Optimum Online v. Verizon FiOS

Ever since FiOS lines were installed in Hoboken, Verizon has been fairly aggressive about getting people to switch over from Optimum. They were in the middle of a massive lawsuit that year—over a free flat-screen TV offer, phone bill cramming, pension cases, or something…who can keep track?—and they still had people going door-to-door at least once a month. Read more

Don’t Upgrade QuickBooks

I’ve been using QuickBooks for my businesses for about a decade now (and Quicken, for personal finances, since Microsoft Money closed-up shop in 2009). It is single-handedly the ugliest, worst designed and most unintuitive piece of software that I’ve ever used, but it works. It does what it needs to do. So I simply: take notes on where I need to re-locate those elusive little features that intuitively should be located in different places, squint my eyes and try to ignore the antiquated icons, the poorly conceived aesthetic and grid, and the painfully amateur process flow and organization of the product.

QuickBooks had been bad since before Money went south, and still it found a way to best Microsoft. Now, with no real competition in the well-designed corporate financial applications sector (other than Intacct Winter, Sage 50 Pro Accounting, FreshBooks, Mint, Quosal, Concur Expense, Xactly Incent Express, etc.), Intuit can keep on unabashedly releasing terrible software. But I digress.

I’ve been using QuickBooks 2009 through last month, when I received a notification that they would no longer be supporting the QuickBooks Email feature for older versions. It’s a free feature that allows me to easily and quickly provide digital copies of invoices and statements to clients. In fact, it was the only intuitive process they had in the whole application: You simply log-in to QuickBooks, browse to the invoice or statement and click “Send” and it’ll prepopulate an email to the client, print a PDF of the document, attach and send. The notification detailed that they wanted to focus on providing this feature to more current customers/versions and that I needed to upgrade in order to use the service.

After receiving the notification, I debated with my accountant the point of upgrading to QuickBooks 2012. I’d already memorized the quixotic process flow and figured out their capricious organization. If the only issue I was having with the software was the QuickBooks Email feature, why upgrade? A new copy of 2012 is only $200-400, he said, and it’s always good to have a current version of the software. (I, who am perpetually annoyed at Apple foisting upgrades to their bazillion little helper apps, am inclined to disagree). But I relented and spent $185.00 on the upgrade.

After installing and upgrading my corporate files, I finally got around to sending a client an overdue invoice. I click the “Send” button and I see the following message: “QuickBooks Email is only available to customers who have monthly subscriptions to the following online Intuit applications…” And despite being conned into spending almost $200 on a new version of QuickBooks, subscribing to a monthly payroll service provided by Intuit (which isn’t one of those required online Intuit applications) and being able to have the QuickBooks Email service for free for the past decade of loyal patronage, I still couldn’t use this feature.

I contacted tech support. They sent me an email providing a link to their help home page and closed the ticket. I called customer care. They passed me around to 7 different representatives (I’m not kidding, SEVEN!) where I had to provide my name, my phone number, my company name, my email address, my QuickBooks License number, my QuickBooks customer number — all in painfully slow monotone, repeated 2-3 times to confirm. After 4 hours of being on the phone, here’s what I learned:

While this feature used to be free, it is no longer free and would only be provided to customers with monthly subscriptions now (read: their highest paying customers).  

I hung up the phone in a rage. Naturally, the representatives didn’t bother to ask me to complete a survey.

Intuit is simply following in the footsteps of Geni.com, Spotify, and all those other greedy corporations out there that have decided that gradually stripping away features to squeeze more money out of customers is a strong business ethic. It isn’t the first time they’ve done it, either. On May 15, 2011, Intuit sent a note to their customers informing them that QuickBooks Document Management will no longer be included in QuickBooks, starting with version 2011 (click the image for details). Why?

“A change in our accounting policies requires us to stop offering free services in any version of QuickBooks after 2011.” 

If these are the ethics that QuickBooks uses in treating their loyal paying customers, I am beginning to wonder about my own ethical policies. Why should I continue to give money to a corporation that is seemingly turning this practice into a business model?

In the meantime, I’ve found a work-around for the QuickBooks Email issue where I can send invoices using an external SMTP server. This feature wasn’t available in QuickBooks 2009 because it wasn’t needed when the email feature was free. Again, it’s in a hidden, convoluted location in the software.

If you find yourself in the same predicament and need assistance setting up the QuickBooks Webmail feature for Invoices and Statements, drop me a line. Or leave a comment if you’re irritated by Intuit’s practice or have an equally frustrating story to share.

Sears v. NJCEP v. PSE&G v. Sears (again)

As I look back through this blog, I notice a certain theme growing in the general area of customer service issues. I’m sure that everyone has said, at one time in their life, that there should be a list where you can publicly register complaints with problems with bad customer service. These departments are always quick to mention that they’re recording calls for quality assurance and that they want you to hold the line for brief customer surveys, but their intention seems to be more directed toward rewarding their representatives for saving their company’s money by denying discounts and rebates more than it’s geared toward customer satisfaction. In the absence of a definitive online resource for these tirades, I’ve blogged verbosely about issues with a whole host of other problems (Google Voice and SolicitationsAdventures in Small Business BankingOne VoiceA Representative Will Be With You ShortlyNetwork Solutions is Utter Garbage, and recently, Guaranteed Value vs. Value Assessments). This post, dear readers, is yet another.

It was time to trade in my old refrigerator for a new one. Naturally, my chief concerns were price and delivery, however—being the tree-hugger that I am—I also wanted to find an appliance that qualified for at least a 20% rating above the Federal Standard. To my surprise/excitement, I learned that Sears.com rewards customers by providing a $75 discount for compliant appliances and a $100 discount for those that were at least 25% beyond the Federal Standard. Their quixotic calculator is attached for your befuddlement, if not amusement.

The day the refrigerator arrived, I mailed off the rebate forms to the New Jersey Clean Energy Program, the same forms that are prominently displayed next to the refrigerator on Sears.com. Three weeks later, just under the cut-off for when the application should be processed, I received a letter from the energy program informing me that of the vague and disheartening denial that I was disqualified due to “invalid retailer participation.”

In calling the program, they promptly sent me to the number for Sears.com customer service. Customer service sent me to the MySearsRebates.com customer service crew, who informed me that they only handle rebates on delivery. They recommended that I contact the clean energy program again. Once again, I contacted the New Jersey Clean Energy Program who informed me that I should speak with a representative at Blue Appliance Crew of Sears.com. I contacted them a second time and the representative took down my information and promptly said she’d handle the issue for me. After a half hour on hold, and without my knowledge or consent, she simply transferred me back to the MySearsRebates.com representative that I’d spoken to a half hour before. He, frustrated, provided me with the phone number for Sears National Center. “We do not handle these rebates, sir,” he said in a curt tone.

In contacting the Sears National Center, a sweet woman with a southern accent apologized for my run-around and told me she would help me with my issue. She took my information again and placed me on-hold, returning to inform me that she’d been told that this must be processed through my power company, PSE&G. This is when I started getting a little irritated. I asked her to contact PSE&G directly, while I waited on-hold. She did, and returned to tell me that PSE&G informed her that she should contact the New Jersey Clean Energy Program. I asked her to call that number, and while I waited on-hold, I shook my head at the rhetoric in simply trying to receive the rebate that they had, previously, posted as an incentive to use their services. The representative returned saying that she was told the same thing that I was told. I asked her to call the Blue Appliance Crew and she returned telling me that she was transfered to the “Sears.com Personal Shopper” number, rather than a rebate representative. She was given an additional number that customers aren’t privy to, a number for processing rebates when all else fails. After calling that number, she was told that it would not connect to a representative and made the recommendation that I be transfered to an “offline” team to look into the case further.

While I enjoyed the hold music, over the last hour, I was able to share this story with you. The case is still unresolved, though they promised a callback in 1-2 business days. When this happens, as I’m sure you know, the chances of a callback are truly hit-or-miss. I requested the representative’s identification number and a case number for my call. I also provided two phone numbers and an email address to ensure I receive a return call. Lastly, I requested that the representative leave explicit notes within my case of the revolving door that describes my journey into the world of Sears.com Customer Service.

If you’re on the edge of your seat, anxiously awaiting resolution to this harrowing tale, I must recommend that you do not hold your breath for a swift and rewarding resolution. More later…

Ecommerce and Tolerance

I’ve ranted verbosely in the past about the customer service industry going down the tubes (Adventures in Small Business Banking, One Voice, A Representative Will Be With You Shortly, Network Solutions is Utter Garbage, and recently, Guaranteed Value vs. Value Assessments) where much was stemming from experiences with online orders, so the following short tirade will certainly not seem out of character.

In an industry where 90% of the transaction is automated and inexpensive, unlike that of real estate, used car sales or even graphic design, it would seem pretty obvious that the best way to retain ecommerce customers is through a gratifying and easy online experience. If I collected money from a client under the agreement that I would deliver a design work on-time, I could assume the client would be dissatisfied when I followed up with a form letter informing them of upcoming truancy.

Their anger might even be compounded if the letter was cold, impersonal and offered no explanation for the reason of this delay—other than the fact that the issue was on my end and I’m working on it. To further add insult to the client, I might also include that I couldn’t tell them how long the delay was, except that it could be as short as 12 hours. Not communicating the reason for an issue, but sending a templated response informing the client of the second best possible scenario (other than the product being delivered on-time) is an empty method to pacify the disgruntled. I certainly understand that not all industries can quantify this equally, so providing graphic design services and mailing a widget from a colossal warehouse do not perfectly correlate. However I do think that expectations correlate, customers—particularly in a competitive market—correlate, and the services-for-cash system correlates.

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