Category : Stuff

Have a prosperous 2009

In an effort to get my blogging back on track, and show some activity on my website, this is a quick post to wish everyone a prosperous 2009 !!

I have a number of posts planned, including more details on the Outlook to Windows Mobile Gateway SMSing project, more details on my Homebrew Home Server (after a lot of traffic from Alex Kuretz over at www.mediasmartserver.net) and some bits on PowerShell, WCF and more…

Happy New Year…

GEO 51.4043197631836:-1.28760504722595

Support : The sales opportunity.

I’ve had two problems recently and I was looking to buy (hopefully) one piece of software to solve them both…

Problem 1 : The mp4 files output by my Sanyo HD camcorder have the video and audio out of sync with one another when I play them in WMP (which I have to do as QuickTime crashes on every 64 bit machine I’ve tried it on). I wanted something to convert it to .wmv format that could be played by any windows machine with a default install of WMP.

Problem 2 : I needed to get some of my DVD films into a format (and size) that could be played by my Windows Mobile 6 phone. I thought/think I need something to convert .vob files to .wmv format.

I tried a couple of apps that claimed to do ‘any to any’ conversion and transcoding – no joy. I then came across Prism Video Convertor which also claimed to do the ‘any to any’ conversion and transcoding. I downloaded an evaluation copy and set to trying it out with the two cases / problems I needed solved.

Problem 1 – not problem, worked just fine !!
Problem 2 – no joy, blank screen when playing the output file 🙁

Searched through the support forums and FAQs, again no joy. By this stage I’m thinking it’s probably just me being stupid or choosing the wrong settings/codec/encoder or the like (I don’t profess to know much about this technology). I’m excited about the application, it’s solved my first problem, just show me the second one working and I’m sold (and I’ll rave about it to everyone I know..)

Time for the last resort – open their support page and fill in the form for a support case – enter the details, hit submit, bam “No support contract found, please buy a support contract”. The product is around $18, a ‘Silver’ support contract will cost me another $8, not much, but… I don’t want to throw away $8 for them not to fix the problem (it’s supposed to be a free trial – right), so I shimmy over to their ‘Reasonable Service Terms’ (their words not mine)..

Incredulous – the wording, the attitude, the sheer abrasiveness of it all. It made me think that they :-

  • Are setting my expectation that I’m unlikely to get a resolution
  • Are going to refuse point blank if there is even a chance of it not being their software
  • Want me to prove (beyond reasonable doubt) that it’s their software at fault before they would even consider helping me.
  • Don’t want to spend more than 10 minutes on a support case
  • Don’t really want me as a customer

I am all for setting expectations and outlining boundaries/limits but, in my opinion, this is completely the wrong way to do it.
Certainly as someone who is putting in the effort to trial their software, I do not want to have to pay for the privilege especially when I know it may not even do what I want meaning I may not even buy the application.

You can also bet that when they say…

    • It also does not guarantee that they will be able to solve all problems. It means only that they will do their best.

…their definition of ‘do their best’ will be completely different from mine.

GEO 51.4043197631836:-1.28760504722595

Business of Software 2008

BoSLast week I attended the ‘Business of Software 2008’ conference in Boston, MA.

I cannot rave enough about this conference – the quality of the speakers, the content, the organization – everything, was fantastic.
It was organized by Neil Davidson (CEO and Founder of Red-Gate Software) and Joel Spolsky (FogCreek and JoelOnSoftware). They did a fab job !!

Some of the speakers included :-

As well as many, many others. It covered all the key components of building and running a software business, even as far as raising Venture Capital – and eventually selling (via an excellent Pecha Kucha presentation from Alexis Ohanian, founder of reddit.com)

Seriously, if you are at all involved in the software business then come next year (no dates or location yet), if for nothing else but the networking opportunities…

GEO 51.4043197631836:-1.28760504722595

Ignoring feedback

Dinner There was a restaurant that I frequented with the family on a weekend for lunch. It is well established, having been in business, successfully for many years. We had always been fans of the place but had noticed recently that business seemed to be declining. This struck me as strange, as the food, atmosphere and service were generally excellent.

Unfortunately, this weekend I found out (I think) the reason behind the decline – they have started ignoring customer feedback…

We spent a couple of hours there this past weekend, having two or three courses and a few drinks. Most meals were excellent, however Sarah’s was not quite up to scratch. I mentioned this to the waitress and she duly apologised. I then watched her for a few minutes to see what she did with the information  – and I found she did .. nothing – she didn’t let anyone else know, she simply went about her normal business. I then watched a similar event (different waitress) happen at another table, again the feedback from the customer went nowhere.

Later when the bill arrived, it was as though there was nothing wrong, I had a genuine complaint / dissatisfaction of their service and they had hardly even acknowledged it. This just made strengthened resolve to make my point / complaint heard.
I made a point of telling the waitress whom I was paying that I was not happy about paying for the meal that was not up to scratch, she called over the manager who very grudgingly discounted the price of that particular meal.

It struck me that their new policy seemed to be for the waitresses to apologise to any customers who complained but to do nothing else, not to inform the kitchen staff, not to offer any discount or similar gesture – basically, blindly ignore it and make it difficult for the customer to get any sort of recompense.
The reason for this approach seemed to be that they would not have to discount the meals / service (and therefore supposedly make more profit .. ??). This got me thinking of some ISPs and utility companies that I know who make complaining such a complex and involved process in the hope that the customer simply gives up.

For the sake of £6.95 (on a £60 odd bill) that restaurant lost :-

  • A tip (around the same value as the discounted meal)
  • A lot of goodwill from a party of 5 who frequent the place 3 or 4 times a month.
  • The custom of a party of 5 who frequent the place 3 or 4 times a month.
  • The opportunity to improve their service
  • The opportunity to prevent the same thing from happening to other customers.

Doesn’t seem like good business sense to me.

For anyone providing businesses or consumers with any kind of product or service your customers know best, ignore them at your peril.
These are the people buying your stuff, they know what they like about your stuff and what they don’t like about it. Their opinion (good or bad !!) is incredibly valuable.
But hey, maybe you’re right – maybe you do know better than your customers… 

GEO 51.4043197631836:-1.28760504722595

Setting expectations

This is something that is close to my heart..

Not setting correct expectations – I believe this is the downfall of many organizations and individuals. If you set an expectation and do not deliver then you have failed, simple as that. Doing it regularly it gets you a bad name, people are reluctant to work with you and in some cases can get you fired.

I think the reason most people fall into this miss-setting expectations trap is a fear of saying ‘no’. It’s not that difficult, I have never met (a reasonable) person yet who has baulked at the idea of “I can’t do it in that timescale unless we let something else drop”. Most people would rather have an accurate expectation than something that agreed to just to appease them and then not delivered upon.

Why am I writing this post – well, this just popped into my mind when I was researching something for work. I wanted some technical information and it was one of those annoying companies who put up barriers to their customers being successful like not providing someone to speak about presales issue to, only providing email support, the type of companies that you know have no dedicated support and are abusing their developers into handling support issues, or have a vastly understaffed team (one overworked, stressed out, on the edge, guy) and are trying to manage the volume effectively…

Anyway, I filled out their web form asking my question, got the (usually) ‘Submit’ button and found this…

HelpNow

Wow, Help Me Now, now I have very high expectations – well, actually, based on experience I don’t, but they are trying to say ‘hey, we want to help YOU RIGHT NOW, THIS INSTANCE, NOT TOMORROW, TODAY, THIS MINUTE’.

On submit I get…

HelpLater

Awwww – now I’m sad. Such high hopes I had, for my dedicated cross functional team of support ninjas, waiting with bated breath to solve my problem. Still, maybe they’ll call me tomorrow sometime, or whenever the next business day is…

GEO 42.2814444614441:-71.5726983547211

If revenue and customs can't count

Ok, so maybe this is a rant, and maybe it is due to the fact I forgot my annual Pay As You Earn (PAYE) employers return and was fined £400…

But seriously…

This is the government!
This is the part of the government that calculates how much our taxes are!!
This is intelligent automated software that they’ve had designed that should be 200% idiot proof.

I’ve had no employees for the past 12 months and I’m trying to submit (basically) an empty / null return.

Apparently I have employees on the list for whom I have not completed a P14 – note the list displays no employees, there’s another summary page later on that tells me I’m submitting for 0 employees, so they know !!!!

HMRC

 

GEO 51.4043243116043:-1.28760516643523
 

28 Hour Day

A bit of a detour from technical content, but I think this affects many technical people.

This weekend I was reading some of Steve Pavlina’s ‘Personal Development for Smart People’ blog (not that I am a smart person ;-)). Of particular note was his ‘How to become an early riser’ post – apparently he gets a lot of hits on it, so I guess it strikes a cord with many people.

His recommendations are pretty straight forward, get up at a fixed time every day and go to sleep when you are tired. This is something that anyone can do if they want. In fact we all do it every day by getting up in time to arrive at work on time.
I think the reason his method is successful is because it is used by people who want to get up earlier. The very fact that you’re reading that post takes you at least 50% of the way to achieving it.

Anyway, in practice it sounds great – set a fixed time to get up and then be reactive at the other end of the day (i.e. vary the time you go to sleep), obviously over the first few days you’ll adjust your sleep time until you get to a sustainable balance. BUT BUT BUT I don’t think this works if you are a ‘midnight coder’

If you’re anything like me, this works some of the time, but is fundamentally flawed, in that I find it easy to get focus (into the zone) and when I’m there that’s it…
A trivial thing like needing sleep will not budge me, I’ll finish when I finish, when I’ve planned that project, written that document, coded this section, completed this test, finished designing this x, y or z.
The result of this is that I finish at 3:30am, it suddenly hits me that I am wasted, I go to sleep and the last think I want or need is to get up at 5am, no way! My snooze button is going to earn it’s money today. I am getting up at the last possible second (that still allows me to get to work on time).

The answer – I don’t really have one. The best I can come up with is a flexible day, sometimes I’ll need it to be 24 hours, sometimes 28 hours, sometimes more.
I need a good 8 hours of sleep, I need a good 8-11 hours at work, I need an evening with my better half and I need 0 – ∞ hours for my other stuff.

So, while I’m waiting for the rotational speed of the earth to slow by a variable amount (as chosen daily by my good self), I guess I just have to put up with choosing between being an early riser or doing stuff in the evenings – can’t have it both ways !!