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Alex B Cann column: A bit of humanity goes far ...

Something miraculous happened the other night. No, the Mottram bypass wasn't built and sorted. Nor did everyone start being courteous to one another on Twitter.

However, it was almost as rare...I made a call to Sky's Customer Service Centre, and got straight through, without being placed into a queue for 20 minutes first!

I've lost count of the amount of calls when I've been greeted by a  prerecorded message about reduced service levels due to Covid-19 or high call volumes. I remember one call to Carphone Warehouse back in the day, when I heard Thunderclap Newman's Something In The Air so many times on a loop that even now I can't bring myself to play it on the radio even now. I tried calling the AA when my Mini overheated, and ended up having to call an Uber to get home.

Anyway, back to the Sky phone call. Our broadband has had a rockier year since we moved house than a set of Rishi Sunak opinion polls. From Colin our new kitten chewing through the cable to numerous speed problems, we just can't seem to get to the bottom of our connectivity issues. As my wife largely works from home, she is far more affected than me, but she tells me it's often like the days of dial-up when trying to take part in work Teams calls. I'm old enough to remember internet cafes, and having to go to the computer room at University, only to find pages took so long to load, it was frankly far quicker to read a book in the library. On a side note, I'm so grateful social media didn't exist when I was at Uni. I'd have never got my essays in on time.

The call was answered by a courteous chap in Bulgaria called Ivan. Sadly, he wasn't able to wave a magic wand and provide a quick solution, but did give us some nice life mantras whilst chatting to us. It turns out he's experiencing similar problems with his internet provider in Bulgaria, but he implored us not to get too cross and let it spoil the rest of our day. Speaking to someone with sympathy and understanding makes such a difference, compared to robotic call centres reading from pre-prepared scripts.

In fact, my wife had a bad experience when trying to tell her car insurance company about a change of vehicle. The call was about as easy as using an ash tray on a motorbike, and we wondered several times if we were being pranked.

A little bit of humanity goes a long way, and in the days when so much is done by AI chatbots, I hope big companies don't fully go down this road, and lose the personal touch. I also hope we sort our internet connection out soon, but either way am grateful for Ivan's top level of customer service.

Talking of car insurance, by the way, have you noticed how much premiums have rocketed lately? The average quote, reports Compare The Market, has now reached almost £1000, with young drivers being hit particularly hard and having to pay over £2000 on average. Worse still, a further increase of six per cent is predicted for this year. A couple more stats...three-quarters of drivers who renewed a policy in the last three months reported paying more than the previous year, and some premiums rose by nearly 90% (my own went up by over 80%, and I was told there was no negotiation...there was literally no attempt at all to retain me as a customer).

In their defence, I'm sure motor insurance companies would argue that high inflation rates have impacted many areas of the motor repair industry, including the cost of spare parts, energy, and hiring specialist mechanics. I'm assuming when inflation falls that they'll also lower their prices to the same extent then? It's a bit like the 'rocket and feather' principle with petrol prices. Petrol was 50p a litre when I passed my test 29 years ago, kids.

Clearly, shopping around is always advisable, rather than letting a policy automatically renew, but what happened to rewards for loyalty? Our car breakdown cover recently rocketed in price too, and their email even said "you've been a customer for 12 years, so you may find a better deal elsewhere". I find this approach truly baffling, but the AI robot I 'spoke' to on their website happily cancelled it without any haggling. In summary, the world needs more Ivans, and a bit less profiteering.



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