Friday, 28 October 2011

China's influence in the European debt crisis needs a closer look.

The American artist Andy Warhol seemed to understand that
China's revolution comes with many faces. One of the faces is a brand of global capitalism. 
Mao Zedong may have seen China's adoption of non-democratic capitalism as the ultimate revolutionary act.

More band aid solutions to European debt crisis. It is wise to still be prepared for an economic meltdown and will China help?

by Tom Thorne
I was amused this morning by the front page of the Globe and Mail, Canada's newspaper of record. They published a sketched diagram obtained from the meeting of economic ministers in Brussels. It reminded me of my own napkin notes satires still to be found on this blog.
A reporter found this revealing document on the floor of the meeting room. It showed how the debt crisis, especially in Greece, would be solved. What was particularly interesting was the numbers of question marks on this diagram and so solutions may be fleeting notions of fiction.
The question marks remain no matter what spin the Europeans put on their economic meetings. The bail out money has to be created, or more accurately printed and distributed, while the Greek people still take rounds of cutbacks and austerity. That of course will lower the value of the Euro and subsequently raise interest rates on the debt because it will take more money to retire the debts. Simple Economics 101 stuff really.
These meetings are so much theatre for the world stock markets which have skittishly lost ground to hedge for another meltdown like we got in 2008. The Europeans are now asking their banks to write down or reduce debt owed by debtor governments. 
So the balance sheets of the banking establishment will take a hit and the economy of excess will continue now slowed by chastened bankers who will be reluctant to loan anyone money to cover the losses they experienced at the hands of the politicians and bureaucrats. A vicious circle.
Stock markets rebound...up and down there is always profit taking for someone.
Financial markets like trained seals rebounded yesterday because investors want to believe that the Europeans have finally got financial religion and had a encounter with what is right and true on some mystical Fiscal Road to Damascus.
This is really hopeful status quo thinking. What is needed is for governments in Europe to live within their means and in the case of Greece, Spain and Portugal to collect income taxes from their populations who routinely hide money in black cash economies of some scope. 
In addition, throughout all of Europe it is essential that these cash black economies be curbed. They may be in some cases up to 30 percent of GNP. However this is also a double edged sword because in many cases the underground black economies are essential to keep things rolling on each day. 
Harden up too much up on black money and the economy slows down. There is the official economy and then there is the unofficial economy that people create to avoid high European union taxation rates. However, Europeans also expect quality social programs and services. They can't have it both ways.
So these meetings in Brussels are really so much smoke and mirrors. They are long on rhetoric and short on real plans for the European union's future to control spending and generate the right fiscal balance for the Euro and its political union and its considerable economic activity.
China invited to help solve European debt crisis. A cat among the pigeons situation.
Another startling piece of news that emerged yesterday concerned China and Europe. China is being invited to invest in Europe big time, ostensibly to stave off financial disaster but also to prop up the ECU one of China's biggest customers so they don't lose business. China will take this opportunity to invest and ultimately influence what happens in Europe down the road.
China's influence is growing in what the USA will and can do financially and now they are being invited to protect their markets in Europe by helping solve the debt crisis. 
The Chinese leadership will see this as an opportunity to expand political and financial influence into the west. To help now will have a real politic payback in the future. Fighting debt with more debt seems to this observer to be a recipe for a future problem when the debt is called. That problem will be China and their attitude to calling debt could be more like a mafia loan shark's approach to debtors.
Imagine the stupidity of this move in the not so distant future. In effect European leaders are prepared to mortgage their economies and the economic output of their future populations to China in the name of globalism and the notion that economies are so interlinked that transactions and investment sourcing are one great world wide economic pot.
Unfortunately Chinese investment or purchase of European government bonds means a win-win for China. No western country is snapping up Chinese bonds. In addition, China is seeking resources world wide to fuel its industry and so their economic pressures on national sovereignty of many countries including Canada goes on unabated.
The nature of this deal will be one-way and will serve to expand Chinese power not only in Europe and North America but throughout the Third World where they will access resources they need to develop their economic revolution. Capitalism does not need democracy to flourish as we see each day in our dealings with China.
The Chinese don't want an economic disaster or an uncontrolled spin into a recession. That would create havoc inside China as we saw for a while during the 2008-10 period when their normal nine percent growth rate was reduced appreciably by lower demand from the west and subsequently created unemployment and downturns and even social dislocation within their Economic Zones. That's not how the Chinese economic revolution is expanded.
And so the smoke an mirrors of western government debt and living beyond their means continues in Europe and the USA providing China with routes into the fabric of the world economy that are unprecedented. Truly Mao Zedung, The Great Helmsman himself, has realized a global revolution using the tools to capitalism to do it.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Eyeopener, Ryerson University's student paper celebrates 45th year of publication without the founding editor for the second time!

A Michelin Harmony blows at 120km and the driver gets off 
the road in one piece. Note the wall puncture top right. 
The tire retains 85 percent of its tread and was installed in 2006. 

The Eyeopener 45th Anniversary missed! Tire blowouts never come at appropriate times. 

by Tom Thorne
The last time the Ryerson University student newspaper The Eyeopener had an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the newspaper's founding in 1967, I missed that festive occasion by a wave of the fickle finger of fate. Somehow the actual date was not conveyed to me by email. Bummer.
Naturally as the founding editor of this reviled yellow rag I want to be at any event celebrating its years serving the Ryerson community with a distaff and critical view of the university's life.
So this time Kat Quinto, who is serving on the current Eyeopener masthead, sent me early emails about the upcoming 45th petulantly telling me that if I didn't attend she would boycott the event. I ran a story on this blog to celebrate the upcoming event and help with the promotion across Facebook and Twitter.
We were all to meet in Toronto at The Blake House on October 20 at 5PM. I decided to stay over and so arranged to stay at the Homewood Inn, a bed and breakfast which is just around the corner from The Blake House. I figured I could stagger back after the event with no problems.
Everything was in place for the 45th or so I thought. At 1PM I start to drive into Toronto from my home in Belleville. On the 401 just after Trenton and before the Big Apple Pie Store, my car starts to shudder and shake. I thought my transmission was about to fall out on the road.
Of course I am doing 120 km when all this happens driving my trusty Honda Accord which has served me well since 2000. I finally manage to pull off the road and stop. Considering the speed I was driving at I am grateful to be alive.
Four way flashers...
I turn on my four way flashers. I am on a soft gravel shoulder and transport trucks are whizzing by well in excess of the 100 km speed limit. I turn off the engine. The acid test is will it start again. It does and so I let it run to keep the battery charged for the four way flashing lights. It also confirms that my transmission is intact because I can shift the gears.
Now I get out. Transports continue to whizz by some honking as if to say we saw you this time. I walk around the car to see what happened. Finally I see the passenger side front wheel. The tire is shredded and the wall has blown out. Damn!  
I get back into the car and light up my cell phone. I call Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) for assistance but I can only give them a notion of where I am after Trenton. Of course I can't remember my own cell phone number ( I never call myself) but CAA wants it. 
Who ever remembers their own cell phone number?
I search for the little piece of paper I keep in my wallet recording the offending number. I find it and call them back. If I can figure out where I am I should call them back again.
Just then, an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) cruiser, now resplendent in their retro-restored black and white paint scheme, pulls up behind me with all his emergency flashers whirling and zigzagging. The constable approaches the car and I roll down the window. "Are you alright?" meaning am I personally alright, he explains.
He tells me that he has found people my age suffering from a heart attack or a blackout at the wheel. I assure him that my doctor gave me a clean bill of health just last week. He seems encouraged. He asks me if I have called for a tow. Yes, I tell him but I need to get back to CAA with my actual location. 
Why the Big Apple is an important landmark on Highway 401.
That's when I learn I am close to the Big Apple Pie Shop a landmark because it literally has a giant red metal apple in the round with a sign that says "14 million pies sold". Now CAA can find me. I call in my position citing this well-known landmark. 
The OPP constable wants me to drive further off the road. I do so which is further proof that my transmission is intact.  It also sinks the shredded tire into some really soft gravel. However this makes it safer from the transports as they speed by. 
The OPP constable leaves but before he does he says his colleague patrolling from Trenton will check in with me which he does later driving a huge black and white Tahoe truck. He has a GPS which confirms my position. Thanks OPP you were great.
CAA is supposed to come in a half hour so I begin to phone the Homewood Inn to cancel my room. In addition, I call The Blake House to leave a message for Kat Quinto. I then sit tight and before too long the CAA truck appears. 
Dinky donut emergency tires don't inspire confidence.
The tow truck guys look at my dinky donut tire and conclude that it will work. Since it has been in the trunk unused since 2000 it is remarkable that it still has air enough to hold up the weight of the engine. They are not going to tow me home to Belleville. "You will be fine to get back to Belleville." the tow truck guys tell me. 
Then they tell me to run my four ways to the Big Apple Pie Shop exit about two kilometers down the 401 towards Toronto. "We'll drive behind you until then, then you go home at 70km per hour on Highway 2."  I get off the 401 with a sigh of relief and give a thank you honk to the CAA tow truck guys as they go back on the 401.
I drive home to Belleville using my four ways when I am on the road between towns. I am tailgated by a run down truck piloted by hosers who want to pass. I stick to my 70 km speed much to their annoyance and they speed by giving me the finger. Most of the other drivers are courteous. In towns driving is just normal. Finally I get to Belleville.
It is only 3:30 PM so I go directly to Belleville Tire where I always purchase new tires. Kim looks at the offending tire in the trunk. What do I want to do? Do I want  to replace these Michelin Harmony tires with new Michelin Harmony tires? Instantly I say yes, because there is a hole in the wall of the tire and then the shredding from the burst wall which indicates something may have punctured the wall from the road. Also the tread is intact.
Measurements reveal that two tires that were recently moved up from the rear to to the front still have 85 percent of their tread left. The other two that had served on the engine still have 75 percent of their tread left. None of the tires when routinely checked earlier this month at my Honda dealer while doing routine winterizing, caused any alarm. The walls all looked normal and no cracks were noticed.
Then the Belleville Tire record is examined on their computer. "Tom, you put these tires on during 2006" they tell me. I didn't realize that it was that long ago. The bottom line is they have a warehouse with stock in it and if I want four new Michelin Harmony tires they can do the job tomorrow at  2PM. 
Yes I say and then I question the wheel rim for the tire that burst. Dallas checks it and it is OK. It wasn't bent or twisted so we can use it. The next day and $614 lighter I am back on the road. And I lucked out a bit, Michelin has a $70 rebate if you replace all four tires. I send it in.
Thanks OPP, CAA, Honda, Michelin and Belleville Tire
I would again like to commend the OPP. Next is the CAA for getting to me on the road within 30 minutes. Thank you CAA tow truck guys for your swift and professional help. Also thanks to the staff at Belleville Tire who had the temerity to suggest that I replace Michelins with Michelins. 
Thanks to Michelin for keeping me safe with such a blowout at high speed. Thanks Honda for your superior rims and direct front wheel drive that can take the punishment of this blowout and not need an alignment.  Let's all celebrate good customer service, good products and a little bit of luck.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Canadian labour harmony jeopardized by the Harper Government.

Demoted from Natural Resources, Lisa Raitt is
now Prime Minister Harper's point person implementing
his aggressive right wing policy as his Minister of Labour.

Where is at the centre of Canadian political life? Certainly not with Lisa Raitt as Harper's Minister of Labour
by Tom Thorne
This week the Harper government's labour minister,Lisa Raitt decided to use procedural ways to stall the Air Canada steward's ability to strike. She tied their union, The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) up in a hearing with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) using the lame excuse that she needed a ruling from the board to "prevent immediate and serious danger to safety and health of the public."
Raitt knows that this procedure will hold up the strike because CUPE now has to answer to the board and while doing so is precluded from going out on strike until it is hearing is done and a ruling made. That enables Raitt to get her back to work legislation rolling for the return of parliament next week.
The minister knows that the board will reject her reasons for halting the strike by CUPE. So the bottom line is the Air Canada employees still have to show up and go to work. A strike will be precluded by back to work legislation. 
The minister also concluded that because the membership of CUPE rejected two offers of their bargaining team that this evidence of union intransigence.  It is evidence of a lot of frustration by employees who have given up a  lot to keep Air Canada flying as the company now looks at forming a discount airline service. It’s much more complicated than Conservative right wing ideologues admit.
Lisa Raitt is the head end of the Harper government's attacks on organized labour using the slim argument that the economic recovery is in jeopardy if workers are allowed to strike. Earlier they also did a similar turn to the Postal Workers. In short this government is no friend to organized labour and especially unions that associated with the public service or Crown corporations.
Who is Lisa Raitt?
Lisa Raitt was first elected in Halton in 2008 defeating one time Conservative Garth Turner who ran in that election for the Liberals. Turner had experienced the wrath of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and so he attempted to get back into parliament as a Liberal. 
Prime Minister Harper appointed Lisa Raitt as Minister of Natural Resources in 2008 a ministry under the Conservatives without any real direction except to  keep a lid on any real environmental problems and help private industry sell our resources.
Lisa Raitt went unscathed after her debacle commenting on the nuclear isotope problem in June 2008. When the Chalk River nuclear reactor had to be shut down for repair the isotopes not only for Canada but for much of the world dried up. Raitt made some unfortunate comments about isotopes that implied she didn't care about people undergoing cancer treatment or medical imaging.
She had to recant and although the opposition called for her resignation Prime Minister Harper let her stay in cabinet and on the job as Minister of Natural Resources until he appointed her Minister of Labour in 2010.
Her heavy handed approach to labour matters seems to reflect the doctrinaire anti-labour sentiment of the Harper Government. She has been using a sledgehammer especially on CUPE and any government employee unions.
More background...
You would think she would know better given her background which is quite impressive. Raitt has a Bachelor of Science degree in Toxicology from St. Francis Xavier University and a later Master of Science from Guelph University.  She then went to York University for a her law degree and was called to the bar in 1998. 
While at York University she won a scholarship to attend the Middle Temple in London where she enhanced her law training in international trade, commerce, transportation and arbitration law. So, no slouch.
The most important part of this background is she became the General Council to the Toronto Port Authority and later President and CEO of that organization, a considerable achievement. 
However from all this excellent training and background when she gets into the political arena she seems to rely heavily on her first degree in toxicology certainly when it comes to labour unions and their right to collective bargaining.
For someone trained in the law she seems heavy handed or even mechanistic when dealing with labour laws of this country. She has been roundly criticized for her current actions against Air Canada's CUPE employees because she nailed their feet to the floor before they had any time to strike. I guess we now know that she and her boss are tough cookies on the labour front. 
A move to the right...
Her actions may ring true with the Harper right wing agenda and the constituency of Conservatives who can trace their roots to the Reform Party, but they do little to really bring Canadian labour into a sensible agenda to help economic recovery. These actions polarize they do not create conditions for reasonable agreements.
It appears that the gift by the Canadian people of a majority government now enables the heavy hand of the right wing agenda to fall of first public sector unions and then no doubt private sector unions as heir agreements come up. Every possible strike will now be seen to jeopardize the "fragile economic recovery" by this minister and her Prime Minister. 
It’s time remind the Conservative Government again that they were elected by 38 percent of the popular vote. If there was ever a time when the Opposition in parliament needs to be on the ball it is now. The Liberals seem to be adrift and the NDP seem to be navel gazing as they look for a new leader in March 2012.
There is a serious need for a cohesive critical attack on the Conservative government's directions. Skirting proper labour policies, omnibus crime bills, repealing the gun registry, low taxation for the rich all seem to indicate that the trend is clearly to the right in this country. We will pay for this drift to the right with labour disruption, more poverty, unemployed yet well educated youth, and a lower standard in social programs.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved        

Monday, 10 October 2011

Steve Jobs: He provided the standard to measure contemporary business excellence.

Setting the bar high.

Steve Jobs 1955-2011. A master of excellence.

by Tom Thorne
It is taken three days to really let Steve Job's death sink in. The first response is, of course, that 56 is too young. The next response is why such an innovative and creative human has been is swept away by pernicious cancers. There are no answer to these questions and so they leave a hole for a while.
I have been on a quest for excellence in computer hardware and software ever since I found the Apple II in a Computerland store back in 1976. Steve Jobs and Apple always seemed to be ahead of the industry. They were adventuresome in stretching technology but they did it and continue to do it with product design that ergonomically knocks your eye out.
Their products were and remain eye candy but they are eye candy with wonderful usefulness and high utility. They give pleasure to look at and work with. This story is being written on such a product. The iPad2 is such a neat product both in hardware and software that no other pad comes near its performance and sophistication.
Integrated products and software
The iPad version of Pages, the Apple word processor, downloads for $9.95 from the Apple App Store. It is completely compatible with the iWorks version I have on my iMac. I send stories for this blog out from the iPad via email and they work and edit perfectly. 
Every time I do this over the last few days it makes me think about Steve Jobs. It is his management of Apple that set the tone for these innovations and this level of compatibility between the Apple family of products.
Steve Jobs wasn't so much a tecky or even a software type. He wasn't a geek; he was in my view primarily a conceptual marketer. He possessed a knack for seeing upcoming technology and software concepts and turning these things into excellent Apple products. The real strength is that he has also set up a management and an Apple team do this time and time again.
They produce product and a product line with wow factor. Everyone else in this business has clunkiness and inelegance when compared with the Apple product lineup. Steve Jobs has left this legacy at Apple.
This attitude for building useful high utility, yet pleasing to look at products, is the work of Steve Jobs but it is also implemented by a team of design and manufacturing professionals who will I am certain continue on even with Steve Jobs gone.
Steve Jobs returned to Apple and set it on a course of excellence.
The Apple of today is not the Apple that Steve Jobs left when he was unceremoniously dumped for almost 12 years. They brought him back when they were almost broke and the results again you see today. IPods, iMacs, iPads on the hardware front. iTunes revolutionized how music is distributed and now the App store deals with software distribution.
And when he was away from Apple he produced the NexT machines and pushed the envelope of personal computing many steps forward. Then he started Pixar animation studios which largely is responsible for the high standards we now see in digital animation. He also sold Pixar to Disney and was on the Disney board until his death.
Steve Jobs was one of a kind. He possessed vision, a rare commodity in business. His leadership and enthusiasm for making neat things happen will be missed but his legacy at Apple has taken root and is in good hands.
The other day I saw a snippet of film as Steve Jobs received an honorary degree from Stanford University in 2007. He spoke candidly to the students about his illnesses and told the graduating class not to waste time but to get a hold of what they wanted to do and do it. Follow your passion was the message.
He was truly a master of excellence and a role model for contemporary high technology business community. He was often not the easiest person to deal with and could be impatient when his team were slow to grasp what he wanted. However, the results of his work and leadership speak for themselves. 
© Copyright  2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Steve Jobs: He provided the standard to measure contemporary business excellence.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Eyeopener: Ryerson University's student newspaper celebrates 45 years.

The Eyeopener Founding Editor in 1967

The Eyeopener, the Ryerson University student newspaper starts its 45th year. It's time for a celebration because at my age seeing the 50th is always potentially problematic.

by Tom Thorne, The Eyeopener Founding editor 1967
Forty four years ago the Eyeopener started at Ryerson University. I was one of the founding people involved with cranking up this project. The newspaper came into existence during October 1967, which is 44 years ago and so we are entering the 45th year if its publication. 
We are about to have a celebration at The Blake House in Toronto on 20 October at 5 PM and all former Eyeopener types are invited. 
I was the paper's first  and more pompously, its founding editor. For many years due to the shit disturbing nature of our content being the first editor was a dubious honour at least in the minds of some Ontario Government politicians, Ryerson University administrators, board members and their lawyers. 
The Eyeopener as a black sheep. A carefully crafted reputation.
When I attended post graduation Ryerson events or alumni reunions, administrators treated me as a kind of notorious untouchable celebrity. The passing of four and a half decades has mellowed my reputation as a muckraker and now starting the Eyeopener is  seen as an important historical moment in the life of the university. 
Truly time heals all wounds and the Eyeopener is now tolerated as an institution which I maintain, is always dangerous for any editorial entity with notions of maintaining any prospect of an independent viewpoint.
The last time I was at Ryerson I jointly gave the male athlete of the year award, sponsored by the Eyeopener, along side the university's president Sheldon Levy. Actually I was surprised that we gave any awards to anyone.
However, Sheldon and I downed a couple of glasses of wine at the reception and when he gave me the standard administrator's views of the paper which is akin to someone shaking hands with the Devil. He was the new boy on the block so I asked him a question to put him on a learning curve.
What would Ryerson be like without the Eyeopener?
The question was simple but the answer hung in the air  with  potential complexity. I said: " What would Ryerson be like today if the Eyeopener had never existed?"  Sheldon, who at that time had about year and a bit in his job, looked perplexed. So I pointed out to him that the Eyeopener only ever wanted the university to be better. Our criticisms were designed to probe and make people think and get on with the real job of teaching and learning.
I reminded him what has happened to our campus and how the school has grown and progressed. The nature of a Ryerson education has evolved but has never lost its direction which is neatly indicated in our Latin motto Mente et Artificio which I translate (probably badly) into Think and Do. I think the real translation is With mind and skill.
Although I ,and other editors over the years, were often very critical of the university but the paper can never be associated with disloyalty to the school. We may all have served as yellow journalists on occasion but the Eyeopener has always had a ribald sense of satire and fun, but it never knocks the principles of a Ryerson education. Probing is a significant part of a Ryerson education in my view.
Personally I am very proud of being a Ryerson graduate. We have all fought hard and long for what the school has become today. There was a time when the only way we could do a masters or a Phd was to go to the United States. Thankfully, those days are now over.
Always pushing Ryerson to be better.
When we called Ryerson "The York County Institute of Manual Training" back in 1968 we did so to make students, faculty and administrators realize that we could be much more and be much better. We could be a serious university level place with unique views of learning, knowledge and application of technologies to people's lives.
The Eyeopener is now an institution at Ryerson. That means that it is incorporated into the life and style of the school. It does not mean that it rolls over and plays dead for the status quo. The Eyeopener is a positive change agent or at least I like to think of it in those terms.
It is healthy to present distaff ideas and criticisms because as I have seen over the years many of our late 1960s and afterwards viewpoints and aspirations for Ryerson have finally come to fruition. So when I said to Sheldon Levy, think about Ryerson without the Eyeopener I believe I can say that the Eyeopener has made a difference to the Ryerson way.
Entering my dotage is an eyeopener.
I turned 70 this year and in my dotage I see the bigger pictures of a lot of things I have been associated with over the years. The Eyeopener is my first real project that stuck. When I left Ryerson I ended up at TVOntario and again for 11  years had a seminal input about how that organization developed.
Also at TVOntario and in private business I was in at the start of digital on-line services that that were groundbreaking and innovative. The Eyeopener set the stage for how I approach media production and I believe that Ryerson teaching staff also set me on that course. Ted Schrader was a mentor in journalism and Syd Perlmutter in broadcasting. 
Ted Schrader was a tenacious journalist (the old school) but his high standards left a brand on me for life. Syd Perlmutter's contribution to my media production training was always to bring a more humanity and a sense of humour to our work. Syd remains a true mensch!
Then there was a tough lady, Christina Macbeth, who had the most exacting standards as she strived relentlessly to teach us  how to write useful prose. Her method was to tear shitty prose out of your typewriter, scrunch it up and deposit it in the waste basket with the comment: "Thorne you can do much much better" or equally "That writing is too needs a rewrite." Macbeth's teaching style would make contemporary educators squirm but it made us work harder and better.
The birth of the Eyeopener was in many ways influenced by my professors. They were all supportive of the paper and critical of it if it was sloppy or if we turned mean. Ted Schrader who was a journalism law and libel expert helped me deal with an early big story by advising us how to give back documents intercepted between a lawyer and their client. The client was Ryerson. Receiving those documents was an indictable offence. What a learning curve!
We handled that story and published it. That episode was great training and experience.  The Eyeopener was and is not just a yellow sheet.  It is and has been a crucible for learning our trade and a place where you can take journalism risks that very few journalism employers will ever allow you to take.  
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.
To RSVP for the Blake House do at 449 Jarvis St. Toronto on 20 October 2011 at 5PM please contact this email:

Monday, 3 October 2011

As Cloud services start in earnest have the providers asked the customers what they want?

Buyer beware: There is a market battle heating up between the providers of cloud services to create captured markets. It first has a lot to do with capturing smart mobile phone market shares and setting up clouds to link customer bases not only with a smart phone service but also to capture the content activity of their phones, computers, and pads linking them together for data distribution and thus creating a loyalty bond that is hard to break. 

© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Can Apple Inc. grow and maintain good customer service?

Apple's customer service. A recent poor experience.
by Tom Thorne
I have been an Apple customer since 1976. So I am what you call a hard core (no pun intended) Apple user. I have purchased almost all major models of Apple computers over the years and especially and fondly remember the first Macintosh in 1984. In addition, I own an iMac and I am a recent purchaser of an iPad2 that I am using to write this article.
I have not really had a real negative experience with Apple until my daughter, a recent graduate of teacher's college, decided to buy a MacBook Pro replacing her old Mac laptop that had soldiered with her through five years of university.
She went on line to the Apple store to order her new MacBook Pro flush with the promise from new teaching job she had just landed. She made her order and then the rot began to set in.
Apple's meaningless emails
She received an email from Apple telling her that her on-line purchase could not be completed because her credit card was limited and could not cover the full amount. This of course is a common problem for young people who are establishing good credit records.
So she went back to the Apple on-line store with her mother whose credit card can complete the transaction with credit room to spare, or that's what we thought would happen. Instead the Apple on-line store began a round of incredible silliness since they could not use another credit card. They had to call the 1-800 number.
Apple decided to split the order onto my daughter's and my wife's credit cards. This of course created confusion and at Apple's bank there was a snag and delay as the credit of one or both cards were checked. The outcome of this debacle was the order sat in limbo and was not processed for four days.
More silly Apple emails came to my daughter but none of them reported the actual problem and so when my wife checked to see if the amount for the computer had been charged to her card ( which would mean it was shipped) she found nothing had been done.
Too many calls needed.
After about five calls to Apple we finally got through to a supervisor who finally got the order rolling. It was torture and very time consuming because it required calls to and from Apple to get it straightened out and much waiting listening to the best and worst of iTunes songs over the phone.
Finally the computer was sent a week later than planned and it arrived on a day they said it would not arrive, and so no one was at home to receive UPS and sign for it.  It finally came on the last pass before it would have been sent back to Apple. 
The story doesn't end with the delivery. My daughter and my wife went to the bank to exchange money to pay for the computer. It was at this moment that my wife found amounts charged by Apple to her credit card that were double the amounts for the computer. 
Naturally we called the Apple 1-800 line again and they explained that the two amounts were a "pending" amount and the "actual amount of the final purchase" which of course would void the pending amount. The pending amount was there to ensure that our triple A credit card could pay them. It all defies analysis and logic. We had the computer and yet the "pending amount" was still on my wife's credit card. That somehow doesn't tally.
It was again stupidity because if someone had a lower credit amount for their card that would be the only reason why shipment would be tied up.  Something needs repair at Apple credit assessment.
Lame excuses for good credit not good enough.
Come on Apple. That is pretty lame and makes one really think about what is happening at Apple these days as they grow and seemingly bureaucratize their sales and credit granting systems. They need a simple way for two cards to pay or for another credit card to replace the one that has not enough credit room to purchase. Credit 101 I would think.
It's been annoying and irritating and for our trouble my daughter was offered a consolation prize. She got a $45 VGA mini connector which she needed to use the Smart Board in her classroom. If she hadn't asked they would have offered nothing.
However, Apple really needs to watch how they deal with hard core customers like us. We are committed to Apple. They need to commit much more strongly to us. For example these new computers do not ship with restore disks for software and the OS. It's hard to reboot a computer with problems by contacting the iCloud or the App store. It means a physical trip to a dealer with repair capabilities. Better make certain you purchase Apple Care and back up your entire system on a large volume external hard drive.
Getting back to the sale, maybe we should have used my credit card which would have shown the extent of my Apple purchase history over the years since Steve Jobs and first partner Steve Wozinak emerged from Job's parents garage with the Apple I and then a short time later with the radical  much more commercial Apple II.
Good on you Apple but watch your customer relationships it's getting a bit too ragged for this old hard core user. Try this Google search: Apple customer complaints.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.