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Sunday, 28 August 2016

ParcelForce: I'm trying to help you fix your site ...

[Short link to this article if you need it - http://goo.gl/Cwkz7F - or retweet me]

[NOTE: Executive summary is in the  "Problem determination" and "Key Summary Points" at the end]

I recently had an exchange with ParcelForce (A dividion of the UK Royal Mail Group) regarding a package I was due to receive from them. I received an email from "PARCELFORCE WORLDWIDE <notifications@parcelforce.co.uk>" saying that my item was dispatched by "Express 24" and providing a tracking number and link. While this is far from the worst customer service example I've seen, it does warrant a post because of all the information and evidence required regarding the issues involved.

The tracking link is where the problems started. I clicked the link, and it directed me to tracking.parcelforce.net and prompted me to display a popup window. I've no idea why they need a popup given that the landing page is completely blank - why can't it just be inlined? I thought legitimate popups had died years ago! As normal, these are the options you get for popups (the exact look of this menu depends on your browser of course):

Now, as a security savvy person I tend to err on the side of caution, so I pucked the last option "Show 'http://tracking...'" to allow this one popup to appear. The popup duly appeared, but what I got was a spinning logo in the popup. The tracking information never appeared:

(Source image is actually the one at http://tracking.parcelforce.net/Pfw/patientez.gif - I don't normally like leaving animations in web pages but it annoyed me so I hope you can feel my pain!)

I tried with both Firefox and Chrome and hit the same issue, on both Linux (RHEL) and Windows 10. Here's a screenshot showing all three browsers with the spinning popup along with the version numbers:



At this point I posted the above animated GIF on my twitter account tagging @parcelforce. Here's how the conversation went when ParcelForce started replying:

SXA: Dear @parcelforce why on earth are you using a near-blank page with a popup which most browsers will block for your tracking links?
SXA: Of course now that I've allowed the @Parcelforce popup it's just displaying a spinning icon and not actually showing me any tracking info
SXA: If this parcel arrives and I haven't been able to find out in advance to ensure I'm at home I will not be amused @parcelforce
PF: @sxa555 I'm sorry to hear that, could you DM your tracking number please and I'll take a look for you. - Matty
SXA: @parcelforce It's now showing up between my tweet and your reply :-) Being sent by "Parcelforce 24" means it'll arrive tomorrow I assume?
PF: Could you send me the number? I'll check it out for you. - Matty
SXA: Broken again (spinning image in popup) while I check for updates. Has anyone found @parcelforce tracking reliable?
SXA: Once yesterday out of about 10 times @parcelforce tracking worked. Every other time this is what I get. It's a joke [spinning image from above included in this tweet]
PF: You should be tracking the parcel at parcelforce.com - Jonnny
SXA: Then why does your tracking email send me to parcelforce.net Jonny?
SXA: Take a look at the email Jonny @parcelforce - the URL at the bottom is from the blurred out tracking link from you

At this point it got a bit strange. I gave them a screenshot of the email along with the last message:


But it was the response that surprised me as it looks like the emails aren't quite sent by ParcelForce themselves, despite the parcelforce.co.uk domain it's sent from, and the ParcelForce logos ...

PF: This is because the company who sent this game us your email address to send you the details but this is our contract customers...
PF: tracking page he email with the details would usually be sent to the sender) - Jonny.
SXA: @parcelforce I can't understand what "contract customers" means. But surely on a parcelforce domain it's not a reference thte sender?
SXA: @parcelforce Bottom line - tell me who is responsible for the broken page at parcelforce.net that I was pointed to so I can complain
SXA: @parcelforce Thanks for the parcelforce.com link though - it worked but doesn't give me any more than out for delivery before 6)
PF: @sxa555 It's not broken Stewart, I can used this page fine and see the full tracking?
PF: Contract customers are customers who sent the parcel who have a contract with us
PF: @sxa555 The tracking will not give you any further information than this? We do not offer live tracking. - Jonny
SXA: @parcelforce Which page works for you? I did tell you the .com works for me - who do I contact about issues with the .net which still spins
PF:@sxa555 .net and .com both work for me. No spinning they just load up. - Jonny
SXA: @parcelforce I've sent my tracking link via DM. Can you tell me which browser version + OS you're using. Fails on all four of mine

I then had a brief exchange via DM where I gave them my direct tracking link from the email. The assistant said it loaded find on Google Chrome. I asked which version and OS and they said "Not sure to be honest. But I can advise this is the first time that anyone have complained about .net in all the years I have been working on Twitter. - Jonny"

SXA: I'm going to have to give up on @Parcelforce. Their assistants can't even figure out which OS and browser version they're using. Hopeless

[At some point around the time I posted that tweet another DM came through telling me the chrome version and verifying that it also worked on IE11 for them]

PF: @sxa555  I have supplied this information to you. Sorry but we do have to assist people with parcel enquiries. - Jonny

From the last response it was clear that there was no real interest in working with me to diagnose the problem with their site, so I gave up and decided to write this blog post instead.

PROBLEM DETERMINATION

I subsequently did some further investigation. If I tell me browser to permanently accept popups from the site then the information displays correctly (I'm guessing that at some point when I got it to work I'd done this in a private browsing session as I couldn't get it to work again on the day) However from my experimentation it seems slightly worse than that: Even when you say "always allow" the popup doesn't always work first time - you need to shut it down and reload for it to show the details. All of which is a complete usability nightmare.

If you look at the source for the popup page it's using HTML frames. One of which is called  SNP_mod_popup and is the one that starts with the spinning logo and should get refreshed with the correct information. I haven't gone any further into debugging why the popup doesn't work without the "always accept" option - I figured I'd leave something for the ParcelForce techies to do ...

KEY SUMMARY POINTS:
  1. Don't use popups. Saying that, the fact that ParcelForce's .net page is listed as "© 2007"might go some way to explaining if it hasn't been updated in 9 years.
  2. Don't have allow people to send out emails via your own domain which point to sites that aren't the ones you recommend (the whole "contract customer" thing was bizarre. Why does a customer/vendor-supplied email need to come from one of parcelforce's domains? Yes it has the sender reference on .net (see screenshots below), but couldn't that be combined somehow? If not, your IT infrastructure needs some work.
  3. Don't say "You should be using parcelforce.com" and give the impression that parcelforce.net isn't something that you support if that's what the links in emails received by customers are being sent to. If there's an issue with your vendors, stop them from using it. When I started pushing for a contact for the .net domain, that was when they started responding to my regarding that site instead of pushing me away from it.
  4. Stick to one domain. I had to take it on faith that parcelforce.co.uk, parcelforce.net and parcelforce.com were all legitimate and all were seen during this exchange
  5. Why do you need two different sites to perform the same function anyway? Duplication of resources - although each is slightly different.
  6.  Is it really true that no-one else has ever run into this problem? If so, I'm staggered as it's fairly easy to reproduce. Or is it the case that as with many online retailers, if a site doesn't work first time people just give up? Probably, although if a vendor has sent via Parcelforce they're a bit stuck and can't go elsewhere 
  7. If you have the choice of courier, use DPD instead as their stuff just works and you can track your delivery far more accurately. This is 2016, the age of IoT. Not being able to say more than "It'll arrive sometime today" isn't really excusable.
(For completeness, the image on the left below is the tracking information from parcelforce.com, the one on the right from the popup at parcelforce.net - broadly similar information presented differently.)

ParcelForce: I'm trying to help you fix your site ...

[Short link to this article if you need it - http://goo.gl/Cwkz7F - or retweet me]

[NOTE: Executive summary is in the  "Problem determination" and "Key Summary Points" at the end]

I recently had an exchange with ParcelForce (A dividion of the UK Royal Mail Group) regarding a package I was due to receive from them. I received an email from "PARCELFORCE WORLDWIDE <notifications@parcelforce.co.uk>" saying that my item was dispatched by "Express 24" and providing a tracking number and link. While this is far from the worst customer service example I've seen, it does warrant a post because of all the information and evidence required regarding the issues involved.

The tracking link is where the problems started. I clicked the link, and it directed me to tracking.parcelforce.net and prompted me to display a popup window. I've no idea why they need a popup given that the landing page is completely blank - why can't it just be inlined? I thought legitimate popups had died years ago! As normal, these are the options you get for popups (the exact look of this menu depends on your browser of course):

Now, as a security savvy person I tend to err on the side of caution, so I pucked the last option "Show 'http://tracking...'" to allow this one popup to appear. The popup duly appeared, but what I got was a spinning logo in the popup. The tracking information never appeared:

(Source image is actually the one at http://tracking.parcelforce.net/Pfw/patientez.gif - I don't normally like leaving animations in web pages but it annoyed me so I hope you can feel my pain!)

I tried with both Firefox and Chrome and hit the same issue, on both Linux (RHEL) and Windows 10. Here's a screenshot showing all three browsers with the spinning popup along with the version numbers:



At this point I posted the above animated GIF on my twitter account tagging @parcelforce. Here's how the conversation went when ParcelForce started replying:

SXA: Dear @parcelforce why on earth are you using a near-blank page with a popup which most browsers will block for your tracking links?
SXA: Of course now that I've allowed the @Parcelforce popup it's just displaying a spinning icon and not actually showing me any tracking info
SXA: If this parcel arrives and I haven't been able to find out in advance to ensure I'm at home I will not be amused @parcelforce
PF: @sxa555 I'm sorry to hear that, could you DM your tracking number please and I'll take a look for you. - Matty
SXA: @parcelforce It's now showing up between my tweet and your reply :-) Being sent by "Parcelforce 24" means it'll arrive tomorrow I assume?
PF: Could you send me the number? I'll check it out for you. - Matty
SXA: Broken again (spinning image in popup) while I check for updates. Has anyone found @parcelforce tracking reliable?
SXA: Once yesterday out of about 10 times @parcelforce tracking worked. Every other time this is what I get. It's a joke [spinning image from above included in this tweet]
PF: You should be tracking the parcel at parcelforce.com - Jonnny
SXA: Then why does your tracking email send me to parcelforce.net Jonny?
SXA: Take a look at the email Jonny @parcelforce - the URL at the bottom is from the blurred out tracking link from you

At this point it got a bit strange. I gave them a screenshot of the email along with the last message:


But it was the response that surprised me as it looks like the emails aren't quite sent by ParcelForce themselves, despite the parcelforce.co.uk domain it's sent from, and the ParcelForce logos ...

PF: This is because the company who sent this game us your email address to send you the details but this is our contract customers...
PF: tracking page he email with the details would usually be sent to the sender) - Jonny.
SXA: @parcelforce I can't understand what "contract customers" means. But surely on a parcelforce domain it's not a reference thte sender?
SXA: @parcelforce Bottom line - tell me who is responsible for the broken page at parcelforce.net that I was pointed to so I can complain
SXA: @parcelforce Thanks for the parcelforce.com link though - it worked but doesn't give me any more than out for delivery before 6)
PF: @sxa555 It's not broken Stewart, I can used this page fine and see the full tracking?
PF: Contract customers are customers who sent the parcel who have a contract with us
PF: @sxa555 The tracking will not give you any further information than this? We do not offer live tracking. - Jonny
SXA: @parcelforce Which page works for you? I did tell you the .com works for me - who do I contact about issues with the .net which still spins
PF:@sxa555 .net and .com both work for me. No spinning they just load up. - Jonny
SXA: @parcelforce I've sent my tracking link via DM. Can you tell me which browser version + OS you're using. Fails on all four of mine

I then had a brief exchange via DM where I gave them my direct tracking link from the email. The assistant said it loaded find on Google Chrome. I asked which version and OS and they said "Not sure to be honest. But I can advise this is the first time that anyone have complained about .net in all the years I have been working on Twitter. - Jonny

SXA: I'm going to have to give up on @Parcelforce. Their assistants can't even figure out which OS and browser version they're using. Hopeless

[At some point around the time I posted that tweet another DM came through telling me the chrome version and verifying that it also worked on IE11 for them]

PF: @sxa555  I have supplied this information to you. Sorry but we do have to assist people with parcel enquiries. - Jonny

From the last response it was clear that there was no real interest in working with me to diagnose the problem, so I gave up and decided to write this blog post instead.

PROBLEM DETERMINATION

I did some further investigation. If I tell me browser to permanently accept popups from the site then the information displays correctly (I'm guessing that at some point when I got it to work I'd done this in a private browsing session as I couldn't subsequently get it to work) Except it seems slightly worse than that: Even when you say "always allow" the popup doesn't always work first time - you need to shut it down and reload for it to show the details. All of which is a complete usability nightmare.

If you look at the source for the popup page it's using HTML frames. One of which is called  SNP_mod_popup and is the one that starts with the spinning logo and should get refreshed with the correct information. I haven't gone any further into debugging why the popup doesn't work without the "always accept" option - I figured I'd leave something for the ParcelForce techies to do ...



KEY SUMMARY POINTS:
  1. Don't use popups. Although the fact the.net page is listed as "© 2007"might go some way to explaining if it hasn't been updated in 9 years.
  2. Don't have allow people to send out emails via your own domain which point to sites that aren't the ones you recommend (the whole "contract customer" thing was bizarre. Why does a customer/vendor-supplied email need to come from one of parcelforce's domains? Yes it has the sender reference on .net, but couldn't that be combined somehow? If not, your IT infrastructure needs some work.
  3. Don't say "You should be using parcelforce.com" and give the impression that parcelforce.net isn't something that's supported if that's what the links in emails received by customers are being sent to. If there's an issue with your vendors, stop them using it. When I started pushing for a contact for the .net domain, that was when they started responding to the issue on there.
  4. Stick to one domain. I had to take it on faith that parcelforce.co.uk, parcelforce.net and parcelforce.com were all legitimate and all were seen during this exchange
  5. Why do you need two different sites to perform the same function anyway? Duplication of resources - although each is slightly different.
  6.  Is it really true that no-one else has ever run into this problem? If so, I'm staggered as it's fairly easy to reproduce. Or is it the case that as with many online retailers, if a site doesn't work first time people just give up? Probably, although if a vendor has sent via Parcelforce they're a bit stuck and can't go elsewhere 
  7. If you have the choice of courier, use DPD instead as their stuff just works and you can track your delivery far more accurately. This is 2016, the age of IoT. Not being able to say more than "It'll arrive sometime today" isn't really excusable.
(For completeness, the image on the left below is the tracking information from parcelforce.com, the one on the right from the popup at parcelforce.net - broadly similar information presented differently.)

Monday, 11 April 2016

Subway - why don't you care when your staff rip us off?

[Short link to this article if you need it - http://goo.gl/fDAozN - or retweet me!]

The most important thing about what I write in this blog isn't so much the fact that companies get it wrong in the first place. It's how they deal with things when they go wrong. An example I saw recently was this from KFC, where a member of staff had been fired by a store manager seemingly in a discrimanatory fashion, but the appropriate action was taken and the manager was fired and the employee offered another job.

Doing the right thing to compensate for their staff doing the wrong thing.

Now admittedly my experience with Subway doesn't count as discrimination, but in terms of doing the right thing when a staff member does something inappropriate (in this case misleading a customer) the experience of their service was not what I'd have liked...
I went into one of their branches in Southampton and enquired about the £5 "footlong sub and a drink" offer that many branches of Subway had - in fact it's still on their website (although it worries me that the "Veggie Delite" says "We do not guarantee a vegetarian product" especially when the same disclaimer doesn't appear on their product page (Links correct at the time of posting):

The response I got from the assistant regarding the £5 offer was "No, we don't do that any more". Fair enough - it wasn't up on the boards as it often is so I accepted that. I was in a bit of a hurry without time to go elsewhere so I ordered and paid the higher "non-offer" price. As I was leaving I spotted some leaflets offering what I'd asked for at £4.99. And that was an offer that seemed specific to the franchisee. So why didn't they inform me of that? Here's the leaflet:
The offer is listed on there as available after 8pm. I arrived a few minutes past 8 (I'm certain of this as I was trying and failing, to get somewhere else by 8, but needed to eat more than getting to my destination on time) and yet the assistant didn't offer me that deal, despite me enquiring about such an offer at the start. By the time I'd seen this leaflet the only staff member had disappeared into the back store out of site and since I was short of time I didn't chase him down. I did however, complain online at their request:



SXA> I visited the Shirley store at 2005 last night. I specifically 
SXA> enquired about the £5 deal for a footlong sub and drink that 
SXA> most of your stores offer only to be told "We don't do that
SXA> any more". I ordered anyway, was charged I think it was £6.99 
SXA> and paid with cash. I wasn't given a receipt.
SXA> SXA> While filling up my drink I saw some leaflets talking about a 
SXA> £4.99 offer of a footlong sub and drink, available from
SXA> 2000-0200 each day. See
SXA> https://twitter.com/sxa555/status/692007240870555648. I was 
SXA> in a bit of a hurry (running late which is in fact the only 
SXA> reason I arrived after 8pm)
SXA> and the assistant had disappeared into the back of the store
SXA> so I couldn't quickly speak to him. So the assistant seemingly 
SXA> chose to rip me off instead of giving me that offer when I'd 
SXA> specifically enquired. It is extremely disappointing to feel 
SXA> lied to and I think someone needs to have a word with
SXA> the franchise owner. I can also be contacted me on twitter 
SXA> @sxa555 - it was your account that pointed me at this form.


A reasonable reply was forthcoming:


SO> Dear Mr Addison,

SO>

SO> Thank you for submitting your comments regarding the Subway® 
SO> Store in Southampton, Shirley High Street.   

SO>

SO> I would like to thank you for bringing this incident to our 
SO> attention. Comments such as yours are very valuable to us as 
SO> they enable us to monitor the stores performances closely and
SO> we thank you for taking the time to write to us.
SO>  

SO> Due to the fact that the Stores belong to Franchisees we, as 
SO> the Development Office for the East & West Sussex, Hampshire
SO> and Isle of Wight region, do not operate the stores ourselves. 
SO> We do however, play a supervisory role to ensure that all
SO> stores are operated strictly according to Subway® standards. I 
SO> have therefore forwarded your comments to the owner of the
SO> store in question with the request to investigate the matter 
SO> immediately. The franchisee or a representative of the store 
SO> will contact you directly within the next 3 days.

SO> 
SO> I would like to thank you once again for bringing the matter
SO> to our attention. Once the Franchisee has been in contact with 
SO> you I will be glad to receive your feedback. Please let me know 
SO> if you need any further assistance or information in the
SO> meantime.

I felt quite pleased with this response - I had a contact that seemed keen to ensure the franchisee was behaving themselves and was willing to take feeback. All good so far. Then I got the response from the franchisee ...

SF> Dear Customer,

SF>

SF> Thank you for your email.

SF> 

SF> Let me begin by saying that I am deeply sorry for your 
SF> experience in this Subway store and I will do everything
SF> in my power to ensure this event does not repeat itself.
SF> 

SF>  Plan of action

SF> Due to the fact customer service, hygiene and quality are 
SF> Subways key focus, I have decided to ask management to
SF> re-train this individual via Subway University as i want to 
SF> ensure Subways high standards are demonstrated in every
SF> store in the UK.

SF> 

SF> I would again like to apologise for this matter and hope
SF> this experience has not provided you with a permanent
SF> negative perception of Subways products & services.

SF>             
SF> If you have any other issues you would like to discuss please 
SF> phone me on my business mobile

Where do I start? There is nothing in that reply that leads me to believe it wasn't a standard "cut & pasted" reply from a franchisee who doesn't care enough to respond to the specific issue - even the "Dear customer" at the start says they couldn't even be bothered replacing it with my name. Retraining a member of staff at the centralised "subway university" would appear to serve no useful purpose when the issue was the staff member not making an offer available that was franchise-specific, so the blame lies firmly on the door of the franchise owner, or the employee. "I'm sorry that my staff member misled you. I hope this hasn't given you a permanent negative perception". Well I'm sorry, but yes it has.

But the person in the Subway Development Office for the region would be interested in this behaviour from its franchisee, right?

SXA> Hi <name withheld>
SXA> You've said you'd be glad to receive my feedback once I 
SXA> received a reply. I'm sure you've had the chance to read the 
SXA> response I got from the franchisee.  So I would be very 
SXA> interested in hearing what your opinion of it is?
SXA> From my perspective, what I've received is very obviously a 
SXA> blatant "cut & pasted" answer that has been crafted in such a 
SXA> way that it has presumably been given exactly as-is many times 
SXA> before. And If it's been needed many times before so as to 
SXA> warrant having such a generic response available than that's a 
SXA> concern in itself. It therefore gives me very little faith 
SXA> that the individual will actually be retrained at Subway 
SXA> University as a result of my complaint, and even if I did 
SXA> believe it it would serve no useful purpose because the issue 
SXA> was them misinforming me about an offer which was specific to 
SXA> their franchise, not something that central training would 
SXA> address, therefore the "everything in my power" comment is 
SXA> utter drivel. The issue is purely the franchise owners 
SXA> responsibility, but since they've given a cut & pasted answer 
SXA> they probably didn't read my complaint enough to realise that. 
SXA> It's really quite insulting.
SXA>
SXA> I do appreciate that your branches are franchised but I would 
SXA> be very surprised if you considered what was said to be an 
SXA> acceptable response. If I was in your position I would be 
SXA> extremely disappointed. I would like one more piece of 
SXA> information from you if possible. Is the following a complete 
SXA> list of stores that the franchise that Sunny Khaira has any 
SXA> investment in as I wish to make sure I avoid dealing with him 
SXA> in the future, and will be actively disuadding others from 
SXA> doing so:
SXA>
SXA> 136 Porswood Road, Southampton
SXA> 109 Shirley High Street, Southampton
SXA> Central Train Station, Southampton
SXA> 165 High Street, Winchester
SXA> 4 Black Swan Building, Winchester.
SXA>
SXA> I presume the store in Eastleigh has nothing whatsoever to do 
SXA> with him (it seems more modern too, although that's probably 
SXA> because it is a relatively new store). I have regularly 
SXA> visited the Winchester High Street store and having acquired a 
SXA> subway loyalty card I was considering using that one a lot 
SXA> more. But I'll be heading to KFC or McDonalds instead now.

I received no response to this email. I have therefore avoided Subway since. I suggest you do the same, particularly for this franchise (addresses in the last email which I believe is complete although as I said I never got a reply confirming).

Sunday, 22 February 2015

AA roadside breakdown: Why can't you give sensible personalised renewal quotes?

[Short link to this article if you need it - http://goo.gl/VJQcsJ - or retweet me]

I'm a long standing member of AA ... Before anyone says it, I don't have an alcohol problem - I'm referring to the Automobile Association which provides vehicle breakdown cover in the UK. With most insurance policies for standard vehicle insurance and the like you'll be given a "reasonable" renewal quote based on your history and personal circumstances. But it seems the AA are completely incapable of doing the same. Every year they send me a standard renewal quote which is vastly higher than the prices on their web site, and every year I call them up and they drop it by about a third - often matching (or getting very close to) the prices on the web site. I got fed up and contacted the president of the AA:


Thanks Mr.President - not actually acknowledging any problem, just telling me to call up again and sort it out. But you have to wonder why I would choose to do that when I could just call up your competitor and get a better price. Don't get me wrong - I'm very happy with the AA service, it's just the renewals process I have an issue with. This yeah I renewed my motorcycle insurance and was sorely tempted to take out the insurer's optional breakdown cover and then sign up to my bank's "extra" account which included breakdown cover for the car. But I'm going to write this blog post and see if they'll show any signs of changing it. "Big Data" is a big buzzword in the computing industry just now in terms of analysing vast quantities of data, but insurance companies have been doing this sort of thing for a long time to set premiums. It's inexcusable that AA's renewal prices are vastly higher than the ones on their web site - and I also claim that what's on their website is blatantly misleading ...

To give an example, at the time of writing this blog the basic level of cover on http://www.theaa.com/breakdown-cover/ as I write this is listed as £74.99 with a special £10 discount bringing it to £64.99 as per the image on the right. So what is the £10 discount for? Here's the small print:

* The £10 discount is available to new customers purchasing vehicle cover and national recovery using an annual payment method.

So the £10 discount appears to be for new customers, and therefore you'd naturally assume that the standard price for existing customers renewing would be £74.99. That's the level of cover I have. Last year the renewal came through at almost double that. So what does the £74.99 apply to if "new customers" are only getting a £10 discount off that? If anyone manages to find AA's "real" (not introductory) prices listed anywhere on their site then you're doing better than I managed when I alst looked.




It's made worse by the fact that the AA don't seem to have an option not to auto-renew each year (at least they are notify you before renewal date, avoiding nonsense list this  from 2012). So by default you'll suddenly get completely screwed by a massive price hike from what you're expecting (The send you a letter, but unless you verify it with last year, or the web prices, you might miss it) This is what happened last year for me:
So now we've covered the background, here's my standard "full disclosure" conversation with the AA (Note that this conversation was about a year ago so the offers mentioned are different from what's currently available)

SXA> Hi - I've been an AA member since I was on my father's membership, other than a 
SXA> short period when it lapsed for a couple of months (I initially had a card that 
SXA> showed my "member since" date as 1966). Over the last few years it seems my
SXA> renewal has always come in at a price significantly higher than the old price, 
SXA> and since you're keeping my details on file, you will auto-renew at the above price.
SXA> 
SXA> For the last few years or so I've called you each year and you've knocked it down
SXA> to a level comparable with the price on your web site. Each year I am told that it's 
SXA> because that's a "new policyholder" introductory discount. There are several issues 
SXA> with this:
SXA> 
SXA> 1) Despite you're auto-renewal policy I don't consider AA breakdown do be a 
SXA> subscription service (in the same way I don't with my car insurance policy) unlike 
SXA> something like music streaming or a TV subscription would be. I'm paying for one 
SXA> year of service. For this reason any "introductory discount" (as your assistants 
SXA> point out, that's what's on your web site) seems less relevant. And even though 
SXA> you've dropped the price for me to a comparable level, you still have scope for an 
SXA> introductory bonus for true new customers of the Amazon vouchers (I don't have such 
SXA> a problem with that)
SXA> 
SXA> 2) Last year I paid £85. This year my renewal came in at £145. Even if I was a new 
SXA> customer last year an increase of 70% is something that most people would choke at. 
SXA> If it wasn't so extreme then people would be more likely to accept it.
SXA> 
SXA> 3) If I just "trusted" your renewal quote then you are actively encouraging loyal 
SXA> customers such as myself to look elsewhere. In fact to avoid calling your call 
SXA> centre every year to beat the price back down it'd be less hassle for me to just 
SXA> toggle between the AA and RAC each year. That's nonsensical from a business point of 
SXA> view from your company. (For the record, a big chunk of the reason I don't do this 
SXA> was because I also need motorcycle cover which several of the providers don't have - 
SXA> but the RAC includes it as you do)
SXA> 
SXA> 4) I haven't given my membership number in this email but your records would show 
SXA> that I've made this call for several consecutive years. Surely given that you have a 
SXA> record of me doing this, it would be preferable from a "Don't annoy the customer" 
SXA> perspective to offer a more sensible renewal price for people who you know are not 
SXA> going to accept the default renewal price. Unless of course you don't care about 
SXA> customer loyalty. I understand some people will just accept the renewal, and that's 
SXA> their own fault that they don't know better (as is the case for many financial 
SXA> services) But as someone who you know won't put up with it, you're not encouraging 
SXA> loyalty.
SXA> 
SXA> I'm interested to see a considered response from you on this - even better if you're 
SXA> able to forward to Edmund King as a "case study". I hope you can use this 
SXA> information to improve your services.

AA> Dear Mr Addison,
AA>  
AA> Thank you for taking the time to email The AA Social Media Team.
AA> 
AA> This is something we would like to look into for you.
AA> 
AA> I have liaised with the relevant department and have passed your details over for 
AA> investigation.
AA> 
AA> You will be contacted as soon as possible.
AA> 
AA> Kind Regards
AA> [name removed for this blog]
AA> The AA Social Media Team

22 days later I received a reply

AA> To: Mr S Addison
AA> From: The Automobile Association
AA> 
AA>   
AA> Dear Mr Addison
AA>   
AA> Thank you for contacting us about your AA membership renewal. I was sorry to learn 
AA> that you are unhappy that you have to call each year to obtain a discount for your 
AA> renewal.
AA> 
AA> The AA, like many companies, operates a standard pricing structure for existing 
AA> members. We are unable to offer automatic and continuous discounts so we send the 
AA> standard quote for renewing at the level of cover held and give the member the 
AA> opportunity to contact us if they are unhappy.
AA>   
AA> It is difficult to personally price cover for over 4.5 million members so it is only 
AA> when we are contacted that we can look at each membership on an individual basis. We 
AA> review the cover held, service usage and membership tenure in order to see if a 
AA> discount is available.
AA>   
AA> As a long standing member I can see a discount has been honoured again for you this 
AA> year as it has in the past. I hope you will be happy with the new price that has been 
AA> arranged.
AA>   
AA> In closing, I would like to thank you for taking the trouble to make us aware of your 
AA> feelings. It is through valuable feedback, such as yours, that we are able to learn 
AA> and improve the service we provide. Finally, I would like to apologise again for 
AA> failing to meet your expectations.

So they claim to have a "standard pricing structure" (as per my opening paragraphs, I don't see where this is published - it certainly isn't made clear that it's way above the prices on their front page) and their assertion that "it is difficult to personally quote for 4.5 million members" is just crazy. I'm not expecting an individual quote like I'd get for my main vehicle insurance cover - there aren't that many cases for breakdown cover. So I went back to them:
  
SXA> Ref: "It is difficult to personally price cover for over 4.5 million members so it 
SXA> is only when we are contacted that we can look at each membership on an individual 
SXA> basis."
SXA> 
SXA> Are you honestly saying your systems don't have algorithms that can figure that out 
SXA> in far less time than it takes someone on the phone to look at a screen and make an 
SXA> assessment? I work in the computer industry and the concept of that not being an 
SXA> obvious thing to have automated is astonishing to me - it's NOT difficult to put an 
SXA> initial sensible personal discount together automatically. Even if this was only 
SXA> triggered for people like myself who you know will call every year. Also, if you 
SXA> offered a sensible renewal price in the first place your customers would almost 
SXA> certainly be less likely to "haggle" on the phone to bring it down even further. The 
SXA> only reason for not automating this is the hope on your part that people won't 
SXA> bother to call.
SXA> 
SXA> I am happy with the new price, but I am struggling to see why I would remain with 
SXA> you next year when you force me to do this every year (especially in light of your 
SXA> odd comments on difficulty of automation). Unless of course you don't genuinely care 
SXA> about customer loyalty and satisfaction. Also, ref your "standard pricing structure 
SXA> for existing members" - where are those prices publicised - I couldn't find them on 
SXA> your web site.

At this point I received no further reply via email but did receive a letter from them:



Nonsense. Can they not afford a competent IT division, or do they just like ripping people off? Until I see evidence to the contrary I'm going with the latter.  I assume the "official complaint" mentioned in that letter is logged in there and then been chucked in the "Your call is important to us" bucket. And since they were floated on the stock market last year I'm not holding out much hope that they have an interest in anything but making more money for the shareholders. I'm happy to discuss further with the AA if they wish to talk to me to convince me otherwise. Or make a comment in the blog publicly, or to me on twitter.

EDIT 25/2/2015 : Two days after I posted this article I got a renewal notice through the mail - £138.04. Can I be bothered calling them up again, or is it time to vote with my credit card and leave them?

EDIT 3/2/2015: Adding a few random tweets from others on the subject:


worksco




On the basis of the above, I feel sorry for the poor individual who decides to take up this job  ...