Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall

Long-time readers will know that I am not averse to contacting companies to complain about bad service that I receive. This isn’t a particularly fulfilling hobby as you very rarely get any kind of satisfaction. But recently it’s becoming even less satisfying than before. I’ve noticed that email conversations with customer service reps are becoming more and more drawn out as many of them seem less and less capable of understanding the issues that I am raising. It can often take a couple of rounds of email before they are clear what I’m talking about. And I’m pretty sure it’s not me describing things badly.

Here’s an example.

Last week the BBC showed an abbreviated version of Leonard Cohen: Live in London. I missed it as it was first broadcast, so over the weekend I tried to catch up with it on iPlayer. We have Virgin Media, so we can watch iPlayer content through our V+ box. I found the programme and started to watch. I didn’t last long though as the aspect ratio of the programme was wrong. The programme had been filmed in 4:3, but the iPlayer has stretched it to 16:9[1]. This meant that everyone everyone appeared fatter than they should be. I know that many people are used to watching television like this, but to me it renders a programme unwatchable.

I wrote to the iPlayer support team explaining the problem. Here’s what I wrote:

The version of “Leonard Cohen – Live in London” which is currently available on iPlayer on Virgin Media is in the wrong aspect ratio. It appears to be a 4:3 broadcast which has been stretched to 16:9. Everyone therefore seems to be far too fat and the programme is unwatchable.

I think that’s clear.

This morning I got a reply from them. Here’s what they said:

I understand you’re unhappy with the size of ‘Leonard Cohen’ on BBC iPlayer.

The bit rate varies per programme and is dependent on the amount of changes per video frame. For example, a programme such as ‘Doctor Who’ or ‘Leonard Cohen’ will be at a higher rate than a Current Affairs programme (where a presenter is fairly static in the frame).

Considering the above information:

The average file size for a 30 minute streamed programme is around 110MB. The average file size for a 1 hour streamed programme is around 215MB.

I appreciate you may feel differently on this matter and I’d like to assure you that I have registered your comments on our log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for BBC iPlayer and commissioning executives within the BBC, and their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Nothing in there at all about aspect ratios. They seem to have assumed that I’m talking about the size of downloaded programmes. Which is strange as I specifically mentioned the Virgin Media version of iPlayer which doesn’t support programme downloads.

I can see three explanations:

  1. The person genuinely misunderstood what I was asking about and answered the question to the best of her ability. In which case she needs better training in the products that she is supposed to be supporting.
  2. The person didn’t read my mail carefully and just sent a reply that looked like it might address the issues I was talking about. In which case she needs to read email more closely. Perhaps the iPlayer support team needs more people so they have time to read messages and write replies carefully.
  3. No-one read my email and some automated system sent a canned reply based on some (obviously flawed) keyword matching.

I know I shouldn’t waste my time, but I’ve had another go at explaining exactly what the problem is and why this reply didn’t address any of my issues. Let’s wait and see what happens.

But it shouldn’t be like this. Speaking to customer service shouldn’t be like banging your head against a brick wall. People should know the products they are supporting and they should want to give the best service they can. It’s becoming far too common that customer service replies appear to be dashed off as quickly as possible in the hope that no-one will actually bother to read the reply. Either the support team don’t have the training to properly support their products or they are overworked and don’t have time to do a proper job.

Either way, it’s all very frustrating.

The BBC showed the Leonard Cohen concert again over the weekend. I recorded it on my V+ box. It was broadcast in the correct aspect ratio. I enjoyed watching it very much.

[1] I like to call this “Dixonsvision” in memory of the sadly-missed shop which used to insist on demonstrating all of its widescreen TVs this way.

4 thoughts on “Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall

  1. Once you get some kind of conclusion (or become completely frustrated), maybe you could lob a summary at some of the BBC bods you know; they might be able to light a fire under someone better than you could.

  2. Hello Dave,

    I manage BBC iPlayer help and looked into this.

    Sorry about the error, you should have been responded to better than this – I’ve spoken to the team manager and this appears to be a one-off. This shouldn’t happen again, and I’m glad you eventually managed to watch the programme in the correct ratio.

    Thanks for contacting us to inform us of the aspect-ratio problem as timely feedback does mean we can improve the service whenever possible.

    Jonathan

  3. currys.digitalvision doesn’t quite have the same ring. They don’t break the aspect ration any more, although they do seem to delight in showing very low-res versions of HD demo discs on the shiny tellies…

  4. @billyabbott,

    Yeah, I assume that Dixonsvision came about because they had widescreen TVs to demonstrate but the only widescreen broadcasts were on cable or satellite and it was prohibitively expensive to get a digital feed to every set in the shop.

    The problem was, of course, that this set the public’s expectation of what widescreen broadcasts are supposed to look like.

    These days it’s far easier to get a widescreen broadcast into the shop, which is why it seems to be dying out (in shops, if not in homes).

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