Beware of lite software

Back in the 1990s software companies embraced lite versions of their software as a means of selling a product for a lower price. To make the lite product they usually took away some valuable facilities. We experimented with this in the early 1990s but dropped it after a year because we found that in vertical markets, such as newsagencies, lite software was no solution.

Small Business owners are not what I would call sophisticated IT purchasers. I don’t mean that in any derogatory way. They do not buy based on a specification or functionality sheet. They buy on sales pitch. This is why newsagents and small businesses generally ought to be very wary of lite software. What is it which has been removed from the regular software to enable the lite version to be sold for so little?

At Tower Systems we do not sell lite software. Our commitment to business outcomes demands that we provide the best solution and this is the complete solutions.

Saturday support interest

We have received wonderful feedback since announcing the launch of Saturday Help Desk support coverage starting this weekend. While we have provided after hours coverage for most of our 26 years, this is the first time since the introduction of the GST that we have staffed the service out of an office. It extends the tools available to our team – including the ability to connect live to client systems – and therefore the nature of the calls we can easily deal with.

To service the Saturday coverage we are using senior team members to ensure that any challenge can be dealt with on the day.

How businesses use our software

I have been in Brisbane today for the second in a series of Business Roundtable meetings with users of our software. In this session, we dig into reporting in the software to help businesses understand challenges and unlock growth opportunities and toi help us understand how we can better help our users.

After the two sessions so far it is surprising how differently people use the software and interpret the results in some reports. It has been most illuminating. We have also picked up some excellent enhancements we can make in some of our reports to take the business analysis to a new and more valuable level.

I like to participate in these sessions myself as I fund such direct feedback more valuable than if it were filtered by another. Also, since the sessions are for business owners we can talk in a more practical and, I hope, action focused way. It also holde me personally accountable.

Multi-store software playground

sr4x.jpgWe have signed a lease to add another two stores to the Sophie Randall group. This will provide us with three locations under our ownership with which to test the new multi-store facilities in our software. While the Sophie business has its own team and stands along economically, having a growing retail group within which to further develop group level software provides us with an excellent opportunity. Multi-store facilities are exciting in that they enable groups to manage at the individual and or corporate level.

The first Sophie store opened six months ago. These two new stores will be open in a few weeks. Our new multi-store facilities will launch at just the right time.

Outside of enhancing our multi-store facilities, Sophie also provides us with excellent learnings about the requirements for gift shop software.

Well deserved press coverage

doveton.jpgIt’s good to read about customers enjoying success.

Chris and Julie Leonidas of South Eastern Distribution Services have built a very successful business managing newspaper home delivery in Doveton, Endeavour Hills, Hallam and Dandenong.

We’re thilled to serve them with our newsagency management software – the relationship began many years ago when Chris and Julie

Chris and the team were named Australian Distribution Newsagency of the Year at the ANF Conference on the Gold Coast two months ago. The newspaper clipping is from the local Berwick News. It’s great to see coverage like this – especially with our connection to the business. Good news all round.

Government red tape

The brochure accompanying the 32 page Economic Activity Survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics says that they work to minimise the costs to the business community. Based on the three and a half hours I have lost providing a more comprehensive breakdown about revenue and expenses than in my company tax return or even used for our management accounts I’d say they have failed in their goal.

Since Tower Systems employs more than 20, the ABS does not offer us the opportunity of an exemption – having completed three of these in consecutive years. I think this is a small business. It surprises me how many different benchmarks the government has for a small business – it’s another example of red tape.

But back to this Economic Survey. This is the fourth or fifth ABS survey I have been asked to complete this year and it is by far the worst.the accounting breakdown is onerous. The requirement to provide the data is frustrating since it is close to the end of the 2006/07 Financial Year – given that this is a busy time of year for us, completing last year’s accounts is thre last thing on our mind right now.

Updated theft management advice

After further consultation with our customers and police involved in theft cases, we have reviewed and enhanced the theft management advice provided to our users in four comprehensive advice sheets:

· G7 Security & Passwords (Please call Tower Systems to access this Advice Sheet)

· G13 Audit Log (Please call Tower Systems to access this Advice Sheet)

· G14 Staff Security Cards (last modified Aug 27 2007)

· G15 SMS (last modified Aug 27 2007)

Given the sensitivity of the information provided, the first two advice sheets are only available direct from the Help Desk. The other two advice sheets are live at our website.

It has been our experience that small businesses where fraud and theft are a problem, security is not taken as seriously as it could have been.

Introducing Saturday Help Desk access

Commencing this Saturday, September 1, 2007, we will start offering Saturday Help Desk support from our Head Office. This is in addition to our usual after hours service.

Supported users are welcome to call 03 9524 8000 or 02 9525 6444 between 7:30am and 3pm to access one of our Help Desk experts.

There is no additional cost for this service.

Workload permitting, we may process email support on Saturdays as well. Access to the Help desk through the Skype number will not be available Saturdays. If you cannot get through to the Help Desk Saturday and have an urgent problem, please use our usual after hours numbers.

Driving better customer service

common_problems.JPGWe are publishing this sheet to all of our users this week in an effort to help them resolve four common, yet simple, problems quickly and without the need to call. While we’re happy to take calls for these four issues, we felt that publishing this advice might help people resolve the simple issues sooner – especially if the problem occurs in the evening or on the weekend.

Like any Help Desk, a challenge we face is separating basic questions from more serious issues. If we can help our users deal with basic questions themselves, we can free our specialist IT team for the more complex problems. It’s all about trying to improve our service levels.

Given how well our Advice Sheets are being used by our customers it was logical that we tried the same approach in dealing with these four common questions.

We tested the advice sheet two weeks ago with some of our customers and their feedback has driven changes to make the advice clearer and the sheet easier to navigate.

Gen Y training at McDonalds

I was talking with Wayne, one of our team last night who had earlier this week completed his first new customer training session. The training was part of the free day we give anyone buying a business using our software. Wayne commented on how different it was training a business owner compared to training new team members at McDonalds in a previous role.

At McDonalds Wayne was training Gen Y employees, his peers. Here, her is training Baby Boomers and older. While the stakes are higher, it is how you communicate which interested him. At McDonalds there was some levity during the training because that’s the way of the generation. With our software training, it’s business and there is a commercial imperative/desire to get the most from a business perspective out of the training.

Thinking about the comments afterwards, I want to find out more about the McDonalds training. It may be that Wayne’s experience and the experiences of others who have trained Gen Y might help us help our customers better train this generation in how to use the Tower software to better serve the business.

The privilege of being your own customer

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Today I was fortunate to attend a conference hosted by ACP Magazines in Sydney. I was there as a newsagent -= for those new here, I bought a newsagency in February 1996 to provide a live place where my team and I could test and muck around with our software in pursuit of a better product.

Sitting in the conference room and mixing with other newsagents it reminded me of the privilege of being a customer using our software. Every day we are accessing an experience unlike any other computer company serving newsagents. We have exclusive insight but more important, we have peer level access to our existing customers.

Over lunch there was a question from someone using our software which led to a broader business discussion. Such contact is invaluable and beyond what a software company could expect through a traditional client relationship. Being available at events such as the ACP Magazines conference holds me and everyone in my software company accountable to our 1,435+ customers and for that I am grateful.

The good old days

Things seem to take longer now than they used to. With our growth we have put in place additional checks and balances to ensure the best possible quality software. These checks and balances cost time in deploying new facilities.

It can be frustrating, this time spent making sure we have got it right. But getting it right is important.

There was a time years ago when we would rush new facilities to market. Often we got it right but sometimes we did not. Now, with our customer base today and our relentless focus of quality, we cannot afford to get it right only most of the time.

So, while the delays brought about through better internal processes can be frustrating, the result is better business for us and our customers.

It doesn’t stop me remembering the good old days.

None of this is code for – gee, we are slow enhancing our software. On the contrary, we are in the middle of a considerable software enhancement program. To meet our goals and ensure that quality is the best it can be we have added to our team.

Recruiting from New Zealand

We received news today that my trip to Christchurch last week was successful with the candidate I interviewed accepting our employment offer. This is good news on several fronts – Allan’s technical skill set is excellent and will help broaden our focus; his experience from the supermarket marketplace will also broaden our perspective beyond our small business focus.

While we looked extensively in Australia we could not find the right candidate. Given the proximity of New Zealand and the skills I have seen from NZ candidates, it is clearly a market Australian IT companies ought to consider when looking for additional team members.

We are not done extending our development team but will take out time to find the right people to join in our mission. Considering recent applicants, it is possible we will recruit again overseas soon – the appeal of migrating to Australia works in our favour.

Bringing the world to the register

We are about to go commence live in-store testing of selling ‘soft’ items live from the point of sale screen. These are items loaded from a third party, live with vouchers, logos and the like printed as if the inventory is held locally within the business. This is very sexy stuff for our small business customers – being able to sell products without having the costs of carrying the stock. From a technology perspective it is sexy too, stretching the facilities of the software, especially in the way logos and the like are handled.

We are several weeks away from any announcement as to the substance of the new product as we want to make sure it all works as planned. When we do announce we’ll make a big noise since for our small business customers this will be big news. Being first with such innovations is very exciting.

Amazing trade show success

From three trade shows over the last two weeks we have attracted more than 100 A class leads. These are leads from people who like what we do and are ready to purchase. We deliberately take a business like approach at trade shows now – no real froth and bubble, no flashy marketing.

Our message is simple and based around our Tower Advantage trade mark – representing all that is unique and compelling about our software and services package. We are finding that by focusing less on flash at the trade show the closure rate of sales has increased.

Seeking a Sage CRM expert

We’re looking to contract a technical expert in Sage CRM to help us refine our internal system. These people are rare so I figured a blog post might flush someone out of the woodwork. Email me for details.

Why we don’t monitor calls

I am against the call centre tracking used by big business. You cannot measure good customer service by numbers alone as they do not adequately measure customer satisfaction.

When people call our Help Desk there is no preamble that the call will be monitored for training purposes. Indeed, we do little in the way of measuring calls – certainly not in the traditional sense. I don’t care if one of our team is on a call for a minute or thirty minutes. All I am interested in is whether the caller had their question answered satisfactorily.

This is the difference between our Help Desk and a traditional call centre. In the latter they measure every call against business KPIs which often require calls to be completed in five minutes or even less. They consider call closure rate a measure of employee performance. I consider customer satisfaction as measure of Help Desk team member performance.

To support our Help Desk process and provide our customers escalation points we have an established process. If someone is unhappy with advice they can speak with our Customer Service Manager – he manages the Help Desk function. Next in line is our General Manager – she manages the entire Help Desk / Support / Installation function. Next is me. If a problem gets to me it has to be serious because action is swift.

At each point along the way it is driven by people focused on resolution. I have found that by focusing on the people involved and NOT pages of numbers we are able to maintain the humanity of the Help Desk and our customers and this is, for us, what customer service is all about.

Expensive day in court

One of our senior team members has been called by the police to give expert evidence in a court case against a former employee of a client. While we are happy to help our clients manage the theft risk, this comes at a significant cost. Already on this matter we have racked up close to 100 man-hours of time. This has been done over the course of two years and at no cost to our customers.

The loss of another three days to support the court case (including travel), again at no cost, is frustrating. I’d prefer the police to offer compensation for time – such as that offered to jurors. Actually, I would prefer to not be required to be involved.

Small businesses have more control over employee theft than they think. By being lazy with processes, lenient on end of shift balancing and too trusting they invite theft and place a burden on others, including the police, to fix things. This is not true in every situation but I do see it often.

Employee theft is retail could be cut dramatically if there were police checks on potential employees; tighter cash controls; tighter checks and balances; and, regular audits. Good software facilitates this. Our does – we provide an excellent range of theft management tools including camera integration with point of sale.

I’d encourage all small business owners, regardless of the technology they have, to ensure they understand the theft management tools at their disposal and how they can be used. This is business after all.

Gift voucher software giveaway update

Our offer to provide our customers with our new Gift Voucher software module free – saving each one $795.00 – continues to be a huge hit. With just two weeks left open for the offer to be accepted, more customers have taken up the offer than have not. What is even better is the number actively using the software – their feedback is already reflected in enhancements.

Beyond our customers getting a free software module and helping their businesses, our software company is benefiting through better customer engagement and a higher percentage using the latest release of our software.

New Zealanders and small business

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Christchurch is one of those cities which demands attention even though one is here for business. Its beauty and serenity make a welcome break. The New Zealand psyche is equally interesting.

New Zealanders believe in their country. This plays out personally in self confidence. It’s certainly what I see here. Further, New Zealanders are, in my view, more patriotic than Australians. No one is telling them to be, they just are. Maybe it is the size of the country and knowledge that the have to work together so the country can punch above its weight on the world stage.

There are parallels between New Zealand in the context of the world stage and small business in the context of a big business world. Rather than fighting and bleating about size, New Zealanders get on with believing in themselves and being the best they can be. It’s a good philosophy.

Electronic invoices for jewellers

Our newsagent customers have enjoyed access to electronic invoices from suppliers for many years. Now, our jeweller customers are set to benefit thanks to moves by suppliers to providing electronic invoices.

As we did in our work with newsagents we are pleased to work with any jeweller supplier and integrate support for their electronic invoices without costs to our customers.

The benefits are clear – reduced data errors, easier ordering and better business management.

Travel how it used to be

It has been years since I flew with Air New Zealand. I was surprised in my flight to Christchurch today to experience a level of personal and friendly service which reminded me of years ago when service in the skies was a point of difference pursued by airlines. Don’t you love great customer service?! Kudos Air New Zealand.

Dancing with the stars

WeddingDance3.jpgAndrew’s wedding to Miriam in Sydney yesterday was wonderful.

Six of us from work participated in the most wonderful, boisterous and exciting wedding ceremonies and receptions you could imagine. Most of all it was happy, very very happy.

For many of us it was our first Jewish wedding.

In the past, with co-workers, we have celebrated Polish, Croatian, Italian, Greek and Russian weddings. Each one adding to the cultural experience.

Yesterday taught me something about community – it was amazing to see how well they celebrated the nuptials – and that they celebrated as a whole. They were happy in a way many weddings miss.

Some of us who steadfastly refuse to dance had no choice but to join the celebration. Guys danced with guys and we were dragged up to join in. For the second round of dancing we were there of our own accord. This was most fascinating – you couldn’t help but be caught up in the rapture. We enjoyed it but we also owed it to Andrew. And this is where, personally, it was a cultural lesson – the joy of celebrating and respecting the traditions surrounding such a wedding were wonderful to see and participate in.

The photo above best captures the energy of the reception. Andrew, the groom, our National Marketing Manager, is riding high on someone’s shoulders.

This was one of the best wedding celebrations I have been to.

That such a wonderful cultural experience came to us through work adds to what is is to be part o the community here.