Harry's Home on the Web
This is admittedly a fairly minor example, but it genuinely irritates me. And it’s by no means the first letter from HMRC that’s done the same. Click for a bigger version.
For the most part, I find that ensuring my business complies with all the Government’s requirements to file and pay things is a huge pain in the arse. I do most of it myself, I try to get it right and mostly succeed, and when there have been mistakes they’ve always been genuine.
So, when I get letters threatening me with penalties if I cease to do something I’ve been doing all along, I get annoyed. It’s unnecessary. I wouldn’t ever send a letter like this to a client or a supplier unless sorely provoked. So why is it HMRC’s default tone of voice?
Why can’t Government talk like a human?
We all know and love the Number 10 petitions site. The technology works and the experience is well thought through, as one would expect given that it’s a mySociety project.
It’s not perfect, though, and as usual, it’s the human element that’s problematic. It’s the responses to petitions that don’t hit the mark, and don’t give any opportunity for people to engage further. It’s the top-down, message-driven, one-way broadcasting at people, instead of the collaborative, mutually respectful conversation that we should be having with Government.
Having real, two-way conversations is hard. It requires time, patience, money, and a wholesale change in attitude — but Government say they’re up for it. Digital Engagement is the mantra du jour. And things are definitely moving in the right direction.
So — given this background of steady and positive change — why are Number 10 still stuck in the mud? Why do we get responses to petitions that range from the dishonest to the obtuse, and only the occasional gem, when it really should be the other way around?
And why, when someone makes an extremely sensible suggestion for a way to make this a bit better, does it get dismissed out of hand?
The last thing the Web needs is another place for people to shout into a hole.
After posting about the iPhone yesterday, I thought I should mention that figuring out what service was best for me was a real pain. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t.
Because I had unusual plans — buying a Pay & Go phone and then switching to a 1-month rolling contract — I rang O2 twice before buying anything. I wanted to make sure that Visual Voicemail, unlimited wifi and tethering would work on a non-iPhone contract, and was assured that they would be.
After getting the phone, I found that Visual Voicemail didn’t work, and called O2, assuming it was a configuration problem… but no. They said Visual Voicemail and tethering are unavailable on anything other than an iPhone contract, which is not what they said before. I suggested some possible solutions to this:
Could you turn on these features without using an iPhone contract? Answer: No. Apparently it’s “technically impossible”.
Could you put me on an iPhone contract with an appropriate discount and no minimum term (since I already have the phone) Answer: No. “The system won’t let me do that.” — “Can I speak to someone who can authorise it?” — “No one could authorise that” — “What!?”
I had a bit of a go at the guy and was called back by a manager, who offered me a month’s free line rental to make up for it, but still. I felt pretty messed around, especially since i had taken so much care to ensure that everything would be ok. Ho hum.
In any case, I do now have the new iPhone, and it’s lovely (despite O2′s crummy 3G coverage), and I’m terribly happy with it. It is an awesome piece of kit: so awesome, it turns out, that it can even balance out the monumental crapness of mobile phone companies.
Edited to add:
I forgot to mention that O2 were pretty rubbish even before I got my hands on the phone. I ordered it online on the Friday morning when it was released. The website asked me when I wanted when I wanted it to be delivered, so I picked a free slot on Monday morning. It didn’t arrive. My card was billed — all, I thought, was good. I rang O2, and they said it would arrive in the next couple of days.
On Tuesday, perhaps over-enthusiastically, I rang O2 again to ask when it would come, only to be told that they’d run out of stock and cancelled the order.
Beyond the initial confirmation email, I didn’t hear from them at all. They didn’t tell me a thing. #Fail.
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