I’m a car owner, along with the majority of the rest of the population. Like most car owners, I pay my road tax, buy fuel, have it serviced and get it repaired when it goes wrong. Now, I know next to nothing about cars and often feel that I am to cars as many car enthusiasts are to computers. Therefore, this involves interacting with all the usual suspects who I need to get my car on the road.
Now, I like using computers to do the talking for me, that’s pretty apparent from anyone who knows me. However, conversely I don’t expect anyone else to share the same passion for digital communications and always assume that unless they offer out the interactive laurel first, we’re doing it the old fashioned way.
Right now, you might be asking why I’ve alluded to being a driver? Well, young Jedi, I shall tell you. Being a driver in the Networked Nought-ies, I was under the mistaken impression that many places would offer a lot of their vehicular services online and in the majority of cases I was not mistaken. I had the flexibility to book services, check tyre availability, opening times and stock lists over the Internet with most major motor organisations. The problem arose for me, when I thought that anyone who implies they’re offering their services via the ‘net would be so efficient.
"The problem arose for me, when I thought that anyone who implies they’re offering their services via the ‘net would be so efficient."
My car has taken a battering over the years and all of it I can say hand on heart, caused by other people. I’ve had drunken louts walk over the poor thing head to toe, both wing mirrors broken off, the front reversed into and more scratches and scrapes than one of your Grandparents most played Barry Manilow records. The worst part of the car is definitely the bonnet, and I thought that I might treat myself to a little tidy up, polish out the scratches in the bodywork and replace it. Like any little Netizen, I started searching online.
Getting quotes from the manufacturer or dealers is easy, the majority of them are fully embracing the digital age and are more than happy to electronically fleece me completely for the privilege of a branded bonnet, with branded paint sprayed on by a branded painter and a branded mechanic to mount it. Given that I can fit a bonnet myself, I thought the easiest move would be to find one from a breakers yard, pick it up for a song and install it myself. And guess what? To my excitement, there are a lot of breakers yards online.
In a delirious techno-induced daze, I went about filling in form after form, email after email, awaiting the avalanche of replies about how all these places could sort me out with a bonnet in my colour for a price within my budget. -- Nothing.
Ok, so I had done a lot of contacting on the same day… maybe 48 hours in a working week wasn’t enough time to wait? I tried again the following Monday, same process, same people. I even mentioned that I’d written before, just in case they all had a simultaneous cataclysmic system failure in the CarNET node; alas no. Just as before, not a sausage. It would seem that my contacts were disappearing into the ether and somewhere on a lone terminal, covered in grease at the back of a garage; a copy of outlook express was missing an Email. The modem probably never had a chance to dial, having been unplugged to let someone use an ignition timer gun.
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My frustrations cumulated in thinking, “What is the point?” Why offer these services if you cannot fulfil them? If I were to call and ask if they had something in stock (and especially how much), they would be leaping over their desk to help me, however is the sad truth that the only reason they offer these services via the Internet is because they feel they have to, to stay in the game? Granted, I can get their phone number from the site, which is something which saved me from trawling through the Yellow Pages, but it is mightily depressing to know that my online forms are mailed to /dev/null and my Emails are sitting around in a long forgotten mailbox, sent from a site last updated in 1998 and best viewed in Mosaic.
"It’s so blatantly predictable that in the majority of these cases, the site has been set up by a helpful employee, or relative of an employee.."
I’m not selectively picking on the Motor trade here, almost any business which has clearly dragged itself kicking and screaming into the dawn of a new era in order to ‘play with the big boys’ suffers from this problem. If it’s not cars, it’s white goods, training, plumbing, cleaning, in fact anything which isn’t run somewhere that has an easily accessible technical support offering. It’s so blatantly predictable that in the majority of these cases, the site has been set up by a helpful employee, or relative of an employee, who has then realised that people actually want to use these as an option to contact the business and suddenly the thought of offering a ‘Service Level Agreement’ to the company (all for the cost of a beer down the pub) is way out of their league. So, the site goes un-updated, the forms go unprocessed and the Emails go unanswered.
It’s a shame, since many businesses see online order processing as the way to enhance their image and catch up with the rest of their competitors, but unfortunately there’s no worse impression to dwellers of the Internet than to not make good on your promise. In a world where online response is something which happens in hours, or even minutes, if you’re not replying to me in days, your business is lost and that pint you got your nephew for the work must be one of the most expensive you’ve bought.
This article last updated in September 1996, best viewed in DOSLynx.