Baking Betty's

One of my favorite things about working with the TechRoom team are our customers.  They're just great.  It's not just luck, either.  Years ago I made up my mind that TechRoom was going to focus on a certain kind of customer: Someone who believes in working hard, having fun, making a difference, and treating other people the way they want to be treated, and always with kindness. I've kept us focused on forward-leaning, professional and passionate people who we want to help and love serving.

Then there are the cookies.  

We didn't expect it, but when Emily Osterberg, founder of Baking Betty's walked in to TechRoom this morning to pick up her computer, she placed a beautiful robin egg blue box wrapped in a gorgeous red ribbon (perfectly tied, I should add) on our reception desk.

The box felt substantial, something told me it had extra goodness inside. I opened it and my jaw dropped.

Thank goodness I went on my run this morning.

These cookies are simply amazing.  Check out at the art that Emily creates here (links to Baking Betty's website).  I'm holding an M&M cookie in my hand that is the most amazing thing I've seen with M&Ms.

The TechRoom team send a big thank you to Emily!  We're glad we had the chance to serve you, and we now know where to send everyone and anyone who wants an amazing cookie and incredible dessert!

I was blown away by the love and care that went into this.  And look at cookie #3 from the front- yes, those are peanut butter cups.

I was blown away by the love and care that went into this.  And look at cookie #3 from the front- yes, those are peanut butter cups.

How much I.T. tax did you pay in 2013?

Gifts to Charity are only good when they're voluntary.

Gifts to Charity are only good when they're voluntary.

It's that time of year again when we turn our attention to taxes. There are two kinds of taxes, the ones you know about, and the ones you don't.  You know about your income tax and sales tax. Then there are those sneaky taxes you find after the fact, like when you pay for your car registration. Those line items don't make sense unless you're a CPA, and even then I have yet to meet a CPA who can explain what they all are.

There are invisible taxes you're paying in your business too. Having worked with over a thousand small business owners, I have learned that over 97% of business owners are unaware of these hidden taxes, they don't know that they are mostly voluntary, and they have not been informed by their CFO, CPA or other trusted advisor to really look hard at whether or not they want to keep paying the tax in 2014.

This invisible tax is I.T. tax, and like government taxes, they come in two ways: You either know you're paying them or you don't. I have worked with two businesses recently that are good examples of both:

One business owner runs a successful architecture firm. He has about ten employees and a good niche in industry. He pays about $1000 each month to his I.T. service provider, and outside consulting firm. When he has a problem they call it in and wait for a response from a help desk, someone who's never been at the customer site, doesn't understand the customer's business, and has only one direction on how to prioritize issues: First in, first out. It's been over 12 months since anyone visited the customer at the business. When an onsite does occur, they get a supplemental fee, albeit marketed "at a discount".

Another business owner runs a successful legal practice. He has attorneys that thrive on efficiency and truly care for their customers. As far as visits from his I.T. service provider, he has the opposite problem: They are at the customer's office putting out fires every day. The firm has a relatively new server and decent computers, but nothing seems to work consistently. And the bills for all the service keep coming, "per the agreement."

In both cases, there are two kinds of fees to the customer: The obvious fees, and the not so obvious. The first customer shared with me that they don't see any value in what they're paying for.  He explains, "it feels like insurance, and I still have to pay a 100% deductible every time someone comes out here". Things are much, much worse for the second customer. Not only is he paying for monthly service, but the additional charges add up to several thousand dollars over the year. He feels equally bad about the value received.  All he wants is for things to work.

How much did you overpay in I.T. taxes last year? Are you prepared to do the same in 2014?

How much did you overpay in I.T. taxes last year? Are you prepared to do the same in 2014?

Then there are the hidden fees. What does one hour of service from your I.T. firm really cost? In both customer cases, thousands of dollars per hour.  Think about it: In a situation where the system is down, you have billable employees, architects or attorneys, who you pay hourly at a very good rate, unable to bill your clients at your firm's rates. For five attorneys, that's approximately $1500 lost per hour.

Do you run a business between 5 and 25 employees? Is your I.T. service provider just a charitable cause that you pay to each month, or do you feel like you wish you could be refunded for much of what you've paid?  If you're not completely satisfied, it's because you need a non-traditional service plan. No shortcuts. No managed service provider marketing.  Just pure and simple management of your technology, aligning it to your business and keeping it available so you can be profitable and have more time back to you. If you're interested in learning more, contact me here for more information.

Digital babies

We all want friction-free™ service that saves time.

We all want friction-free™ service that saves time.

A good friend and customer, as well as fellow Provisor member called into TechRoom just a few months after service.  He had some issues with his 27" iMac and wanted to know if he should bring it in to TechRoom again. I could hear the hesitation in his voice. When he and I last talked we had a great conversation about how the Apple Store experience is really awesome with maybe one exception: Transporting your desktop computer in to the mall.  I've always seen my job as trying to engineer a solution for my customer, and if the Apple Store can help more people like me when I need them for a business matter or to answer questions for the myriads of friends who are interested in Macs, I'm going to go all out to help the GB (Genius Bar) by designing services that complement what they're all about. So I gave my friend Tom an option he didn't expect. More on that below.

The issue with transporting your computer?  It doesn't matter if it's a desktop or notebook, but desktops are worse.  It's more than just unplugging the machine. Think about all the reasons why it's a not-fun experience: What if you have a huge desk that's hard to move?  With cables hidden that could fall behind and require movers to get out? How many people even want to know about which cable goes into what plug? How do I transport it safely? What if I scratch it? Is my data safe if there's an accident.  How do I know everything really works until it's back and completely re-installed onto my network. What if you didn't need to be without your machine for a day or more?  Wouldn't it be nice to just get a professional attention on the issue on your terms, at your convenience?

I've been working closely with my team to make TechRoom service friction-free™.  That means we're thinking about each stage of the customer experience, from the very moment they notice they need service.  This means that we need to think about what our customer is doing before they even pick up the phone to call us.  Some really cool things can come out of this kind of thinking and intention.  The majority of our 27" iMac customers can get service without needing to bring their computers in to us. Some options we now have for any customer (for both Apple Macs and PCs) include:

  • Remote Quick-Fix™.  We can address any problem, including third party software and Internet service issues like email configuration (even in Outlook- gasp). You name it. So many problems can be resolved in a few minutes with the right attention. Best of all, if we identify a problem that requires hands-on service, the $50 fee applies to your carry-in diagnostic within one week if its for the same issue. It's a win-win-win for our customer.
  • TechRoom Transporter™. We are so spoiled in Orange County. We don't have the artery-clogging traffic that's pandemic in Los Angeles. So we tend to drive everywhere.  But could you do something better than drive a couple hours for one errand?  How about having a technician pick up your computer, meticulously noting and diagramming the connections and taking steps proactively to prepare for the computer's return and reconnection, so you don't have to?  It's a professional technical courier that would make Jason Statham nod in approval.
  • AppleCare On-Site.  It still blows my mind that not everyone in the world knows that Apple provides on-site coverage for many issues. When Apple provides labor coverage, we reduce our fees accordingly. One CEO in San Clemente has enjoyed watching in own TechRoom technician repair his MacBook Air Ultimate, right in his office while he works.  No travel, minimal downtime.  And an amazing opportunity to test everything out right when we're done: All devices, iPad, iPhone, bluetooth keyboard and magic trackpad, wifi, you name it.

We're still coming up with some great new ideas for 2014.  One of my team mates said it best when she said, "These aren't just computers, people are bringing in their digital babies to us." I think about that all the time now. I hope some of the options above can save you or a friend or colleague a few hours this year.  

If you need service, call us at (949) 706-5852 or email service@techroom.com. Or if you refer someone, please let me know.

Happy 2014!

Apple's Volume Purchase Program and Mobile Device Management

I'm really excited about this.  It's my first "real" screencast.

In this screencast I go over how much time and money Apple's management tools for software acquisition, distribution and management can save you.   I talk about what Apple's Volume Purchase Program is, how it works with the Apple Mobile Device Management solution that's part of Apple's Mac OS X Server ("profile manager" in Server version 3). And best of all, I share a real-world demonstration of how it works.  Check it out and let me know what you think!

Cheers,

James

Switchability™

Over the past ten years, switching has become more and more important.  Everyone switching from a Windows PC to an Apple Mac, or switching from Windows 7 to Windows 8, or from phone to phone, wants the same thing: A pain-free switch where everything just works when you start using your new device or computer. No nasty surprises, no lost time, no messed up contacts or calendars. Everything should just work.

That's where Switchability™ comes in.

Switchability™ is a resource for switchers to get the info they need to not only make a successful switch, but also learn how to stay switchable. Too many of our customers don't know what they need to know to make sure their switch is successful.  So they wait until the PC dies, or they cling to their old technology in their business until it hurts.

Do you want to switch to a new computer or device consequence-free? Tired of the IT industry beta testing on you, rather than for you? Want to move your entire business to Mac, without surprises? Switchability™ is your starting point.  

I just launched Switchability™, and I'm expecting it to grow beyond my expectations to help you be more successful. Have a question?  Ask me. Need advice on switching? Let me know what's on your mind. I'm excited to take over a decade of switching experience, even before the term was coined, and share with you.  Please tell your friends to visit and ask their questions as well, and check back regularly for tips and techniques and how-tos.

 

That's a long ride

I just saw this on one of my vendor's web sites: 

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 13.36.56.png

13 years is a long ride for an operating system.  XP was introduced in 2001. I've been thinking a lot about the changes in the IT environment recently.  When I saw this it just reinforced for me how much things have changed with Apple delivering on their vision. And with the latest development that includes Apple's giving the OS away as part of the product, it's clear to me Tim Cook et al are incredibly focused.

R.I.P. XP.  We'll still support you in the afterlife, as long as it's in the best interest of the customer we're serving.

More reasons to love Postbox

I'm a few weeks into using Postbox, while many in the blogosphere are still lamenting Apple's Mail 7.0, the issues with it, and why their favorite company and brand could produce anything less than perfection.    

I'm not worried.  Postbox is doing great so far.  I noticed a little slowdown on my MacBook Air once I indexed 43GB of email (not using Spotlight, using Postbox' own indexing capability, which I've found to be much faster).  But the slowdown is still 1/100th the slowdown I felt simply using Mail.app.  On my MacBook Pro, no slowdown whatsoever.  I'm suitably impressed.

I also continue to discover more gems as I go. 

Searching for email

This is a huge win.  The searching in Postbox, while sometimes a bit unintuitive, is powerful.  Instead of relying on a dumbed-down behind-the-scenes algorithm, Postbox allows you to control the parameters of search.  I think this approach is much better for professionals in general.  It doesn't assume the user has no idea how to find what they're looking for, and simply puts more controls in front of you.

Postbox Search Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 11.58.03.png

HTML signatures

This is incredible.  Recently for a few business customers I have taken on the challenge of HTML signatures.  Instead of an attachment showing up on every email with a logo in the signature, an HTML signature references a logo on a web server, just like html-based emails reference lots of pictures in a web frame.  The result is that you don't see an attachment that isn't meant to be opened, and you do see a gorgeous signature complete with branding a la your company logo.

Once the HTML code is pasted into the requisite spot, you can make some changes like increasing and decreasing font size without breaking the HTML.  This is also a really cool feature I'm impressed with. 

The bottom line here: I was able to implement an HTML signature using Postbox in under 5 minutes, versus the 45 minute painful process in Mail.app.

What all this means: Your customers and colleagues can see your logo in your email signature, without seeing an attachment on your message and thinking they should be looking for something to open. 

Google Apps for Business (and Gmail) integration

I have one customer to methodically saved specific emails to folders (aka Labels in Google language) as part of his email processing.  He upgraded to Mavericks on October 26, and instantly called me following the upgrade.  Mail.app was configured with some fine-tune settings to make Google operate better. Not saving drafts locally for example, and instead saving them to the server. 

The upgrade to Mavericks manifested an interesting, and unpleasant issue for this customer. He methodically processed his emails daily, saving emails into upwards of 40 folders (Google calls these labels) and deleting the rest.  On October 26, his Mac's mail.app systematically removed all emails from the server (everything) and filed them away in one folder locally on the Mac.  This is as close to email armageddon as one can get. 

Postbox doesn't just not delete your email, it actually plays nice with Google Apps for Business.  Labels are supported, and the speed is great.

Microsoft Exchange support

Microsoft Exchange email boxes can be read by using IMAP.  If your Microsoft Exchange provider or IT guy hasn't set you up for IMAP support, tell them it's time. I tested this for a customer who was paying a small service provider for hosting their Microsoft Exchange server.  Fortunately they had enabled IMAP support.  A few extra steps are required to subscribe to folders in your Exchange mailbox, such as your sent folders and other folder, but these topics are covered beautifully in Postbox's support site here.

 

The solution for Mail on Mac

It sounds strange, but Mail doesn't always work on the Mac.  Yesterday at 3:30PM I watched the notification center tell me about the 20 messages just coming in (at once?) that I didn't see at the top of my mail list when I went to look.  That's because they were supposed to be there between 8:30AM and 10:00AM that morning, which is where they were.

At a one of our TR Care™ customer's business today, similar problems. A executive assistant was perplexed why a message she read at 7:20 that morning wasn't in her inbox on there Mac's Mail app, but was in her inbox on her iPhone. And on her Mac, it was in "All Mail" (they use Google Apps for Business, just like I do).  Quitting and restarting Mail put the message back where it belongs. 

But you shouldn't have to do that.  Mail is just supposed to be.  And I shouldn't get a spinning pinwheel on a top-of-the-line 1.7GHz MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of the fastest flash available.

I've been dealing with bugginess like this for a long time, probably since 10.6, and through the subsequent kitties: Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion, and even development software I'm not supposed to talk about. Yesterday was the final straw.  I missed a critical, critical email from a customer that I was waiting for. 

I did something pretty extreme: Backed up (three ways), then formatted and restored, to a clean Mac OS X 10.8.5.  Updated.  Launched a new, empty Mail, configured it with my account settings...... Same problem.  This was not good.  And I'm not going to go after Google on this one.  My email works great in the web interface, which I don't like to use.

So this morning I do something I have been avoiding totally and completely: I found a new Mail application: Postbox.  This app rocks.  It adds a lot of features Outlook users miss, like "send later".  But what matters is that it just works.  And it's lighting fast. I've been using it all day, and I had probably about a 5 minute learning curve, which is good because I've been able to get back to work.   My email is flowing smoothly between all my devices, which is even better.

I don't think the problem is with Mail per se.  iCloud email seems to run well enough in Apple's Mail app. I think it's just that thinking about, investigating and building in support for other email servers with unique and powerful services like Google Apps' Gmail and even Exchange just really isn't there yet.  I hope they fix this in the next year or two, but for now I'm ready for Postbox on my Mavericks. The $10 that Postbox cost is the best money I've invested in software since Omnifocus.

Character first

I'm seeking TechRoom's next employee, someone with great character, an irresistible personality, who bleeds professionalism, has a deep knowledge of networking and servers, and who has MacGuyver-esque problem solving skills.

The more I think about my experience recruiting, I tend to believe we're completely out of the economic recession.  I think that the really hard hit to the economy in 2008 just woke people up, got them back to a conservative place where we're more careful about everything- what we buy, how much we spend.  As a result, small business owners (like me), tend to be more thoughtful about who we hire.  That's where things get tricky.

When you think tech, what's the first thing that comes to mind?  Technical skills usually comes to mind. Labels like Apple Genius or Geek tend to come to mind. What I've learned over the years is that the quality of the technical skills are not a predictor of good character, but good character is a very good predictor of great results.  Who would you rather hire, an arrogant and maladjusted technical "wizard" or a deeply conscientious and caring professional who loves technology?   My hiring "hierarchy of needs" looks like the picture on the right.  Character comes first.  If that's missing, nothing else matters.

The next hire I make will be someone I'm going to work closely with in some great businesses, with great customers, together with awesome team mates.  We're going to build and maintain great technology systems and have a lot of fun learning and becoming masters of current and new technologies, and we're going to keep improving the quality of the customer experience so we can do an even better job for our customers.  

Do you know this person? If so, please introduce me to them.  I can't wait to meet them!

The #1 quality of the best technicians

I've been actively recruiting over the past several weeks, which has given me an opportunity to experience first-hand why business owners have such a difficult time with finding the right technical resource, the right consulting service.

I could talk about how many technicians still think their expired technical certifications have some value, when they don't.  Or I could share my experience sifting through the volume of resumés and applications that are riddled with typos and even address the wrong company. Recruiting is a pain. What I have discovered is that above all else there's one trait which is exceptionally rare and lacking in almost every technician who has applied: A big heart and deep desire for customer satisfaction.  Let me explain:

The professional technician with a heart sees their job far differently than other techs who just see devices and tasks.

I started my recruiting by looking for a skilled, competent, passionate and professional field technician. We (my team and I) authored those words in our Mission statement over a decade ago.  Those four words - skill, competence, passion and professionalism - seem to capture it all, right? They don't.  A technician can have all of those, but if the passion is about the technology, and not about the customer, everything falls apart in my business model.  A deep, genuine care for the satisfaction the customer can and will have is what motivates the best technician in the world to hone their skill, competence, passion and professionalism - literally aiming their skills with intensity like the best firefighter would their hose - at a problem that's hurting the customer's life or business.

The good news is that a technician can't fake caring. It shows in everything. If you're looking for it.  I've also realized that the person who does care, notices it in everything I do and have done for them as well: When they see TechRoom's weekday operating schedule, our benefits package, the training and development agenda, our criteria for an ideal focus customer, our focus on people above tools, and our culture of self-guided personal ownership and accountability - they tend to be very vocal about their appreciation. I intend on only putting that kind of person in front of TechRoom's customers.

I'm looking for the right person to join TechRoom. I haven't found her yet, but I'm positive she's out there.  If you think you know this person, would you be so kind to both of us to connect us via email or on LinkedIn?