until you have resolved these issues to my satisfaction: you are in breach of contract. The only way you are going to extract more of my cash is to ask nicely and having done all as you were asked.

Please send an amended bill. Please ensure I am sent my PAC code and please acknowledge my contract cancellation as I asked at the end of my last Live Chat session but had to leave abruptly as I had callers at my door. Why was there no follow-up if for some reason you were unable to do as you were asked? Just ignoring things when customers ask you to do something specific only results in letters such as this, so why don't your colleagues know better? Unfulfilled customer requests will serve only to bite you on the bum. 

I have been a customer since I switched from a analogue mobile phone but O2 obviously does not give a rat's arse and can afford to shed loyal customers like autumn leaves. How about you try and reciprocate some of that loyalty? Hmm? How about a number we can dial to go straight through to a person who can do anything? Is that really asking too much? I'm off somewhere smaller where they know what it means to provide high quality customer service. It is patently obvious O2 no longer have the faintest idea what this means. Too big maybe? Incompetent management perhaps? Probably. I no longer care. You have lost me. Tell your boss and his colleagues to think about that as they cruise home in their shiny company cars I helped pay for. Press button three if you think they are ungrateful gits.

Meanwhile, if I drive through Slough and see that your Head Office is on fire, I will not be crossing the road to urinate on it in an attempt to extinguish the flames.


Yours faithfully

T. Hill

P.S. As a matter of courtesy I know you should respond in the same medium as this but please email me* in plain text at ###@#####.### as it is more environmentally friendly, quicker and easier. Please do not phone as I require a written record of any dealings with you from now on. Thanks.

*Please note: Emailing me at my request does not constitute a breach of the Data Protection Act as somebody ignorant of such things at O2 is bound to say.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Royal Bank of Scotland and Automated Marketing Calls

I hope my letter to the Royal Bank of Scotland is self explanatory. One day after I had phoned them, a robot phoned me up for my opinion....they have it now.

Dear [Customer Services Adviser at RBS],

Thank you for your excellent letter. I am sorry I was not able to return your call.

Please tell your legal department they do not need to throw a blanket of irrelevant "facts" over your transgressions to confound me. The Banking Code has nothing to do with this issue except it adds amusement value. The Market Research Society has nothing to do with it either. They are not lawmakers or enforcers of regulation. But yippee! You have at least adopted some policies but they are irrelevant or at least they are unless they are encouraging you to act ultra vires.

You did what you did. You passed some of my my personal data to a market research company. That company made an automated marketing call on your behalf and it was voiced by a computer. You did not obtain my prior explicit consent to either action. To me, they are both clear breaches of regulation. No amount of irrelevant legalese 'flannel' from your 'experts' will change that opinion. Market research companies unsurprisingly make marketing calls, including surveys.

You are promising never to do it again? It is too late. You have let the hare from the trap. This is not an 'apology culture' as so many people and businesses seem to think; it is not always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. You need to pre-opt people out on a per customer basis, not post-opt their phones out on a per number basis when they shout at you. What happens when their numbers change? Until RBS start treating customers as people rather than a collection of phone and account numbers you will never get this service quality thing right.

Data Protection and Communications legislation and regulation is what I think you have breached and what I believe is relevant here. Your internal policies and industry codes of behaviour are completely irrelevant and of no interest to me. Law of the Land and not club rules, okay?

To claim that the Automated Surveys you are using are not used for marketing opportunities is perhaps true on a per call basis but you cannot deny that overall, the statistics you gather are for market research = marketing purposes. In fact, everything a for-profit company does should be 'for marketing purposes'. I am not daft, so stop your legal department making silly claims about your altruism. Unless you now have charitable status? No, I didn't think so.

To say on your calls " information you will give will be used for marketing purposes" is (not good English and) a stupid lie by someone who does not know what the science of marketing is or what surveys are used for. The information is aggregated, used to improve service, and this makes you more efficient so you can flog more things. Customers are happier, so they buy more things. It is all MARKETING. To deny this is ridiculous. An unsolicited marketing call is not limited to phoning people up and flogging them insurance they don't need and didn't ask for.

"Well, that's all we mean by marketing." Then you are wrong. The activity of marketing includes the taking of surveys, their analysis and subsequent application of behavioural or cultural change in an organisation based on the results in order to maximise future sales opportunities. Just checked but my date of conception does not precede the date of this letter by nine months and one day.

The simple matter is that the Information Commissioner's Office enforces the requirement that Automated Marketing Calls require (potential) customers to positively opt-in to receiving them.
Use this: to reach:

All that is next required is to show that Automated Surveys are a type of marketing call and RBS are stuffed. OfCom thinks surveys are marketing calls (of course they are!) but the ICO, who are the chosen enforcers of this particular regulation, says they are not. They are obviously wrong and think like a venal bank who can convince themselves that surveys and MARKET research are not part of MARKETing. 15:Love to you for now on the purely legal technicality of an error by ICO. And note: not for any of the reasons you dribbled out.

So, what you are doing may just about be legal. For now. Not according to OfCom but according to the ICO. They have invited me to mount a legal challenge to establish that a definition of an automated marketing call includes automated survey calls. Would you like to sponsor me? Or shall we go for a test case?

So now you fall upon the back-up policy of most public companies: you will justify doing anything at all, so long at it is strictly not illegal. Well that's okay then. But, no it is not. Just saying crap like that means you obviously don't understand customers nor mind when people say "I hate you". When you act only to the letter of the Law, your moral compass is demagnetised. When you are sitting on a legal fence you should always get down on the right side, not stay up there carping on about everything being okay. That is what your customers expect you to do: the decent thing. Not hide behind the skirts of a technicality, if you can do that when sitting on a fence.

Your legal department obviously have no idea what constitutes an automated call and think your folk dial the number. How quaint. I imagine they push a metaphorical button on their monitor and then a computer takes over and makes the call. Your eagles are quoting lots of irrelevant guff, but on a technicality of poor definition by the ICO of what constitutes a marketing call you get off. For now. Until someone with deeper pockets than I decides to put a stop to people like RBS irritating us and stealing our time by setting their robots upon us. Thought of changing your name to Skynet? Or perhaps senior executives will have an epiphany, realising that they are all being actually quite horrible to every customer and that it is wrong.

I wouldn't mind half as much if you demonstrated customer service surveys are worthwhile by employing people like me to do them properly!

Let us examine now how you are dealing with the moral obligation you have to your customers: not to treat them as numbers, cattle or fools . . . nope. I have come up blank. I see no evidence you are aware of any moral obligation not to foist crap upon us based on shaky legalities. Forcing us to converse with machines is simply awful behaviour on your part: Orwellian in fact. That you don't see that it is so very wrong makes me wonder how old you all are. Too young perhaps. Do you have any experienced bankers left at all? That know the importance of treating customers with respect? There are plenty more banks in the sea, some of whom even obtain explicit consent when they use automated robot-voice calls for non-trivial security issues: Barclaycard's 'belt and braces', rather than RBS's 'shove it in the T&Cs with a wing and a prayer'.

Doesn't look good, does it? As usual, RBS bankers are shown to have a complete disregard of the sort of service they should be providing by using the worst kind of service possible to find out how bad their service is. I do hope you appreciate the irony of using a hated system to find out why people hate you. Making us hate you more by using a poor survey method is like some twisted version of quantum mechanics. The moment you observe your customer using a method which affects that customer's perception of you, the customers opinion cannot be considered reliable because it is adversely affected by the method of observation itself.

You are skating on very thin legal ice at the edge of a precipice, buoyed up by your corporate arrogance and directionless profit-seeking. Good luck. Remember to wave at all your customers as they leave or as you fall in. We are not going to save you next time.

Oh, and you perhaps should know that in my 25 year banking career I spent several of them teaching all levels from executives downwards about the theories behind a MARKETING culture. Thank you for almost not patronising me.

But "Banking Code" ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha ha.......... I haven't laughed out loud so much for ages.

Thanks again.

Yours sincerely

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Cancelling a Sky subscription

Dear Sky broadcasting,

You didn't cancel when asked - twice - you didn't refund correctly - you didn't answer emails - you didn't provide a facility to reply to some emails - you have a premium-rate phone number - you didn't provide requested FreeSat card - you wrote standard, irrelevant letters - you dealt with me through multiple 'handlers'. And now you bombard me with envelopes. Already there is yet another envelope on the doorstep which I will reply to after writing this. It will just say to read this:

What is Service?

It was a long, cold, night in December 2011 and I decided that if Sky TV didn't deliver something decent over Christmas I could no longer justify paying £26ish a month for a subscription service I rarely watched since the advent of Freeview in the rest of the house. Don't get me wrong, I watch loads of stuff squirted out of Astra satellites, just none of Sky's paid-for channels any more. I don't just not watch the diet of dreadful drossy American Cop/Gun/Car/Explosion/Reality shows where the hero never gets on with his boss, but I really have not been impressed by Sky's occasional own attempts at drama or comedy or the sameness of their advert-laden music channels and LSD-induced children's programming. Are colour-blindness and a total lack of photo-sensitive epilepsy pre-requisites to work in commercial-laden children's television? They should be.

I used to watch Sky's science fiction when they showed new series on their own channels: the nerd in me first subscribed to Sky in early days to watch Star Trek's various 'colon: something' series which they easily stole from under the BBC who still to this day think science fiction is for children or BBC Wales and should be shown before 7pm. When all TV Trek was eventually cancelled in favour of similarly-named Hollywood special effects extravaganza "movies" it was superceded on Sky by the Stargate franchises. They didn't last forever either and nothing as good has appeared since. At least, not in my opinion. Everything new these days has to have the drossy elements mentioned above. New series seemed to be designed by production companies who only feel safe copying each other. For once, could a hero like his boss? I never liked any of mine in the real world: drama is supposed to be fictional! Please could some TV characters and "personalities" at least appear to have more than average intelligence and better manners than a slob?

Hour-long episodes of anything on Sky's subscription channels and other commercial TV now often consist of 40 minutes programme and 20 minutes advertising. To this day, I find it hard to understand why a subscription service has advert breaks at all. I found that as their programming became more mediocre, I would mute the overly-loud adverts (another irk) and easily lost interest in second-rate programmes and would eventually switch off or migrate to the uninterrupted BBC. Friends tell me I should have a Sky plus box so I can skip the adverts but I like to watch in real time, without a live pause or having to fiddle and remember to record everything. (Is there anything more irritating than watching TV with someone who repeatedly winds/rewinds/pauses something you are trying to watch?)

I also believe Sky has been touched by the Murdoch mafia. And not in a good way. Probably.

Subscription cancelled

On 13th January 2012 I phoned Sky to cancel my subscription and asked for a FreeSat card so I may watch free-to-view as well as free-to-air channels. I was assured that my subscribed viewing would cease in a month and the last Direct Debit in February would be for less than usual and be the last. I made the mistake of  trusting that anything at all would happen. Nothing did, except I pulled the Sky card out of my box to see what I could watch. I never put it back in and I never kept a close eye on my bank account either.

On 23rd June 2013 (over a year later) I looked more closely at my bank account(!) and phoned Sky again and asked if they had a record of the conversation in January 2012? Yes they did! And guess what? The lady who dealt with me then didn't work there any more. My file was marked for cancellation but nothing had been done. Of course I was due a refund of all the Direct Debits they had erroneously kept taking but the amount was such that it would have to be rubber-stamped by a manager. She would be in touch by email, she said.

All sound good so far? It's all lies, of course, or at the very least Sky management is the type who expect loyalty from their staff but who return none. No email. No call. No letters. Until I took action. I gave up waiting and contacted my excellent  bank who were far more efficient. By 4.30 pm on the day I phoned them, all the Direct Debits from 13.1.12 to date were refunded under the terms of the Direct Debit Guarantee. About £400. A few days later, I receive a letter from Sky advising me that I will be receiving a refund of £70.02. WTF? And now the letters keep turning up. Almost daily now. Probably marketing?

I received unanswerable emails from Sky too because I cancelled the Direct Debit at the bank and they still send letters asking if I want to upgrade to sports and movies, but no apology for the woeful incompetence beyond the nice lady I spoke to in June who understood my predicament and seemed sympathetic. I am only guessing but "refer to a manager" is too often synonymous with  "pluck up courage to talk to senior coward" these days. Yet again (insert long story about mischievous employment agency) someone who ignores the  law but is too scared to face the public, fucks about with my money and doesn't think a truthful explanation or an apology is in order. When someone expects and has been told to expect a refund of something like £416 (16 x £26) and that this is only subject to management approval, the customer's expectation is that you can do simple sums and not behave like dicks. How did you arrive at £70? By being a dick. I don't know: you have not bothered to explain yourselves. In banking this behaviour was known as "trying it on". I had a boss who used to charge someone £100 when he deserved £25 and graciously refunded £50 when they complained: "just this once" and "as a gesture of goodwill" he would lie. Please note: my birth date does not precede the date of this article by one day.

When you read this, faceless cowards of management at Sky, let me make this quite clear: the only medium of communication I will accept from you now is through the comments boxes below. All letters and email from you will be assumed to be junk mail and destroyed, unopened. Oh, and DO NOT phone me under any circumstances. And you DO NOT have any authority to try and reclaim any excess refund from my bank. Be on notice my bank: do not believe Sky or their rascally bankers. If Sky think I owe them something they can try asking me nicely instead and  may get something from me once I have made a deduction of £20 for lost interest and £100 for my time incurred in having to put up with useless incompetence.

So, Sky, what have you to say for yourselves? I expect this to be good.

P.S. I am still waiting for my Freesat card.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Amigo Loans

My complaint to the ASA:

The AMIGO advert makes claims that their lending model is like banking of old when a bank manager would take a personal guarantee when a lending proposition doesn't stand on its own merits.
The simple fact is that banks DID NOT used to do this: lenders who did were castigated and even fired. I worked for Lloyds Bank from 1973 to 1996 and spent the last dozen years as a lending Trainer, finishing up as the Lending strand manager for Thames Valley and East Region. (1/8 of the bank).
At no time did Lloyds (or any other) bank lend money based only on the availability of a personal guarantee or any other form of security. Before credit scoring took over, every lending proposition had to stand on its own two feet before any security was contemplated. Ask the Chartered Institute of Bankers. The availability of security may have made a banker feel happier and secured lending would be cheaper than unsecured lending. At the time, maybe 3% rather than 5% over base rate. Amigo are charging something like 700% APR (~698% OBR) and this also bears no resemblance to banking of old.

Please can we stop them using false nostalgia to justify their horrible practice of preying on the vulnerable. Thanks.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

B(roken) T(elecom) and how not to advertise.

(Originally posted by me on Facebook, this article has been expanded)

Saturday, 22 June

I am getting sick and tired of BT. Not because of their dreadful customer service or anything like that but because of their TV adverts.
You may have seen the current BT TV ad., where the boy is Skyping his girlfriend and her signal keeps dropping out. "You need one of these bad boys" he says, pointing at his BT router. I suspect she just needs ANY new one, possibly. Or a new laptop. Or a CAT5 cable. Or to be nearer her wireless base station. (Dual-band is of no advantage when only ONE device is connecting.)

Last week I asked @BT_UK and @BTCare on Twitter why their advert claimed "the only hub with dual-band technology". (This was a blatant lie as routers with dual-band have been widely available for quite a while. See below.)

They didn't respond for five days and so I complained to the ASA.

They have re-voiced the advert.

And made it worse.

BT now claims to supply the most reliable wireless hub in the UK. If other routers have the same dual-band technology (and my single-band Belkin is perfectly reliable) how can they make this claim? As far as I can tell, it is another lie, particularly if 10% of bandwidth is given up to the public, how can it be be better than a dedicated one???

If you happen to spot their advert making false claims (honest? truthful?) please complain to them and consider referring them to the Advertising Standards Authority. Thanks. They have until about ten tonight before I do, if their excuse for lying is as sucky as their last one. (They seem to think they are competing only with routers supplied by Virgin - who now supply dual-band too) and ignore every other supply channel.)

Of course, calling a wireless adsl router with a built-in switch a 'hub' only demonstrates they don't understand even how to name the very technology they are selling.

BT = Broken Telecoms.


When I searched here, there were 20 matches for dual-band routers which work with BT Broadband.


Sunday, 23 June

I have heard nothing from BT this weekend, even though they claim to monitor Twitter every day. Perhaps they blocked me. If so, that was silly. Here is my complaint to the ASA:

"I have already lodged a complaint about BT's recent TV commercials because they claimed to have 'the only broadband [router] with dual-band technology'. This was a lie. Ref: A##-######

"They have changed the voiceover of their ad to say 'the most reliable [router] in the UK'. This is also a lie. They have not answered my question for evidence or explanation of this claim and I can't find any independent reviews which support this assertion. There is nothing unique about their router - apart from its branding - and my old Belkin box is perfectly reliable. I fail to understand how anything could be MORE reliable than something which is 100% reliable.

"Perhaps it would be better if the idiots they have making adverts run the scripts by me next time so they are LDH&T. It would save a lot of our time. 'You probably won't find a more reliable router' is possibly acceptable because THEY ARE ALL pretty much THE SAME.

"Longer term, can we also ask them to stop describing a router as a hub? A hub is a specific piece of technology which is not a switch, an ADSL modem, or wireless, all of which is included in what they call a 'hub'. A hub is actually old technology which is still around and preceded a switch and does (almost) only that job. BT's name 'HomeHub' was okay because they 'invented' the word as far as I know. They seem to have dropped 'Home' and are now abusing the accepted technological definition of 'Hub', misleading and confusing people.

"I don't know who passes their campaigns as okay, but s/he needs a slap and a little educating about technology."

And one last thought. As TV Adverts run 24/7 shouldn't the advertisers and ASA both be contactable 24/7? If complaints are only handled on weekdays perhaps all advertising should take a break over weekends when you can make whatever outrageous claims you like.

Good grief.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Adobe Air Vs BBC

Adobe Air - and why the BBC shouldn't be using it (I can't!)

The BBC's web-based iPlayer is great too

I want to make use of the Windows desktop version of the BBC's iPlayer. Really, I do. So should you if you also have only off-peak unlimited internet access. BBC iPlayer programmes can be enormous files and will chew up your download allowance if it's capped. It's also worth not clogging up your bandwidth when the family is trying to use your broadband connexion: my Desktop iPlayer was set to download between midnight and 6am.

The ability to set 'Series Record' means that you can watch many huge files which download overnight: that is, just so long as your Windows "room heater" is left on all night. And assuming Adobe Air doesn't commit suicide while you're not looking.

We must use Windows or Mac because 'everyone' does and because 'everyone' does, the BBC supply iPlayer for it. Adobe is ubiquitous on desktop computers so their Air platform is the way to go, right BBC? No. Wrong choice. Adobe and other closed systems are not universally trusted or liked. People moaned about a problem with Adobe Reader thumbnails missing from 64-bit filers for two years until someone else brought out a fix because Adobe haven't even acknowledged the problem. This is where my Adobe-bashing contribution begins as I had to search around for that fix. 

Have you noticed the security updates to the Adobe Flash software you already have on your machines? They seem to be coming more and more frequently. They are a nuisance and an interruption to (it seems) nearly every day. You may wonder if they program swiss cheese at Adobe but that is nothing to the experience of being forced to install Adobe Air by the BBC. Installing Adobe Air has been a time-wasting nightmare from the 1980s. It may as well have been loading from cassette tape with instructions published by a non-native speaker . Suffice it to say that where Adobe say "You may have to temporarily disable your antivirus software" on the download page they mean "turn it off". I tried to install with real-time anti-virus checking enabled but there was no way it was going to play ...  Excuse me: why do Adobe's products need to be so drastic about their install requirements? They have a body of software that makes things look pretty and sound whizzy. We should NEVER have to disable anti-virus to install anything like that, only perhaps anti-virus itself. No wonder their stuff is distrusted by Apple.

Anyway, I did turn off the anti-virus temporarily to install Air or I couldn't use iPlayer Desktop, could I? 

Everything then installed okay and at first this set-up worked. It was after only a few viewings: one morning iPlayer stopped responding to clicks and a BBC help page suggested uninstalling/reinstalling both it and Adobe Air. BBC iPlayer Desktop uninstalled without a commotion.

Adobe Air claimed to have uninstalled itself (hurrah!) but enough bits of it remain to prevent the latest version installing itself (boo!). Nothing I have run so far has been able to clean up this mess. In trying to uninstall the remnant in Control Panel > Programs.. it says "An error occurred while uninstalling Adobe Air. Uninstallation may not be allowed by your administrator. Please contact your administrator". That's me. I never said no such thing. I am The One. What have I been doing behind my own back? Now I keep getting error boxes about Air being broken when I visit the web version of iPlayer. Yeah, I know.  Grrrr.

Wait! The BBC page wants to try and install Air for me. Again. Okay....No. Fail. It is no better. Double-Grrrr.

Thanks Adobe. It seems to me that some clever wheeze you think you programmed has messed up my system. Well done. I hope you are proud. Proudly boasting that your products are used by 99% of internet users and as the world goes round you must therefore be one of its worst time wasters. And we rely on you to fix it because nobody else is allowed to. Despite that, will we wait two years and then someone else will sort it out?


I look forward to when you release a tool which removes Air completely from my system (the command line suffix -uninstall failed to work). That's two days of my life I'll never get back, where do I send the invoice? Will you split it with the BBC?

Air is all but dead anyway. I can think of no other reason why its download page tells you to visit the Air Store when there isn't one. So buck up your ideas BBC and boot all things Adobe Air and Flash into the long grass. You couldn't have done a worse job on a RaspberryPi in BBC BASIC. (Which is what you ought to be giving more support, by the way. If there was ever a true successor to the BBC Micro, this is it.)

Off you go, BBC, and learn something else. The Adobe runtimes you have adopted and forced upon us are unwelcome and little better that a suite of viruses which won't go away.