Integrated eftpos at point of sale

eftpos2.JPGWhile Eftpos integration at the Point of Sale has been available for years, the small businesses we deal with are only now starting to consider taking that step. They have been conservative in their approach to anything other what they see as a pure bank solution – even though we are approved through to six banks.

We are leading by example and putting three of these Point of Sale integrated keypads into one of our shops – thus eliminating the queue at the credit card machine helping our retail team members remain focused on the customer in front of them.

Of course, bigger businesses embraced this approach robustly ten years ago. For small business, cost has been a barrier. Now that is resolved, I expect these integrated units to take off. From our perspective – anything to help improve customer service and the quality of data at the sales counter has to be good.

Family business

Several of us are privileged to have been invited to the wedding of Andrew Halpern tomorrow in Sydney. Andrew is our National Marketing Manager and has been with the company a year and a half – even though it feels longer. Andrew’s influence on our business is considerable, having led us to a new level of professionalism in our marketing collateral and message.

Being invited to share in a family event such as a wedding strengthens the family ties of a small business like ours. I’m looking forward to it as I am sure are the others making the trip to Sydney.

Zen and job applications

We have found excellent candidates for three new roles within the business. In one case the successful candidate applied for another role in the company. When we met with him it was clear that he could help us with a new role we wanted to create.

So, thinking and working laterally we have been able to create a completely new role which crosses several areas of the business. This is one reason I like to be closely involved in the candidate selection process.

We don’t follow a corporate structure when interviewing people – it’s more about a conversation and conversations are where opportunities are uncovered.

Newsagent trade show stalker

Our stand at the newsagent trade show in Melbourne today was a magnet for the Director of a Victorian competitor. This chap walked past many times over the course of today and each time took careful notice of the people we were talking with. No one else at the trade show passed our stand or hovered nearby as much. His stalking was off putting for some newsagents who wanted to talk to us without him knowing. Bernard – focus on your business and not ours.

The show itself has been a wonderful success. We met with pelenty of existing customers and did get to make contact with some excellent prospects.

Next weekend the newsagent trade show moves to Sydney.

Newsagent trade show season

The first of a series of newsagent trade shows start today. This weekend it is Melbourne. We are following our proven approach and have staffed our stand with support and sales people – since this is as much about service as sales. Others from the company will drop in over the weekend to support the team.

These trade shows are a great opportunity to meet with customers and pitch our offer to newsagents who are not part of the Tower community.

Easier returns and stock take for newsagents

pde_sexy.JPGTower Newsagents have been using PDE technology for more than 15 years. This new unit maintains Tower as an innovator in time saving technology for newsagents. It is fast, easy to use and taps into the Tower stock management facilities at the store level.

With the release of this ultra sexy unit, Tower Systems now supports four different PDE units for newsagents – providing a choice in the technology which best suits your business.

We are releasing support for this PDE into other markets in which Tower serves.

Leapfrog

We made a decision today which will have far reaching, positive, implications for customer service. Under the glow of the decision and resulting financial commitment my expectation is that we will look back on this as one of the most valuable decisions, in terms of customer growth, of this decade. While time may show that to be overstating the situation, it is exciting.

This is all about leapfrogging others in the customer service stakes. But I really shouldn’t blog any more about this. The proof will be when we start delivering. Hopefully this side of Christmas we will have news.

Employee theft a hot topic

Yesterday was one of those days when a key issue dominated. The issue was employee theft. Not here, but in businesses in which our software is used and elsewhere among small businesses. It started with a call from a customer concerned that something may not be right.

As is the case with these things, I’d tend to receive the call – an owner to owner call appears less stressful than them discussing what they see as failure with someone on our Help Desk. In a few minutes he had enough evidence from his system to make contact with the police.

Next was a call from a police officer we are helping prepare a case on behalf of a client. There were questions about keystroke patters and how these are reliable indicators of theft or fraud.

In the afternoon I was interviewed for an article about theft in small business and as is often the case with such interviews, one comes away better informed thanks to good questions.

Early in the evening was a call from an employee asking the wrong question of the wrong person – I’ve let the owner know that they need to take control back over their data by protecting high level passwords more.

Theft management tools, while not our core product, are important to what we do. They help our customers reduce the cost of theft in their business. Beyond the tools, however, is the service we provide – encouragement and guidance on addressing the issue. We have learnt from our own experience in retail that theft is part of the turf. How you manage it can make or break you.

Enjoying the streets of Melbourne Gift Fair

The Melbourne Gift Fair has been on for the last five days. It is a massive event across two large locations. I have been fortunate to get to the Fair twice. The first visit was to look at product for our gift shop and the second to talk with other gift shop owners and suppliers about our software.

The Gift marketplace is relatively new for us and events such as the Melbourne Fair allow us to more deeply immerse ourselves in the needs of our new and prospective customers.

Visiting the fair this week highlights the difference between the gift space and newsagents the market where we have the biggest footprint. Newsagents would not spend five days walking a trade show – even if there were enough suppliers.

The Fair demonstrates the control gift shop owners have over their businesses. With this control comes the challenge of having the best possible product available. This is where some of our smart reporting and management tools come into play. By seeing more of the product our customers carry and understanding the interrelationships of the various categories, we are able to plan software enhancements which will better serve.

Consistent Krispy Kreme marketing

When living in New York in 1998/99 I experienced the Krispy Kreme marketing first hand and regularly. When they arrived in Sydney they followed this approach. Last night, at Melbourne airport, I encountered them again – 10:30pm and staff were walking through the airport giving anyone who wanted on a free Krtispy Kreme donut.

What makes this tactic work is their consistency and regularity. No pushy claim – what have you got to lose? Nothing and that is why word of mouth around the brand is excellent.

The job title matters

We have been looking for an additional reception resource for close to two weeks. After receiving just two applications we decided to repackage the position and make it more Admin/reception. Given the mix of work this is an accurate change. This repackaging flushed our six applicants in a day.

While I am surprised that changing a title can make a position more appealing – the position description remained the same – I am grateful we have found some new candidates keen to work.

As it so often happens with these things we have uncovered two candidates with skills outside the area we want to fill that we may create an additional role in our customer service area. I’ve learnt over the years the value of grabbing a good candidate even if you don’t have a vacancy at the time.

The Blackberry beep

My 6:05am flight to Brisbane this morning was delayed by what we were later told was a Blackberry giving off an alarm of some sort. After leaving the gate on time, the plane stopped on the way to the runway and returned to the gate. The offending Blackberry was found and we got under way more than an hour late.

The cost is lost time and fuel to Qantas and the passengers would be considerable – all because of the Blackberry user. It made me think back to travel ten years ago and how scared we have become – out of necessity I guess. That a forgetful passenger and their Blackberry can hold a planeload to ransom is a marker of how fear rules our world.

Thankfully, Qantas held my connecting flight to Townsville so the whole incident cost an hour.

Shopping for an answer

Occasionally we encounter a customer who shops the same query around the Help desk team looking for the answer they want. While this can be frustrating and delay us getting to calls from others, it ignores that we have an escalation process in place designed to address concerns over the quality of any assistance provided.

If any customer is unhappy with an answer they receive they can escalate the issue to our Customer Service Manager. Michael Elvey is skilled at checking advice and either correcting it or confirming that the advice is right.

If there is still a query then we invite our customers to take the matter to our General Manager, Renata Keran. Renata has been with the company forever – our entire Help desk, support and installation teams report through her.

If, after speaking with Renata, questions about assistance provided remain, I am happy to take the call.

We’d much rather our customers use this escalation process as it provides us with visibility of any deficiency in our advice and processes and therefore facilitates taking appropriate action.

This is on my mind today because I witnessed first hand shopping around for an answer. Three of our people were tied up providing the same answer to the same customer on a minor issue. On a busy Monday this is unfair on our broader community.

Opportunity to work on your business

We have scheduled three business round table discussions to provide an opportunity for Tower customers to work on their business.

At these free sessions each participant will be asked to discuss their business and business challenges in the context of a common set of reports produced from the software.

Our goal is to help our customers use our Retailer software to make better business decisions. The sessions are planned for: Melbourne (Elsternwick) – Tuesday Aug. 28 at 10am, Brisbane – Wednesday Aug. 29 at 10am and Sydney (Miranda) – Thursday Aug. 30 at 10am. These sessions are free and will run 2 hours. Book only by email: bookings@towersystems.com.au. We will confirm all bookings.

We may open this to people not using our software who are interested in seeing the Tower difference first hand.

Tough work in paradise

cairns.JPG

Some days the travel I do for business exposes the extremes of Australia more than others. Today was such a day – I have been in Cairns to speak at a newsagent’s conference.

Beyond the extreme difference in weather I experienced in Melbourne this morning and Cairns this afternoon, there is an extraordinary difference in doing business. Here in Cairns, business is less formal and dress more relaxed. I don’t know how they do it frankly – being this relaxed I’d feel like I am in holiday mode the whole time. I noticed it walking into some businesses late today – it was quite jarring, jostling with people in holiday mode with one’s own head in a business space. I felt guilty, I was here for business yet enjoying the walk along past the water, listening to some good music. (Reading that back, I suspect I am not making sense.)

I guess locals, true locals, get used to it. It would take me a while.

Back at the conference – once you strip away the weather, dress code and pace of life and shut out the sound of the tourists, the core business challenges are the same and the approach in Cairns as businesslike as anywhere. They must be used to living in paradise.

Saturday support

We are contemplating offering Help Desk coverage on Saturdays. Currently, weekend support is covered as part of our after hours offering – with our customers having access to seven mobile phones for support on urgent matters.

We figured that by office an office based Help Desk service we might better serve our customers. The challenge is that to open an office based Help Desk on the weekend would require several people – to properly cover multiple calls at once.

I know from my time in the office on weekends that we won’t need to promote the service since we people often call the office before they call the after hours numbers.

Offering a weekend service like this out of our office would add to our costs – above and beyond the costs to the business for providing mobile phone based coverage. Experience suggests that around 40% of our customers would use the service at some point. So, the question becomes whether we take on the extra cost or continue to rely on the mobile phone coverage.

We may experiment under the radar and see how it goes.

Safe backup for small business

The best backup for any computer systems is the backup which works that one time you need it to work. This means that the time spent backing up most evenings is considered by many to be dead time.

We had a client not long ago whose business was razed by fire. They called us early the next morning in urgent need of some computers to get their newspaper home delivery business running again and to thank us for driving home the backup message.

They used to backup on tape overnight. While we said they could do that, we pointed out the risk of tape: it can break, it is slow, and, it is usually run overnight. They switched to what we recommended and therefore had an up to date copy of their data off site and missed nothing.

While we don’t mind what our customers use to backup their data, our recommendation is that they backup to USB with a separate USB for each day of the week and with these stored off site.

We offer a free backup check where we restore a backup, test the data and ensure that current data is being backed up safely.

Group training offer

Prior to our next series of user meetings – planned for September/October – we are offering free group training sessions in any town or city. To encourage our users to work together we are asking them to get ten businesses in an area to agree on a date and time ad we will arrange the rest – finding a venue and flying in an expert trainer in our point of sale software to deliver half a day or more of training in our system.

By asking our users to get colleagues together may seem lazy on our part. Our experience is that users taking responsibility for organising attendees increases the attendance level and the outcomes achieved from such a session.

We have started promoting this today in our weekly email bulletin. I’d expect that our first sessions will be held within two weeks.

These sessions are in addition to the regular free training sessions we run in our Melbourne and Sydney offices.

Stellar July

July is usually a recovery month for us – coming off the end of financial year rush of June. We always meet target but usually no much more – we’re too busy installing systems and digesting the business from June.

This year has been different. We finished July just shy of 200% up on target and our usual performance. It’s a great challenge to have, one we are addressing by expanding out team to ensure we can well serve our new customers.

Indications are that August will be similarly strong.

Newsagents responding to new marketing

The new marketing material sent to newsagents this week has uncovered some excellent sales opportunities. Some newsagents have called saying they have never heard of us before – yet we’re using the same database as always. The response goes to show the importance of re-crafting your marketing pitch. We had relied on the same pitch for years and since it was very successful felt we could stick with it.

In this new material we focus on valuable business outcomes our customers tell us they experience using our software. What I feel is resonating is the visual impact of the marketing. Professional design coupled with stunning execution by our printer has resulted in something which feels valuable in the hand.

Connecting our attention to detail and our commitment to quality through our marketing material is paying off. The rest of 2007 is going to be very busy.

Enjoying MYOB

We have had a frustrating relationship with MYOB, until recently. For years we battled to keep our software up to date with MYOB changes – so that people using our software could rely on data from our point of sale software transferring directly to MYOB. Standards changed without warning and we were always scrambling.

Last year we took a different approach and engaged a third party company to navigate the MYOB link. The result is a better outcome for our customers and for ourselves. We know from our own first hand experience – linking our retail business direct to MYOB using the third party link between our software and MYOB. The time saving and improved accuracy is appreciated – especially by our Financial Controller.

We were skeptical about having another layer of support involved. It has been fine. Indeed, reducing our reliance on the need to navigate communicating with MYOB directly is a significant benefit.