April 17, 2006

TurboTax sucks again

I don't trust TurboTax for my own reasons, but I grant that it's a good solution for a lot of people most of the time. This just sounds like a totally brain-dead thing to do though. Clearly their system doesn't scale properly and their administrative plans are scribbled on the wall with a broken Crayon -- and then wiped through with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Out of the entire landscape of the web-based service universe, tax filing companies know their usage pattern. By the date. By the hour for some days. How could they consider shutting down the system for even a minute on the single most critical day of the year for them? Even if they absolutely had to do the reboot today, there should have been a message/response about the scheduled shutdown. After all, it was a scheduled shutdown and not an emergency response.

Posted by kstroke at 06:33 PM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2006

BFG Tech. Support

"Your call is important to us." Yeah, right. After an hour on hold, this looped message rings hollower than... something very very hollow. I got a BFG video card because of its lifetime warranty and reputation for great customer service. So far, I don't see that this reputation is warranted any longer.

My graphics card was working fine for the last 6 months but started acting up in the last couple of weeks. More than a half hour of gameplay led to my computer rebooting then letting me know that my "System failed VGA test". I ran a bunch of controlled experiments (patches for new game, running old games, updating drivers, updating bios) and nothing fixed the problem. I decided to start the RMA process and ordered another video card so that I wouldn't have any down time (this would also be the definitive test).

I sent an email to BFG tech support. I got an email about an hour later saying that my message was delayed. Ok. Later, I got an email saying the delivery failed. Hmm... Glitches happen. I sent another message and the same thing happened again. The return message indicated that BFG outsources its tech support (and that these guys aren't that good).

That night, I tried the phone number in hopes that maybe the email system is just going haywire for the day. I gave up on my first call after being on hold for 30 minutes. It was dinner time and I was getting a little frustrated. Later, I tried again determined to get someone on the line. After more than an hour listening to the hold music and messages, I finally got a person to talk to. We spent about 5 minutes together describing the issue and doing some simple diagnostics. After that, I got instructions for RMA'ing the card and she said they'd test it and either send it back or send a new one depending on the test results.

Once I got someone on the phone, everything was peachy. Getting in touch with someone was a big pain in the butt. BFG, if you want to keep that reputation, you need to either replace tims-support or whip them into shape. A la Colbert Report, BFG Technologies, you're on notice.

Posted by kstroke at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2006

The Need for Redundancy

Christmas shopping at the local Crabtree & Evelyn gave a startling view of the brittleness of their cash register (point-of-sale, POS) system. When we stepped in, there was a small line. We looked around, smelled various items, and picked out a few (they're pretty expensive!). By the time we were ready to buy, there was a hefty line heading out the door. There was a problem with their internet connection so they were having to call the credit card companies to place a charge. This is silly.

When you charge high prices, you can expect your customers to want to use their credit cards. At some point, everyone will want to use plastic regardless of the amount. You should make it easy for them to give their money to you. Connection problems are not a new phenomenon and multiple layers of failover behavior should be standard at this point.

If the POS can't connect for whatever reason, the POS should save the charging side of the transaction for retry later, consider the sale complete, and let the customer go on their merry way. There is an issue of credit card fraud and unavailable funds, but the POS can easily do an offline preliminary check to make sure card itself is valid. With regards to stolen cards and insufficient funds, this has got to be a very small minority of transactions. For a retailer to lose money, these credit cards would have to be used during the small window of time that the connection is down. As long as everything seems like business as usual, the facade of real-time validation will still hold the same deterring power that it has when it's really there.

If the primary data connection goes down, there should be several alternatives. Their phones were working so a dial-up based backup connection is an obvious thought. There's a Starbucks in the same mall so a wireless backup connection is another thought. This could be a nice little add-on service for Starbucks or an innovative extra service for mall spaces. Retail space owners need their renters to do well to keep the rent coming in and to keep the area from seeming unlucky or unpopular so a service like this is very much in their interest.

While I was waiting in line, Crabtree & Evelyn lost at least three sales. Looking at the gift baskets and the lotions put back, they probably lost around $200 in sales in about 15 minutes. Who knows how much they lost that day or how much they lose each year because of connectivity interruptions. The $200 they lost in front of me could easily cover most or all of the cost of a cheap, slow backup data connection option for the year. Individual credit card transactions are very low bandwidth and don't need a special connection.

Starbucks, if your listening, start selling some data connection insurance to your retail neighbors. Everyone wins.

Posted by kstroke at 02:38 PM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2005

toilet seat cover

this could be designed better...
toilet seat cover
toilet seat cover
the directions are hidden. what use is that. why shouldn't this be like a kleenex box where you just pull in any direction and it just works. this thing should be foolproof even for people who can't think clearly because of an extreme sense of urgency.

Posted by kstroke at 02:17 PM | Comments (0)