I got this letter in the mail yesterday from TV Licensing. I could tell from the envelope and the red ink that it was likely not good news which was confirmed the instant I opened it and read the contents.
That big bold paragraph mentioning â€œour Enforcement Divisionâ€ conjures up an image of a stealth SWAT team busting down the front door, chucking in a couple of stun grenades and spraying the place with machine-gun fire.
Wild imagination from watching too many American TV shows on the PVR!
No, this is far less life-threatening but, nevertheless, as equally troubling.
As everyone who lives in the UK knows, you have to have an annual license to watch TV thatâ€™s tied to your address. Itâ€™s the law. I do have a license, valid for another year, which was auto-renewed on October 1. Of course, I was moving house at around that time but I did tell them my new address on October 7.
One thing that impresses me about central government agencies like TV Licensing is the smart use of the latest technology that provides citizens like me with the means to easily take care of providing information myself, usually by visiting a place on the web or by phoning and interacting with a voice response system.
The trouble is, there is a lot of assumed trust by all parties that is fragile as the means for the system not to work properly is high if my experience is an indicator.
So what happened on Oct 7 was that â€˜the systemâ€™ acknowledged my change of address â€“ Iâ€™d used the 0844 premium phone number and walked through the layered menus to get to the option where I could record my address change. (Iâ€™d used this route only because on that day, the website was down.)
I guess it hadnâ€™t registered the address change, resulting in yesterdayâ€™s letter. So I called another 0844 number mentioned in the letter, and went through the process again.
But I was distinctly unhappy with the conclusion as it seems to me that the system didnâ€™t get my details correctly. I even used the option where the voice response recorded me word for word and asked for my phone number so someone could call me to verify. But it concluded by saying all ok and no one would call.
That didnâ€™t give me a lot of confidence. I twittered a frustration about how difficult (impossible, actually) I found it to get hold of a real human being at the TV Licensing office.
I didnâ€™t twitter that for any particular reason, just thinking out loud, and sort of wondering if Iâ€™d hear from anyone who had had a similar experience as mine.
It did produce a reaction but not one I expected â€“ a Twitter direct message from Chris Reed, one of my Twitter buddies.
Chris is head of the digital media team at Fishburn Hedges in London. One of the agencyâ€™s accounts is, you guessed it, TV Licensing.
It happened that Chris was monitoring mentions of TV Licensing on Twitter using the search tracking tool (what used to be known as Summize) â€“ and my tweet showed up. So he got in touch.
After an exchange of Twitter DMs between Chris and I, I got a phone call yesterday afternoon from a kindly gent at TV Licensing who confirmed that my address change has been noted.
So I can relax a bit knowing that the SWAT team arenâ€™t likely to be knocking down, er, on, my door.
A conclusion that benefits one individual. Hardly satisfactory in the overall scheme of things, though.
It seems to me that the pretty good self-service systems that TV Licensing have in place all come to naught when you the citizen/consumer/customer interact with those systems and your experience results in a doubt, a lack of trust, a feeling of no confidence, that it actually worked.
How difficult would it be to add one small concluding step â€“ that of providing the citizen/consumer/customer with a receipt, proof that your transaction was concluded correctly?
The system has all my details including a valid email address â€“ why not set up an auto-email with confirmation of the latest transaction? Or an SMS message to my mobile phone? Or give me choices in how Iâ€™d like to be communicated with. A Twitter DM â€“ Iâ€™d accept that! Even a letter delivered via good old Royal Mail.
Other organizations routinely do email so it canâ€™t be that complicated. And TV Licensing already does email â€“ I get my renewed TV license from them each year by email.
A small step with big benefits.
One final thing to note. Take a look again at the photo I took of the letter. Plenty of code numbers and symbols. The one that especially caught my attention is the square block to the left of the date.
Wonder what thatâ€™s all about. Any ideas?