Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sears: Poor Customer Service; Poor Systems

Update: My comments highlighted on Free Money Finance.

A bit off topic but I'd like to publicize this in an attempt to resolve the situation and to warn others about Sears lack of customer service.

I ordered a part from Sears for my refrigerator, attempted to cancel that part the following day, was informed Sears can't cancel part orders (huh?), followed the return instructions to a "T", and have yet to see a full refund after 60 days. I've had 6+ communications with Sears only to receive the run-around every time.

My advice: don't shop at Sears. If anything goes wrong, they will drown you in bureaucracy betting that they'll outlast you.

My comment posted to Free Money Finance received a highlight (scroll down) recently. FMF's author is fighting Sears on about a malfunctioning elliptical exercise machine.

Here are the full details of my tussle wrapped into a recent email to Sears. I'm posting the response which is consistent with the previous 6 responses, "can't help you...talk to department XYZ". Pathetic. Looks like I'm not alone:
complaints.com
planetfeedback.com
my3cents.com

Sears.com Customer Service Request
1 message
partsdirect@customerservice.sears.com Mon, Aug 28, 2006 at 4:00 PM
To: jeff
Please include the following line in all replies.
Tracking number: xxxxxxx

Dear Jeff ,

Thank you for contacting Sears.

We have reviewed the status of your order and found that your order was
placed through a local Sears parts and repair center. PartsDirect is
unable to obtain shipping information or process transactions for parts
and repair center orders. For further assistance with your request, please
contact the parts and repair center where the order was placed. To obtain
the phone number and address to your local Sears parts and repair center,
you may visit us at http://www3.sears.com and click on 'store locator'.
Enter your zip code, select the 'service centers' box, then click
'continue'.

If we can be of additional assistance with any of your parts needs, please
contact us at partsdirect@customerservice.sears.com or call us at
1-800-4MY-HOME (1-800-469-4663).

Shop sears.com now to pick up great products for the season.
http://www.sears.com/sr/entry.jsp?eid=1&sid=S0016300040000600081

Roger H.
Sears Customer Care
partsdirect@customerservice.sears.com
1-800-4MY-HOME (1-800-469-4663)

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jeff
> Sent: Aug 28, 2006 11:25:09 AM CDT
> To: custrel@customerservice.sears.com
>
> NAME: Jeff
> E-MAIL ADDRESS: Jeff
> MAILING ADDRESS:
> xxxxxxxx
> xxxxxxx
> DAY PHONE: xxxxxxx
> EVENING PHONE: xxxxxxxx
> BROWSER/OPERATING SYSTEM: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.7.12) Gecko/20050915 Firefox/1.0.7
>
> COMMENTS:
> Dear Sir/Madam,
>
> Action item: Refund me $56.84 for a part I ordered on 6/24/2006, tried to cancel, and returned on 6/28/2006.
>
> Order#: xxxxxxx
> Part#: xxxxxxx
> Phone: xxxxxxx
>
> On the 24th of June, I ordered this part for my refrigerator. The next day, I fixed the refrigerator without the part. I called to cancel my order on the 25th of June.
>
> The woman I spoke to on the 25th told me Sears was not capable of cancelling orders. Instead, I should take delivery on the part and return it to any US Post Office.
>
> On Wednesday June 28th, I received the part. On Thursday June 29th, I returned the part to the USPS office refusing delivery.
>
> I have yet to receive a refund for the $56.84. Today is August 28th, 2006 I've spoken to Sears 4-5 times now and am attempting one last time before taking this issue public.
>
> Contacts:
> 8/8/2006 - Bill (local rep), call 800#
> 8/8/2006 - Karen (800#), turned over to accounting, will call (Sears never called)
> 8/18/2006 - Julie (800#), re-submitted to accounting, will call in 2-3 days (Sears never called)
> 8/25/2006 - Maricella (Emp#: xxxxx), claimed she couldn't escalate the issue; call the local office
>
> Please refund the $56.84 to my credit card or send a check to my address for the part I returned to you.
>
> I'm a very good customer. I bought a house recently. All my appliances are Kenmore. All my paint is Sears. Almost all my hardware and shop tools are Craftsman. I've spent thousands of dollars with you all over the years.
>
> Please provide this refund or I will forever sever our relationship and do my best to publicize the pathetic level of customer service I received in this situation.
>
> Regards,
> Jeff...
>
>
>
>

Monday, August 28, 2006

Essential Books for Bloggers

9 Things Every Blogger Should Understand

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sun is Setting

Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's recently-named CEO suceeding Scott McNealy, purchased a life-sized art rendering of Hewlett and Packard, founders of HP. Schwartz, who somehow believes Sun is actually a competitor of HP (laughable...even with HP's stumbles with Carly), purchased the artwork for $6,000 to declare "...a rebirth of fun at Sun"

Sun has plumeted so far from valuable or useful, I can't believe I'm even giving this non-event writing time. But I must...

First off, this "owning" Hewlett and Packard and taking photos with them is not funny. It is lame. It is uncreative. It is unproductive. It's certainly not funny. What would be funny is if H&P were somehow resurrected, came back and beat the life out of Sun's senior management team using an old HP 9810A. Now that's funny!

If I were a Sun stockholder, I might like to carry out a bit of my own bashing. A 52-week high of $5.20/share with a whopping P/E of -19 (yes, that's a negative sign). How funny is that Sun? Maybe that $6,000 would have been better spent improving your image...or gosh, maybe, oh, innovating. There's an idea. I'll bet your employees with options find $5/share funny...but not in a good way.

Let me offer a bit of advice: stop expending energy placating your competitors and start focusing on leveraging the talent and brilliance of your engineers. You wasted away a fortune tangling with Microsoft. Learn from your mistakes. Let HP do it's thing. You're not even a threat to them. Focus on innovation. Come out from underneath the comfort blanket of your outrageous annual maintenance contracts. Show us you have meaning and can actually provide value to the technology and business communities. If IBM did it, Sun can do it. Create a new Sun rising.

Update
This got /.'ed Sunday. A cursory review of comments seems to side heavily with my position. I particularly liked this comment from "Rotten168":
Wouldn't it be funny if Steve Jobs painted a Groucho Marx face on Pascal and Von Neumann's cardboard cutout likenesses? Oh wait, no it wouldn't. Sun just shows how utterly childish they are with this stunt.
My thoughts exactly.

Update
Rich Karlgaard writes a related post on Sun.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Managing Others to Manage You Effectively

Insightful writeup on how to manage others to manage you well. It's targeted to writing but I think the points transfer to other disciplines.

How to Buy Technology Products

Excellent piece on the ails of technology products and how they miss the mark for business. Not always the case but all too often, IMO.

My favorite paragraph:

A lack of communication occurs between Mr. VP and Mr. IT:

  • Mr. IT: “Dude, you’ll need all these features. It’s rockin’ Web 2.0! WEB 2.0! If you don’t have it, your company will die. A crazy death.”
  • Mr. VP: “Wow! Okay! Buy, buy!”
  • Mr. IT: “Everybody dance now!”

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Security: Educating Users

Schneier blames poor security on the computer industry...

I have to disagree. My dad (sorry dad...no offence) has no excuse for constantly screwing up his system at home. I've educated the heck out of him and he still finds the need to "tweak". He seriously calls me at least once a month with an issue. Last month, he'd somehow bridged his wireless and wireline network adapters. What? Don't mess with what you don't fully understand.

I also disagree it's the industry's fault from a corporate standpoint. If some fool can install software on their bank workstation, it's the bank IT department's fault. Hello? Group Policy. It's pure IT laziness (or misaligned priorities...or ignorance) not to have group policy prohibiting installation of software on machines.

Should we castigate Edison when some fool misuses electricity and injures themselves? No. If users fail to observe safety or recommended precautions, there's no one else to blame--operator error.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Escape from Cubicle Nation Book Outline

Pamela Slim published an outline of her forthcoming, yet-to-be-titled book. I would buy this today!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Disruptive Marketing: Freeload Press

Brilliance! These guys are giving away textbooks--for free--supported by advertising dollars. Stick it to The Man. I love disruptive marketing/technology and I remember paying through the nose for college textbooks.

20 Great Resources on Entrepreneurship

Thursday, August 17, 2006

SBOB: We're online! (Now TFE: We're online!)

We chose a name for the new blog!

The Freestyle Entrepreneur.

We're up on TypePad and have the URL registered but I have yet to redirect the domain and there's a lot of organization ahead. Progress!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Passed RUP Certification Exam!

I passed the Essentials of Rational Unified Process (RUP - 639) certification exam this morning. Some preparation information:

Preparation Resources

Principles of IBM Rational Unified Process v7.0: PRJ110v3 [WBT]
The Rational Unified Process Made Easy: A Practitioner's Guide to Rational Unified Process
The Rational Unified Process: An Introduction, Third Edition

Online Resources

http://www-03.ibm.com/certify/certs/rlrcrup3.shtml
http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/rational/training/catalog.html#10
http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com/?XmlId=0-321-16609-4
http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com/?XmlId=0-321-19770-4

Recommended Preparation Approach

If you’re unfamiliar with the RUP, pick up the two books listed under Preparation Resources. They give a good general overview as well as providing specific examples of the RUP given different project situations. If you’re familiar with the RUP, this review will provide little value.

After covering the basics, digest, absorb, and memorize the RUP (primarily the sections listed below) using the RUP Java applet itself. Understand how and when all these key elements interact. Understand which roles perform which activities to produce which artifacts and when. I recommend becoming intimately familiar with the following sections:

Getting Started >> Best Practices
Getting Started >> Process Structure
Team >> RUP Lifecycle
Team >> Disciplines
Team >> Roles and Activities
Team >> Artifacts (although this is probably best navigated through Roles and Activities by clicking on the individual workflow diagram elements)

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

SBOB: Choosing a Name

Time to pick a name for our new small business owner / entrepreneur's insight blog. This site will focus on the nitty gritty about business, not the Harvard MBA kind of stuff. The advice and info will be practical, down to earth and blunt.
Below are several potential names we've been playing with. Do any of these definitely turn you on or turn you off? Just leave a comment... thanks!
Bull On Biz

All Biz No Bull

Biz Beyond the BS

The Freestyle Entrepreneur

Business Savvy

Hard Knocks Business Model

Bitter Sweet – Real Life Business

Biz-a-holic

The Business Funhouse

The Misfortune 500

The Bullheaded Business Owner

Thursday, August 10, 2006

.Net 2.0: Hash with Salt using SecureString

Cryptography Simplified in Microsoft .NET
Security Guidelines: .NET Framework 2.0

Ideally, we would return a SecureString here and make the consuming developer work with that but for our example...

public string HashInput(string input, int saltLength)
{
byte[] ssBytes;

// create salt
byte[] bytSalt = new byte[saltLength];
RNGCryptoServiceProvider rng = new RNGCryptoServiceProvider();
rng.GetBytes(bytSalt);

// create secure string for concatinating input and salt
using (SecureString ss = new SecureString())
{
// append original string
foreach (char c in input.ToCharArray())
{
ss.AppendChar(c);
}

// append salt
foreach (byte b in bytSalt)
{
ss.AppendChar(Convert.ToChar(b));
}

// prevent SecureString manipulation
ss.MakeReadOnly();

// instantiate hash provider
SHA512Managed sha = new SHA512Managed();

// pointer to hold unmanaged reference to SecureString instance
IntPtr bstr = IntPtr.Zero;

try
{
// marshall SecureString into byte array
ssBytes = new byte[ss.Length * 2];
Marshal.Copy((bstr = Marshal.SecureStringToBSTR(ss)),
ssBytes, 0, ssBytes.Length);
}
finally
{
// Make sure that the clear text data is zeroed out
Marshal.ZeroFreeBSTR(bstr);
}

// hash byte array
byte[] hashed = sha.ComputeHash(ssBytes);

// clear the provider memory
sha.Clear();

return Convert.ToBase64String(hashed);
}
}

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Snakes on a Plane Voicemail: Best Marketing EVER

I am a media and advertising cynic. I pride myself on avoiding almost all marketing and never secumming to The Man. I never go out and buy something because I saw an advertisement. Well, I've met my match. This is the best viral marketing I've ever encountered. I will see this movie. I will spend money to see this movie. And right now, my brother in law is laughing his ass off at the personalized Samuel L. Jackson voicemail I just sent him from this marketing site. This is huge. It's revolutionary. It's disruptive.

Props to Hal Halliday for alerting us to this masterpiece. Outstanding.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sun's McNealy Leads Non-Profit Open-Source Drive

Finally, Scott McNealy is heading in a positive direction! I've detested this guy for years. No doubt he's smart but he squandered an amazing opportunity (with Sun) in fighting (and clearly losing to) Microsoft instead of innovating and creating value. Sun maintains a storied history of innovation and greatness. However, just like HP, Sun hasn't innovated or provided shareholder value for 15 years. They've been riding customer maintenance fees and hanging on by a thread.

Perhaps it's too soon to call but McNealy stepping down and giving Schwartz the lead will allow the otherwise highly intelligent McNealy to stop the negative banter and bring about positive change. He makes several insightful and BS-clearing statements in a recent article regarding his new pet project the Global Education and Learning Community (GELC).

I've often wondered why someone doesn't publish textbooks online. This disruption to the elementary and college publisher gravy train is long, long overdue. I sometimes worry of a homogeneous learning experience but school boards have long complained of lack of up-to-date and inexpensive materials. What better solution than online published or even open source learning materials?

Let's give our kids the best opportunity possible. Lack of up-to-date, relevant materials should no longer be an excuse for inadequately preparing our future leaders.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

SBOB: Provider Chosen

I've chosen TypePad to host our new blog. We'll likely go with the Plus version for $9/mo at first and then upgrade to Pro if we need it. I like their features of tagging/categorization, 3 blogs supported, photos and non-blogging pages, log files, and file uploading. From a negative side, TypePad doesn't support captchas nor searching. Eh, hit Technorati for search!

The only downside of Plus in our situation is lack of multiple author/poster support. However, I can field all postings at first and we'll upgrade to Pro if it becomes problematic. Or, we could share account credentials for a while. I really want to make sure he's well-versed in how a blog works and how to administer it. This is one of my primary goals.

[update]: After comparing Basic and Plus, I see only one difference: Basic hosts only a single blog. Well, we're only creating a single blog. Otherwise, they appear identical. We'll go with Basic for now.
[/update]

Oh, and BTW, I'll stop calling it "New Blog" as soon as we've chosen a name. Maybe I'll call it SBOB (Small Business Owner Blog) for now.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Starting a New Blog with my Cousin

On 9/15/2006, my cousin (he's really a 2nd cousin many times removed...I'm not convinced we're actually related ;-) John Ingrisano and I will launch a new blog targeted to the small business owner. He'll provide most of the content and I will provide the technical and marketing expertise.

Ok, ok, starting a blog isn't rocket science but we're aiming to [eventually] derive some sort of profit from this venture, so I plan on doing this right. The two blogs I currently maintain live on the free Blogger.com and LiveJournal.com. I'll be covering the adventure here on Effective Thoughts--providing insight as to what worked and what didn't.

To start off, our first activities are:
  • Choose a name and a theme
  • Find a host
  • Help John learn the ins and outs of blogging
  • Implement the site: look/feel, about/bio, 1st content, announcements, etc.
  • Understand marketing best practices
To this end, here is some research I compiled:

Finding a host
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog_hosting_service
http://www.idealware.org/blogging_software/
http://www.ojr.org/ojr/images/blog_software_comparison.cfm
I'm leaning toward TypePad Plus or Pro. It's not free but reasonably priced, gets rave reviews, and is chuck full of features.

Understanding blog marketing best practices
http://www.inc.com/magazine/20051101/handson-technology-sidebar.html
http://scoble.weblogs.com/2003/02/26.html
http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/02/the_art_of_crea.html
http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/04/the_first_100_d.html
Building a Strong Online Community
Ready to Start Blogging?
Pro Blogging Guide
Be a More Productive Blogger
Make Your Blog More Valuable to Readers
Blogging Workflow
Blogging for Beginners Series


Blogs themed similarly to what ours should be:
http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/
http://blog.guykawasaki.com/
http://www.escapefromcubiclenation.com/get_a_life_blog/
http://www.tompeters.com/
http://blogs.forbes.com/digitalrules/
http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/
http://www.businesspundit.com/
http://presentationzen.blogs.com/presentationzen/
http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/
http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/
http://www.makingalife.com/
http://www.brainbasedbusiness.com/

We're off and running!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Why I Do Not Support Net Neutrality

It's simple, actually:

1. Nothing is free (as in beer)
2. Usually, items that are perceived as free (highways, the Internet, Welfare, Medicare, public safety services, etc.) are paid for by the government
3. The U.S. government gets its funding from its citizens--that is you and me
4. I indirectly (through taxes or through "add-on" cost-recovery fees from corporations) do not want to pay for someone else's Internet service.

If someone wants a faster pipe (or improved routing), that's fine. They can pay for that pipe. But I don't want to pay for their faster pipe. Also, with net neutrality, there's no incentive to improve delivery. If I'm Sprint, Verizon, or AT&T, why would I improve my service? There's no financial incentive. With Net Neutrality, I can't charge more for it. The Internet is not free (as in beer). It's no more free than making a phone call or getting cable TV.

Uncle Sam may have built Arpanet but the communications firms of this country build the modern-day Internet (at least within the U.S.). If I build a building, I should have a right to sell condos in that building for whatever I want. If the market for condos supports what I'm charging, that's great. The government should not be allowed to step in and say, "oh, BTW, every one of those condos has to be priced exactly the same...oh, and they can't exceed this ceiling". That's BS. I made an investment in my building and expect to realize a return on that investment. Otherwise, in the future, I will choose not to build that building and as a result, someone might not have a place to live. (as an extreme example)

This country was built on capitalism and self-reliance. We've grown into a group of complacent, handout-seeking, egalitarians. Save me! Save me! It has to stop. The government's role in this country should be to maintain individual rights, provide law and order, and maintain property rights. Otherwise, the government controls or has a hand in too much of our daily lives. The framers of our constitution never intended Uncle Sam to serve as a bedside nurse--they intended Uncle Sam to provide an environment of freedom and opportunity with a few rules such that its citizens could create and provide for themselves.

Let capitalism and economics do their thing. They usually work things out. Freedom isn't free.

Update 01/23/2007: Several of the founders weigh in against Net Neutrality.