Thursday, 26 February 2009

Contrasting customer service stories

I wasn't quite sure whether to click on a link to Duane Jackson's blog that was called "bStartup bSpammin". I thought at first that spammers had infiltrated his site.

I decided to risk it - and found a snip at the bottom of the blog post that winked at me. Here it is.
PS. This rant has nothing to do with the fact that bStartup are threatening us with a CCJ for cancelling my order for a stand (yes, I crumbled - it didn’t stop the calls though) a couple of days after ordering it because my wife had the cheek to choose the same weekend to be due to go into labour.
Personally I think bStartup deserve a wet fish in the face for appalling customer service on that one. How inflexible - and uncaring.

Contrast that with Ceredigion County Council.

In December, my mum parked her car in a pay and display car park in Cardigan, paid for an hour's parking, and walked into town to do some shopping - and collapsed with a heart attack.

So not surprisingly, her car was in the car park for well over the paid time.

And also not surprisingly, it collected a parking ticket.

A few days later (by which time Mum was well on the way to a full recovery), Dad and I paid the ticket so as not to get fined even more if our appeal was refused, and composed a polite letter to the County Council to appeal for a refund because of the extenuating circumstances. We offered to provide medical evidence if they needed it.

The County Council promptly sent a very nice letter back saying that they "wholeheartedly agreed" that the parking ticket should be cancelled in the situation, waving away the offer of medical evidence, and wishing Mum a speedy recovery.

Full marks for customer service.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Make it fun and customers will be back

Last Friday evening Matt and I were in Khushi's Indian restaurant in Mid Calder, near Edinburgh.

We had a glorious meal.

But what made it really memorable was the waiter, as he processed Matt's credit card, doing a hugely exaggerated double-take and announcing, "You're under arrest!"

He pretended that this message had come up on the PDQ machine as the credit card details went through to the bank!

That touch of humour made us feel that he was really glad to be there and to help give us a really good experience. So we'd definitely go to that restaurant again - and not just because the food was delicious.

Have you noticed (with a nod in the direction of the Chief Happiness Officer) that only employees who are really happy with what they're doing will make jokes with the customers?

And (providing of course that your customer isn't a stuffed shirt) humour is a great way to cement a business relationship.

I still remember going to a Japanese restaurant in Piccadilly where the chefs came and cooked your food at a hotplate in the centre of the table.

The chef at the table next to ours just cooked the food without a word.

Our chef, on the other hand, juggled mushrooms, cracked eggs in midair with a blow of his knife, and plied the bottle of soy sauce over the sizzling prawns with an exuberant cry of "Japanese Coca-Cola!"

I noticed the customers at the next-door table watching him too, with a certain amount of wistfulness...

He clearly enjoyed what he was doing - and so did we!

Friday, 20 February 2009

TweetDeck good point no.1; spreading the word

My friend Glen Feechan has only been on Twitter a matter of days, and yet he already has more followers than I do (and I've used Twitter for several months).

One application he's used to broaden his networking circle is TweetDeck, which, so Glen tells me, lets him pick up any references made by Twitter users to material he could help with, such as pivot tables.

I decided to try TweetDeck today, and downloaded it.

On Twitter itself, there's an @Replies button which lets you see any tweets in the public domain which start with your Twitter username (as distinct from Direct Messages to you, which are for your eyes only).

But on TweetDeck, in the @Replies column, you can see not only public domain tweets that start with your Twitter username, but any public domain tweets that mention your Twitter username at all.

And that let me pick up on one of my recent customers saying nice things about me to a potential new customer.

I'm happy now :-)

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Keep your customers informed - or lose them

Duane Jackson has blogged about the different levels of customer service he's received from the designers that KashFlow have outsourced work to.

It's Company 2 that made me think - the ones who disappeared for weeks at a time without telling the customer what was going on.

That's the sort of thing that has always made my blood boil.

As a customer, I don't expect my suppliers to drop everything and always make me their top priority. But if they're not going to be able to meet a deadline, or if they're going to change their service, then I'll be far less cross if they ring up and explain why, than if they give me the silent treatment.

When it comes to keeping customers in the loop, less is definitely not more. Keep them informed.

Matt and I hired a car on a trip to Scotland some years back. We managed to knock the rubber bumper protector off. We made sure we told the hire firm this when we returned the car, and filled in all the required forms.

I was absolutely livid when, some weeks later, and without notice, my credit card was charged £200+ for the repair.

If the hire company had sent an invoice in advance of the charge, with a covering letter explaining why it was so much, I wouldn't have been nearly so cross.

And it wasn't that I minded paying for the repair. But £200+ to snap a bit of rubber back into place?

To just charge my credit card, for so much, with no explanation, felt like they were stealing my money.

I'd never use that hire firm again.

To paraphrase Paddi Lund: Tell your customer before the event and it's a reason. Tell them after the event and it becomes an excuse.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Free pivot table video

Just about every marketing textbook I've ever read (and, I suspect, plenty that I haven't) recommend giving something away free as a taster for potential customers.

Glen Feechan has now done this with the pivot table training videos that we built together. You can find it on YouTube or here on Glen's blog.

For someone who took a bit of convincing to start using Twitter, Glen now seems even keener on it than I am (which is saying a fair bit cos I think Twitter is great). He's started using TweetDeck to help him find anyone who might be interested in pivot tables - and it seems to be starting a classic Seth Godin sneeze virus.

Memo to self: try TweetDeck soon.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

In praise of Google Mail

I needed an out-of-office responder more urgently than I thought I would.

Matt's grandma died on Thursday night and so yesterday we were with the rest of the family in County Durham. I needed to let my customers know I was away.

I set up the Google Mail out-of-office auto-responder and tested it. It works like a dream.

Thank you Google from a grateful customer.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Why I've stopped using Outlook

I've got myself a Google Mail account and don't use Outlook any more.

Don't worry, you can still e-mail me on Thanks to my excellent site-builder Dave at 1973 Ltd, that address now auto-forwards to my Google Mail account, which incidentally is

So why did I stop using Outlook?

Firstly, because as of next week I'll be starting a project that'll mean a good bit more time spent on the road. So I'm going to get a BlackBerry. But when I read the spec on the Vodafone site, it sounded like I'd have to pay over £1,000 to get BlackBerry Enterprise Solution if I wanted to read Outlook e-mail on a BlackBerry. And I haven't got that sort of cash to spare!

Glen Feechan and Dave did later tell me that you can read Outlook e-mail on a BlackBerry without Enterprise Solution, you just can't save sent messages. But I figured I could live with that.

But secondly, still re the project, I need some way to tell my customers when I'm out of the office. If they phone me, that's fine because I have an excellent PA in the shape of Moneypenny, but if they e-mail me and I don't answer them, they think they're being ignored. Not good customer service. I nearly lost 2 bits of work last week as a result of that.

And Outlook doesn't give you the Out of Office Assistant unless you're using a Microsoft Exchange Server. Which I'm not. So on Outlook there would be no way of telling customers "I'm not here".

Those reasons were enough to prompt me to go Google.

But Tom Gleeson came up with another reason today on Twitter.

I'm about to upgrade to Office 2007. Tom tells me that if I buy the version without Outlook, it'll be cheaper.

So, to use Google Mail is more efficient, more customer-friendly, and cheaper.

All good stuff for a one-woman band start-up home-based business.

To upgrade or not to upgrade?

That is the question.

Glen Feechan and I decided that the Excel pivot table videos we have collaborated on should be available for both Excel 2003 and 2007. The 2003 introductory and advanced videos are now available, the 2007 ones are due for release soon.

Making the 2007 videos naturally meant getting hold of a copy of Excel 2007. I did blog about that when I first trialled it, and have since spent a fair bit of time working in it, doing accounts as well as videos. So I am now getting used to Excel 2007.

Switching between Excel 2003 and Excel 2007 does make my brain hurt because so many things seem to be in different places. I still haven't found how to move a worksheet from one workbook to another in 2007 (any help gratefully received :-) )

And I do like the look and feel of 2007.

So I suspect that when my free trial runs out next month, I will be buying Office 2007.

Not only Excel 2007, but I really do like PowerPoint 2007. I use PowerPoint for my presentation videos and 2007 seems very slick for that. The AutoShapes come with a library of effects: tilt, shadow, bevelled edges, and themed colours that can easily be changed across the whole presentation. Hat tip to Tom Kuhlmann for putting me on to that.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Who's the David?

Dennis Howlett and Phil Wainewright have rather different views on KashFlow vs Sage. I have to say I agree with Phil. There's a difference between random mud-slinging and targeted, researched responses, and to me Duane's posts read like the latter.

But now, ClearBooks, a new player in the small business accounting software market, have come along and taken a pot shot at KashFlow.

Does Duane suddenly find himself playing Goliath instead of David?

Let's see how ClearBooks pans out. I'll be watching this with interest.

Does accepting sponsorship equal support?

Tris Hussey has written a great article about whether accepting sponsorship means that you condone or support your sponsor's aims.

Sponsorship pops up everywhere. Look at the football here in England - what used to be called "Division One" in my teenage years is now the "Barclays Premier League".

Richard Murphy, who has strong views on business ethics and for whom I have a lot of respect, mentioned recently that the Co-op Bank don't loan to businesses whose trade it doesn't agree with.

My view would be that a sponsorship banner does indicate at least some level of support, even of partnership, and that if you don't like the business, then you shouldn't take their money.

If you're even displaying another business's logo, that's an admission of support - like adding someone's blog to your list of blogs followed.

And talking of displaying logos, Richard has just posted a link to the TaxTicked website. That's one I'm definitely going to check out.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Chocolate madness in the VAT office

So M&S are entitled to a full refund on all the VAT they have paid on chocolate teacakes.

Reading this article, I paged down to the link "How VAT works on cakes and biscuits".

I'm astonished at the pettifogging complexities this throws up.

I used to think it was daft that chocolate buttons were standard-rated while chocolate sugar strands were zero-rated.

But when I read that a gingerbread man is standard-rated if he's decorated with chocolate unless the decoration amounts to "no more than a couple of dots for eyes"... and that a biscuit sandwiched together with chocolate (e.g. a Bourbon cream) is zero-rated, but a biscuit coated in chocolate (e.g. a chocolate HobNob) is standard-rated...

Honestly, who comes up with rules complete to such tiny, minor details? For goodness' sake, it's a chocolate biscuit!!

Some people obviously don't have enough real work to do!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Scaleability of online accounting

I was reading e-conomic's recent report about online accounting - and came across a point from Andrew Scott, Client Partner at Vantis:
"With traditional desktop packages, you pay 100% of the price even if you are only using 10% of the product. Whereas modular online systems, like e-conomic, let you configure the application to suit the needs of the business and the users within it."
That made me sit up and think "He's right".

I had one client who used Sage 50. That was the only product the practice I worked for at the time could offer her, which had multi-currency, which the business needed. Otherwise I would definitely have chosen More for the bookkeeper's sake.

She was very nervous, used only a very tiny part of Sage, and had no knowledge of double entry, which meant that entries like the payroll journal had to be posted parrot fashion (I would tell her "put figure A in that box there, put figure B in that box there...").

But the business had still had to pay the full price for Sage Financial Controller (as it then was).

I know several online solutions that do offer the basic model plus add-on extras. Apart from e-conomic, KashFlow offer add-on extras, so, I think, do Winweb (Stefan please correct me if I'm wrong).

Xero don't appear to, though, I wonder why they've chosen that method? I'd be interested to hear comments.


Monday, 2 February 2009

Are accountants still stuck in the Sage mud?

I found this posting on AccountingWeb's Any Answers today.

The respondents at time of going to press :-) are roughly split in half between those who would carry on using Sage and those who would switch to another package.

Two of the responses winked at me.

The first was from "Paul Scholes", who said:
Hi - if I was starting all over again I'd look seriously at online accounting (there's loads of it on accountingweb - Search KashFlow etc). This has to be the way to go. We spend our lives online anyway so why not accounting as well?

Having clients on everything from Sage (still feels like 1980s) to MYOB, with all the different versions is a pain in the bum and unless you sit at the same screen or can log in over the net, you are never working on the live version. Online you & the client can access it and you can take & correct what you need without having to worry about upgrades.

Just talked myself into it for the next client !
I can sympathise with that. Time was when I was dealing with clients on everything from Sage to MYOB and some in between, with people on all different versions, and playing ping-pong with backups till my head was just about ready to go off pop. It was usually easier to go and visit the client to do year-end journals, because then you knew you were working on the latest edition of their data.

And the other response that caught my eye was from Lee Stevens, who asks, "What are you most comfortable with?"
Maybe you should have a list of software on your 'recommended list'?

Depends on the client to whom you are recommending... Sage (50) is expensive, VT and Solar are relatively cheap and Quickbooks/TAS maybe somewhere in between.

Can you pick two or three packages, with differing price levels and differing complexity/learning curves to match your client base (e.g. sole trader with a couple of transactions per week v Small company with multiusers/lots of transactions). You could then recommend one more tailored to your clients needs, and one which will provide you with the year end information you require.

If you recommend the software to your clients they will also expect you to know how to use it 'inside out'.

I use Sage and generally recommend it, it has many shortcomings, but because I know the software well, I can get around these. I have used TAS and Quickbooks and was none to keen, but thats probably because Sage is embedded in me.

If you do look at other packages, e.g. Iris Accounts Office, Access Accounting, be prepared for a lot of sales calls afterwards.

In answer to your question though, Sage does the job if you know it well enough and can teach your clients, so does TAS and Quickbooks. I guess every other retail package does too.

Long post and not much further forward....

Accountants are busy folk. They often don't have time to learn to use a new package.

But this time of the year might be an excellent time to do just that. It was in February 2006, when the mad tax return rush was over and the new tax year not yet started, that I taught myself to use Winweb.

So why not take a look at some of the excellent alternative offerings out there and see if you can save yourself some Sage headaches?