Lessons of over-promise, under-deliver

UPDATE: 28/2/09

Just got an email from the general manager of the restaurant (after my message back to them), graciously admitting to what can only be described as a complete failure of our internal system”, which has led to the entire team getting more training on the promotion… Thanking me for taking the trouble to write to him following our “ordeal and in apology for the “catalogue of errors from last week, he’s going to send us a bottle of Champers. Now that’s what I call rescuing a situation!

Here’s a salutary lesson in how not to deal with a customer who was expecting to spend a lot of money in exchange for a good experience, through inattention to a small detail which was introduced in the first place by the provider of that experience…


Saturday was Mrs D’s birthday – not a major one, but a special occasion nevertheless. We decided to celebrate by going to a good restaurant – the kind which features on www.viamichelin.com with more than a single star next to it…

I love ViaMichelin. It’s a great resource which shows (on a map) good quality hotels and restaurants, pubs etc, all over the world – the kind of place which is decent and not necessarily too expensive, all the way up to the best of the best. If ever we’re going on a long trip and will need to stop for lunch or dinner, I’ll take a look in VM to see if there’s anywhere nearby … and it’s never let me down.

As it happens, said restaurant sent me email a couple of weeks ago saying they hope I’d enjoyed my visit (even though I’d only made a reservation), and offered me a couple of glasses of pop as an aperitif and a nice glass of wine each with the main course, should we choose to visit again in the near future.

It’s a bit cheeky, but I figured I’d ask them if the offer applied to my existing booking; their customer services mailed me straight back saying they’d informed the restaurant that we’d be on the “Drinks are on us” promo, and they looked forward to seeing us on Saturday. Splendid. Couldn’t wait.

On arrival,when the maître’d asked if we wanted a drink, I discretely said we were on a ‘drinks on us’ promo … (not exactly wanting to shout into the quite-busy lounge area “AH! WE’RE ON A COUPLE OF FREEBIES ACCORDING TO THIS EMAIL <TADA>”).

After wiping his “My goodness, sir, you appear to have sprouted horns on your head” look from his face, he took our name and beetled off to check the reservation. And that was the last he spoke to us, except when I chased him (twice) for the bill, since we were standing in the door, coats on, with the taxi waiting outside..

This is an example of a small piece of poor customer service which actually cast quite a shadow on an expensive meal and what would otherwise have been a memorable evening for all the right reasons. They had offered me something free of charge which I was surprised and delighted about, but then manifestly failed to deliver, and I didn’t want to make a fuss on the night.

I sent mail to the customer services lady (who had corresponded quickly and efficiently before), expressing my disappointment – as yet (3+ days later)… nothing.

So what’s the lesson here [see? this isn’t just a rant and rave]?

The actions and inactions of a few people executing on something that was essentially unimportant and which was offered and not asked for, partly cancelled out all the work of the people who prepared the ingredients, made the great food, designed & built the venue, the guy who played the piano etc etc.

Makes me hope that I don’t ever fail to do something which in effect ruins the hard work of everyone else…

HTC s740 – great phone, just one thing…

I got one of these things a couple of weeks ago… in essence, a great large1[1]phone (I prefer the “smartphone” type device as opposed to the touch screen variety) – I’ve spent the last couple of years with the HTC s620 and it was time for a change. Key differences are that the s740 is a “candybar” type device rather than a squatter, wider phone, and has a slide-out keyboard rather than the full qwerty affair on the front.

Technology wise, the new device is bristling with features – 3G/HSDPA (so nice & fast browsing), GPS (paired with Google Maps or Windows Live Search mobile, works well). It even has an FM radio and a half decent camera.

I’ve written recently about nicely designed, functional items which remind & reinforce how good they are every time you pick them up or use them – well the s740 has one design feature which does the exact opposite.

EVERY time I use it as a phone, I curse the stupid design of the Call & Hang up buttons.


Those tiny little buttons that stand just proud of the sleek and shiny surface of the phone? Impossible to hit them without also pressing the soft keys above, or the home or back keys below. Well not quite impossible, but requires dextrous thumbnail gymnastics to use them.

Now I’d have thought that for a PHONE, these two buttons are kind of the most important? I’m not the only one, as PC Pro opined. It’s a shame – the s620 doesn’t look as groovy, but it does have an easier to use keyboard, and phone buttons that work. If only it was 3G and had a GPS…

Happy 1,234,567,890 seconds since 1/1/1970


Well there’s a thing. CNET reported that today officially marks the 1.2-odd billion seconds past the beginning of 1970, a standard that’s used in UNIX (and by the C programming language) as the basis for all time measurements. If you’re reading this before 23:31:30 on Friday 13/2/09 then you can see the countdown clock on http://coolepochcountdown.com/. Who knows what will happen after?

Actually, let’s hope they figure out how to patch all Unix (or 32-bit C) systems before 03:14:08 19th January 2038, otherwise we could all be in big trouble. Unix time is typically represented by a signed 32-bit integer (so has 2^31 positive values, ergo 2,147,483,648), and maybe we’ll be dealing with Y2k38 or something like that.

Apparently there was some debate about whether to use a signed or unsigned integer here – Dennis Ritchie (inventor of C and co-creator of Unix) figured it would be quite nice to numerically represent all the days he would live (since he was born in 1941, and if they’d used an unsigned integer, then time would have started in 1970 …)

Fortunately, modern Windows systems aren’t quite so dependent on this time code, though it is still heavily used. If you’re really interested in this field, there’s a comprehensive post on the oldnewthing MSDN blog. Turns out the Common Language Runtime (bedrock of .NET development) counts in 100-nanosecond intervals since the 1st of January “0001”.


Business continuity – it’s a people thing, not just a premises one

27[1] I had a really interesting discussion with a customer last week, when we were musing over the effects that the snow had on UK businesses. It was another example – like the floods which have hit parts of the country over the last few years – of a threat to business continuity which it’s easy to overlook.

Most businesses have prepared some contingency for what IT should do when it all goes wrong – starting with individual equipment failure (using RAID disks, redundant power supplies & the like), to clustering of services and replication of data to be able to survive bigger losses, either temporarily (like a power cut) or for longer-term outages (like loss of connectivity to a datacentre, maybe even loss of the datacentre itself).

What the weather conditions taught us the other day was that the people are even more important than the premises – the customer said it was ironic, that all their systems were up and running well, it was just that nobody was there to consume them.

Warwick Ashford from Computer Weekly writes about how their publisher, Reed Business Information, has built remote access into their business continuity plans. Interestingly, most of the discussion focussed on how to use VPN technology to connect to the office.

Funny, really. With Outlook & Office Communicator not needing to use a VPN to securely connect back to my office, I spent most of the WFH-time connected, productive, but not using a VPN at all.

Custom presence states in OCS – revisited again

imageI posted a while back about custom presence states (here and here). Well it turns out that a change made to an updated version of Communicator, requires (by default) that the custom state XML file is downloaded from a “secure” URL (so ruling out the file:// URL type).

I’ve posted my XML file to SkyDrive (since it’s available with an SSL connection and tends to be available from everywhere).

If you want to use the same URL, just open the following registry file and it will point your Communicator client at my XML file…

Registry file

Otherwise, add your own URL to the registry at


in a string value called CustomStateURL.

(tip – if you don’t trust me, download the REG file and drag/drop it into Notepad to verify that it’s not going to do bad things to your machine).

When the weather outside is frightful…

… the UC technology is soooo delightful.

OK, it’s cheesy as you can get, but very true. The weather forecast on Sunday night was for heavy snow, and sure enough we awoke on Monday to about 4-6 inches of fresh snow – something that many countries would take in their stride, but in southern England, we just don’t have the infrastructure to cope. [since it’s such a rare event].

I had decided on Sunday night that I was probably going to stay at home, so changed all the face/face meetings I had scheduled for Monday, to phone/video calls.

One director at Microsoft sent an e-mail round to his team on Monday morning:

SNOW CHANGE: Team meeting to be changed LIVE MEETING ONLY! DO NOT DRIVE!

I have been clearly informed that South England does not own snowploughs. And as I look out the window at the 5 inches of snow with no snow tires on my car, as a Canadian who has driven in very big snow storms, I know when not to drive – and this is one of those times. It will be too risky. So, we will probably trim the meeting to the MYR presentation and maybe 2 other topic. More to come – but don’t drive! Looking forward to our meeting – ‘see’ you all there :-).



I also had a half-day partner meeting which had been scheduled for weeks; that was converted to a Live Meeting so everyone could join remotely. In this instance, the actual partners were stuck on motorways, or holed up at the airport, so in the end it was rearranged for another day.

It was amazing to see how, if the infrastructure is in place to allow it, some companies just flick to having (nearly) everyone work remotely and it not drastically affect productivity. OCS Product Manager Sean Olson wrote about the “Snow Day” phenomenon that happens to Redmond every so often.

In fact, in the mid-December incident hit the news over here, with a bus skidding through a barrier and hanging over the I-5 freeway. Here’s an article with a great VR picture of the scene.

As it happens, we released OCS 2007 R2 yesterday. Also, there’s a report which should be published soon, looking into the business impact of deploying UC at Microsoft, using Forrester Research’s methodology for measuring business value.

The outcome? The RoI for Unified Comms is so clear that it paid for its procurement & deployment in 2 months.