What century is this again? A sorry tale of mice and men

Last month I railed against companies, such as mmO2, which were failing to offer adequate channels of communication via their websites. This month I am going to rail some more.

Samsung, from which I recently bought a surprisingly sexy laptop, has a well-below-par UK website. This is a hugely ambitious global titan, trying to emulate Apple and Sony in its new “DigitALL ad campaign, and yet it can’t even be bothered to provide properly translated English on parts of the site. The design is ghastly – sometimes the Web pages don’t even fit on the computer screen – and signposting for e-mail communications with the company are wholly inadequate.

But, sin of sins, there was absolutely no sign of a telephone number for head office. I harangued Samsung UK’s PR about this and they finally got back to me announcing that a telephone number would be supplied. I suppose that’s what you call the power of the press. The press official also said the site was in the process of being redesigned, with a relaunch appearing sometime next year. Breath-holding, presumably, not required.

And another depressing e-story: Powergen has recently acquired Amerada and its customers, among whom I am once again unlucky enough to be included. Part of the appeal of Amerada was the ability to have a fully online relationship with a gas and electricity supplier. Indeed, this was encouraged by Amerada’s decision to bill you &£1 a minute if you dared contact them by phone. Scandalous really, although plenty of companies are still doing it.

But the online part of Amerada worked well enough, so I was eager to register on Powergen’s website, as instructed, and begin an online-only relationship with my new power supplier. To cut a long story short, I failed many times to register, despite doing everything as instructed. It turned out that Powergen’s IT department had failed to install software that would – as 99.9 per cent of other websites managed to – account for the fact that some people enter their postcode with a space in the middle, while others do not. Powergen’s IT maestros allowed for one format only.

I spoke to a poor, beleaguered soul on Powergen’s internet team, who informed me that this problem was causing them massive inconvenience, as they had to waste valuable time explaining it to hundreds of angry customers. But she was confident that by the end of the month she would have enough evidence to convince the IT department that it needed to act.

I was, once again, gobsmacked: was Powergen’s IT department really so high and mighty that it needed to be convinced of the problem before acting? Couldn’t such a basic and easily remedied problem be dealt with immediately?

But I suppose I should stop being so amazed by all this corporate arrogance and obtuseness. There is so much to be optimistic about with the internet these days – wireless broadband spreading like wildfire, Bluetooth going mainstream, online billing becoming standard and much more besides – but corporate structures and mindsets are still so stubbornly 20th-century. Enormous technological hurdles have been overcome in the past few years, but I fear that the “human” hurdle will take a very long time to clear.

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