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The problem with modern technology (and consumer affairs)

You might think this is a true story – and I couldn’t possibly comment, which is one of the reasons that I shall do my best to keep it short and to the essence (and will probably fail).

I reckon I don’t ever watch more than a tenth of the number of television channels I am supplied with by my service provider but still have to pay for within my ‘package’.

This fact not only seems a trifle counter-intuitive in this ecologically-concerned, worried-about-waste, modern era but also annoys me when I’m paying over £120 per month for the privilege.

Logically – in other words, if I was only required to pay for those channels I viewed – I should be paying around £12 per month.

And then there are all the other services that come with my satellite/cable box that I hardly use – e.g. time-shifting; recording up to three programmes simultaneously; ‘tagging’ (or having tagged for me) in advance and then recording certain programmes, or series, or indeed anything at all featuring my favourite genres of programmes or actors & actresses; and indeed having recorded for me literally hundreds of programmes a year that I have zero interest but which my service’s provider’s ‘smart box’ has decided are ‘suggestions’ for my delectation.

[And here I should add the qualification that the previous paragraph takes no account of all the other whizzo services, bell & whistles, ‘smart technology’ facilities and/or fun, trick and games that may also be available via my satellite/cable box … and which people under thirty (maybe that should read ‘under forty’) may enjoy using, perhaps as part of their everyday social media activities … but which I am either unaware of and/or, even if I was aware of them, would neither understand, nor be technically capable of, and indeed would not be remotely interested in, using them even if this was not the case.]

When you put all that together, forget me having to pay £120 per month for all of the above, when you come to the essence of what services I as a customer actually use, logically I should be charged only about £2 per month.

In fact, I’d go even further. Given that I am housing in my home a box, 90% to 95% of whose services I shall never use, arguably it is I who should be paid a decent whack every month by my service provider, not the other way around.

Anyway – glad I got that off my chest, but that’s not even the point of today’s tale!

I am an impractical person – in the family home in which my wife and I brought up our children, until we came to sell it and the estate agent asked where the gas meter was, I wasn’t aware we had one.

You know Murphy’s Law (the fact of life that, it is theoretically possible for something to go wrong, at some point it will) – when it comes to technology, Byford’s Law is that it always will whenever I get involved.

Last December I called out an engineer from my satellite/cable provider because the picture upon a growing number of the few TV channels I watch was ‘bleeding’ (or becoming fuzzy) to the point they had become unwatchable.

He quickly diagnosed that the problem was semi-terminal but proposed an easy solution. My box was about two generations old and in any event I was due a free upgrade to the very latest version.

Then came my ‘big issue of concern’.

The new box was to come to me through the post and, once I had plugged it in, I was then to ring the service provider customer help-line, carry out two or three moves as instructed over the phone, and bingo! I’d be off and running.

Immediately I protested. I was hopeless with technology: why couldn’t an engineer physically come to install the box and he (or she) plug it in and do the necessary?

Oh, they said – they didn’t do that, it had to be done over the phone. My sense of foreboding was increasing …

Some days later, the box duly arrived in the post. We plugged it in and rang the customer help-line [the accompanying pamphlet proudly proclaimed “If you haven’t done so already, call our automated line on XXXXXXXXXXXX (number) to activate your new box. It’ll only take a minute …” (DEAR READER, PLEASE REMEMBER THIS STATEMENT FOR LATER UNDERSTANDING).]

After half an hour later we hit the inevitable road block.

The lead connecting the new box to the television was an HDMI cable.

My veteran (but very expensive – it cost £2,800 about a decade ago) television connected to everything by scart leads and had but one HDMI port. About five years ago, frustrated by technology as usual, I’d buggered that by trying to force a cable into it and had bent said HDMI (‘female’) port, rendering it so that no HDMI cable could fit into it. Game over.

A short-term solution was arranged. We’d carry on using the ‘old’ box … and in the New Year get my television’s HDMI port either repaired or replaced and try again.

Cut to yesterday, when I bought a brand new Panasonic TV (4HD, in other words the high-definition quality was four times greater than HD as originally invented … and let me stress my old (expensive) TV, state of the art at the time of purchase, had only been ‘HD-ready’ not a full-on HD television at all.

Household anticipation was sky high, just in time for the Six Nations rugger matches: new TV, new box … the only thing left was to plug everything in, call the service provider’s customer help-line and fire it up!

And that’s where the wheels came off the chariot big-time, to coin a phrase.

I shall do my best not to bore you by giving a blow-by-blow account. I’ll just list the problems we encountered:

The customer helpline operator at the other end came from the Sub-Continent (so I must be careful not to seem racist). He had a pronounced Sub-Continent accent but also an extreme capacity for mumbling – the combination of the two meant that (and I’m not joking) my ears and brain were receiving only about 50% of what he said.

That was the first problem. Early on, unable to cope, I passed him on to my Other Half who, with some justification given my history, felt that she could do far better than me.

In the event, within about ten minutes she was as frustrated as I had been.

The next issue was ‘protocols and procedures’.

Even though he was looking at my account and could see the history (viz. the December arrival of the new box and it being unable to be used), he did everything by the book in front of him.

I had to provide my account password.

Well, of course, I had absolutely no idea of what that was.

About half an hour of searching later I found a record of it. Excitedly, we told him what it was [for this example, it is disguised for obvious reasons] – “NAPOLEON”.

He explained he couldn’t accept this statement.

Instead he asked “Please tell me the first letter of your password”. (“But we’ve just told you the password is NAPOLEON!”). “I cannot accept that. Please tell me the first letter of your password”. (“This is ridiculous! … Okay, it’s N”). “Please tell me the third letter of your password” (“This is madness … P”). “Please tell me the fifth letter of your password”. (“L”).

It was only at that point we had managed to satisfy him that I was the account holder.

And so it went on.

Three and a half hours later … having been talking on the telephone throughout, trying (by trial and error) to start the new TV and the new box … and then get them talking to each other … in total about twenty times in twenty different ways – and having failed in every single one of them – the customer help-line chap finally agreed to send round an engineer to fix everything up sometime early next week.

Sometimes on the Rust we queue up to delight in recounting our frustrations with modern technology.

Mine yesterday (I accept) stemmed partly from the fact that TV technology has moved several stages from the previous scart-lead connections to (the latest!) HDMI-lead connections … which is why my decade-old TV was inadequate to cope with modern life. It has but one HDMI port and that was broken.

My new TV has at least three HDMI ports, the picture quality on it is fantastic compared to that on my old TV, and you know what(?) – even with those improvements and indeed a whole lot of other new stuff that it can do which I will never use – it cost me £2,200 less than my old one did!

And, of course, I later discovered another casualty of the modern era – the then-also-expensive quadraphonic sensurround sound system that I bought to accompany my outgoing TV when I bought that ten years or more ago.

It still works a treat. Or rather, it did so until I jumped into the new modern era by buying my new TV yesterday.


Because, of course, that also connects to the TV and other things via scart-leads. Scart-lead ports don’t exist on modern TVs because, of course, they now operate on HDMI leads.

Thus, when I’m throwing out my old TV this week, I shall also be throwing out my old quadraphonic sounds system and CD/DVD player. Neither of them is of any use to me now because I cannot plug them into my new TV.

Instead, if I want these facilities (which I do) I now need to buy a brand new CD/DVD player and new quadraphonic sound system that operate via HDMI leads.

That’s my beef with technology.

My beef with my satellite/cable service provider can be boiled down to customer service.

When phoning their customer helpline yesterday to open the batting, I was inevitably sucked into into an automated response system.

It won’t surprise readers in the slightest that the first issue I had was that, when the recorded lady gave me the six options from which I was to choose my point of entry to their system, I didn’t want any of them.

I just wanted to speak to a human being who dealt with ‘activating’ satellite/cable boxes.

That option wasn’t available to me. Thus it took me four phone calls and half an hour of trial & error (this before the three and a half hours we later spent on the phone failing to activate the box in question) to actually get through to a human being who could address my issue.

Big companies who use automated phone systems to communicate with their customers need to get a binary grip.

Either provide one that covers every single option – or else get back to hiring more people to take calls, so that we customers can actually use their products as they were designed to be used without having to waste an entire Saturday morning trying (and then failing!) to do something which – LET ME REMIND YOU – they advertise as “taking only a minute”(!).

Even better – and I can say this after three and a half hours on the phone to a help-line operator in which we at home were trying to describe what the leads and (and connecting points on the end of them ) coming out of the back of a box look like … and he is then suggesting a series of acts to take the next step forward – they should, as I first begged and pleaded, just send an engineer round.

Yesterday our three and a half hours on the phone most resembled two people sitting blindfolded in different corners of the world trying to assemble an IKEA item of furniture inside a warehouse in a third corner of the world covered in total darkness.

I’m pretty certain that if an engineer had come to our home at 9.30am yesterday he could have set us up and been on his way in less than ten minutes.

What we endured wasn’t customer service at all.


About William Byford

A partner in an international firm of loss adjusters, William is a keen blogger and member of the internet community. More Posts