Happy New Year

May 2007 be successful and enjoyable for you and yours. For our part, we’re planning an exciting year. here’s some of what we will be doing in the first couple of months:

An additional support person for our growing Brisbane office.

An additional support person for our national Help Desk to service our growing client base.

An additional programmer for our core technology development team.

Replacement of our 1 year old company website with even more self-serve user assistance facilities.

Implementation of CRM and faster access to the Help Desk.

Software updates starting with our new R2 being shipped in January – eliminating some housekeeping, replacing our database technology and delivering better business reporting outcomes.

Implementation of Skype access for support calls.

Release of a Guide to Theft for small business – a FREE special report which will help small business cut theft.

Release of our first YouTube training video.

There’s more but that can stay confidential for now.

Have a great New Year!

Beware of local computer technicians

Every year at this time it seems we are asked to fix a mess left by a local “computer guy” who has left one of our clients in a mess. The story is always the same. We’re asked to quote on a hardware upgrade and miss out of the business by being between $500 and $1,000 more expensive. The local computer guy gets the gig and upgrades the system. Then, over the Christmas break, things go bad and we have to come in and sort out the problems -0 because the local computer guy is uncontactable and we’re on 24 hours a day. More often than not we find hardware different to that quoted and unprofessional setup / configuration work.

We acknowledge from the outset that our upgrade prices are higher. Such is the cost of quality hardware and professional service.

Our commitment is that our customers get what they pay for in terms of hardware specs and professional services quality.

We don’t muck around when we encounter botched jobs by local computer guys anymore. We charge to fix the problems – especially when we’re having to take people off other work to help out.

Free business directory listings – better than the Yellow Pages

I am blogging today unashamedly plugging our Find It online classifieds business. Currently and for another two months all ads are free, directory listings too. When we do start charging, more than 66% of all ad categories will continue to be free. Paid ads will be priced way lower than the Yellow Pages and others in this space.

One price comparison we did shows that a Find It directory entry will cost barely 5% of an equivalent listing on another major directory service. That’s a huge saving. And we’ll bring traffic.

So, list your business at Find it FREE and help us build an alternative to Yellow Pages and others.

Find It is relevant to Tower Systems because we are creating this to support small business. It demonstrates our unwavering commitment to the small business sector in Australia. We hope Find It will help small businesses support each other. Tower only sells POS systems to small businesses – hence our keen interest in keeping the sector vital and growing.

Plumbers, solicitors, dentists, chemists, florists, builders, gardeners, butchers, bakers, newsagents, jewellers, bike retailers, accountants, repair shops, cleaners – everyone in business should list at Find It. The more the better.

Jeweller software upgrade due soon

Our software for jewellers is undergoing significant enhancement in 2007 with several major updates planned for the first half of the year. The enhancements are being driven through close consultation with many of our users and have come about as a result of their helpful feedback. What’s interesting is that more than half the enhancements suggested by jewelers will have application in other business categories.

The first update of our jeweller software will be released by the end of the first quarter and will be provided free of charge to existing users.

Andrew Halpern, our National Jeweller Product Manager, is driving the changes. He has a background in the Jeweller space in the United States. Andrew has been working over the break to finesse the specifications for the changes.

IT support never sleeps

It’s been a busy day today for our skeleton Help Desk team, handing over 140 calls. More than half the calls do not relate to our software as such with calls about systems overheating, systems affected by the rough weather in northern NSW, supplier problems as well as issues with our software. We expected the days between Christmas and New Year to be quiet this year like other years but it seems more small business owners have stayed home and are working in their businesses. As consequence we have reconfigured our support team to ensure good service levels are maintained.

As a counterpoint to the support call traffic, our sales team is unexpectedly closing deals. Newsagents who are usually too busy to think about purchasing systems right now are placing orders and scheduling installations. It’s great!

Christmas cheer from our team

Here’s some of the team at our Melbourne office yesterday smiling (well most are smiling) for a Christmas photo for this blog. Merry Christmas everyone!

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I’m not sure why Simon (right) and Eby (left) hot the antlers since they’re not the headbutting types. Tucked in the back (middle) is our newest team member Amy and to the right, also hiding, is Renata, our longest serving team member.

On his knees is Richard who does most of the photo work you see here and elsewhere with the company and behind him in the blue checked shirt and trying to look like a Christmas tree is Gary – a team member of 12 or 13 years standing and the keeper of our quotes – a monthly publication of stupid and embarrassing things we say.

I won’t name them all. These people and the rest of our team are a delight to work with and a joy to know.

We employ fifty people across the group in six states. Most are taking a break over Christmas. Seven of us will hold the fort and for that pleasure we get to wear what we like next week and that’s fun in a geeky sort of way.

It’s Christmas and sales are still being made

2006 has been a successful year for Tower Systems. Sales are strong, client retention is strong and our software is respected by suppliers. Usually by this time of the year, sales are slow as our retailer focused customers work on their business rather than evaluating IT systems. This year is different. So far this month, our new system sales are above our monthly average for the year and three times our usual December average. We even have sales demonstrations requested for tomorrow.

What all this means for 2007 is that we hit the ground running with installations commencing in the first week. This is also unusual. No, no long lazy summer here.

Vacancies in IT: especially seeking a Jedi

We have three new full time IT positions we are looking to fill:

Help Desk. Melbourne. You’ll need exceptional phone communication skills, patience, a desire to help small business and good IT skills.

System installation and training. Brisbane. You’ll need exceptional personal communication skills, patience, a desire to help small business preparedness to travel and good IT skills.

Software developer. Melbourne. This is a great position for a Jedi. Oh, and Delphi 8 or above experience too please. Graduates okay – the Jedi thing is most important if you’re to fit in.

Tower Systems is a good place to work – of course I would say that – we’re easy to get along with, are committed to being carbon neutral, help you develop your skills and provide a friendly environment where you can make friends.

Inspired newsagents growing faster, stronger

In reviewing the entrants for our FAST 3 AWARDS (winners announced here yesterday) I am thrilled at the success of our clients. There are some standouts – newsagents aggressively using our software tools to understand their businesses and address challenges. For example, one user dug deep into sales data and saw that a department which looked to be strong was decaying in several categories. Three months on they had arrested the situation.

It’s a challenge getting small business owners like newsagents to use their Point of Sale systems as more than cash registers. Our FAST 3 AWARDS are part of that process as are what we label intervention calls – phone calls and visits where we work with our users to dig into their businesses in search of potential problems.

The most successful newsagents I am seeing are those who use their technology aggressively to unlock the truth about their business. They seek out bad news and relish the challenge of fixing it. Getting in a conversation with these folk is inspiring – they have numbers at their fingertips and these are backed with answers.

It’s the most pleasure a software developer can get, in the office, hearing a user excited about good data and what it means for their business.

How to cut employee theft in retail (again)

Make it difficult. That’s the absolute key. Make it difficult to steal from you. Have robust processes with double checks and balances. Use cameras. Let employees know that everything is tracked. Setup traps. And, trust no one.

It’s on my mind today because I have just got off the phone with another client who has been hit for close to $20,000. In their case they were lax with cash. Their computer system was out up to $150 each night and they put it down to technology -n because the employee involved said so. They also happened to be the most technically literate person in the business. The owner was scared of technology, refused to fully learn and relied on this person to run the system – as steal from them.

Every call like his amazes me. It’ easy for someone to steal from you if they have control of the cash in your business. The person controlling the point of sale system and its data controls your cash.

You can’t please everyone

I received an email from a client yesterday saying that our support was lousy, they had been trying all day (Saturday) and could not reach anyone. So, I called them. They had been calling our office number. They said they did not know we had after hours numbers, that they had not received our monthly newsletters, that they did not receive our weekly emails, that they did not receive a welcome pack when they installed our system eighteen months ago and that they did not know we had a website with support number details.

Improbable as it seems we’ve decided to contact every client who has not called for support in the last six months and check that they have our support numbers. I know some will deny receiving such a call months down the track but, in the light of the call yesterday, I’d rather be safe. Only about 20% of our users have not been in contact over the last six months. While that’s not unusual, it does mean several hundred phone calls to make sure they know we’re here and how they can contact us.

While it’s possible the client who called has misplaced newsletters and other contact details, it is also possible the mail has gone missing. These calls will hopefully catch any similar situations in the future.

POS systems for newsagents and gift shops for $7,995

“Point of sale systems are expensive.” It’s a complaint I still hear and a barrier all too often put up when someone says they will stick with a cash register. Our website has more detail but check out below what we supply for $7,995. Hardware. Software. Training. Support. It’s a keenly priced package deal. It can be leased for around $50 a week.

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This is our newsagent package deal. A similarly priced deal is available for gift shops. And, we happy to sell software only.

Small businesses can better compete if they have immediate access to business knowledge. That’s what our software provides.

Shame Sony shame

Several days ago I was raving here about my new Sony laptop. While I still like it, I was disappointed by this story about Sony in Mediapost and how they paid to create ‘flog’ and pass it off as a citizen initiative. Sony and all companies have an obligation to label advertising as advertising and to NOT pass it off as a citizen initiative. They will harm their brand as well as the brands of companies which are transparent about such things. Sony has done the Net and its citizens a disservice.

Engaging with our customers for justice

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This is magazine sell through data for seven magazine categories over 11 months for one of our newsagent clients. They need a sell through rate of 50% to break even for most titles. They are not achieving that for most months. They have no control to resolve this since the magazine distributors control what newsagents are sent. We have empowered newsagents by providing this report on demand direct from within the system. Of course, it has column headings and tags down the side for the magazine categories – I’m not showing it here to protect the guilty.

We are now engaged in a project to catalogue the data from a statistically sound sample group and present it more formally to illustrate the lack of fairness and justice in magazine supply for our small business newsagent clients and, indeed, all newsagents.

While not part of our obligation, we will help in any way we can. Our technology provides evidence of appalling behaviour by some big business suppliers to newsagents. The report itself was developed a couple of years ago when we were fighting a distributor in the newsagency I own at Forest Hill in Victoria.

The truth about laptop battery life, at last

I bought a Sony Vaio VGN-TX47GP/B last week – paid full price at Sony Central. The sales guy told me to expect six to nine hours battery life. I laughed and bought the machine anyway – I’m a happy Sony customer. A week on and on the road, the battery claim has been put to the test every day for the last four days. It’s true. The battery life is excellent – the best I have ever experienced from a notebook. Hopefully it stays that way.

It says something about notebook battery life when under every row of seats at the LeWeb 3 conference in Paris today I noticed temporary power outlets – and they’re being used. I sat there proud to be free of the cables.

More cake?

french_cake.JPGI am in Paris and what would a blog from abroad be without a photo from the window of a local cake shop. Paris is a city resisting globalisation in the high street. While global retail chains are here, they are not here in the numbers I have seen elsewhere, especially in the food areas. Paris is known for its cakes and this shop did not let me down. Now if only we did not let our cultural cringe let us down in the cake shop stakes back home.

Mobile phone and calling card recharge direct from POS

dialtime.JPGUsers of our Tower Systems POS software now have live access to Dialtime mobile phone and calling card recharge from their POS screens. This means no more lining up to use the Dialtime terminal – they can complete the transaction from within the sale. We connect to Dialtime real-time and pull down recharge stock as needed. Our clients are able to deliver better customer service for a lower labour cost. We’ve delivered the enhancement as part of our update service and for no additional cost.

Bigpond a big puddle of poor support?

We sell Point of Sale software, not Bigpond Internet access. I had to remind a customer of this a couple of days ago when they insisted we help with an internet connection problem. They called us out of frustration with Bigpond – I’m told it takes a long time to get through and often the problem is not resolved. My issue was that the call was taking up our resources which could be better used helping users with questions about our software. Talking with a couple of our Help Desk team after the call they tell me that at least a third of all calls to our help desk are for issues unrelated to our software.

The dilemma is – do we charge for these calls? I know that if we did our customers would be angry. My view is that people using us for help unrelated to anything we supplied ought to pay. I’m not sure what we will do. At issue is our service levels. We’re proud of our customer retention rate and want to ensure it remains high – hence the focus on calls unrelated to our software.

Alinta lets us down

The promise by Alinta to have their power work in the street out the front of our office done by 7am was never going to happen it seems. The chaps doing the work did not start until after 7am and, according to them, were never going to. My call to Melissa Armstrong, their Customer Services representative, resulted in her hanging up on me when I reminded her of her commitment earlier this week that the job would be done by 7am. One of the guys doing the work told me “that was never going to happen”. Alinta customer service has been appalling for this time.

Employee roster software manages labour costs

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We have been playing in the employee roster space for just over a year now. The latest version of our software is helping small business more effectively manage the cost of labour across the week. The scratchy image above does not adequately show the detail. Rosters can be created visually or by entering data into a table. The drag and drop facilities make it easy to go through what-if situations with the goal of helping business owners fine tune the balance to keep employee costs down. With labour costing between 10% and 13% in many independent retailers, getting the balance right is imperative.

We help address meal breaks, total house per week and other time consuming aspects of roster management. Once the roster is done it can be emailed or sent via SMS text message – our experience in our own retail businesses is that employees like this service.

By managing the roster centrally we are able to better answer questions and research situations like, for example, employee fraud. The roster provides a trail which is better than you;d see in manually operated small businesses.

Vacancy – software support Melbourne (new position)

We’re expanding our national Help Desk again and are looking for someone to join our Melbourne office in a newly created training and support role. If you know anyone with good current IT skills and a desire to help small business owners get the most from their IT systems then please have them email a cover letter and their resume to mark@towersystems.com.au.

Google embraces customer service

More than a year after we began several aggressive and expensive Google AdWords campaigns, Google has finally given us an account manager. Months ago when we desperately need an account manager, or any human for that matter to help with several Google created problems with our campaigns, we could not raise a human anywhere within Googleplex. Now, we have a human. Now that’s innovation in customer service – a human response.

Christmas cheer

In keeping with tradition we are not sending Christmas gifts this year and will instead contribute to two charities. This year we will support Make A Wish ($1,000) and the Lighthouse Foundation ($1,500).

We have supported both before and are very happy with the work they do. The Make-A-Wish Foundation helps grant wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses and make an immediate impact on a child’s life. The Lighthouse Foundation provides long term accommodation and intensive support for young people who may otherwise be homeless.

We take our social responsibility seriously and give at Christmas and other times during the year within our capacity.