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Bizarre Customer Services Interaction of the Year [updated]

When the customer service experience takes a trip into another reality altogether…

I have a 15-year-old MINI Cooper S. It’s doing well, just routine maintenance needed for such an old car to keep it in the best condition. The latest job is to replace the rear suspension, mounts, trailing arms and so on. So I’ve been getting all the parts together.

The most complicated part has been assembling the rear shock-struts. Just a lot of parts that I then need to assemble. To get the best deals I have been shopping around and for a lot of things, ebay is actually rather good in this regard. You just need to spend time tracking parts down.

…the other box contained a completely wrong part. It wasn’t what was listed, it wasn’t as pictured, it wasn’t even for the MINI! Bearing in mind, this was the part on the listing that I originally sent the message about!

eBay - Top Strut mount listingAnd so it came to something called the ‘Top Strut Mounts’. It’s a metal plate that goes on top of the assembly, that is what you bolt to the actual car chassis. BMW charge nearly £80 for it, but on ebay you can get new replacements for around £14. After searching a while, I came across the ‘ACP Top Strut Mount Kit’ listing, as pictured on the right. I messaged asking which side this was for, as the listing didn’t say, and I would also like to know the listing for the other side too. The reply came. I was told it was ‘for the left’ and given the listing for the right. So, two weeks ago, I duly ordered both items at the same time.

The delivery came after the weekend and I hurried to open so I could get building the two struts. One box felt lighter than the other. On opening, I saw that the top mount for the right-hand side was correct, but the other box contained a completely wrong part. It wasn’t what was listed, it wasn’t as pictured, it wasn’t even for the MINI! Bearing in mind, this was the part on the listing that I originally sent the message about.

This was obviously a warehouse packing error and could easily be corrected. I immediately took photos and messaged the seller. Here are the ensuing exchanges between customer services and myself.

25th Nov, 20:20
Dear ACE Parts,
One of the items delivered, pictured right, was not the item that I ordered. It’s completely different foam and doesn’t include the top mount. I had ordered left and right, I am unable to say which I have, but the marking on the box for the correct item says NTM302242 MINI, the box with the wrong item in says NTM 302240.
I look forward to your prompt resolution.

26th Nov, 10.23
Hi Peter,
I am really sorry to hear of this error, would it be possible to send us an image of the part number on the box? I am afraid I could not see this in the images you sent.
Kind Regards
aceparts_uk Customer Support

The wrong part26th Nov, 15.15
Hi, Attached is the photo of the box with the wrong item. The correct item has an ‘R’ stamp in a circle on it, so I presume that means right-hand side.

27th Nov, 09.07
I can see that you purchased two items, one NTM302242 and one NTM302240. Have you only received NTM302240 and not NTM302242?
Please can I ask for your full UK vehicle registration and I will be happy to have a look for you.
Kind Regards
aceparts_uk Customer Support

27th Nov, 09.10
The reg [my car reg]
either way, what I received is not what was pictured in the listing, as my first picture showed.

27th Nov, 13.18
Could you please send us an image of what is in the bag that is incorrect as Iam unable to see what the part on the right looks like in the first image.I am sorry about that.
Kind Regards
aceparts_uk Customer Support

27th Nov, 09.10
Quite simply, there was no large metal top mount plate, and these items are completely wrong. The part should look like the 2nd photo.
[I sent the photo of the incorrect part AGAIN, and a photo of the correct right-side part that I had received.]

28th Nov, 09.32
Please can we ask you to request a return through eBay using the reason incorrect part and we will provide you with a freepost return label.
On receipt of your return we will issue a refund for you.
Kind Regards
aceparts_uk Customer Support

At this point, I was hopeful that this was on track and sent the incorrect part back. But I missed the part about “refund.” So, today (4th Dec by this point!) I sent them this message:

4th Dec, 09.05
Hi, I have returned this. I didn’t see the bit about the label, however, I put the details in the box. I don’t want a refund, I want the correct part, please. This is a matter of urgency!

This is where things took a bizarre turn and I entered into an alternative reality.

4th Dec, 13.35
Unfortunately we don’t have alternative to offer for those , we can only process a refund upon return.
Kind Regards
aceparts_uk Customer Support

4th Dec, 13.35
You delivered the wrong part, it wasn’t the one pictured or advertised. I even contacted yourselves to find out which side it was for then asked for the opposite side upon which I ordered both parts together. This conversation makes no sense what so ever. Please, can you get someone who understands what your selling!

4th Dec, 15.50
We did ask for more details as previously explained, we needed to locate the part number of the one which was incorrect as you purchased two of the different ones. As we didn’t have enough info we will issue a refund. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused.
Kind Regards
aceparts_uk Customer Support

Yes, I know. So, I replied:

I have found this experience utterly baffling. All I want is the item that is listed, as advertised, and as pictured in the advert. The Top strut mount kit for MINI Cooper S R53 for the left-hand side of the vehicle. The part that was sent out was nothing like the part pictured, it was something completely different to what was ordered, as I showed in two photographs that I sent. PLEASE, can you direct me to where I can order the Top Strut Mount Kit for the MINI R53 for the left-hand side AS pictured in the advertised image and description?
I really don’t understand how this seems to have become so difficult!
Thank you

Update: 5th Dec

Is the part number 302240 correct? The 302242 should really just be a mirror copy of 302240.
I am sorry for our confusion. If you could send us an image of the two parts contents this will help us out.
Kind Regards
aceparts_uk Customer Support

5th Dec, 16:18
The items as sent to meYes, 302240 is correct and is pictured on the left of this picture. The other item pictured on the right, as I have been trying to say all along, is not correct and certainly is 302242 as shown in the listing. There must have been a boxing error or a packing error.
The 2nd picture [shown earlier in the posting, 26th Nov] shows the close up of what was sent.
All I want is the correct item, the mirror item to the correct item that was sent.
Thank you for your attention

In memory of the humble audio cassette tape

TDK MA-X / Type IV / Metal audio cassette

Saturday 7th September was the first International Cassette Store Day. Its organisers described it as “a celebration of a physical product that is accessible, fun, cheap and still going strong in the turbulent current musical climate.” The day saw  a number of limited edition albums released on cassette, and modern classic albums re-released too.

My Tapes

I adored the TDK MA cassette tapes (pictured). I had  a fantastic SONY three head recorder with bias adjustment helper and Dolby-S bought circa 1994. (I still have it actually and it’s as good as new!)

With a fresh metal tape, bias adjusted, dolby S on and using the third head monitoring, you could push the signal really high achieving a wonderful audio signal saturation level that is hard to beat. They just played back with such life on any type of cassette player too, including car radio cassette players!

I used to record a lot of mates’ CDs on to tape for them because they loved the sound quality I could achieve. The tape saturation  brought a life and clarity to music that seems to be missing from a lot of digital music, and even pre-recorded analogue music as well.

Before the ease of hard-disk and digital recording, most of my compositions, MIDI sequences and keyboard improvisation moments were all recorded to the TDK type IV metal cassettes too. I’m slowly revisiting all these and archiving them digitally to share online (see the list under Music).

Sony three head cassette deck with Dobly S.

Tape Saturation in a Digital Age

Those familiar with digital recording of any kind will recognise the life-ending sound that is almost worse than fingers down a black-board: digital clipping. Once a digital signal has clipped, there is rarely anything known to man or gods that can be done to rectify that audio recording.

The analogue audio concept is based on physical electrical voltage current alternations which convey an electrical wave form analogous to the sound pressure wave form, hence being called analogue. In this domain, clipping becomes an electrically relative term that depends on the input and output capabilities of the components of the ‘chain’ or system. There comes a point of overloading, where the power of the electrical signal is too much to handle and the signal, and thus the quality of the audio it is analogous to alters.

The distortion associated with clipping is often unwanted, and is visible on an oscilloscope even if it is inaudible. However there are times when it is wanted for creative reasons, such as with the electric guitar or the distorted vocal effect etc. But there is also another reason, which I mentioned  earlier when talking about recording CDs to tapes.

As the signal level increases, tape approaches a saturation point where no further signal variations can be recorded. This is signal saturation, an inherent flaw in the accuracy of magnetic tape as a recording medium. However, unlike digital recording techniques, where analogue to digital converters in audio interfaces suddenly and aggressively ‘clip’ as the signal exceeds its maximum level, analogue tape breaks down in a less predictable manner. The result is distortion and compression which behaves in a unevenly with regard to signal level, frequency and dynamic range. (Or, in a non-linear way for the techno-bables.)

Ironically, the ‘break down’ and soft-clipping of tape saturation sounds pretty appealing to most people, and recording engineers realised that the pleasant distortion and compression characteristics of saturation could be used as a mix tool, making individual tracks sound more punchy, helping to ‘glue’ elements together and even making entire mixes sound bigger and richer.

Recreating the Warmth of Tape

Most people use Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software these days, such as Logic and Pro Tools. Many studios, and live engineers, are recording and mixing with digital audio consoles (a few studios have kept the analogue desks of old, but they generally are massive beasts and prone to breaking down with heavy usage.) Introducing”analogue warmth” to your digital sounding mix is the subject of hundreds of articles all over the net, but there are three basic solutions.

  1. Use a DAW plug-in. They range widely in price and quality. Essentially, digital algorithms try to model the effect of signal saturation.
  2. Use a three-head cassette recorder. Just chain an output bus to the input of the tape deck (like the SONY model I have) and route the ‘monitor’ output back in to your DAW. Use a fresh tape, fast forward to about 2 mins in, follow the bias adjust setup, then record your mix via the tape (recording, set to monitor, and volume adjusted as high as sounds pleasing – you may have to manually adjust too) and record the result either live back in to DAW or replay the tape.
  3. Use a Gyraf Audio Gyratec Infundibululm. It will only set you back £3360 and is tested and reviewed in this months Sound on Sound magazine. It is a completely mains-free passive device, so no electrical interference from mains, and is actually rather brilliant. Admittedly, it’s top level pro kit at that price, but there really is nothing like it out there.

What’s it sound like?

Sound on Sound have provided some audio examples of their test with the Gyraterwatsityfidliumthingy, on their website:

Mrs Thatcher: My thoughts on the passing of the Iron Lady

She was the Prime Minister of my childhood. She was Mrs Thatcher. Or Maggie. It all depended on the context. But was she certainly a ‘Mrs.’ It felt as stern and cold as she was. Or seemed. Because out of nowhere, she would suddenly exude the vulnerability of a woman, the pride of a mother, and the doting of a wife. Her voice on her Radio 4 Desert Island Discs appearance is unmistakable, distinctive, yet strangely alluring. She used her sexuality, and she knew how to charm.

Yet she failed to charm a nation, at least in the sense of the word ‘charming’, anyway. She managed to be incredibly divisive. Of course, even as a young man, I don’t think I really understood why. Why shouldn’t I believe the mantra of ‘the medicine’ that had to be tough to be kind; the industries that could never survive and inevitably had to go; the unions that needed to be defeated; that the freedom of the individual was sacrosanct?

When she became leader of the Conservative Party, Mrs Thatcher entered the shadow cabinet meeting room, took a book out of her handbag and started waving it about. ‘This’, Thatcher said sternly, ‘is what we believe’, and banged a copy of the Austrian-born economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom down on the table. In it, Hayek argues that Western democracies, including the United Kingdom and the United States, have “progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past,” and that the only chance to build a decent world is “to improve the general level of wealth” via the activities of free markets.

Mrs Thatcher admired Hayek greatly, and became friends through correspondence with him. Hayek had, if that is possible, an even more outrageous view of the Pinochet regime. Hayek was not only full of praise for the economic policies of the Pinochet Regime, but also supportive in political terms. He was concerned that Chile, and the Apartheid regime in South Africa too, did not receive a fair coverage from the ‘liberal’ press in Western countries, and suggested in his infamous interview with El Mercurio that a dictator like Pinochet might be a necessary step towards a liberal democracy.

Under the barbed restraints of dictatorship and with the guidance of University of Chicago-trained economists, Pinochet had gouged out nearly every vestige of the public sector, privatizing everything from utilities to the Chilean state pension program. Hayek returned gushing, and wrote Thatcher, urging her to follow Chile’s aggressive model more faithfully.

In her reply, Thatcher explained tersely that “in Britain, with our democratic institutions and the need for a higher degree of consent, some of the measures adopted in Chile are quite unacceptable. Our reform must be in line with our traditions and our Constitution. At times, the process may seem painfully slow.”

In The Downing Street Years, 1995, Mrs Thatcher expands on her philosophy of Individualism. “I was also impressed by the writing of the American theologian and social scientist Michael Novak who put into new and striking language what I had always believed about individuals and communities. Mr Novak stressed the fact that what he called ‘democratic capitalism’ was a moral and social, not just an economic system, that it encouraged a range of virtues … These were important insights which, along with our thinking about the effects of the dependency culture, provided the intellectual basis for my approach to those great questions brought together in political parlance as ‘the quality of life’.”

Hayek also dismissed the idea of ‘Social Justice’ saying that there could be no such thing. Society is made up of individuals, and it is they as agents that have responsibility; Society is not an agent and therefore cannot have responsibility. This belief is ultimately what led Mrs Thatcher to say in her 1987 Interview for “Women’s Own” magazine, “Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”

Many believe that the policies of Thatcher’s government and her dogged determination to put down the unions at all cost destroyed the north, by destroying mining, steel, ship building and manufacturing industries. She then proceeded to say that the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people made unemployed by this were responsible for their own situations.

For Thatcher, Hayek and her economic hero Milton Friedman, society and government had no responsibility. She said, “It is not my job, nor the job of any politician to offer people salvation. It is part of my political faith that people must save themselves.

“The encouragement of variety and individual choice, the provision of fair incentives and rewards for skill and hard work… and a belief in the wide distribution of individual private property … they are certainly what I am trying to defend.”

At heart, Mrs Thatcher was, together with Ronald Reagan, what we now term ‘neo-liberal’. She was responsible for making popular the philosophy of self interest and took no responsibility for her or her government actions. She believed that only the free market could produce wealth and prosperity for the nation, and that by allowing the rich to get richer, we would all benefit as the wealth, in her words echoing the words of Friedman, would literally ‘trickled down’. It is a philosophy in which the existence and operation of a market are valued in themselves, separately from any previous relationship with the production of goods and services, and without any attempt to justify them in terms of their effect on the production of goods and services; and where the operation of a market or market-like structure is seen as an ethic in itself – the profit motive, which is capable of acting as a guide for all human action, and substituting for all previously existing ethical beliefs. [She perhaps had a vested interest: her husband was a multi-millionaire after all.]

She rose to the top despite all that was against her, but she became a product of her own self demons. Former Conservative MP David Mellor said, “She started reforming things that simply didn’t need reforming.” And so continues to this day in the ‘Heir to Thatcher’, PM David Cameron.

I believe that you can be critical without being disrespectful. I dislike everything she stood for philosophically and politically, but yet I find her admirable and alluring. As a person, I respect her death in that way.

But whilst I will not vilify her, I will counter the idea that her actions in government were ‘good’, because I and many feel that they were far from it in many ways. However, I feel the families of the victims of the Hillsborough Disaster will be as restrained about her death as she was about theirs.

Rest in peace, Mrs Thatcher. Maggie. Mother of Mark and Carol.

Simon Fanshawe tells the truth about benefits on BBC Breakfast

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 08.26.14 Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 08.25.52

Simon Fanshawe was a guest on this morning’s BBC Breakfast reviewing the mornings papers.

He started with this article from the Daily Mail – “Rises in welfare will be capped for six years.”

This is a transcript of some of what Simon said. (Audio beneath.)

“Let’s start with Grant Shapps, who I think is my least favourite politician. He says he is going cap to the rise in welfare benefits for six years. And the trouble for the government is that the welfare bill keeps going up, so they mount this attack on what they called the skivers as opposed to the strivers. Here are some facts about this though:

“60% of people who get some kind of benefit are in work. If you are in part-time work, of which there are 6 million in the country, and you can’t get that 24 hours worth of part-time worker week, you’re going to lose £4000 worth of tax credits during the year. People on benefit, 85% of people on housing benefit are in work, but it doesn’t go to them, it goes straight through them to the landlords.

“So the headline here that says, “Make it paid to work,” well the way to make it pay to work is to raise wages. What we doing with the benefits deal is subsidising employers who will not pay decent wages and that’s why people have to claim housing benefit and tax credit.

“And to mount this attack on the poor it seems to me seems unjustifiable.”

Simon went on to talk about the advertising campaign that the Tories are mounting in the areas where there are marginal seats. Other bloggers have covered this in a lot of detail.

, Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and previously Chief Economist at the UK Cabinet Office, explains why Indexing benefits to inflation is not “unsustainable” at all.

“The idea that benefits need to be cut in real terms in order to ensure either fairness to those in work or long-term sustainability is nonsense.”