An Honourable Exit

People who know me and have been watching my Twitter Feed will have seen something or other about our car radio debâcle. About 6 months ago, we bought a nice new car. It’s a great car that you can feel safe in. As with any new car, you need a new car radio. We previously had a Blaupunkt Acapulco MP54 (bought from Ramsey), which had a great radio, great internal amp, CD player and – importantly – could play MP3 on CD-R. With over 7,000 tracks, having two wallets with indexed CD-Rs was getting a bit unwieldy so we decided to look for a hard disk based car radio, and stick the MP3s on that. After much deliberation, we decided to stay with the Blaupunkt name, after all the previous player had performed very well and it was a name associated with quality. We also decided to “shop local” again, this time buying the Blaupunkt Memphis MP66 from the Auto Electrical Centre on Old Castletown Road, Douglas.

Functionally, the player was ideal. It accepted SD-cards, CD-Rs, CD and the all important USB hard disk. Playback was excellent, responsiveness was okay and the screen was well designed and specified. Navigating thousands of tracks was also really easy, a difficult accomplishment in such a small form factor in a difficult operating environment (even though you SHOULD be concentrating on the road). A small disappointment that there was no Play/Pause button, surely a requirement in anything of this nature?

We did however start to see problems. Principally, it would crash the player when playing certain tracks. One of these was New Order, and any stereo that cannot play New Order is not worth anything! A few other tracks also caused the problem, so we wondered if maybe the track format (MP3, no DRM, 320Kbps, Fixed Bit Rate) was incompatible in some way for those tracks. We tested the MP3s on a Creative ZEN Vision:M, XBox 360, Windows Media Centre and Nokia N95-2 and they played fine. Therefore, the problem had to be in the player. Another thing we did notice was that the player was starting to put red crosses over folders, indicating it couldn’t play those files. Being an advanced player we had a look around to see if there was some way of updating the firmware, a common practice for complex consumer devices. None was to be found, so we went back to Auto Electrical and asked for them to have a look at it and attach a Bluetooth kit to it, too. (Despite paying for a handsfree kit for my wife, with the best intentions in the world, inevitably it never gets worn). I actually disagree with making any phone calls in the car, by the way, but I’d rather her accept calls in maximum safety if possible.

The car came back (we had to leave the car with them each time and my wife had to arrange lifts in/out of work), and the Bluetooth system barely worked and the original problems of the radio were not solved. Two further visits were made, each time, nothing was corrected. The second time they actually replaced the player with a Blaupunkt Casablanca MP56, a cheaper model by some £100 in an effort to try and narrow down the fault to a particular model. Nothing changed. So we returned the car again with more detail on how to reproduce the faults. Calls were made to Blaupunkt technical support, which were not returned. On following up the calls, Auto Electrical were told they could not correct the problem. That’s it, then, rip it all out.

That’s when this transaction could have taken a distinctly sour turn. Throughout this process, even though it was at significant disruption to my wife getting into work and myself making myself available for technical questions, we remained polite and resolute. On their part, Auto Electrical were working towards resolving the problems and were also polite throughout. When asked to remove the equipment, they were most fair and returned the cost of the radio and the installation, in full. No complaints, just a sincere apology.

So in the end, even though the transaction didn’t work out, we have both come out feeling as good as we could from the experience. While I would not recommend a Blaupunkt which may or may not work depending on the incompetence of their developers at the time, I would certainly recommend Auto Electrical for the Customer Service Experience. Meanwhile, we’re going to switch brands and buy a Kenwood, instead. Unfortunately, this time it will have to be online because the island’s Kenwood suppliers do not sell this particular model.

Isle of Man Cycle Hire wins key Tourism Award

It’s nice to see people do well. That’s why I was pleased when the owner of a
small business who I helped with their web site told me they’d recently won an
award by the Department of Tourism and Leisure on the island. Whereas I usually
end up writing about how poor Manx customer service is, this time it’s about
good customer service.

Isle of Man Cycle Hire, a small company
created by a former colleague, has been recognised for its customer service with
an award for Best Customer Service 2008. It’s the personal
touch that makes a good customer experience and I am in no doubt that this is
what contributed to this award. I have always been able to ask advice on my own
bike and I have also had very kind offers to help maintain it. (If it wasn’t for
my own laziness, this would have been taken up!)

Looking forward to the summer of 2009, we’re hoping that we can build on this
customer relationship by adding a Facebook Page that allows customers to post
photos, anecdotes about their experiences and become “Fans” of the company. This
is great for small companies because it not only creates the impression of an
open and accessible company, but it also helps introduce interactivity to a web
site at little or no cost. No major site redesign, redevelopment was required to
encourage users to share their experiences, instead we just joined one of the
world’s most successful social networks.

But I *want* to pay my TV License

There’s a bit of a storm brewing at the moment that has been simmering for a
while on the Isle of Man. As an offshore jurisdiction, with our own tax rules
and economic regulation, there is a continuing confusion about why
we should pay the TV License
. The TV License, often called the “BBC Tax”, is
an annual payment of about £138 which chiefly goes towards the BBC, although
some goes to the broadcast infrastructure. In the future, with Channel 4’s
current financial problems, some of it may also help prop up Channel 4’s public
service remit.

Unfortunately, however, there seems to be an increasing resistance to paying the TV License on the island, seemingly only because we can get away with it. The Isle of Man’s geographical location, sandwiched neatly between Cumbria in England and Northern Ireland means we can catch a TV signal from either coast.
Indeed, Northern parts of the island currently enjoy a full complement of digital channels – more than the Isle of Man will enjoy when we finally switch to digital in 2009.

The revenue collection of the TV License has always been difficult on the island, with a large number of people actively not paying it due to the difficulties the TV Licensing Authority have in gaining access to the island’s residents and legal system. A recent problem the TV Licensing Authority hit was when they came over on to the island in force to enforce revenue collection, only to be told to go back as they hadn’t applied for th required work permits. Comical, yes. I suspect someone in the UK didn’t to their homework. Subsequent arrangements of enforcement have been better planned.

In Manchester, I received a number of benefits of being a TV License payer. I didn’t resent it, although requiring students to own their own individual licenses without provision of a single license by the halls of residence was a little unfair. As an island resident, I don’t enjoy the same benefits.

TV License Benefits
Available In
Manchester Isle of Man
Analogue service Yes Yes
Digital service Yes No
Radio broadcast Yes Yes
DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast) Yes Partial (geographical restrictions)
Broadcast infrastructure Yes Yes (2 transmitters)
Use of BBC Internet site Yes Yes
Access to archives using iPlayer Yes Yes
Access to Freeset/Freesat from Sky platforms Yes Yes

So seems to me we still get a pretty good deal. I am the first to complain
when the BBC launch services that are not available on the island. I am used to
multi-channel broadcasting over terrestrial on the digital platform, digital
radio stations and Internet services. DAB was only recently launched on the
island, and it was a very quiet launch. Unfortunately, I “lost touch” with my
favoured radio station, 6 Music, in the meantime as a result of the lack of

If we, as an island, ceased to pay the TV License, we could have serious
implications on our content. Some users on the island may be able to obtain a
signal leaking from one of the adjacent coasts, but otherwise the island would
be without a terrestrial TV signal. Due to the slow implementation of
technologies by the BBC and broadcasting infratsructure, the island has no real
digital option and won’t have when the island goes digital next year (only the
primary channels being available). This has resulted in over 70% of houses on
the island having to be fitted with satellite receiving equipment, so equivelant
content to the UK can be obtained. What about the other 30%? Those people are
very likely to be vulnerable people, people on low incomes, people who don’t
want to deface their property with a satellite dish or people who cannot
physically access a line-of-sight signal. Surely the very group who should not
be deprived of TV access would be vulnerable groups? It is often their only
company and source of information, particularly in the winter months. The BBC could actively
block our access to the BBC web site, and associated network services. iPlayer, in particular, will likely disappear as it specifically states that content is made available subject to
payment of the License Fee. Bernard Moffat, quoted in
the Courier this week, seems to be encouraging people to steal the TV services
from the UK and use satellite services to access the services for those unlucky
enough not to be able to access a leaking signal from Northern Ireland or
England. I am distinctly unhappy about this. £138 for a TV License is not a lot
of money, if he is concerned about the cost of the license he should put his
efforts in arranging a subsidy for people who struggle to afford the fee, not
advocating theft of a service that people in the UK are paying for. It is by
happy coincidence that we have leaking signals from the UK of digital
terrestrial and are in the beam area of satellite broadcasting, but with the
increasingly complex and advanced DRM mechanisms, it may not be long before
equipment bought in the Isle of Man may be actively blocked. Is he also not
considering the possibility (remote though it is) of satellite failure? A
satellite may fail due to any number of reasons (space debris, systems
malfunction, etc.) and repairs/replacement is not cheap and could leave the
island without television for weeks or months.

I’ve had this debate with non-UK citizens in various forums. People who can’t
understand a “TV Tax”. Putting aside the immensely expensive broadcast
infrastructure, programme content, news gathering and other services, the TV
License pays for a fair and unbiased content provision mechanism that is not
muddied by commercialism, political leaning or aspirations and is ultimately
responsible for the development of many technologies we now take for granted:
colour television, HD content, digital radio are but some of the more visible
technologies developed by the BBC, at least in part.

If we, as an island, endorse outright theft of service leakage unless you can
afford a Sky subscription (and don’t mind submitting youself to the Murdoch
empire and customer service experience), then we’re going be even more
ostracised than we currently are due to our tax status. Not a way to make
friends and influence people when you’re a small island in uncertain financial

Waltons: Bad Manx Customer Service – Again

There’s few things that upset me more than arrogant sales people. Unfortunately, on an island where there are few options and a distinct lack of viable competition, arrogance is rife. There seems to be an underlying feeling that if you don’t like it, tough, because there are no more options.

Like Nick, I have also come away short following a recent Customer Experience. For me, it was while trying to buy a TV/Video/Remote sender and then a Blu-Ray player.

I don’t like shopping at electornic goods retailers. The staff are basically out to pay their commission and whether you get the product you actually want and require is not always a priority. I can deal with pushy sales people, so I’m fine with that. What I can’t stand is them giving out incorrect information. Unfortunately, though, thinking about it today I realised that if they knew what they were doing then they’d probably be in another job.

So, experience #1. Buying a video/remote sender. I have bought these previously, and I know that despite the marketing on the pack you cannot watch the source in the two rooms at the same time, that bit of information is strategically “ommitted”. You need to split the signal off and then send it to the second room. Despite arguing this with the salesman at Waltons last week, they were quite insistent. Got it home, tested it, oh what a surprise. So I bought the necassary kit from Maplin instead. No biggie.

Today took the biscuit, however. I am after a Blu-Ray player, a very specific
model of Blu-Ray player. I’m after the Panasonic DMPDB55 Blue-Ray player,
because having done my research I find it is the most affordable player on the
market and has oustanding reviews. It’s also one of a very few players that have
Blu-Ray Profile 2.0. Unlike the DMPBD3x models, which everyone seems to want to sell to me. So having done my research, printed off my bit of paper, I
reluctantly decided to give a local firm a chance to bag £400 from me. I stood
around at the counter for about 5 minutes while 3 staff argued about the maximum length of a USB cable for another customer and a fourth stood around in the office at the back. Someone finally came to see me and I said I was looking for “that” player, handing over my sheet. I was brusquely told “no, we don’t have that one”. I had to ask about when they were going to get it in stock, “not before Christmas”. I didn’t actually need it for Christmas, but a date would have been nice. Then, he
tossed the piece of paper back at me. Such contempt for me as a
customer is misplaced.

In these uncertain times, if someone came in to my shop and said “I have £400
burning a hole in my pocket, and I want to buy this player”, I would be all over
that sale. No knowledge of the product is needed, no effort is needed, the sale
is already made! All that needs to happen is for the stock to come in. An “I’m
sorry Sir, that player isn’t currently in stock. Could I put one on back order
for you? Would you like to secure it with a deposit?” would have been much more
useful. (As it happens, I was more worried about the length of queue in HMV when
getting the Blu-Ray discs than when I would get the player!)

So, I’ve decided to buy it from Superfi, a company I bought my amplifier from when I was back in Manchester. These guys were VERY good. They talked to me, helped me identify the best speakers to use, and even stayed open later so I could pick it up after work. THAT is customer service. So instead of investing £400 in a player and giving a local business a hefty commission/return, I am going to spend £350 on a UK company’s web site – and wait for delivery anyway. Now who’s the idiot?

After the Waltons experience, I did go to Colebourns for an almost as useless
response. No “can we order it in?”. Just “No, we don’t stock that”. All I got
when I tried to engage in conversation was a grunt. Then I went to M&S and
the quality of service was markedly different. The salesman behind the counter
knew what he was talking about and when he asked his colleague about whether the player was in stock, his colleague actually said “No, but we have these models.
Can I ask why you want this model?” I was then able to say I needed the Profile
2.0 feature, he was told by myself and his colleague why I needed this and we
both came out of that experience positively. They didn’t have it in stock, but
my was it an improvement on Waltons!

A Message from a Manx Manc

I was going to blog about my recent trip to Manchester, ruminating
about my spiritual heritage in the bustle of the city. But then I was told
“There are two boats every day”, a saying any “come-over” will be used to hearing.

I moved over from Manchester in 2005, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the city I love and developed myself in. Now, I live amidst the beauty of the hills and glens of the Isle of Man. I enjoy fantastic views across the sea and over Maughald and Ramsey. The island offers not only a relaxed pace of life, but also a serenity
that cannot be had in the UK. My reasons for moving on to the island are varied,
others’ will be different, but a large number of people have moved on to the
island. These are known in the Manx lingo as “come-overs”.

Come-overs represent over 50% of the people on the island. These people
occupy jobs in all strata of the Manx economy, from the labourers on the
building sites to the financial CEOs of the international finance industry.
Come-overs bring with them high standards in education, professional training
and years of experience in a variety of industry sectors. They are a breed that
yearns for a change in their pace of life, but are not necessarily shy of

It’s not easy getting on the island. To legally occupy a position in the Manx
economy, a work permit is required. The criteria for a work permit is that the
position being applied for must have been advertised to the general Manx
population and not have been filled with an appropriately trained Manx-born
individual, or likely to be filled by such an individual within a 12-month
training period. The objective of this is clearly to ensure that the Manx are
given every opportunity to obtain employment on their home island. For myself,
this procedure took 3 years. The number of jobs that were appropriate for me was
limited, add on the requirement for a work permit and it is easy to see why it
can take a while to get on the island. But I did it. I remember opening the
letter to this day, it was a very happy moment for me.

There are no asylum possibilities, no social welfare benefits and you
certainly don’t get a free ride from the authorities. To claim many social
benefits, you must have been resident on the island for 5 years. Council houses
(known as Commissioner’s Houses) will not be available for 10 years, and rent is
not cheap.

So it requires a determined effort to “come over”.

Despite all this effort, and the contribution that “come-overs” make to the
island, there is an unfortunate hostility targeted at people.

Let’s consider it from the Manx perspective.

The island, until recently, was a dying island. Its children were moving
“across” to the UK, probably after studying at a university and gaining
employment. There were no real opportunities on the island. Its Tourism
industry, which enjoyed its heyday during the Victorian era (the island still
sports Victorian attractions, including railways, a pier and horse trams) was
rapidly declining as people started to fly abroad. Then, as a result of a change
in fiscal legislation, the island was afforded low-tax status, resulting in an
influx of major international finance houses. This has changed the face of the
island not only economically, but also architecturally. Alongside the Victorian
pubs in Douglas lie the glass ultra offices such as Royal Bank of Scotland
International. This has created thousands of jobs for islanders and
off-islanders, and creates a real career path for Manx people to follow with
many opportunities available.

So why the hostility?

The work permit legislation serves to limit the incoming labour force and
ensure that Manx workers get the first opportunities of jobs. If there are no
suitably qualified workers available on the island, then it is logical that
companies will have to look further afield. I fully agree with this procedure,
even having to wait 3 years to get to a point to be lucky enough to go through
it. My work permit must be renewed every year for five years. Seems perfectly
fair to me.

Incoming legislation currently going through Tynwald (the name for the Manx
government) will require similar assurances of commitment to the Manx economy
and culture for incoming off-islanders as the tests that have been introduced
for immigrants in the UK. A test will ensure that people are aware of the Manx
traditions, laws and way of life. I was not required to go through this stage,
but I was so committed to coming over here I expect I would have passed with
flying colours!

The benefits to the Manx economy of “come-overs” must be immense. Not only
can companies and individuals on the island now access their own skill-base, but
also the skills of a vast array of new individuals, such as individuals who have
been taught in universities and colleges, with the latest of teaching and
techniques. These will be brought on to the island, and be introduced in some
way to the working environment of the island’s businesses. New skills,
particularly Internet skills, are proving invaluable to island’s economy. A
number of web development agencies, IT consultancies and software houses are
situated on the island, and then there are the e-gaming opportunities the island
is keen to attract. The Space industry is also being courted. This industry of
all industries requires the keenest, most intelligent people available, and
requires a wide and far-reaching net for their recruitment.

We also contribute to the Manx economy. Sure, the island enjoys a low-tax
regime, but that low-tax regime is essentially supported by the fact so many
people are paying into it. The island has seen major public investment, not
least of which is a new hospital, with the latest in medical technologies such
as MRI scanners being available.

Sure, I’m guilty of complaining about the Manx way of life, the lack of
entertainment venues on the island or such like. But it is my choice to
complain. It is also my choice to stay. I love Manchester, but I also have a
number of issues with it. I defy anyone to be truly happy with their environment
or country of residence.

I’m definitely not anti-Manx, either. I take care to maintain and protect the
environment and keep the beauty of the island, whether that be picking up litter
to walking with due consideration over its hills. I am also in the middle of
learning the local language of Manx Gaelic, something that the vast majority of
Manx don’t do themselves, or even consider as a worthwhile endeavour.

So the next time I am told to get on the boat, I will not only tell them
“actually, I prefer to fly”, but also point them in this direction.

Maybe you disagree? It is provocative topic, after all!