Accessible support

support.JPGThis is a copy of the support card we posted to all of our customers last month with our newsletter. The printed card is brighter than shown here. It stands out.

One of the challenges for any organisation offering a Help desk facility is to get people using the most appropriate entry point. While we promote our numbers on our print newsletter, email newsletter, website and in the software itself, it is cards like this which seem to gain the most attention. It’s easy enough to stick on the all next to the phone.

Next month we are sending the same card out again to all of our customers. We have found that repeating this improves uptake and can help get the right numbers next to a second phone in the business.

We understand that it doesn’t matter how great our support team is, unless people know the contact points for that time of the day we can look useless.

Hardware prices fall

We have seen hardware prices fall again and have passed on the reductions in our own pricing. Laser printers and some computers are the key beneficiaries of the latest fall. Of course, the PC falls are due to those machines being about to cease production. While buying just on price is risky, careful checking of specs to ensure a reasonable use life can reveal good value.

Resolving hardware issues

More than thirty of our clients were affected by faulty touch screens manufactured by 3M. After lengthy and robust representations from us seeking their attention, 3M agreed to a program of swapping the faulty screen in each affected location. This project took some time to complete and had to be done in a way which ensured continued smooth operation of our client sites. Our time commitment was considerable managing the shipping and changeover of replacement screens and then getting the faulty screens back to 3M. Thankfully, the project is over and, it appears, everyone is happy.

While 3M carried the cost of shipping screens around the country and they provided a spare screen to support the project, they have not agreed to any compensation for the considerable time lost in diagnosing and proving the problem to 3M management and managing the replacement project. This is one reason the 3M touch screens are not currently on our list of recommended hardware.

3M could have been more proactive and saved us considerable time in managing the replacement project.

Free WiFi advice access sheet

We have created a new wireless hotspot setup advice sheet (G3) loaded it under the support area of our website. This advice sheet will guide you to if you wish to offer WiFi access to customers or to use it in your business for connecting to our software. It documents the approach we have taken in our own business – newsXpress Forest Hill. Free WiFi is a great way to attract customers.

Mates rates for support

At Tower Systems we treat all of our customers as equal. There are no favours when it comes to customer service or support fees. We do our very best in providing professional and timely support to all of our customers. There is no other way in our view. Our approach – treating everyone equally – means that people who say kind things about our software and our support do so from the basis of usual operation.

A competitor recently gave a customer a massive discount to stop them switching to us. While this is their right, I feel for their loyal customers who receive no such discount. I wonder how this company would react if everyone of their customers threatened to switch to us. Would they give everyone a support fee discount of $1,600 or more? I suspect not. If their customers threatened they would move to Tower Systems, would they waive their annual licence fee just to keep them? I suspect not.

Discounting to keep a customer puts you on a slippery slope. It tells your customers and your competitors that there is no service difference – it is all about price. It exposes a weakness in your operation.

A business which cares about its customers would be public about its support fees and charge all customers using the same software the same fee. This offering of steep discounts here and full price there is disrespectful and will ultimately hurt the business.

Ditching the user manual

Once you grow beyond a few hundred customers using your software, it is challenging to keep everyone in your user community using the software in a consistent way. For many years we published a User Manual to guide our users. At least that is what we thought it would be used for. We realised, around ten years ago, that the manual was rarely used. So, we switched to Advice Sheets. These function specific, point by point, guide were an instant hit. Now, with more than 200 pages of Advice Sheets, they are more valuable than any manual could be.

By separating our documentation to be task specific, it is easier for us to publish new documentation. It is also easier for us to add to the suite. While there are some customer who prefer to call than find the answer for themselves, the Advice Sheet pool helps keep that to a minimum.

Comparing documentation, such as Advice Sheets, is a good way to compare software companies. The organisation and presentation of information in the documentation says something about the organisation of the software itself.

Benchmarking facilities start to get a workout

More than a year ago we released benchmarking facilities in our software to facilitate the our clients participating in benchmarking. For all the noise about the need for small business to benchmark, our experience is that there is a reluctance to share data and compare. While we cannot share the detail, a group of clients has commenced using the benchmarking tools in our software to automatically build a cross-store benchmark database.

While the most important benchmark for any business is its own past performance, benchmarking against other businesses in your category can be equally beneficial.

Help desk upgrade

We are a few days away from bringing our Help Desk on stream with our new CRM system. Once live, this will further extend the reach of CRM within the business. Our CRM team has already replaced three separate internal systems with one over-arching application. The result is even better customer service. We also have a better view of issues and this facilitates better issues management.

Leading in EDI compliance for newsagents

Gordon and Gotch, a key supplier of magazines to newsagents, released figures Friday afternoon which indicate who leads in the drive to help newsagents unlock the considerable time and money savings from processing magazine returns electronically. Her are the figures of newsagents processing returns electronically by software company:

Tower Systems – 340
Computerlink 70
AccessPOS 10
POS Solutions 2
Newslink 1
Other 1

This list shows newsagents which companies care the most about their businesses. Even if you factor in market share, the data from Gotch is damning for all but Tower and Computerlink.

Trading off our name (again)

Further to my post about Access POS running a Google AdWords campaign based on people searching for Tower Systems, I note for interested people that it is live again. Go to Google, type in Tower Systems and their ad comes up on the right – unless they reach their budget for the day.

Mobile phone recharge innovation

For well over a year now our point of sale software for newsagents has facilitated the sale of mobile phone recharge from any point of sale screen. It was straightforward for us to implement thanks to the wide use of touch screens across our 1,400 newsagent customers. The benefit for them is that they can sell these recharge vouchers from any register while others without the facility have to use a purpose built terminal which is somewhat slow. On a busy day there can be a queue.

This is on my mind today because I was talking with a newsagent who does not use our software and he was surprised to discover that we had this facility. It’s the type of feature which will bring him across to our software and while that is good, I am more concerned at the ineffectiveness of our marketing campaign around the launch of this facility last year. We clearly did not cut through on what is a major differentiator between our software and the others in the newsagency marketplace.

Newsagents using our integrated mobile phone recharge facilities will sell more vouchers than those without it. This is because of better customer service and greater employee confidence – the up sell is easier and therefore more likely to be offered.

So, for our marketing team, it’s back to the drawing board on what is a valuable point of difference which we delivered to our customers without cost.

Kudos to Family First

While it is unlikely I will ever vote for Family First, I respect the stand they have taken in relation to the changes proposed to the Trade Practices Act. Their website has a press release about this. Their position is more helpful to small business than some of the longer term politicians who claim to be friends of small business.

Inquiry into retail tenancy leases

I am pleased that the Federal Government has asked the Productivity Commission to undertake an inquiry into the market for retail tenancy leases in Australia. The press release from Peter Costello outlines what the Commission has been asked to report on:

the structure and functioning of the retail tenancy market;

any competitive, regulatory and access constraints on the market;

the extent of information asymmetry between landlords and retail tenants;

scope for reform of retail tenancy regulation;

the appropriateness and transparency of provisions in leases to determine rights when the lease ends and factors that are taken into account in determining rents;

and,
any measures to improve overall transparency and competitiveness of the market for retail tenancy leases.

While I think the Government has taken too long to call this inquiry, I welcome it as should all small business tenants.

Small business retailers ought to participate in this inquiry. The more submissions the better the Commission will be informed as to the facts. The Productivity Commission website has a page from where you can find out more about the inquiry and register interest in making a submission.

Any business owner who has recently complained about their landlord, especially a shopping centre landlord, must make a submission to the inquiry. To pass on this opportunity to have your voice heard would make your complaints a waste of breath. Get involved newsagents – this is your opportunity to be heard.

Mailmerge nepotism at ANZ

Oh dear, something went wrong with the mailmerge function in creating the document headed Your ANZ Business Banking Team which I received from the ANZ today. Relationship Manager: Annette Citizen, Assistant Manager: Larry Citizen; State Manager: John Citizen; District Executive: Irene Citizen; Financial Markets Interest Rate Risk Management: Brian Citizen; Home Mortgages david Citizen; Development Capital: Frank Citizen; Financial Planning: Harvey Citizen; Foreign Exchange: Carol Citizen; International Services: Ellen Citizen; ESANDA Vehicle Finance: Glynnis Citizen; Invoice Finance: Scott Citizen; EFTPOS Terminals: Mike Citizen.

Trading off our name

How cheeky is this: Access POS, a competitor in NSW, is paying to have their business advertised when people do a search for Tower Systems using Google. If you click on their ad they are charged a fee by Google.

I estimate that Access POS has between 100 and 150 newsagent customers and while we have ten times that, it is a concern that they are seeking to trade off us in this way. We have switched 32 Access POS users to Tower Systems in the last fourteen months. Besides the software and service differences, there is also a difference in licencing – Access POS users have told us they are unhappy at having to pay an annual licence fee.

The folks at Access POS have a track record of trading off the reputation of others. For several years they have used the newsagent owned N brand on their website – this infers some form of endorsement or approval. To my knowledge they have no such endorsement or approval. Indeed, last time I checked their software was not approved to all current industry standards.

Darwin user meeting change

Thanks to a car race in Darwin this weekend we have had to change the date of the last user meeting in our current tour. The new Darwin user meeting date is Thursday July 12 at the Crowne Plaza hotel. We already have 14 people booked for the free session – anyone is welcome to attend. To book please email bookings@towersystems.com.au.

These user meetings are an important aspect of the relationship we have with our customers. They guide our development agenda as well as providing us an opportunity to show off new bits in our software.

Email support on the rise

The use of email for support is growing faster not only in our business but in other businesses where engaged in regular customer contact.

We are reviewing our email support processes with a view to investing more resources to deliver faster outcomes. Currently, we give telephone support contact priority. The changes will see us treat the two as equal.

The challenge with support emails is ensuring that you understand the actual question – this is why talking with someone is ideal.

Free new owner training

For several years now we have been offering a full day of one or one training free of charge to the purchasers of businesses running our software. Every two or three days we have one of these free training sessions running in one of our offices around the country. While the cost to our business is significant, the benefits are real.

We supplement the training with the offer of a mentor – someone from a similar business who can act as a sounding board.

Thanks to the training and mentor service we are finding incoming owners are better equipped to run the business and even extend the use of technology.. This is our core goal – to get our software used as more than a glorified cash register. Sometimes small business owners become tired and give up pursuing the maximum return from their IT investment.

We are now seeing business brokers include our free day of training in their pitch when offering the business for sale – in the newsagency space it makes Tower newsagencies more appealing.