Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

A good start for the new OU vice chancellor

I’m generally a message in a bottle kind of person as far as political activism goes rather than being that proactive with firing off letters to all and sundry as Wendy tends to do.

However, I thought that I’d drop the new Open University vice-chancellor, Martin Bean, a line about my thoughts on some rather undesireable side-effects of the ELQ fiasco. Specifically, the dropping of all but one of the science summer schools and the associated dropping of all the crop of named science degrees.

The summer schools have been a fixture of many Open University degrees from the very start. They’re the time when one feels like a “real” student for a week. They’re the time when one has the chance to get together with a whole heap of fellow students for all kinds of activities (ranging from serious study to, sometimes, the less high-minded student activities). They’re the time that one sees the Open University in the flesh.

The snag is that whilst up until a number of years ago the summer schools were an integral part of the regular courses, they were almost all separated off five or ten years ago as courses were rewritten. Thus whilst the original S100 science foundation course included a summer school, the updated S104 doesn’t and instead there’s a separate course made up entirely of the former summer school. That has the consequence that the summer school is now optional and therefore almost impossible to get a sponsor to pay for it and so many fewer people do the summer schools these days.

To add to the problems, the current proposal is to implement these changes over the next couple of years. That would be fast enough in a normal university where degrees typically span three or at most four years. In “OU-time”, it’s incredibly rapid as degrees can take anything from six to as many as eleven years even without breaks between courses. Thus even people who are well through their degree can be affected. One of those on the forum who’s almost at the end of her degree has already been forced into doing one of the summer schools a year or two “too soon” because it seems unlikely that the final summer school that she needs will be replaced after it expires. She’s one of the lucky ones: many of those at the start of their degrees will find that they can’t complete the degree they were aiming for as the required summer schools (and perhaps other courses) will long since have been cancelled by the time they’d be doing them.

Anyway, Martin tells me that he will be raising the issue fairly soon. I’m sure that this issue and other ELQ related ones will make his time an “interesting” one.

I was going to say that I was surprised to receive a personal reply from him the day after I sent my little missive but actually I’m not. It’s just what one would expect from the Open University vice chancellor and it’s good to see that he’s already taken the “open” part onboard.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Is your blog a Rolls or a Trabant?

Much as we might laugh at the Trabants that East Germany used to turn out as being unreliable and prone to break down, sadly that’s what many blogs seem to look like these days.

Oh, they don’t break down, but the quality of the workmanship that you see in some of the posts is really deplorable. What’s perhaps worse is that a lot of those low quality blogs are taking sponsored posts and if anything the quality of the posts that they get paid for is even worse than the norm for them.

Why do the advertisers put up with it? OK, they might just want the link from the blog but do they really want their product to be associated with shoddy workmanship? After all, the authors of these posts are numbered amongst their suppliers ultimately. Surely they can’t be so uncritical to accept what are often very shoddy posts indeed?

How bad are they? How about “you must visit this site. i think there products are really great. visit this site they have great products.”? I’ve paraphrased the real example so you can’t search for the actual blog entry that was based on (which was worse than that).

Good quality writing doesn’t mean that it can’t be about trashy subjects. Whilst many would call The Sun a trashy paper, every one of their articles is well written. Sure the writing style is laid back but it suits the content just as the relatively dense writing style of The Times suits it’s content and readership.

Just as there’s a range of writing styles in newspapers, so too one would expect there to be a range of writing styles in blogs. That doesn’t mean that the spelling, grammar and repetitiveness of my example is acceptable though because it isn’t and especially so since the advertiser paid $50 for it (quite why they approved payment is beyond me).

I’m not saying that you need perfection from day one but you should at least aim for that.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Wastage vs theft in hotels

In big hotels towels and whatnot go “missing” and it’s classed as wastage basically because it would be pretty difficult to identify who’d made off with things as so many different people are involved.

However, in our place which is very much at the smaller end of the scale, there are very few people involved so it’s easy enough to identify the culprits. For example, just this morning a family checked out and made off with four of our towels. Sometimes you wonder why people do that but in this case it’s pretty clear: they had ordered four breakfasts but only ate one. Therefore in lieu of the three breakfasts which we’d charged them for they thought that they’d take two little towels and two big ones.

Net effect? Well, they’ve been charged EUR 40 and received an e-mail letting them know we’ll refund it if we get the towels back next week.

Now, what they’re going to say is that they didn’t do it and obviously it must have been our cleaning person. Well, as it happens I’m the person who both puts the towels into the rooms and takes them out again. I put six in and took two out therefore they took the other four.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

They didn’t speak French to us…

That’s one of the negative comments that we received recently. Slightly ironic though in that the comment was from a German family of which only one of the four could speak any French and he couldn’t speak much.

However, we’ve now reached the point where we expect that French guests will criticize us for not being French. At least that is if they come from the Dordogne where we can understand their opposition to English as it’s often treated by the English as though it were the far south of England. Somewhat more peculiar though are those from Alsace who are historically German of course but who are, by now, more French than the French with a lot more depth to their French ancestry.

What’s also been a feature this year is that we’ve had a LOT more Germans, Dutch and Spanish than normal and have around 90% non-French for quite extended periods sometimes. That’s given rise to criticisms from some of the French guests that French isn’t being spoken in the dining room or rather that English is being used by everyone else but them.

That’s something that we’d never thought about before. After all, in the majority of hotels around the world, it’s English that’s used between guests of different nationalities and, on the whole, it’s the language you’d most commonly hear during breakfast. Yet, in France the French expect the most common language to be French. Weird.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Just how do you judge the value that you’re getting at a restaurant?

Although you’re getting a product from a restaurant, restaurants are very much in the service sector and therefore “value” is judged largely on service criteria which are generally a little peculiar.

For example, whilst you can obviously tell that, say, a brick is of higher quality than another brick at the same price through such things as the material used, how well it’s finished, and so on, for services it’s often the case that people will value a more expensive “product” more simply because it is more expensive. Thus, when people are considering two restaurants that seem otherwise similar they may well go to the one with the higher prices on the basis that they’re getting better quality, at least until they’ve had the chance to actually try out the offering.

In France, the two way pull between people wanting to get good value whilst they also get good food has a peculiar effect. Typically you’ll see extremely low “menu” prices which are there to pull in the customers yet when they get inside, anything deviating at all from that menu can result in a total bill that’s substantially more than the menu price. Locally we find that people assume that lowish prices are low simply because the restaurant is using pre-heated food (very common locally) so if they want a decent meal they avoid anywhere with prices that seem “too low” which, of course, has the effect that quite ordinary restaurants end up having to charge what would be very much over the top prices elsewhere just to indicate that they are cooking the food fresh.

Ironically, those high prices don’t produce the high level of service that you’d expect elsewhere so in practice it’s actually quite poor value on offer in comparison to comparable restaurants elsewhere. Having said that, low service levels are generally the norm in France so in comparison to other comparable French businesses they’re fine.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.