If you’re in the UK, you’ll probably have seen the advertising for O2’s Bluebook service. I don’t see many TV adverts, but I do go to the cinema quite a lot and have seen the advert several times there. Bluebook is a service which lets you back-up the info on your phone – text messages, contacts, etc. I would very much like to be able back up my text messages, so I tried to register for the service. I signed in to my O2 account and tried to go to the Bluebook page only to be informed that I “no longer have rights to access this page”. It seems I’m not alone in having problems, as this thread on the O2 site demonstrates. Two things stand out in that thread: (1) not all phones are supported; (2) sometimes problems can be sorted by O2 customer support if you call them up. Am I the only person who finds those two facts astonishing for a service which is being pushed so hard in mainstream advertising? Sounds more like a beta than a release. This seems to me a typical mistake of the old-style big corporate marketing: use advertising to make people want something badly enough that they’ll put up with all sorts of nonsense to get it. But I think these tactics have a cumulative negative effect on their customers. Oh, and couldn’t they give a somewhat more informative error message?!?

I’m really looking forward to reading Clay Shirky’s new book Here Comes Everybody. I was therefore delighted to find that Penguin sell an ebook version. (For various personal reasons, I mostly read ebooks.) I purchased it on Monday 7th April, but when I went to the download I got an error message: “invalid title”. I filled in the Customer Service request form on the website asking for help. I guess I’m spoiled by the responsiveness of other services I use: Newsgator and Traction CS usually respond within minutes; ADSL24, Clickwheel, Fictionwise, etc. all respond to CS requests within a day at most. Even O2 usually get back to me within 48 hours. Not Penguin. Apart from an automated response telling me my request had been passed to a CS representative, I got no response at all. On Wednesday, I emailed them again. Still no response. Emailed again on Friday: nothing. So I *phoned* them on Monday. It is very inconvenient for me to use the phone at work so I was pretty irritated at having to take this step. My call was answered pretty quickly, and once I described my problem I was told that only one person (!) can deal with ebook problems. I was given his name and number. Unfortunately, there is no answer at that number, not even any voicemail. I rang Penguin CS again: they said they would re-send my email to the ebook support guy and I should wait a day or two to see if he responds. So it’s now Wednesday 16th and I haven’t heard anything. I phoned Penguin CS again. Once again they’ve sent my email to the ebook support guy and I’m being asked to wait another couple of days. *sigh* I can’t say this bodes well for Penguin’s recent committment to providing more ebooks. They really, really must get their support sorted out before expanding their range.

I think the above are two great examples of how big companies can really mess up their customer relations by not thinking things through properly. In both cases they’ve committed themselves to a service which they cannot properly deliver, and that has a cumulative negative effect on their customers’ perception of the company. I know from my own experience how difficult it is in a large organisation for the left hand to know what the right is doing, and that’s why the whole notion of blogging is so important. Imagine how much better my reaction to the Penguin thing would have been if I could just have gone to the ebook support guy’s blog page and either (a) seen that he was e.g. on leave at the moment, or (b) put my question to him directly. These endless coccooning layers of support – which are so common in large organisations – are not a good way to deal with frustrated customers, any more than the big flashy adverts which over-sell under-specified services.

UPDATE 2008-04-17 12:21 I got an email from Penguin. I am to receive a refund. The reason for the refund (and lack of ebook) will be explained at some point in the future apparently.