Tower Blog

A blog about smart POS software for independent small businesses.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Alinta decided businesses do need power

Further to my post earlier this week, Alinta has decided to turn our power off earlier in the morning, meaning we should be okay by around 8am. It’s been appalling customer service from them.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Yellow Pages sales tactics

If you’ve been stalked by a Yellow Pages salesperson you might find this funny.

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Business arrogance from Alinta as they plan to turn our power off

Alinta Asset Management stuck a postcard in our letterbox two days ago telling us that our power will be off for approximately 2 hours between 8am and 1:30pm Friday next week. After two days of trying I was finally able to speak with someone at Alinta. They are going to see what they can do. In the meantime we have to make alternative arrangements – as to the many other businesses in our street.

This is nonsense. The work is non urgent and could easily be done at the weekend when the impact of the disruption to supply will be less. Alinta seem to not care about the disruption. They say they have had plenty of calls complaining yet they seem unprepared to pay the additional cost of weekend work.

These people are not recent entrants to electricity distribution. Surely they understand something about the need for businesses to be open on a week day.

I’ve chased this far and wide and it seems we have no rights. Alinta can cut the power in the area for this maintenance when they like.

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Free Christmas 2006 marketing tips

We have emailed these 9 marketing tips for Christmas to the small businesses using our software. It’s an annual thing we do and it’s got nothing to do with our technology but plenty to do with small businesses helping each other. We produce three or four such marketing tip sheets a year, primarily because we get to see plenty of great ideas as we meet with businesses that it would be a waste not to pass them on.

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Amex and Citibank stalkers at the airport

Is it just me or do others agree that the sales people from American Express and Citibank are offensive in their aggressive sales tactics? I travel frequently and am annoyed by their intrusion. Even if I pass their booth with a wide berth I have had them almost chase me down. Not always, but enough to make me consider getting a water pistol to cool them down. Their tactics are damaging the Amex and Citibank brands in my view.

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Total cost of ownership of POS software

One factor often ignored by small business owners is the total cost of ownership of the system they are considering. For example, if company A offers a purchase price of $10,000 and annual support fees of $1,000 and company B offers a purchase price of $7,000 and annual support fees of $3,000 then company A is the better offer on financial terms. A good sales person can pitch against this by focusing on the sale price and ignoring support. However, given the compliance requirements in business today it is vital that software is enhanced – hence the need to consider support fees in the total cost of ownership.

We have won business recently where the combined purchase price and support costs for our software are less over four years than the support costs of incumbent software.

We have not increased our support fees in five years. That will change in 2007 but the increase will be lower than CPI.

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Eftpos fees scramble

eftpos.JPGWe’ve modified our software to give our small business users flexibility in handling the new Eftpos fees. They can apply a surcharge based on a percentage or fixed amount with the fee kicking in if the sale is above or below a certain amount. The challenge for small business is to overcome the fear of what big business will do. Many wanted the ability to charge the Eftpos surcharge but then baulked because of fear that major competitors would not charge. By making handling the charge easy, our intention is to take some of the paperwork and counter-decision worry away from small business.

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Fast 3 Awards finalists

We have culled our Fast 3 entries down to the final six. These awards are for the fastest growing users of our software. Same store business growth is the only measure. Next step is to get the data from each of the stores and verify the numbers. We hope to announce the winners by the end of the week.

We created the Fast 3 Awards because too many business awards are based on pretty entries and presentations. Growth is all that matters – especially in tough economic conditions. We were involved in the Telstra Small Business Awards a while back and felt it was more about form filling and talking up your business rather than actual performance numbers.

The growth achieved by the finalists is excellent.

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Resignation by receipt

I can’t reproduce the receipt here because it’s offensive. Suffice to say that the employee tinkering with the facility in our software which allows the inclusion of a footer message on receipts now regrets his tinkering. Seeking sexual favors and listing your mobile phone number on a receipt is inappropriate behavior. The question I have is why would you do this? Why go into the software and include offensive text and your mobile phone number on all receipts? Did you think you’d not be caught? Did you want to really offend the customers? It just doesn’t make sense.

Most retailers are pretty open with their systems – allowing employees to get into most parts so that the business can function without too many roadblocks. This experience makes us question that. It happened in our retail business recently. It’s a first yet makes us want to build high fences around some parts of the software. Stopping employees changing receipt messages is easy. We just never thought we would have to do that. Now that the horse has bolted so to speak it is less likely that we would have to do this.

All in all a frustrating experience.

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Friday breakfast

On Fridays at our Head Office we put on some food – bruffins, muffins, croissant and other delights. We’ve been doing this since the 24 hour days of the GST launch. The rest of the week we have fresh fruit and healthy breakfast bars. Friday is for comfort food.

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Deal or no deal for newsagents?

Is this a good deal or not? Access Pos, one of our competitors in the newsagent space, faxed newsagents yesterday with an offer which included the claim “MANY OF THESE PRICES ARE LESS THAN ONE THIRD OF OUR COMPETITORS.” It’s the same fax they sent early in October. Back then I emailed their Managing Director and advised (again) that the claim is untrue. Sure the hardware is cheap. However, you must buy their software. Once you do this and add some training and support, their price is higher than our price when compared to our most popular two package deals. They know this. I reminded them last month. Yet they again send out what is in my view, at best, a misleading statement. I have lodged a complaint with the ACCC.

Newsagents looking for a computer system ought to shop around and compare apples with apples. Choose the best system based on what it does for you. If you’re not sure, get two or three systems on the table next to each other and compare function by function. Check out the business reports and that they are designed to help you buiold a stronger business. Take your time. Then, compare price and not just price today but the price over, say, five years including support. Then, check out what free support services are available including user meetings, documentation and business help. Finally, get at least ten references and call every one of them. The more work you put into your decision the better the decision will be.

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Skype for help desk calls

skype.JPGWe are introducing Skype access for support calls – meaning people in far away places can contact our Help Desk free or call costs. This is a first at the small business end of the software marketplace and is another way we are trying to improve the customer experience.

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