7 December 2015
I am in my sixty-fourth year on the planet and so, whilst I'm not planning on departing any time yet, I don't have as many hours left as I used to, blogs John Bowen.
Anything that will save me time is important to me and that is why I have been an ardent user of the internet, where I can access information and services much at any hour of the day or night to suit me.
The latter point is the important one. In times before the internet you did business with other organisations when they were open and at their convenience. My own work-life balance is that I work for at least part of every day of the week, but I also do other things for part of every day of the week. I am fortunate enough to be able to run most of my life the way that I want to and I like it that way.
So when it occurs to me at 07.30 on a Sunday morning that I have nothing that I especially want to do, this might be a good time to look at an insurance issue that I will have to resolve in a couple of months' time. Good decisions are easier to make when you have all the information in advance and can decide without pressure.
With a tablet to hand, another boon to saving time, I fire up the search engine. Here there is always time to waste because organisations pay to put themselves at the head of results and you need to learn which sites to avoid clicking on. In the mix are some well-known brands and price comparison sites and I am happy enough to try them. Here, I hit my first problems when, despite having asked about business insurance, some of the links take me to domestic or personal pages that are of no use and, despite having requested UK only, at least three turn out to be elsewhere in the world. These are quickly abandoned, but a few precious minutes have been wasted and my good mood shows signs of receding.
One of the big names does seem to give me what I am looking for and I spend a few minutes keying in all sorts of appropriate information before that too finds me in a cul de sac. I refine my search criteria to try and narrow the field. The new search pulls up a list of more or less the same suspects, but there is one that really looks good, so I hit the link.
When the page loads I start to work my way through and sure enough it all seems great: The questions being asked are relevant, it doesn't seem to mind that I don't want the insurance yet and I spend the next 20 minutes keying all the information that it asks about my business. There are about six or seven pages and a lot to complete and it would be a lot easier sat at my desk using my big laptop, but with a bit of manipulation I find my away around the questions on the small screen and eventually get to the finale - click here to get your quotes.
My first click seems to achieve nothing so I try again, but get the same result. Then I start looking and, sure enough, there is a tiny box that I need to tick to accept terms and conditions. I'm an old hand at contract negotiation; I never sign anything without reading it, but here, even with my new goggles, I am struggling for the font used is tiny and it is in a pale colour on a white background. Clearly they don't want me to read the words, but eventually, having zoomed in, taken off my specs and holding the screen a few inches from my face I make out the words that by ticking the box I am authorising the company to have three or more companies phone me to discuss my requirements.
I close the site and toss the tablet away. Forty precious minutes have been wasted on this exercise and half of that has gone on the last website. What is the point of doing all of this work at my convenience just so that a bunch of people that I do not know can ring me up when it is convenient to them? The website concerned will not get any more use from me and if anyone asks me, I will suggest that they look elsewhere.
One little job that will have to go back into the queue and get dealt with at some point, probably when I can telephone people and ask the questions that I want to ask. Sometimes the internet helps, but there are times when it is utterly useless, not because of itself, but because of the people out there trying to get your business. I am sure that the site that I visited asked for so much information not to help me get the right quotes, but so that they could sell those details on and all that would have achieved is that I would have had a lot of telephone calls from people that I don't want to talk to.
I like to learn something new every day; the above can serve as today's lesson.
John Bowen is an FM consultant