Hiring for 2008

We are currently evaluating applications for new roles in our development, Brisbane support and Melbourne support areas of the business. There are some excellent candidates who have applied and we hope finalise interview lists by the end of this week.

2007 has seem some excellent additions to our team – broadening our skill set as well as extending our capacity. Given the new installations already booked for the first two months of 2008 we know it will be a busy year. Hence the new roles being added and the roles already added this year.

Service levels (quality and speed) are crucial to us. We know we’re only as good as our last support call.

Newsagents switching

The H&WT offer of a $10,000 interest free loan is working at getting newsagents to switch from the now dead POS Solutions DOS software – not inly in Victoria but also interstate even though the loan is not currently on offer there. The discount to our pricing is our contribution to helping newsagents solve the POS DOS problem which has been holding newsagents back.

Load testing multiple stores

In the week before Christmas and on Boxing Day we got to seriously load test our the new multi store version of our software – in our own retail businesses. With three very busy Sophie Randall shops pounding away simultaneously back to the server we experienced 100% uptime and excellent performance.

In the busiest hour on the busiest day we processed over 1,000 transactions back to the server. While this may not seem many across three stores, it’s significant when you consider that we were relying on local hardware, internet access and our server back end to keep it all running smoothly.

The learnings from this Christmas trading rush have been excellent – particularly in relation to appropriate infrastructure necessary to support a stable fast operation at the registers..

We continue to tweak the multi store software based on our own experiences and on feedback from others using the system.

Truly National Help Desk

Our new CRM software and the VPN between our Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane offices have been working overtime this week. Thursday and Friday we ran the Help Desk across all three states with people taking calls regardless of caller location.

Using our expanded interstate team (we have added ten new positions nationally this year) in this way we are able to better use downtime between installations, expand their practical knowledge of the software and better serve our customers.

Good support is as much about rapid response as it is about the advice itself. For many callers, a comforting voice on the phone is all they need to find an answer for themselves. This is why we have invested significantly in our IT infrastructure this year. Our new phone lines, expanded phone system, interstate connections, wap enabled mobiles and VPN links between offices put us closer to our customers.

As announced last week, early 2008 will be about delivering online training and hosting online user meetings using the very latest technology and making this available to our customers for no additional cost. This technology will take the Help Desk even closer to those using our software.

Helping with post Christmas sales

We have had a busy 48 hours helping newsagents and others using our software to properly manage their post Christmas sales. By using our comprehensive catalogue function we ease setup as well as reporting since stock items involved can be managed as a group – regardless of the departments to which they belong.

To ensure the best possible support we have several experts available on-hand to provide expert advice beyond merely using the software. As is often the case, we are asked for general business advice as well as software advice.

In several of our on retail outlets we are giving the catalogue facilities a workout by running three different catalogues at once yet for different time periods. This is another example of our practical experience with our software helps improve the Help desk experience.

New Brisbane office live

Our new Brisbane office is now live and connected with our other offices. Our customers in Brisbane have been advised the local number they can call to get through to our Help Desk. Around 70% of our customers now have access to our Help Desk for the cost of a local call. others have free access through our Skype service.

Working on the business

Our Melbourne Head Office was a hive of activity right up to Christmas Eve as we had all team members in for a series of meetings. Our sales team caught a glimpse of our plans for the first quarter of 2008 and our technical teams compared notes and reviewed training and installation processes.

The most important benefit of the time together was time spent discussing and playing with our new CRM facilities. Our eighteen month long CRM project is touching every part of the business. We now have a single piece of software accessing a single database serving the marketing, sales, support, accounting and admin functions of our business. In a few weeks we will turn our attention to our customer interface – but more on that another time.

With our significant expansion this year, getting people together to share something of the Tower history and culture is important. The personal service traditions which have made us successful are crucial to the growth we are chasing in 2008.

In addition to regular support services between now and mid January, we are using the time to train those who have just joined our expanded help desk team – we prefer to bring on new people before they are needed.

Welcome back!

It’s 7:15am Dec. 27 and already the phones are running. Our decision to run a full strength Help Desk between Christmas / New Year is paying off. It looks like we are in for a busy day. So far, many calls should have been made to suppliers of our clients – but since they have minimal coverage at the moment, newsagents and other small business owners call us.

Busy Boxing Day

With many of our users trading today the call traffic to our After Hours service (since it’s a public holiday) has been considerable. I’m glad that we have rostered for full strength Help Desk coverage for the rest of the week because if today is anything to go off, there will not be the usual lull between Christmas and New Year. Certainly from a sales perspective, we install our first systems in 2008 right after New Year’s Day.

Years ago, we could run a skeleton team for two weeks from Dec 24. Not any more. It’s a good thing. Indeed, it surprises me when I go to some high street shopping areas and find businesses closed for three, even four, weeks after Christmas. It’s in these times that shopping malls get stronger. Likewise it’s in these times when people using other systems try us out because we easily accessible.

We’re going to be additionally busy for the rest of this week as we finalise arrangements for the release of a major software update.

Happy Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve and we are about done for the day here at Tower. While our after hours numbers including my own (0418 321 338) will be available for any customer in need of assistance, we are closing the offices so team members can make final preparations for Christmas. Those in our five retail businesses are not so fortunate with the stores open until 6pm tonight. Some of us are heading out now to lend a hand for the last few hours of the Christmas rush.

If you are Tower customer, thank you for your support this year. We appreciate your contribution to our business.

Have a Happy Christmas everyone.

Online training sessions for newsagents

We have finalised plans for our first online group training session for newsagents. Covering magazine management: arrivals, returns and supplier compliance, this free session will, help participants cut the time spent managing magazines while improving the financial return from the category.

The session will be run by one of our magazine management experts, an IT specialist with hands on experience managing magazines in a newsagency.

We have contracted to use high-end web conferencing software and services to facilitate professional management of the hosting of this and other online training events.

Access to the online training session will be free. All people will need is access to the Internet for the visual content and access to a phone for audio. We’ll provide a toll free line for phone access. We separate audio and visual because many small businesses don’t have sufficiently fast broadband to support streaming audio and video in a conferencing type environment.

Numbers will be limited to 15 to permit optimum interactivity and ensure that questions from all participants are fully answered.

We anticipate scheduling regular online group training sessions on a range of topics.

Online user meetings

Yesterday we announced to our users that in January we will host our first online user meetings. We are currently planning for first three three: one for jewellers, one for bike retailers and one for newsagents. We are using leading-edge commercial online meeting management software to facilitate the hosting. This software enables active participation as well as complete tracking of the events of the meeting.

We are paying all costs including providing toll-free call access for people for audio. Access will be free.

Once we have run these first three sessions, we will schedule a couple of training sessions.

The learnings from these initial events will enable us to schedule more of what our users want from online learning and online meetings in 2008. Here in the office we see an excellent opportunity for regular classes in areas of our software which draw the most questions.

By hosing the meetings online we are reducing travel time, making it easier for more team members in a business to participate and facilitating greater cross pollination of ideas across our user communities.

We have been working on this project for some months, evaluating the various commercial online meeting software offerings as well as considering the most appropriate content and researching the capacity of our user community to engage back in their businesses.

New Brisbane office

We have finally moved our Brisbane office. The delay was due to telecommunications issues – it was essential that we have the office connected to our network for business applications and our computerised phone system. This new location is now up and running with local Brisbane phone call access to our National help desk. This arrangement is better than a toll free number for our customers. This means city and suburban based users in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane can call for the cost of a local call.

Choosing a hybrid car

We are adding two more vehicles to our fleet, one is the Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle. We have chosen this because of use of electricity as well as petrol. We made a commitment two years to reduce our carbon footprint and the move to more environmentally friendly vehicles in our fleet of sixteen is part of that.

Renata the shopkeeper

renata_keeper.JPGThe last time I posted a photo of Renata here it was to mark her twenty years with us. Two months ago, Renata asked for a sea-change. She knew we were expanding our own businesses and wanted to try something different. Today, Renata is a retailer, managing our Sophie Randall Melbourne Central location. She’s on the left in this photo with Laura who manages our three Sophie locations.

This is a significant move for anyone. For Renata the challenge is even greater because the sea-change is within the business so there is as much to let go as there is to learn. She is also making a contribution in terms of feedback from practical use of our software.

It’s wonderful to have a business in which people can make this kind of career move.

Help Desk live with CRM

We went live with our new CRM system for managing Help Desk calls late on Monday. So far, so good. The world has not come to an end, thankfully. Indeed, the new facilities are already helping us in managing time between calls.

Bringing the Help Desk live is almost the last step in an eighteen month project in which we have invested around $150,000. We have replaced a series of in-house developed systems with a tailored international CRM solution.

A feature of the new CRM solution is the automatic escalation of support issues which sit for longer than our KPIs.

What matters the most about this CRM project is the customer experience. We will survey them early in 2008 to see if the CRM project has made a difference to their Tower experience.

Long days and nights

We feel for our customers in this week leading up to Christmas with many open to 10pm this week, some even midnight. Owning five retail businesses ourselves, we understand the impact of late night Christmas trading. We are ensuing our after hours service is ready for any late night urgent call – our customers can get through directly to a team of people. We are also maintaining regular Help Desk coverage of 7am through 6pm Monday to Friday at full strength to ensure fast response on any question.

Managing the warehouse

We are about to extend the reach of our multi store software into a warehouse function – facilitating the management of inventory across a group of retail businesses as well as a central warehouse serving those businesses. This is a natural extension of the multi store software and will work well in each of the marketplaces in which we operate.

A key aspect of our approach to warehouse management is that at the retail store level, sales associates are able to quickly see what is available in the warehouse and can confidently take an order from a customer knowing that it can be fulfilled.

Our research indicates that a well run warehouse could reduce the stock holding across retail stores in a group by between 10% and 25% depending on the product mix in the business and the sales cycle.

Active support for benchmark project

The benchmark project we announced for newsagents last week continues to generate excellent support. We have received reports comparing November trading for 2007 with 2006 from many of our users. We hope to report back to participants late next week.

Software update in beta

We released our latest software update to beta test sites last week following extensive testing internally and at two of our own retail locations. This significant update delivers some excellent enhancements to our software. Around 50% of the enhancements have been developed at the suggestion of users.

Once the update comes out of beta it will be released to the wider Tower user community without cost as part of our software support service. The update is sent on CD with a full backup copy for a fresh install of the software included – this can be used by any site in the event of a hardware crash, they can be up and running quickly and without the need for an on site visit.

We made a decision some years ago after seeking feedback from our user community on the best approach for distributing updates. Our users told us they wanted control over when they installed updates – usually after reviewing content and, in some cases, talking to others who had installed them.

While we cold automatically install updates without user involvement, we respect that these are their businesses and they ought to control what changes and when.

Christmas advice for newsagents

We have published updated advice for our newsagent users on how to handle the off deliveries brought about by special Christmas Day handling by publishers. These advice sheets are in the support section of our website and access is free.

Going live with CRM

Next week our Help Desk is the next part of our business to switch to our new CRM system. This move will integrate the Help Desk team, the highest customer contact traffic part of the business, with admin, accounts, sales and marketing.

The CRM solutions has been highly customised to our specifications in a project which commenced eighteen months ago. While the holy grail has always been to switch the Help Desk to this new software, we needed to get all other aspects of our business in line first.

From a help desk perspective, next week means our support team has access to better tools to assist with calls – more client site information and an easy way of tracking advice provided and call outcomes.

The key outcome we are looking for from the CRM project is improve customer service. We know that our future is more closely aligned with the quality and timeliness of our customer service than any other single thing.

Christmas reminder

We have taken the opportunity to remind our users, all of whom are retailers, to take care this Christmas. We share this advice here as well for others to consider:

  • Bank more regularly.
  • Remove cash from the registers more often.
  • Take more care to manage customer fraud.
  • Ensure staff have time to recharge.
  • Step out of the shop and look at it with customer eyes.
  • Use the shop to upsell at high traffic areas and keep then up sell offers fresh.

Remember, retail is detail. we know from our own experience with six retail businesses now that the best place to manage a retail business is on the shop floor.

Reviewing software enhancement requests

Jonathan Tay, our new Software Development Manager has spent much of his first two weeks in the job reviewing suggestions put by our user community over the last year. Some suggestions have already been done, others need further consideration, others have been scheduled and the last group is those rejected.

Every suggestion has now been responded to with an update on its status provided to the user who put forward the suggestion.

This is a huge undertaking by Jonathan and the company as some suggestions can take an hour or two to research and properly consider.

We have not been as fast as we would like in addressing suggestions from users over the last two years. I’m not about to make excuses. Our focus, as reflected on Jonathan’s efforts, is to respond sooner – even if the answer is a no.

In the next few days we will introduce a more structured process for user suggestions – through a direct interface from our website and our internal CRM software. This will ensure suggestions are better tracked and responses managed according to our internal response goals.

Rockhampton user meeting success

Tim Batt from our Melbourne based team hosted a very successful user meeting / group training session in Rockhampton yesterday. It was our first in the area for a while and based on attendance and participation we will certainly be back early in 2008. The meeting was especially beneficial in feedback on some of our plans for next year.