3 min read

Lessons in customer relations

Lessons in customer relations

Only recently have I noticed the dramatic effect a little bit of feedback from a business can have on customers; myself as the customer and the businesses being The University of Nottingham and Meriton Serviced Apartments.

The Backstory

As some may know I spent a lot of time whilst studying in Nottingham involved in the University of Nottingham Wing Chun Club. Whether it was participating, learning, teaching (or at least attempting to), marketing or developing the site, it took up my time. Clearly, with such a large portion of time and effort invested one could say I am a little attached to the club being the best it can be and looking the most appealing; at least in an online sense.

It was one of the first Drupal websites I ever developed (and I learned a lot from it). I made some absolutely terrible coding decisions that when I evaluated a couple of years later gave me a real shock. However, it is nice to see progression from my dark days of hacking core, ramming random PHP files into the web root and storing additional data in an adjunct SQLite database (and no, the database details weren't added to settings.php). I promise it's all changed now, really!

When I was first given ssh access to the student website server I had a little bit of a look around and remember being significantly underwhelmed by the lack of anything remotely modern. The antiquated hardware was the prime reason I started actual module development on Drupal 6 rather than Drupal 7 (even though all the books I'd been studying from used Drupal 7).

I recently logged back into the server to update some modules and decided to make a list of all the improvements that could be made and where it fell short. It was my intention to offer it as guidance for the University so the server could be improved benefitting all the clubs hosting on there.

  • No git/SVN - my backups and version control consists of logging on when I remember and creating a tar archive of the web root and a mysqldump of the database.
  • No drush - Have you tried developing without drush recently.
  • PHP < 5.2.5
  • No reason why PHP 5.3 can't be used but instead it's on 5.1.
  • Drupal 7 will not install on PHP < 5.2.5
  • No uploadprogress support.
  • Apache configuration is non-negotiable.
  • The website is located at http://su-web2.nottingham.ac.uk/~wingchun/ - easy to remember right?
  • Clean URLs cannot be enabled. This is a semi-follow on of the previous bullet with the only requirement being mod_rewrite enabled.
  • Keep alive (a big favourite of mine) is disabled.
  • A quick look in the /home directory shows ~170 user directories, each with its own website.
  • The server has < 1GB RAM. Vastly underequipped for the number of sites hosted.
  • One cannot download to the server. Any commands like wget, curl or services that make requests from external sites like the Update module DO NOT WORK.
  • Although the web roots are kept in user directories, logs are kept out of reach where users may not use them to debug.
  • I'll go out on a limb and guess the stack is likely unconfigured.
  • A noticeable amount of downtime makes it tempting to abandon the server, even if it is free.

Unfortunately, all attempts to contact the University, by way of tweet, to their main account and their student union account (both of which are active) went unheeded; leading me to believe that the University simply does not care about providing quality infrastructure for student run groups. instead opting to ignore requests to open up a line of communication in the hope that nothing will come of it.

In the information age where contact can be made with the click of a mouse and information freely shared I see no reason why I was ignored. Surely, with reputations liable to get damaged by negative feedback the onus is on companies to listen where such feedback is offered.

A Contrast

Through 100% fault of my own whilst booking a brief stay in Meriton on Kent Street, I overlooked a coupon code for 20% off. I read an email from them offering the discount rate and just went ahead and booked, presumably assuming they would just exclaim:

"Oh look it's Adam! He's clearly forgotten to apply his October coupon code. Let's just assign that for him."

Alas this was not the case.

A brief call sorted everything out and I commended Meriton on their service by way of tweet. Receiving a reply, although not much effort on their part, appealed greatly to my very human nature of wanting to be heard. It's simple things like this that cause consumers to stick with particular brands and the development of brand loyalty is important to business.

I'm aware that prospective students to Nottingham will not think twice about whether or not they study at the University based on a blog post discussing servers. But regardless of the content, the attitude displayed speaks volumes.