Big Business

Freshbooks Getting Customer Service Right

0 Comments 11 October 2013

freshbooks customer serviceFirst off, this isn’t meant as a review of Freshbooks. Suffice to say, I’ve tested many of the online services for billing and time tracking; Freshbooks provides me the best solution for my needs. Often though i’ts the intangibles that allow a business to rise above the rest. For Freshbooks, their customer service certainly is the case.

Some time during this past fall my Paypal credit card number changed, probably due to losing it, I’m not exactly sure of the circumstances. Subsequently, many of the services that I use for business, (hosting, domain registration, etc) were effected. In the case of Freshbooks, I was in an arrangement where I was sub contracting with an individual, getting paid flat rates for the work I was doing, so I didn’t have an immediate need to update the account, unlike say, hosting. Plus, I tend to be lazy and procrastinate, so it was easy for me to put it off. Each month, I’d get an email saying that the card had been declined, and I’d say to myself, “I really need to update that,” and then forget to, blow off logging in and updating.

I ended the previous arrangement earlier this month, around the time I got another one of the reminder emails. They really are reminders, not nagging or harsh in the least. I went to log in, and was redirected to a page where I could change/update the contact info, as well the CC#. However, I didn’t know exactly how much I owed, and since I’m trying to stick to a budget for my web development endeavors, I wanted to know exactly what I owed and plan accordingly—pay it all off or make a couple installment payments. Never did I entertain the idea of just starting a new account or moving.

First thing the next morning (I sent the email to support around 9pm EST, which they are on also) I received an email from Laleh informing me that she had removed the suspended status from my account, rolled me back to their free account in which I could upgrade to a paid plan, and deleted my client list. Mind you, clients and projects are never really deleted, rather it’s like a super-archived status. At any time, you can undelete the client/project, and all of the information remains intact.

They could have easily charged me for the months since the last payment or some portion there of, after all, they were storing my data and settings. I was fully prepared to pay for this, as my time is valuable, and re-entering client information and setting up the payment gateway again would take a fair amount of time. Needless to say, I am extremely pleased with the outcome, and an even bigger fan of Freshbooks.

Ironically, Sunir, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Barcamp Orlando (which Freshbooks was a sponsor of, yet another reason to be a fan) posted an article on their blog today about the difficulty of Saas.

SaaS is not just a new distribution method for software with a lovely revenue stream. It’s a new social contract with the customer that we all have to live up to, whether we’re companies big or small.

Freshbooks more than lived up to their contract, and continue to set the bar for how companies do business on the web.

Around the House

Cleaning My Online House

0 Comments 01 September 2013

information overloadI’ve started a draft of a post on getting older, New Year’s resolutions, and where I want to be in 2014, but an aside to that is I’ve come to the realization that I need to limit the “noise” of my online world, which is the predominate one I live in. Specifically, the last couple of days that means cleaning out syndication feeds, and not just pruning dead ones. It means seriously evaluating everything that comes through my reader and determining if it’s a source of information or entertainment that is of value to me; determining if the volume of content justifies a constant bombardment from the source. Because several items in my reader are of time sensitive nature, I generally have my reader always open, fetching content every 15 minutes. Only when I’m in a serious crunch mode do I shut the reader down. I’m sure I could create filters of some nature that only fetched the time sensitive ones at a more regular interval, and the less time sensitive set to a manual updating, however I’ve come to enjoy the steady flow of information throughout the day. It’s just that I need to hone that stream.

One thing that’s also become abundantly clear over the last few weeks is that several of the sources in my feed reader are being duplicated due to my use of Twitter (either automated heralds of new blog posts, or manual linking). Seeing that Twitter contains entertaining and informative tidbits that don’t make it onto most blogs, the obvious choice was to dump the source in my reader, and continue to follow via Twitter.

Ironically enough, the genesis of this revelation was the result of having signal vs. noise, and the 37 signals product blog in my reader, and following @jasonfried on Twitter. There is so much redundancy and overlapping between the 3, that more often than not, all 3 would hit my “inbox” within minutes of each other with the same content. I certainly understand why, as most people aren’t following all 3, so Jason and 37 signals are trying to market and share information to the widest audience. Unfortunately for those like me, it becomes a nuisances, albeit an enlightening one that spurred a much needed tuning of the throughput.

Now that I’m in this mode, it also means that I’m shrewdly evaluating all blog feeds. A perfect example was tonight, Dave Winer’s Scripting News. 5 photos, in separate posts, with no context. Rather I should say, no context to me. Though I generally find his posts about blogging and “social media” thought provoking, whether I agree with his point or not, the majority of his content isn’t germane to my goals and focus. So out it went. That’s not to say when I have some downtime, and want to read a movie review from an amateur film buff ( and I use amateur only in the sense that reviewing films doesn’t put food on his table, as far as I know), that I won’t wander over to the actual site and peruse his site.

Certainly this process is also being applied to whom I follow on Twitter, as evident by this declaration:

When someone incessantly twitters about twitter, I call the line and unfollow.

This also applies to a few of the more recent people I’ve followed who find it necessary to welcome each of their new followers with a new tweet. Is there any harm in using all 140 characters and possibly welcoming more than one at a time? And is it really necessary to welcome them? Why not just provide good and interesting content in your tweets instead? Even better, if they reply to something you talk about, bloody respond to them. That’s the purpose. It’s not all about you…anyway, I digress.

Finally, I feel as though I should clarify that I’ve resurrected this weblog as a means to commit thoughts down to “paper”, and affirm to myself why I’ve chosen this path, the one of an online world. If for some reason it provokes someone else, all the better. If it provokes a discussion, then I’ve succeeded. If at worst, I can look back and provoke myself to get back on track, it’s not all that bad a thing.

Big Business

Verizon Customer Service

0 Comments 20 August 2013

I just got off the phone with Verizon customer migraine service, and am left completely mystified. My story starts with the fact that Verizon didn’t notify us that their was a shortage of HD DVR boxes when we placed our order. It continued to the installation process, where the affable technician, albeit sporting the classic plumber’s crack while installing, failed to explain to us that while he was connecting the DVR to the HD TV, that in fact, we wouldn’t be able to watch any HD programming. I had to wait until the next business day to speak to anyone about the problem (installation was on a Saturday, and though they advertise 24/7 support, that doesn’t apply to most FIOS issues). I was then explained to that there was a back order on the Motorola HD DVR boxes, and that it would probably be the end of the month (July) before they were in. Sounded fair. They would discount our account the price of the DVR until then, we’d get the new DVR via UPS, swap them out, mail back the standard box at no cost. OK, slightly inconveniencing, but fair.

First of August, I hadn’t heard anything, so I called customer service again. I was given the same basic information, but this time, I was told middle of August. Frustration is growing.

customer serviceMid August, I call again, I’d really like to be watching some of the movies and programming I enjoy in HD. This time, I was told it would be the end of the month, and that some boxes had already been swapped out, but there was still a back order. Frustration is reaching the point of wanting to yell and reach through the phone and choke the people on the other end of the line, but I managed to remain calm.

Which brings me to today. I call to ask about this issue, as well as to inquire about picture-in-picture. I get a tech support person who I’m sure isn’t based in the U.S., perhaps Mexico City? Regardless, I inquire about the PIP. This gentleman insists that if my TV supports PIP, then I should have PIP. I explain to him that sure, with an antenna, I can watch PIP, but that PIP with the cable would require the box to split the signal, and when would this be introduced. He doesn’t have a clue to what I’m talking about. I ask to speak to someone else.

The next gentleman I speak with is most likely Indian, again, the primary problem is communication, not nationality for me. This person informs me that if I want PIP, I would need a second box, or use a splitter from the coax entering the house and would get PIP for the first 50 channels. Again, I try to explain that for instance, BrightHouse supports PIP within their DVR boxes, but he doesn’t believe me. After another tech question about using the “last” (previous) button. The Verizon Fios boxes support 9999 channels, so if you want to watch, say channel 8, you can just enter 8, but there’s a delay, so I got into the habit of hitting 0008. Well, to me it’s a bug, to them, I’m stupid, but if you type 0008, then 0084, the previous/last button won’t work. If I do 8/84 it works. What ever. I then asked to be transferred to customer service, as tech support doesn’t know anything about FIOS DVR boxes. Oh, and he comes back and says, “they are working on the PIP as we speak, and might be available in 6 months”, obviously someone was listening in and corrected him to a degree.

I get a very nice lady, most likely U.S. based. She tells me she’s not been given any timeframes for the the swap out, and that she’s been collecting names to call back when she has information. At this point, I’m completely frustrated, and want to just cancel the package, without penalty (technically, we signed a 2 year contract, with a $199 cancellation fee) because they are not providing all the services outlined in the contract. I was transferred to a “retention specialist”, again, most likely American, who said she didn’t know anything about PIP, nor did she have any time frames for when the boxes would be swapped. I said I’d like to confirm I could cancel without penalty, and she said, no, you are still be provided with the bundled service. I then outlined that I had been lied to about the time frame of replacement during the first month when I could have cancelled the service. She simply ignored me. Had I been told in mid February that it might 4 months before HD boxes would be available, I might not have signed on with Verizon at the time. I could have gotten BrightHouse, without a contract, and simply switched when HD was available. But no, Verizon felt is was better to lie and hide information and con us into keeping the contract for a short term gain, and the loss of long term satisfaction.

I will say I have no qualms with the other two services provided, internet connection is as fast as advertised, and the phone service is fine. I don’t like the fact that to use the provided voice mail, I have to call a separate number to check my voice mail, I can’t simply call my own number to do so, but what ever, that’s what the memory is for on the phone I suppose.

I’d love to know just for personal satisfaction if indeed Verizon could be sued for their unscrupulous actions regarding the hiding/lying about HD service. I highly doubt I would have much of a case, as I don’t have any real documentation as to who/when I spoke with about the time frames, which I generally tend to do, and will start doing again when speaking with customer service reps.

Ahh, now I feel better.


Working with BaseCamp

0 Comments 22 November 2013

So I work with a company that uses BaseCamp, which is great. Each project is easily separated, has it’s own todos, writeboards, etc. But as someone who works with all of the projects, I get cc’ed on every message posted. Some require my attention immediately, some will require me to be familiar with the project at some point. I’ve never been able to manage my time recording for this internal activity, and I know I’ve lost a few dollars because of this. SO today, I’m testing out a new system. I’ve set my mail app (Apple Mail), to only check mail once an hour. I then set up a mailbox just for these emails, got a timer on the dashboard, that can be started and stopped, and will start the timer, read the emails, follow up on BaseCamp on any immediate issues, pause the timer, and wash, rinse, repeat the rest of the business day. At some point I’m going to have to decide that this company has business hours, (I work from home), and not read anymore messages until the next morning, where I can track the time. I figure after a week or so, I’ll have a pretty good idea of how much time I’m spending on this, and might actually be more productive, as I’m not constantly logging into BaseCamp to see what new has been posted, and reading messages that have already been sent to my inbox. I also hope that after a week or two, it will be a habit, and I’ll have a pretty good average of the time spent, so I can simply log those hours either weekly based on the experiment.

I read a ton of productivity blogs, (which can be counter-productive, go figure), and it seems little issues like this always trip people up. I know that the GTD ethos is if you can do it in under 2 minutes, then do it, but that’s assuming you’re not getting 10 messages an hour, each with their own 2 minutes.

Hopefully in a week or two I can report back on how the little experiment went.


Apple Mac Retailers Pushing Sales

0 Comments 08 November 2013

apple storeI’m a Mac user. I’m a Mac fan. I’m not, as far as I’m concerned, a Mac fanboy. I do however, read some Mac centric and Mac fanatic blogs. TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog is one. I often scan the feed, as it tends to be subject matter I’m not interested in. I’ve ranted before about some of the fanaticism and over the top coverage before.

So this evening, I was scanning some feeds, and the see the headline Putting the Apple Store Geniuses to the Test and was immediately intrigued. Several years ago, I worked in a retail Apple store. It was quite enlightening in many, many ways, but for me, not really a good experience. However, I did meet some very nice people, some very smart people, and learned a lot.

That said, to call all employees of an Apple Store Geniuses, is ignorant, as the Geniuses, as pointed out in the comments of the post, are trained techs who do not do sales. Of course, they can do sales for customers who come into the Genius Bar for issues, and wind up needing something, but it’s not their primary job description. And as pointed out, Mac Specialists (the sales team) are generally knowledgeable in niche areas. I worked with some extremely knowledgeable people who specialized in graphics, music, networking, you name it. Everyone generally knew each persons strengths, and when they ran into a question they didn’t know, they knew who to ask, or as also pointed out, were savvy enough to Google search to help the customer. I’m sure it’s possible during the holidays that temporary seasonal employees might not be as versed or familiar with everyone, and a customer might not get the technical answers from such an employee. But my experience was that those types of employees also were quick to explain their unfamiliarity with technical issues, and still sought out more experienced Specialists to assist the customer.

All of that said, it’s very disappointing that the author of this post on TUAW didn’t know what he was talking about, and as the post title states, certainly gives me pause to the credibility of the site, and makes me wonder if there’s a certain quota of posts they need to write, and was at a loss to find a relevant topic that he could bust out. Which again, gives me pause to the site’s credibility of a reliable source of pertinent Apple related news.

Also, one thing that I hadn’t seen mentioned in the comments, as everyone was coming to the defense of the Specialists, and pointing out that there was no commission based sales, is that isn’t entirely true. This might have changed, but when I worked for an Apple Store, there were quarterly bonuses for full-time employees based on store sales goals. Generally speaking however, the commenters are right, there isn’t any emphasis on over selling equipment. Meaning, don’t push a Mac Book Pro on a family looking for a laptop for their kid heading to college who’ll only be doing email, word processing, and web surfing, along with the obvious music stuff. However, one of the biggest turn-offs that I dealt with, was the huge emphasis on pushing .Mac on all customers, even if you knew they didn’t need it, or understand it. Certainly since then, .Mac has grown in it’s uses, and I can see how maybe it’s slightly more attractive for users, but then it was crap, and I felt dirty pushing it on everyone.

Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a post slagging Apple retail, rather as a response to the post and comments in the aforementioned post. Also note, this post was started late last night, and finished today without re-visiting the post to see if the author has amended or commented about his perspective, though my feed reader does pick up edited posts, and it hasn’t come through. Ultimately though, there should be some level of responsibility and editing in a “pro” blog such as that one, part of a bigger network of blogs whom make a pretty penny I’m sure in advertising. Shame on you Blogsmith and TUAW for shoddy writing and editing.


Tunes To Relax the Mind

0 Comments 26 October 2013

I’ve decided to get off topic a little here and write a musical post to mentally unwind from the tech world. I thought I’d do a little reminiscing and highlight my single most favorite band of the ’90s, Pavement. Certainly it’s always difficult to say “favorite band”, or “favorite song”. Heck, its often difficult for me to say “top ten…”, but I can honestly say that Pavement is my favorite band from that time, and is still a band that gets heavy rotation.

I discovered Pavement in the fall of ‘92. Discovered probably isn’t the best characterization, as I didn’t know who they were when I saw their name as the opening act for the incredible lineup of Mudhoney, Sonic Youth and Primus (it’s amazing what you can find with a Google search. The ticket stub, complete with the relatively cheap price of $17.60 is from that show). The show was at the legendary open air amphitheater Red Rocks. I had moved to Denver that spring, and this was my first visit to the venue. I was only familiar with Red Rocks from the classic U2 concert video, Under a Blood Red Sky, but all of my friends in Denver spoke of it with reverence. I was a huge fan of both Mudhoney and Sonic Youth (still am), and though not a zealot in regards to Primus like some, I had seen them earlier that year in a small club in Tampa and knew they’d be a nice way to end the evening and was really looking forward to the show.

Anyway, Pavement were setting up to open the show, and they really looked like a bunch of roadies who were a pick up band to just warm up the crowd. A bunch of young guys, with this considerably older drummer who came out, stood on his stool, and in one fell swoop, dropped to a seated position and kicked off the first song. It was love at first note.

Pavement is now considered one of the trailblazers of the lo-fi sound, along with bands like Sebadoh and the lesser known outfit Slint. Often coming across as dissonant and harmonic at the same time, with intelligent, sometimes cryptic lyrics, their dynamic sound is infectious. (And that’s where I stop trying to sound like a music writer. )

Pavement broke up somewhere around the fall of ‘99, but not before putting out 5 albums, and a slew of EPs, including my favorite of all their recordings, Watery, Domestic. As far as must haves, their first two full length albums, Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain should be in every fan of ’90s, American indie rock library. Of the last 3, it’s decidedly split amongst fans which were better, with me being in the Brighten the Corners camp.

Steve Malkmus continues to record and perform with his band the Jicks, and fellow guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg has recorded a couple of albums with the band Preston School of Industry. I quite enjoy Monsoon, particularly the track Caught in the Rain.

I stumbled onto an interview recently with Malkmus in which he was asked about the possibility of a Pavement reunion, and he seemed to imply the door was open. I’m not sure they’d be able to recapture the magic, or if it would just be a nostalgic trip down memory lane, but either way, I’d be one of the first in line to see it.

Pavement recorded all of their albums with the label Matador Records, and are all available, along with expanded re-releases of several of their albums at If you’d like an invite to emusic for a trial membership and 50 free downloads (you’ll have to give a CC#, but they don’t charge until after the first month), leave a comment with the email address you’d like it sent to, and I”ll send one your way. Shameless confession – you can do a trial membership without the invite from me, but if you were to sign up with emusic after the trial via invite, I’d get a 50 song credit.


Around the House

Roku Netflix Player

0 Comments 25 September 2013

netflix roku playerI had read a few things about the Roku Netflix Player, but hadn’t given it much thought. Then, while watching the 3 DVD’s we had sitting around from Netflix for over 2 weeks collect dust, I began to think more about the player. The 3 DVD at a time subscription is $16.99 a month, and as I said, we really don’t watch that many movies (I’m more a a TV junkie really), so it really hasn’t been a very good deal for us. The Roku player is $100+ shipping and handling (more about that in a bit), and requires the $8.99 a month subscription or greater, which allows one DVD at a time, plus unlimited streaming movies. So my thinking was, I would almost pay for the player in the first year downgrading to the lower subscription, it’s a no-brainer. Plus, there’s a 30 day money back guarantee, so worst case scenario, I get it, it sucks, I send it back, and simply rethink the subscription plan regardless. So a quick discussion with the lady of the house, and we decided to order it and give it a try.

This was last Thursday. We were given an option of spending an extra $10 on 2-day Fedex (on top of the $10 ground), so be the anxious geek, I pony up the extra money, thinking I’d have it on Monday. Well, Roku sent an email saying the player would be shipped from the warehouse in the next 7-10 days on Friday, which rubbed me the wrong way, as that wasn’t mentioned in the order process, but OK. Nothing else to my knowledge was emailed out (we used her email address). So I was resolved to not see it for 2 weeks. However, when I returned from running errands today, there it was sitting on my porch.

Since ordering, I had done a bit more research, and the one downfall I have seen repeated over and over is the limited amount of content available, as Netflix has to obtain digital rights to the content before being able to offer it. Consensus seemed to say that it is mostly older TV series, indie/foreign films, and few older major releases tossed in here and there. I wasn’t too anxious to really look at the selection, as I wasn’t expecting to receive it for another week at least, but I’m more an indie/foreign film kinda fan than Spiderman 3 anyway, so as I said, I’ve got 30 days.

As other reviews mention, it’s nothing but a simple little black box, with an external power supply. A small, boxy remote and RCA cables fill out the included items. Again, as I wasn’t expecting it so soon now, I hadn’t obtained additional cables (like optical audio to connect to the receiver or component video, which are all supported, as well as HDMI and s-video). I admit right up front I’m not the techno-geek when it comes to these aspects, so I’m not really qualified to say one thing or the other about the supported connections, etc. The player can connect via wireless or ethernet (however, as I understand it, it doesn’t support 802.11n). I gave the wireless a shot first, but figured I might have to run an ethernet cable.

Set up was really easy, a simple onscreen walk through entering my WEP key, a quick connection to Netflix, update some (firmware??) and restart, it gives a code that you then enter into your Netflix account. Maybe 5 minutes total, and my account was connected to the TV, any movies in my queue that were available for the Instant Viewing was added to that queue as well, and I could see them on the screen. I poked around quickly on the site, looking for something to add. Dexter season 1 was there, I never saw the first season, and figured it would be a good test. I added it to my queue, and within 30 seconds or so, it showed up on the TV. TV seasons only need the season added, all episodes are available, whereas with DVD’s you have to add each disc. I navigated to episode one, clicked play, a few seconds later it starts downloading, I see •••• quality after it loads (still not sure what that means, but I think it has something to do with my connection. I generally get 18Mb/s or better with my wireless connection, even faster wired). All told, roughly a minute before the show started playing.

Episode played fine, no skipping, no jumping, quality was as good as my FIOS cable (even with the included RCA cables). Fast forwarding is a bit different, as they break shows up into little chapters of sorts, with stills for each section. I haven’t really paid close enough attention yet to see what the time frame of each are, but they seem like 1 minute or so apiece. Different, but easy enough to adapt to.

Being the TV junky that I am, I poked around a bit more, and found that a lot of Law and Order SVU/CI seasons were available. I often find myself watching reruns on TNT and USA Network, as I never really watched the show during it’s first runs, and heck, why not just watch it in order without the annoying commercials on those networks? I added SVU season one, and watched the first two episodes. Again, quality was fine (once I switched the perspective back to 4:3 from 16:9), with no skipping/jumping. One criticism I’ve read about the player is that there’s no hard drive and no real buffering. ( A interview with a Roku exec I read said they did some research, and found people didn’t want to hear a fan/HD spinning, thus one reason it doesn’t have one. Plus, they wanted to hit a price point, as well as eliminate as many parts that could fail. Regardless of the reasons, so far, I don’t see a need for any of that with the connection speed I have.)

Final ThoughtsAll in all, first day in, it seems like a fine investment. I found several more movies quickly browsing through the instant available selections (this has to be done on the computer, you can’t search for movies from the TV), so not counting the TV shows, I have 7 films queued up. Plus the 3 DVD’s collecting dust, so I think I’ll be fine for the short term, they seem to be actively adding more content, and I’m sure as the player(s) gain popularity, they will be in a better bargaining position to obtain more. If your goal is to watch a lot of new releases, don’t plan on dropping your regular subscription down anytime soon. However, at $100, the player seems like a fair investment if you are a TV/movie junkie. Also, there seems to be quite a bit of children’s content as well as History channel type documentaries, so the cost might be enticing to parents as well.

I’m sure I’ll discover more as I use it, please don’t hesitate to ask questions if you are interested in the player.


Life Tracking With Basecamp

0 Comments 13 September 2013

file trackingMuch has been written the last few years about project management, GTD (getting things done) and productivity on the web, I personally subscribe to probably a dozen feeds that are specifically geared towards the subject, and have tried probably every conceivable idea, all to little success.

For my paying work, I work with a company that exclusively uses Basecamp, and have come to be quite familiar with the system, but can’t rationalize paying for the service for my own needs. I do have a backpack account, but never quite have gotten a system in place there to do basic project management. Now that I have 2 themes released for Habari, and several other small projects I’m working on, mulling over, I went looking last night for something that resembles Basecamp, but was under my own control, and if I ever wanted to collaborate with someone, could easily add them in. I then remembered, Active Collab, an open-source clone of Basecamp. (Active Collab is now closed source, and a commercial product. Their old, .7.1 release is still available for download. If you want an interesting read about how open source goes bad, read the blog post and comments regarding the new structure.)

Realizing it was now commercial, and priced completely towards businesses, I read through some comments and saw reference to Project Pier, a fork of Active Collab. A new .8 release fixing some bugs and adding a few features to the .7.1 release of AC was out, so I snagged a copy and installed locally. Very easy to install (assuming you meet the server requirements), and after a quick read of how to change the god awful default theme, I was up and running, in a familiar PM environment. I set up projects for my two themes, added some milestones, todo lists, poked around and decided that though I’m the only one using it, I could easily use the messages for personal notes. And if I ever decide to put it on my own domain for others to collaborate with, I can easily migrate the database, and keep my current work intact. It also seems powerful enough that a small design house or programming team could use it for real projects, as it supports file uploads and RSS feed for recent activity. I haven’t explored email notification, however I believe it handles that ala Basecamp as well. (Like Basecamp, I don’t think you can reply to a message via email however)

All in all, a very useful tool, and I’d like to applaud the team behind Project Pier for picking up and forking in light of the changes in the development of Active Collab. I’ll be keeping an eye on it’s progress, and am looking for good things to come.

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