Tower Blog

A blog about smart POS software for independent small businesses.

Month: May 2006

ANZ to customers: don’t reply to our letters

I received a letter from the ANZ two weeks ago containing some information which was not correct. I replied to the author. It turns out that I have done the wrong thing. The ANZ does not want its customers responding to the people whose names appear on a business letter. “They’re the department heads, you cannot write to them” I was told by an ANZ staffer yesterday. “You have to call and wait in line like everyone else.” You gotta love the banks.


Advertising customer service

I have a theory that the real interest of a business in delivering good customer service is inverse to how much they money they spend advertising their attention to customer service. The advertising spend by Woolworths, Bunnings, Coles and any bank supports this. I wish they would spend more on customer service and less on telling us about it.


Sleeping with the fax machine

I received a call this morning from a small business owner complaining that their fax machine had sprung to life at 3am because of a fax we had sent. I thought the comment was a joke but it turns out that they do not have a fax machine in their business. Instead their home phone is also a fax machine and it’s on the nightstand in their bedroom. Our automated fax software was working through a list of 5,000 numbers and it happened to be 3am when it got to theirs. Ten, maybe fifteen, years ago I got calls like this – when fax machines were less prevalent. But today? I’m stunned.

Given the low cost of fax machines and their value to any business it never occurred to us that a machine we were calling in the current campaign would be in a bedroom. Okay, lesson learned.

This experience has highlighted to me the divide between businesses which do have a fax machine at the shop as well as broadband and all manner of other business assistance tools compared to those with a fax machine at home and probably no broadband and other tools. My initial reaction after the call this morning was to judge the business harshly for not keeping up. Now, I wonder how many others are living in a communication backwater and what impact this will have on their businesses. Business today is a speed game and without access to current technology and high speed connections it is only natural that you will get left behind. Getting that message to people with fax machines in their bedrooms without offending is a challenge.


Employment opportunity: IT support in NSW

We’re looking for an additional installation, training and support person for our NSW office. Here’s the ad we are running (for the third time) on Seek:

Point of Sale system installation and training.

This is not your typical computer support role.

We’re a 25 year old Australian software company. We develop and support point of sale and back office software for newsagents, jewellers, bike retailers and hair salons.

We are seeking someone with good IT and communication skills to join our support team in NSW. Two thirds of the work involves on site time installing systems and training clients on how to use the technology in house for greater effect. The rest of the time would be at our office in Miranda, NSW.

We’d like you to have a good understanding of business and enjoy working with small business owners and their employees. Strong IT skills are also essential. However, our work is not at the pointy end of technology involving the latest and greatest IT tools. Our clients are small businesses and as such require cost effective business focused tools more so than the latest gadgets.

We offer a career path through our help desk, installation and on to management within the company.

Please find out about us and apply with a letter pitching why you are worth considering. If you just send a resume we will discard your application.

We use this application approach to separate people who understand requirements and communicate well.

Exceptional written and oral English communication skills are essential.

Tower Systems is an equal opportunity employer.

Please do not post this advertisement or the position details elsewhere.

No agents or consultants – we only hire direct.

Applicants must be Australian citizens or permanent residents with excellent English skills.

If you have applied for this position in the last three months please do not apply again.

If the position interests you please email but hurry’ We’ve received more than 60 applications in three days. Be sure to read the ad carefully first as we’re ignoring people (50% so far) who do not respond with an appropriate cover letter.


Banks make it hard for small business

We’ve been with the ANZ Bank for 25 years. They keep telling us how much they appreciate our business. Yet now we want to open an eGate facility for accepting payment online for a new business they want all manner of documents including a copy of our business plan. The questions suggest that the 25 years of trading, including several well performing property loans, is not enough. No, the ANZ want us to jump through so many hoops that we’re thinking it is time to shop around. It’s not like we’re asking them for money. The eGate facility enables our prospective clients to pay us by whichever method they choose. Why a Business Plan is needed is beyond me. We’re a known quantity to them. Banks annoy the hell out of me sometimes.


Give it to me or I’m gonna tell on you

It was usually the last line of defence used by the bratty kid in class when they wanted something from you and threatened to ‘tell on you’ unless you gave them what they wanted. We copped this from a soon to be former client yesterday. They have sold their business and wanted a copy of our software to use at home for a year or so. It’s a request we have only had once or twice before. We explained that they could access the software without cost for 30 days and that beyond 30 days there would be a fee. Their reaction was unexpected. If we did not give them a software licence for free they would tell the incoming owner that our software and service were crap. They went into an bullying tirade against one of our most senior support people.

If they are right then our service has been useless for the six years they have been a client. We responded by putting our offer in writing and re-stating the free access for 30 days and that beyond this there would be a one off $895.00 fee for what is effectively a new licence. We also let them know that in line with our usual practice the incoming owners of their business had access to a free day of training.

We’ll have to wait and see if they ‘told on us’.


The ATO and privacy

I have an on going dispute with the ATO about privacy. They refused to respond to letters from me because my home address was not the address registered for my tax file. They did not tell me this at the time. Eventually they told me their refusal to respond to my home address was due to privacy regulations and that I would need to apply to have the address changed. Apparently their privacy provisions do not permit them to respond to a letter sent by a taxpayer unless the return address is the registered address. That seems okay but it took months for them to tell me.

Imagine my shock when I walked into a Tax Office and changed my registered address without providing any proof of identity. My complaint to the ATO about this flaw in their management of my privacy remains unanswered.

Over the last ten days I have experienced more inconsistency from the ATO on privacy. My businesses have established digital certificates for online activity with the ATO. This requires them calling to confirm details. In only half the cases did the ATO officer confirm that it was me answering the phone.

The point of this is that the ATO has financially penalised me over a matter which could have been quickly resolved had they responded to my letter over a year ago. They now hide behind their privacy regulations on their non response and to justify a penalty on a penalty.

Yes, minister.


Another employee theft court case, another waste of time

We get very involved helping police as they prepare cases against employees caught stealing. Several people in our company trawl extensive databases tracking down usage patterns which form a key part of the evidence. We have been working on another case this week. More than $50,000 stolen and not discovered until the money has been spent. It’s time consuming work and all the more frustrating because our software has facilities which can block such behavior. While employees should not steal, employers have an obligation to make it hard to steal. This can be done by using the tools in the POS technology, increasing the chance of capture and through better people management.

Until now we have provided this service at no cost. Given the lack of appreciation for our efforts and the many man-hours involved we will now charge for our time. This latest case has cost one of our most senior people three man days and to gift that to a client without compensation is not good business – especially when our other clients who manage their businesses better could suffer because of the attention diversion.

We had a case last year which racked up twelve man-days of time. Again at no charge to the client, police or insurance company. The insurance company covered the client’s losses. No one covered our investment. Our feeling is that there has to be a limit as to how far we go on this.

We’ll continue to offer our tracking service for free but once we have found a problem, the effort in preparing a case for the police will be billable.


Free POS software user training

We regularly run free training events for our clients in capital cities and regional centres. These are usually very well attended in all locations except Sydney. Even though we have more clients in Sydney than anywhere else, they don’t seem to want to leave there businesses (or wherever they may be) to attend free training. From Cairns to Perth and Darwin to Hobart we get good numbers to the training events and calls for more yet in Sydney we regularly have to reschedule as we try and top up numbers to make the event worthwhile. If we go 50 kilometers out of the city we get plenty attending. It’s the suburban area which is the problem. We know from surveys and support renewal that our Sydney clients are happy. Maybe they are just a shy bunch.


Mobile phone towers and the workplace

Our head office is on the second top floor of a building covered in mobile phone towers. Following the RMIT news of the weekend about seven in their workplace being diagnosed with brain tumors, we sought answers from the owner of the roof about the risk to our employees and others who occupy the building. The owner pointed to advice from a consultant in 1997. I’m still navigating the issue with them to try and get more up to date advice and testing. In the meantime I have arranged for our workplace to be professionally tested tomorrow.

Also following the RMIT news story I contacted the Victorian State Government authority responsible for the workplace. Today, three days in, I am yet to get a response. This is despite three contacts initiated by me.

For what is a serious workplace health and safety issue both responses are unacceptable. There is enough information in the public domain about the RMIT story to suggest that employers in buildings with mobile phone towers need to take reasonable steps to have the work environment tested. At the very least this demonstrates good faith to employees.

It is the arrogance of the owner of the roof which concerns me the most. As soon as the RMIT story broke they ought to have commissioned up to date tests on all levels as well as seeking written undertakings from Telstra, Optus and others with mobile phone towers on the building.


The Lobster Cave and spam

The Lobster Cave is a well known seafood restaurant in the Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris. A few months back while dining there I agreed to go on their mailing list. Since then I’ve received several emails of 2MB is size or more promoting their menu. I thought, okay, I did give them my details for a list. Then, last week, I received four emails, all on the one day. Each was close to 3MB and each the same. What made these emails worse was that they included email addresses from the 1,000+ people on their mailing list. Poor form Lobster Cave. I’ve asked them to take me off their spam list.


Beware of a software support fee rip off

I got a call the other day from a newsagent who had just received their software support invoice from a competitor of ours. He was still in shock and telling me that the software support bill was for over $3,000 for software support – a service which he considered mediocre at best. I did a quick check and confirmed that our support for equivalent software for his newsagency would be $1,590 a year. Half that he was paying. This chap is one of a growing group of software users angry at heft support fees. Our support fees have not increased in over four years and while that pressures our margin, my decision of maintaining fees at our 2002 level is out of fairness to the 1,300+ clients we serve. While I am happy to win another client, I would prefer that the reputation of software companies generally was not besmirched by unreasonable support fee hikes.


Trademarking our support point of difference

We’re a small step away from giving a trademarked name to our point of difference. We call it the Tower Advantage – software, support, motivation and training designed to give our client businesses a competitive advantage. We decided to put a name to our offering to better focus our attention on our point of difference. What’s our point of difference? It’s the Tower Advantage. And what’s that? It is the package of tools which Tower delivers to my business which boosts what I make and how I feel about my business.

By packaging what we see as our point of difference in this way we’re building our own pride and tightening our focus. The label itself demands that we deliver an advantage. It keeps us true. While others provide computer support we provide the Tower Advantage. No one else can have that. No one.


Small business and the environment

If you believe representatives from Planet Ark and other organisations you would think that big business does more to care for the environment than small business. On the use of plastic bags especially. I heard an interview recently where the Planet Ark person said they he wished he could get small business engaged on the use of plastic bags. This frustrates me because I know that in my own retail shop and many small businesses I visit that I am asked about paper or plastic whereas at my local Coles and Safeway I’m not asked – they push plastic automatically. Indeed, I have to tell them I don’t want a bag for the two or three items they want to put into plastic for me.

It seems to me that Planet Ark and others could make themselves better informed on small business and acknowledge the efforts of many to reduce the use of plastic. Their support for Australia Post, Harvey Norman and other national retailers is offensive. The cynic in me suggests that the majors are only involved because there are sales in it for them.

Small business retailers are getting a raw deal on environmental matters.


Reference site request kills a sale

We’re in the market for a CRM solution and have been talking with a company representing a huge multi national software developer. We have trialed the software and felt that implementation would be a challenge. We wanted to talk with other businesses our size which had implemented successfully. Their rep said he could give us 30 reference sites but that it wasn’t about that. He ducked and weaved continuing the 30 reference site claim but never delivering. We stayed focused on our request. Yesterday we gave up. No reference site details had been forthcoming and we doubt they exist. So, another failure in the search for a good CRM solution.

We provide reference site details every day in our business. It’s an important part of the sales process. We’re glad to let our clients speak for us, warts and all. No software is perfect – it’s how you respond to the implementation and use challenges to service the business. That’s where we do well – business integration.

This CRM mob have not only turned us off their services but also off the multinational software vendor they represent.


How to cut employee theft in your shop

I’ve put together some tips for cutting employee theft in a retail business. These tips are based on several years helping clients address the problem when it has been discovered by our software. My sense is that employee theft costs many small businesses upward of 60% of all theft in the business. Yet, employee theft is the easiest theft to manage. I had to take a hit in one retail business I owned before I realised how much I was helping people steal. It was a $22,000 lesson and well worth it.

Here are my suggestions for reducing / managing employee theft:

1. Background check every new hire. Get their permission and use an agency to check with the police and other sources. Make sure you know the person you’re hiring! Often just asking their permission to submit to a background check will turn away those you don’t want.

2. Pay above award wages. The quality of your employees is up to you. If you’re doing your job you have good employees. Value them. Pay above award – by up to 10%. This will reduce theft.

3. Engage and show respect. Ask for their honest comments about the business. The more they feel, genuinely feel, valued, the less likely they are to steal from you.

4. No employee bags at the counter.

5. Tight refund policy. Theft is less in business with tight and enforced policies.

6. Offer fair discounts to employees. Let employees buy products for a fair discount and demonstrate respect for their involvement.

7. Don’t take cash out yourself. If employees see you take money out for questionable items like a coffee or your lunch they will feel invited to do the same.

8. Roster mix up. Change your roster regularly. It is common that a roster change will show you a theft problem you never thought was there.

9. Tight internal systems. Setup good systems with little room for error. Demonstrate through your actions that employees will be caught if they steal from you. Experts advise that people likely to steal choose employers who they assess to be soft targets.

10. Roster rules. Don’t have friends working with friends if they are the only ones rostered on.

11. Speed humps. Have a day where you turn on receipts for ALL customers. Then a day where you require that everything is scanned (as opposed to using hot keys and the like). These changes will keep employees and customers off guard and make it easier for you to spot problems. It will also keep you on your guard and that’s good for the business.

12. Spend more time up front. The further you are from the action in your business the greater the opportunity for you to be ripped off. Spend time where the action is – unexpectedly.

13. Balance the register during the day. Do this every so often. Again to keep people on their toes. It is also good practice.

14. Don’t let employees ring their own purchases up.

15. Don’t let employees sell to family and friends.

16. Your local council. Many local councils offer theft prevention training and help as do some local police. (Local U.S. police stations are considerably more active in this area.)

17. Beware of popularity. There is anecdotal evidence that the more popular the employee the more likely they are the one stealing from you.

18. Tell employees you suspect you have a theft problem. This might uncover comments. It might also scare them to stop.

19. Install a camera system and use it. Too often retailers have the technology and don’t use it.

To do nothing is to invite trouble. These suggestions are easy and most involve no or only a low cost.


The great blog content con

I hate it when a blog entry is grabbed by a person or some clever software turned into content solely to lure punters through a search engine to an advertising site. In the search engine listing there is no reference to the source. How I found it was through a search and I saw these words which sounded very familiar. This has been happening a bit to me lately and there does not seem to be any way of stopping this. Take this post. Here it is at a crap advertising site. Take a look here as well.


POS software real-estate ads are distracting

I’ve been looking at how other POS companies use their real-estate, especially in the supermarket and convenience store space. More an more they are populating the POS screen and customer display with advertising. While there may be advertising dollars in this I wonder what it does for the experience of the employee. How do they feel about having to navigate around the se advertisements? Do the advertisements get in the way of using the software? Are they distracting?

Surely we have enough ads cluttering the world today. I would have thought that better training and better resourcing to provide for an improved customer experience at the check out counter would help up-selling customers. Or, smarter developments in the software to produce context sensitive coupons which lure the customer back in a defined time to get some deal based on what they just bought. Our software offers this and I reckon it’s the smart way to market at the checkout – except that the marketing is done at home when people check their dockets.

At the checkout counter I want efficient and friendly service without noise. The ads on some POS screens and customer displays are unwanted noise and they distract from accurate sales processing.


Indy cafes offer better indy music (and coffee)

Great to see independent cafes in Australia competing with the (safe) corporate music CDs in Starbucks and other production line coffee outlets with their soundslikecafe CDs. Soundslikecafe volume #4 is the CD I heard first this week at Gattica in Balaclava. A check of their website shows they have just released volume #10. So, rather than the bland Starbucks music offering check out Soundslikecafe music. This is how independent businesses can compete – by supporting each other and embracing the independent point of difference.


Rural businesses appreciate face to face contact

We’ve had key people from our sales and support teams on the road for a few weeks visiting clients and prospects offering anything from a quick “g’day” to a couple of hours free assistance. The feedback from our people has been that rural people enjoy face to face contact more than their city colleagues. We learn more from rural clients as well – they are more open with suggestions. Our goal in making the visits is to improve our connect with clients. A bonus is the sales we have been given by several either to them or their mates. Again this business came more from rural businesses than in the city. While we like our city clients, there is (generally speaking) more enjoyment in dealing with rural clients.


Well done Today Tonight

Kudos to Today Tonight and their petrol campaign. They are offering to promote petrol outlets offering real discounts at the pump without tricks. At last there is some media attention to the supermarket and other voucher programs which offer nothing like the real value they have printed on them.

I had a salesperson from Servo Savers try and sign my retail business up for their program. Not only was the sales person obnoxious and making wild claims as to what the campaign would achieve for my business, a genuine saving for the customer did not seem their focus.

The ACCC ought to bring some consistency to how businesses value loyalty points, discounts and the like with any purchase. Without this consumers will continue to be ill informed about the real value of their loyalty to a business.