Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A few reasons to trust your instincts and distrust companies

I have just paid £73.59 to cancel my mobile phone contract with the O2 at The Carphone Warehouse after 24 months of shambolic behaviour on their behalf. On the 26th of June 2008 I rang up to give them 1 months disconnection notice as I had found a new mobile phone provider. This is where it all went wrong...

The customer service adviser I reached attempted to convince me not to disconnect - obviously retention is something he was targeted upon (although I'm unsure if it was commission based). After telling the advisor that I had a different supplier and that I was willing to let the present contract end in one month's time (ie the end of the original 12 month contract), he insisted I keep my contract with them on the basis that he would credit my account with £300 and that my £25 per month contract would cover the 12 month period to follow. This obviously meant he had retained a customer and that their churn rate would be slightly better. Thinking that I was doing this advisor a favour and that I couldn't lose out, I agreed.

Following that conversation, I removed the SIM card and placed my old handset in a recycling scheme. I never used the phone on that tariff again. When my first bill came through it read that I had nothing to pay and that was that as far as I was concerned. I placed the future disconnection date of June 2009 in my diary and seldom thought of this contract again. Every month I'd receive a bill, but every month it was pre-paid.

However, 9 months into the extended contract I noticed that one of the bills on this account stated I had less than £10 worth of credit of the contract which was meant to see me through the remaining 3 months. I called O2 at The Carphone Warehouse up on my landline (an 0870 number charged at about 10p per minute) and asked for clarification. It seemed that I had inadvertently been placed on a higher call tariff than the one I was on when I originally rang to disconnect hence my monthly bill was more than the £25 I had been paying. At this point I asked the customer service representative to explain how this had happened, to which he couldn't but he did tell me that he would lower the tariff straight away and recalculate all the backdated bills so that my account would be in credit as originally promised. After all, it was clear that I wasn't using the account and that it was only active because O2 offered a retention-saving deal.

The following month a partial bill came out of my bank account, but I figured this was to be expected and that it would likely take O2 at The Carphone Warehouse a while to recalculate the charges, process them and recredit my account. It turns out that they never did this at all. The following month I rang them up again to see what was happening only for them to not have a record of the previous conversations. Annoyed, but polite (I've worked in this environment before and there's no point ranting at people), I asked them when my contract was up for cancellation to which I was told the start of July.

So, today I figured it would be a good time to give O2 at The Carphone Warehouse my 1 month disconnection notification. When I did so, I was told my an advisor that because I had taken an 'upgrade' deal before my original 12 month contract had expired I was 'locked into' a contract with them until the middle of September 2009 - 14.5 months after I had originally rang to cancel my contract. Upgrade! What upgrade? My contract had meant to end but for the last 3 months I have been paying for a service I have never used!

At that point, I asked the O2 at The Carphone Warehouse advisor how much it would cost me to end the contract there and then - hence the £73.59 bill. There was no way I wanted to drag out what was already an onerous and protracted affair for a further 3 months. When I explained this to the advisor he acknowledged that I had grounds for 'escalation' and that I could take the matter further, but after being on the phone for 12 minutes I had had enough and paid the money to never have to deal with O2 at The Carphone Warehouse again.

The moral of the tail? Don't take pity on sales people. If a deal is too good to be true, it usually is.

Admittedly, I should have just cancelled the contract back in in June 2008 and not have acquiesced to the persuasive deal on offer. I also should have checked the tariff of the contract I was subsequently placed on earlier. I also probably should have taken the call further but when you feel that you are no longer an important customer then your relationship with a brand is tarnished and there is no going back. I have paid over £100 over the last 2 months for a contract I never wanted nor used. I will never be a customer of O2 at The Carphone Warehouse again.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Late submitting students

What should we do with students who submit coursework late? It's a problem that plagues me and one that I've never been able to fully reconcile. My institution has strict rules and regulations regarding assessment and deadlines, but the implications of following through on those rules are overshadowed by recent HEFCE rules which result in funding money being denied if students do not attempt a piece of coursework (i.e. if it's handed in, however late, the pressure is on to mark it regardless of principles)

Let's talk about this hypothetically. Many student seem to think that it's okay to contact staff on the day a piece of work has to be handed in and either ask for an extension (often without sound grounds) or state matter-of-factly that the work is going to be late and that we should be aware of this. The implicit assumption always seems to be that as staff have been told, then there is no problem. Well, there is a problem.

Currently, say I have about 40+ late pieces of work to mark (2500 words in length). Some of these pieces of work were submitted in the last 48 hours and are a week overdue. This might be on top of a module wide weekly extension I granted to all the students in good faith after the majority complained of a backlog of essay deadlines. The problem I face is that these essays have to be marked by a certain date in order for the students to progress and/or graduate, yet these late submission are making that task nigh on impossible. Remember, I talking hypothetically here.

The hardline is to say that these are late submissions therefore they aren't going be marked. The students then fail the module. However, HEFCE will not then release the funds needed to pay for the delivery of the course - not ideal. The softline is to say, I'll mark them but it means that those pieces of work will have to marked very quickly which might mean parity is sacrificed in such a rushed job. IS this fair on the students? What about those who managed to get their essays in on time? Is there a middleground? Mark them all as a pass grade capped at, say, 40%? What about those students who have genuine reasons for late submission?

It's a minefield, I tell ya. Thanks goodness it's all hypothetical.