Category Archives: Consumerism

I’m an ardent advocate for delivering value to the consumer as the most important expression of competitive advantage and management. I am very vocal and critical when companies don’t deliver that value to me.

Wells Fargo and Intuit Join Forces to Ruin My Weekend

I’m absolutely pissed at Wells Fargo and Intuit right now!

You’ll have to excuse me that all professionalism has fled from me as I write this. I have just come through a painful migration not of my choosing. Confusing decisions by Wells Fargo and Intuit have eaten a significant portion of my weekend and cost me $60 to purchase new software. After all of this I am still not made whole. I’m not sure I will ever be.

The World that Was

For many years I have been a Wachovia checking customer. As you probably know Wachovia was one of the banks that didn’t make it through the mortgage meltdown of 2008 and was acquired by Wells Fargo. The transition of the Wachovia franchise to Wells Fargo has been a relatively slow, state-by-state process. Recently the Commonwealth of Virginia made the switch. All of my accounts have been transitioned from Wachovia to Wells Fargo. This includes digital access to my account information.

I have also been a long-time user of Intuit’s personal money management software. In 2008 Intuit chose to no longer update Quicken for the Macintosh and rather introduced a lightweight application called Quicken Essentials. It seemed odd at the time that the team at Intuit would choose to basically downgrade a computer platform on a strong ascendency with an attractive user base. But Quicken Essentials was Good Enough™. I was able to download transactions for all of my checking, savings and credit card accounts– including my Wachovia accounts. So I cast caution to the wind, moved my data over and continued along with Quicken Essentials.

Wells Fargo Upsets the Apple Cart

Last weekend Wells Fargo pulled the switch on moving the Wachovia customer base in Virginia over to Wells Fargo. Imagine my surprise to find that Wells Fargo does not allow users to automatically download their transaction records to Quicken Essentials. Quicken? Yes. QuickBooks? Yes. But Quicken Essentials? No.

Since there is no longer a Quicken for the Mac, Wells Fargo is effectively telling their customers who happen to own and use Macintosh computers that they are second class. Oh, sure, there is a kludge whereby you can download a transaction file and manually upload your account details to Quicken Essentials, but the process is a pain compared to the single button click update I enjoyed as a Wachovia customer.

Wachovia supported this function. Other banks large and small support this function. But not Wells Fargo. Why not? I haven’t been able to find a satisfactory answer. Most of the forums I review suggest that Wells has asked Intuit not to allow this access. The only reason I can imagine is that there is some smal IT overhead to support this access. I can’t really imagine what that is, but I don’t believe asking a major bank to do what it takes to deliver these table stakes is asking too much. My small local bank that owns my business account offers full access via Quicken Essentials. If the inky-dinky local bank can do it the mighty Wells Fargo can make it happen. ‘Nuff said.

quicken essentials is a roach motel

Upon learning that Wells would not support Quicken Essentials I had to once again swallow hard and move forward. Since I run Parallels on my Mac and have a virtual Windows 7 machine I decided it would be easier to eat the $60 to purchase and install Quicken Deluxe 2011 for Windows on my virtual machine. This is sub-optimal considering the slower performance of applications running in a virtual machine. At the time, though, I thought it would still be easier than changing banks.

Intuit, we have a problem!

Intuit, we have a problem!

You cannot believe how extremely surprised I am to learn that Quicken Essentials cannot export files to a format that can be imported by Quicken. Remember in the movie Apollo 13 when the crew had to built a Carbon Dioxide scrubber from scraps, spare parts and a sock because the scrubbers in the command module were incompatible with the scrubbers in the lunar module? Well, Intuit’s approach to file formats makes the Apollo design choices look like… well… rocket science. I can’t even fathom a “Why” for this decision. It’s pure stupidity.

In summary, these two companies have made three decisions of varying impact that never should have been made:

  1. Intuit should have maintained a full version of Quicken on the Mac. Since building an application for a separate platform can be expensive, choosing not to do this is the most understandable or justifiable of all of the stupid decisions these two companies have made.
  2. Wells Fargo should support full access to Quicken Essentials users to download their transactions the same way the customers of ever other bank worth their salt are able to do. There’s zero excuse that this is not available.
  3. Intuit should definitely support file export and import among all of the financial applications. At the very least there should be a file format usable by all flavors of Quicken. Not allowing export from Quicken Essentials to Quicken is stupidity of JarJarian proportions.

As it stands I’ve spent a significant part of my weekend trying to make a transition that should have taken just a minute or two. I’m worse off as both a bank customer and a software user than I was before the transition happened. I’m out $60. Now I’m in the market for a new bank and a new personal finance application.

I love My MiFi!

In an effort to establish professionalism, I do try to not pimp my employer’s products or services.  I’m an unabashed user of a product on a competitor’s network (iPhone) and try to make it clear that the content here represents my own opinions and not those of my employer.  So I hope that you will maintain a level of respect for me and give me some objectivity points when I say that I have a new love: my Verizon Wireless MiFi.  It’s a pocket-sized wifi hotspot for up to 5 devices that connects to the Verizon Wireless EV-DO 3G wireless broadband network.  The device is manufactured by Novatel Wireless and is also sold by Sprint.

My Verizon Wireless MiFi, next to standard business card for size comparison.

My Verizon Wireless MiFi, next to standard business card for size comparison.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time you have no doubt concluded that I am a gadget hound and tech nerd.  Would it surprise you to learn that when I travel for business I usually travel with two laptops?  It’s a sickness, I know.  I’m a firm believer in keeping my work work on my work PC (an HP) and my personal material and projects on my MacBook Pro.  In most hotels this has resulted in a life-or-death decision of which computer will be registered for the (usually expensive and slow) hotel broadband connection.  In a few instances in the past I was able to use my Apple Airport Express to connect multiple devices to the hotel broadband.  In those instances the connection is generally very slow, and often I find myself unable to use my VPN to connect to my work e-mail and other intranet resources.  Bummer.

Even when I bite the bullet and decide that my work PC will be the sole digital link to the outside world performance is inconsistent.  In my years of travel I have found it amazing how many times my VPN did not work.  It still also amazes me how many hotels still treat broadband as an optional amenity.  It’s not– a hotel room might as well not have electricity or running water.  The net is central to how I and many others live our lives today and is non-negotiable if I am going to remain a productive employee while on the road.  It also still amazed me the rates hotels charge for Internet connectivity: $12.95/day seems to be the standard.  You don’t learn the VPN won’t function until after you’ve connected the work laptop and tried to connect.  Want to cut bait and just use the personal machine?  That’s another $12.50, please.  Don’t even THINK of connecting your iPhone or other wifi-enabled smart phone (you can generally fall back on your usable if somewhat slow 3G connection there).  Coffee shops and other hotspots also have spotty, inconsistent support for VPN connectivity.  A lot of productivity has been lost struggling to get a VPN connection only to give up and just resign myself to days of catching up on e-mail and other tasks when next I am at home or in the office.  To put it mildly, connectivity when traveling sucks.

I don’t have to worry about that anymore.  Since I bought my MiFi I’ve had one day of meetings outside of the office and one business trip.  On my day running around the Washington metro area I was able to use my down time to great productive effect   The VPN works flawlessly every time.  I can connect my PC, Macintosh and iPhone all to a blazing fast (in wireless terms) network with great coverage.  On my recent business trip I did a speed check to find that I was getting 1097 Kbps down and 652 Kbps up.  While it’s not as fast as my FiOS connection at home (I will limit myself to pimping one Verizon product in this post) it’s faster than most hotel broadband connections.

I’m not the only one who loves this devices and have made productive use of the MiFi.  Andy Abramson of VoIP Watch and Bob Gourley of CTOVision have both sung the praises of their MiFis.  Guy Kawasaki made a great post to the American Express OPEN for Small Business blog highlighting some valuable use cases for his Sprint MiFi, and some relevant to people who are not afflicted with my tech nerdery:

  • In your hotel room
  • Traveling with kids
  • MacBook Air, iPhone and iPod Touch owners
  • Smartphone users using VoIP such as Skype
  • Making a sales pitch when you need a reliable and fast Internet connection
  • Conference attendance (often wifi at a conference is either completely unavailable or an additional daily expense.  Now you can even use the MiFi”s support for multiple connections to make friends and influence people).
  • Speaking or presenting when you need an Internet connection (a requirement I can say with experience many venues are challenged to provide reliably)
  • Alternative to tethering your computer with a mobile phone

One challenge I have had with the MiFi is maintaining a charge on the device.  On my recent business trip I learned that my MiFi as well as a few other devices that charge via USB do not like my Belkin travel surge suppressor.  This is a handy three-outlet surge suppressor that also has two USB ports to charge devices without the need for additional power adapters.  This I think is a problem more of the Belkin than the MiFi, because my iPhone also would not take a charge from this device.  So the one cautionary advice I would offer is that travelers should take the MiFi’s power adapter on the road with them just to be safe.  The MiFi can be charged via USB from your computer, and I found this to be somewhat idiosyncratic and felt that the MiFI didn’t get the full charge it does when plugged in directly to an outlet.

Overall this is a device I strongly recommend.  The retail price is competitive with standard 3G adapters for laptops (that only support connectivity for that single device).  You barely have to travel more than once a month to make the $60 monthly price (5 Gigabytes cap) more cost-effective than paying for daily connectivity at hotels, in airports or coffee shops.  The MiFi has already paid for itself this month and kept me happier and more productive in the bargain.

TED Talk: Consumers’ Quests for Authenticity

Here is another great presentation from the TED Conference.  Joseph Pine talks about the consumer quest for authenticity.  Taking the advice of Hamlet‘s Polonius “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” he creates a 2×2 matrix of trueness to self and trueness to others.  Pine provides some great examples of companies that fit into each quadrant of this matrix.

So once you’ve watched this, can you answer the question of whether your company is real real, real fake, fake real or fake fake?

Smooth Transition to Digital Over-the-Air TV for My Folks

Like many people with limited technical acumen, I am labeled as the “tech guy” whenever I go home for the holidays.  This Christmas break I was destined to spend some time setting up the digital-to-analog television signal converter for my parents.

My parents live in rural Northern Illinois, about 90 miles or so west of Chicago.  The majority of their television channels come out of the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River with a smattering of stations coming in from other markets, mostly Rockford.  The signal has never really been that good, with what I always considered a lot of visual interference and an audio signal that clearly had lost some of the range of audio signal.

I watched with interest the trial balloon for the digital TV signal transition the FCC held in Wilmington, NC this past fall with interest.  One of the interesting outcomes of the trial was that people on the fringe of the Wilmington television market found that they could not receive the digital TV signal over the air.  With analog you begin to see a degradation of signal quality, and many people can receive degraded quality signals (such as my parents) and you just “learn to live with it” if you don’t want to spring for DirecTV or Dish.  With digital the drop-off in quality is very steep and television with degraded signal reception simply becomes unwatchable.

Because of the experience of people in the rural areas around Wilmington I was very skeptical that my parent’s would be able to receive a digital signal from their analog television stations.  We agreed that they would need to see about this so that my parents could finally spring for satellite if they weren’t going to be able to receive their digital signal.  As an aside, I fully expect that DirecTV and Dish will see a considerable uptick in new subscriptions from rural subscribers in the first months of 2009 as people either transition direct to satellite or find after the analog turn-off that they have no over-the-air television signal.

I’m surprised and happy to report that my parents’ are able to receive the digital signal from their Quad Cities stations (CBS affiliate WHBF, NBC affiliate KWQC, ABC affiliate WQAD and Fox affiliate KLJB).  My parents were amazed by the improved picture and sound quality.  They’ve also go new channels offered by their traditional stations such as local weather channels, classic TV channels and alternate programming schedules.  They’re also able to receive new channels they were never able to receive before– PBS was always a crapshoot that depended on the weather.  So they’ve gone from four channels to about 15 over-the-air channels and a much higher quality television experience.  This has all been a very pleasant surprise.

 

Not everything is flowers and sunshine, though.  Brace yourself for a few moments with August Rooney:

  • The remote control for the Magnavox digital converter is definitely not designed with senior citizens in mind.  It has tiny buttons with itty-bitty print.  Why does it seem that remote control designers must all have some sort of grudge against their fellow man that remote controls are designed so poorly?  
  • The converter box also adds a layer of complexity to the act of turning on the TV.  It drives me crazy that between receivers, tuners and components turning on a TV has become more complex than launching a space shuttle.  Because of this issue and the ugly remote control I see gifts of unified remote controls in my parents’ future.
  • My Mom still records shows with a VCR, and my efforts to convince her to get a TiVo have continually been rebuffed.  The converter box adds additional layers of complexity to recording shows and greatly reduced the functionality of the VCR: she can’t record one channel and watch something else anymore or program the VCR to change channels to record different shows.  Maybe/hopefully this will push Mom into the TiVo camp, and I’m actively seeking advice on the best choices for over-the-air DVRs with digital tuners.

Take a Vacation!

A survey by Expedia reveals what I suspect most Americans already knew, and that is that despite receiving the fewest vacation days in the Western world we leave the most on the table.  As we’ve seen recently at the Republic Windows & Doors case, you might not be able to count on having accrued vacation paid out in tough economic times.

Vacation Deprivation Survey Facts and Vacation Ideas at Expedia.com.

So, take a vacation already!

A Digression from the Other Side of Customer Service

I have a little bit of a rant that I need to get off my chest.

One of the things that happens when you work for a company that provides products and services to a large consumer base (as I do) is that people are constantly asking you about how they should handle problems they’re having with your company’s products or services.

Many people are under the impression that there is some secret back channel for customer service, and that knowing someone who works for the company gives them special access to this back channel.  Please let me burst everyone’s bubble by revealing that no such back channel exists.  I am a customer of my employer’s services, and I call the same customer service line or access the same service portal that you do when I have an issue.

In large enterprises the customer service apparatus has been designed to deliver as much standard customer service to as large a community of customers as possible at the lowest cost possible.  These designers of these systems walk a very fine line between the convenience and personalization customers receive and the costs associated with delivering that level of service.  While customers of many mass markets companies have expressed frustration or even outright anger at low levels of customer service, they’ve clearly demonstrated with their spending that the majority of customer are unwilling to pay for a higher level of service.  

Some companies are starting to explore the use of social media such as Twitter to help provide “personalized” advice on a broader scale, and I’m hopeful for the potential of social media to give customers better advice on how to navigate customer service and get questions to complex service issues.  Small companies are often able to deliver this level of customer intimacy, and it’s the holy grail for enterprises to rediscover this.

I understand my friends’ and colleagues’ frustration with mass customer service models.  I feel it, too.  I feel it from every company with which I have to interact to have service issues resolved.  When a company rises above my expectation for standard mass market service levels I am genuinely shocked, amazed and impressed.  It is very, very rare that this happens.

My advice to friends and colleagues is to go through the standard customer service channels and present your issue or problem clearly and accurately.  Document everything.  Be calm.  Be polite.  Be patient.  Scour the company’s web site for information about your product or service before you make the call.  It is also always helpful to scan customer forums to see if any other customers have faced your same issue and have found a resolution.  This advice does not come from any insights of being an employee.  It’s common sense.  I employ the same practices when I call any company with a service issue.  Know that sometimes the resolution to a service issue is to let it go and move on (either with the same company or move to a competitor).  Knowing how to effectively engage customer service channels is a million times more valuable than knowing someone at the company.

Palm OS Rebranded, Treo Users Dance in Streets

 

BEGIN SARCASM

OK, disgruntled Treo users, we can all rest easy. News.com has a short piece telling us that Palm OS is going to be re-branded as Garnet OS. You should all be grateful that the attention of the OS company has been spent dealing with this very serious issue and not wasted on unimportant issues of updating and fixing a broken and stagnant OS on which most “standard” applications such as synchronization break half the time if they even work at all. I know I will sleep so much better knowing that the OS on my almost useless smartphone has a new name.

END SARCASM

Technorati Tags: Palm, Treo

Ringback Tones

While I have no doubt that I am outside the current target demographic, I have to say that the choices of ringback tones offered by Cingular really sucks. With a few exceptions of quotes from the movie “Office Space” there is just nothing there.

What would be cool is the ability to upload my own sound files as ringback tones. Can you say Royale with Cheese?

Tags: Cingular, Wireless.

Loudoun County Considering Buying Adelphia System

A few days ago I became a tad frustrated that Ive had no new real news about whats going on with the join acquisition of Adelphia (the local cable company and my broadband ISP) by Comcast and Time Warner. Part of the frustration arose from some recent DNS problems Adelphia seem to be having that are really slowing down my surfing. A friend of mine who works at a major ISP and I were speculating that the DNS problems are possibly due to DNS requests from subscribers computers infected with malware. We further speculated Adelphia might be holding off on buying new DNS servers to accommodate legitimate and illegitimate DNS requests because of the pending acquisition. So, through that long train of events and speculation I was left to wonder Whats the latest with this acquisition? Specifically I was curious as to whether or not it would be Comcast or Time Warner which would come to own the Adelphia franchise in Loudoun County, Virginia. So I did a search in Google News to see if there was anything.

I came across this piece from a website called the Loudoun Connection, a source Id never even known existed before now.

I was surprised to read the article and learn that one of the options the county government was considering was the possibility of purchasing the franchise from Adelphia. This is evidently an option that becomes an option for the government as a result of a county ordinance should the ownership of the company holding the franchise change hands.

Adelphia are claiming that the ordinance is not applicable as a result of their bankruptcy filing. This sounds like an interpretive stretch to me, and I fail to see the basis for Adelphias claim here. I know Im not a lawyer, but this smacks to me as another potential example of the abuse of bankruptcy protection as a management tool.

Even though the Adelphia claim has no merit I can see, the consideration that the county would take over ownership of the cable system as a public utility sounds like an awful option to me. Ever since moving to Loudoun Ive had the feeling that Adelphia is one step above a fly-by-night operation in terms of their infrastructure, customer service and product offerings. It took them forever to roll out broadband, their customer service (or lack thereof) makes it clear they have no real idea what theyre doing and the poor response to technical problems with broadband makes me wonder what their level of technical expertise must be. Since the news of the pending sale to Comcast and Time Warner Ive been counting the days until a company that can only improve our situation in Loudoun County takes ownership of the system.

I dont think the county government would improve the situation. Ive got a strong suspicion that the county doesnt know how to manage an Internet service, and I cant imagine the county being willing to make the investments which very clearly need to be made. The article I found goes back and forth as to whether or not the threat to buy back the system from Adelphia is a simply a tactic to raise the franchise fees or if the county is actually serious about taking over the system and turning cable television and broadband into a public utility. I sincerely hope its simply a negotiation tactic.

Apple and Motorola Really Phoned It In

For once I’m going to stop writing about eBay and Skype to resurrect an old chestnut: the iTunes phone.

So, Apple and Motorola released this thing a few weeks agothe ROKR. Considering how I was on each rumor of this phone’s development for some time one might be surprised that I didn’t jump all over the actual launch of the phone. Well, I was so underwhelmed when the phone was finally launched that I really didn’t feel like there was much to say. Commentators from Engadget, This Week in Tech and everywhere else rightly trounced the phone.

The phone itself just doesnt have the sexy form factor one would expect from an Apple product. OK, so it’s technically a Moto product, but even Motorola can be expected to offer some sexy products after the RAZR. Maybe what I was expecting from a form perspective was a RAZR-ish phone that could interface with iTunes. What we got was far from that, so my money will stay in my wallet for now.

One couldnt help contrast the ROKR with the iPod Nano, which was launched on the same day. That is a nice little item, there.

The good news is that the iTunes functionality is likely to be an element of future Motorola phones. Maybe the next generation of the RAZR (the black one!!) will have iTunes capability.

I do, however, like the song in the Cingular commercial for the phone. The song is “Jukebox” by Bent Fabric. Nice little ditty.