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50 questions and answers about Windows 8

Windows 8: 50 Questions and Answers You Need to Make a DecisionLast week I told you why I think Windows 8 is the worst operating system ever. In the blog, I even publicly asked Steve Ballmer to recall Windows 8. Although a lot of you agreed with me, there were those who said I didn’t give it a fair assessment.

I want to be fair about this and give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. I also want you to make up your own mind and not rely solely on one man’s opinion and rant.

Rather than write another long-winded blog post about all the features and attributes of the new OS, I will point to another source that does it all for me. It’s an e-book titled Windows 8: 50 Questions and Answers You Need to Make a Decision.

As you already know, Windows 8 introduced significant changes to the look and feel of Microsoft’s flagship product, presumably with the intention of supporting mobile devices/tablets and enhancing the overall user experience. Some of these changes, including a touchscreen capable interface, improved security features, and online services (including a Windows store) were considered somewhat radical, especially for an OS previously considered exclusively tied to the desktop.

These changes raised a lot of questions, and the Windows 8 e-book addresses fifty of them. This 105 page guide answers the basic questions about this new OS, such as: What is Windows 8? How is it different from Windows 7, XP and Linux? Can I dual boot my current OS with it? It also answers a few questions I had myself, such as: Why did Microsoft release tablets running on two operating systems? Should I upgrade from Windows 7? What if Windows 8 fails? This last question is a real doozy and it’s a great discussion no matter which side of the Windows 8 fence you sit on.

The e-book defines the features of Windows 8 in layman terms and provides enough information on the differences between other solutions and its previous versions to make an informed decision. If you’re considering an upgrade to Windows 8, this guide is capable of helping you answer your questions.

Windows 8: 50 Questions and Answers You Need to Make a Decision normally sells for $9.95. However, you can get it from The Force Field for FREE until midnight Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013.

Repeat: This is a limited time offer. I have the e-book and, yes, it does shamelessly promote the operating system, but it wasn’t written or published by Microsoft. It was created by a third party. The e-book was written by editor Onuora Amobi and published by Nnigma, Inc.

To be fair (and, for full disclaimer, possibly make a little something on the side), I am promoting the book. In fact, I think it’s a good idea, since it may help some of you who are on the fence about it to decide for yourselves as to whether or not Windows 8 is worth the time and effort of selling it to your customers or using it yourself.

It’s only fair.

Dear Mr. Ballmer, please recall Windows 8

Recently I purchased a laptop for my son. He needed a computer for school and the one he had was so old and slow that he was resigned to using my wife’s four year old netbook instead, which was also a little past its prime. He needed something portable for use around the home but wasn’t prohibitive in cost. Fortunately, there are laptops available that don’t cost an arm and a leg but are powerful enough for general use. So, I went shopping for laptops.

Most of the notebook computers we looked at were quite adequate for its intended use, and several were priced within my budget. There was just one problem. They were running Windows 8.

Now, I’ve been a Windows user since the days of Windows 3.1, and before that I worked in DOS. I wouldn’t call myself a Microsoft fanboy by any stretch of the imagination and if you’ve been listening to The Force Field Podcast for any length of time you already know it. I’ve used other operating systems including Linux and I own an iPad, which I really like and have come to rely on for a number of applications. However, I am most comfortable on a Windows machine and am particularly fond of Windows XP and Windows 7. This is what makes what I am about to say all the more painful.

I don’t like Windows 8. I don’t like it at all. I won’t go into all the reasons here, because they have already been expressed by a multitude of other Windows users who are of like mind and for all of those reasons collectively. I am just one more Windows user who has made it official: Windows 8 is a terrible operating system. It’s even worse than Windows Vista, which was previously considered the worst operating system since Windows Millenium, or Windows ME.

About five years ago I attended a Microsoft Partner event held at their Charlotte, NC campus. At the time, Vista had recently been released to market, and the Microsoft execs were eager (or should I say, somewhat desperate) to generate some real support for it from partners, because for the most part, there wasn’t any. They even gave away a copy or two in a drawing during the event, and somehow I wound up winning a full retail copy of Windows Vista For Business. Where is it now? Still sitting on the shelf behind me, still sealed in its original package, gathering dust. I disliked working with Vista so much on my customers’ computers that I never installed it on my own PC. I never even cracked open the plastic case.

Since then I have had an opportunity to check out Windows 8. It didn’t take long for me to form a new opinion of Vista: It is now only the second worst OS. In my humble opinion, Windows 8 is the worst operating system ever.

My son is no stranger to Windows. He has been around computers since he was old enough to walk. He spent his pre-school years in my computer store all day, often sitting at one of the demo PCs at the front of the shop. Customers would walk in while he played his games and watch him operate one of my branded, custom-built computers while marveling at the idea that such a young child could figure out how to operate a device that they themselves struggled with. Needless to say, my son helped me sell a few computers.

Since the new laptop was intended for my son, I thought it was only fair to let him decide which operating system he wanted to use. So, when shopping around, I took him along and asked him to try it out on the demo units in the stores. It didn’t take him long to conclude that he didn’t want one with Windows 8.

I had to hunt around for a laptop with Windows 7. Unfortunately, that was a difficult order to fulfill, thanks to Microsoft, who demanded PC makers pre-install all their new computers with Windows 8 and refused to allow customers to downgrade to 7. Essentially, Microsoft is forcing customers to buy Windows 8 instead of giving them a choice, something I resent. After searching around, I considered purchasing a Chrome based tablet for my son instead, but I realized that if I did so, most of the Windows-based software he already had would be useless.

He did get his laptop. When we drove down to Orlando at the end of the year, I found a Windows 7 notebook in stock at CompUSA (TigerDirect) and snapped it up right away. Now he’s happy, I’m happy and all is well. No thanks to Microsoft.

Now I need to upgrade my production PC. I need to be able to just build it, turn it on and start working on it. I have neither the time nor the patience to re-learn the operating system. I know Windows, and I like Windows 7. There is no learning curve and no lost productivity due to re-training. The operating system shouldn’t be the focus of my attention while at the computer. I should be focused solely on my work, because that is why I am sitting in front of the computer.

My attention should be on what I am creating on the computer, not on the operating system. The purpose of the OS is supposed to be the platform from which I can work, not the work itself. It is supposed to be somewhat transparent in that sense. Windows is not, and should not be, the reason I own a computer.

The Windows team at Microsoft, and Steve Ballmer himself, seem to be trying to make Windows the centerpiece of the computer instead of what it should be, just the platform from which to operate it. They seem to have completely lost touch with the original purpose of the operating system and all the reasons why Windows has been most popular OS in the world for over twenty years.

Windows 8 is a mistake, and everyone seems to realize this except Microsoft. The CEO is telling the world that users “get” and “like” this convoluted code while blogs are bashing it, Twitterers are tearing it down and the company’s stock is taking a dive. Windows 8 is a huge fail and Ballmer should acknowledge that obvious fact. He should admit it and back it up by doing the right thing: Either allow users to downgrade their new PCs to Windows 7 or simply recall Windows 8. Based on what has come from Redmond already, it is doubtful Ballmer and company will ever rescind their previous mandate demanding users have this horrible piece of junk shoved down their throats (for a premium price, I might add), so the only other choice is to issue a recall. Since they have yet to do it on their own, I formally demand one now.

Dear Steve Ballmer,

 

I find Windows 8 to be the worst operating system ever, and I formally request you recall it immediately. If you do not do so, and if I am not offered a choice to purchase a new computer with Windows 7 by this spring, my next computer may be running OS X.

 

Sincerely, A former Microsoft Partner.

Special episode of The Force Field debuts tonight

After a long and unexpected two month hiatus, The Force Field podcast is back with Episode 62.

Episode 62 – The National Contractor and Service Platform Report, provides an inside look at the IT service industry from the front line perspective of the IT service provider, service technicians who perform contract work for these companies onsite and online.  The report takes the pulse of a field that has changed significantly in the last ten years, and not necessarily for the better.

In this episode you will discover who these service technicians really are, how they operate their businesses, who they work for and who works for them. We also rate national contractors and service platforms in the industry and rank them from the best to the worst.

This episode was months in the making and is the most content filled shows ever produced for The Force Field. It’s one of the longest as well and was edited for time. An extended version is scheduled for release as a premium episode at the end of this year and runs almost an hour.

The Force Field 62 – The National Contractor and Service Platform Report debuts tonight 11/22/2012 at 8 PM ET on the following media outlets:

iTunes
TechPodcast Network
Blubrry Network
Stitcher Radio
Roku Listed on the TPN Channel under Tech Business and on the Viaway Channel.
Pure Connect Radio
PodFeed
Viaway Streams to Samsung SmartTVs, BluRay players, smartphones and tablets. Also available on The Roku.

and of course at The Force Field.

You will not want to miss it.

Work Market expands into Canada, rolls out new platform features

(TheForceField.Net) September 9, 2012 — Work Market, the world’s first Labor Resource Platform™ or LRP, is expanding its operation into Canada beginning today. In a telephone conversation with The Force Field last week, Work Market Vice President of Client Services Eric Castro confided the company is now actively recruiting technicians in Canada and will officially enter the market today.

Entering the Canadian market is a milestone Work Marketfor the company and one that places Work Market in an interesting position as a primary competitor against OnForce, the largest and most well known of the IT service platforms. OnForce, which introduced its services to Canada in 2006, has since been operating there with limited competition. The entry of Work Market into the Canadian market could potentially change that as Work Market recruits both clients and resources to work their LRP, including those who may currently use OnForce exclusively. This is of particular significance to both platforms, as Work Market CEO Jeff Leventhal, who founded the company in 2010, also founded OnForce.

According to Jeff Leventhal, Work Market is a welcoming opportunity to expand and compete beyond the US market. “Opening up to Canada is huge for us”, Leventhal said. “It is the first big step on our global mission to bring Work Market everywhere.”

In addition to the Canada expansion, Work Market is rolling out new features significant to the platform itself.

The company now provides techs (or “resources”, as Work Market calls them) with the ability to block companies from sending inappropriate or undesirable work, a practice referred to in The Force Field Forums as “spamming”. Resources will now be able to block any company they do not want to do business with and focus only on the work they want to receive.

The lack of ability to block undesirable clients has long been a point of concern and frustration among resources on the platform. Some complained they were recruited without solicitation by companies that they did not want to work for and bombarded with requests to perform work at extremely low rates or outside their area of expertise, with no option to opt out of such networks. Work Market aims to change that by empowering resources to block clients from which they do not want to receive work.

Resource MetricsAnother new feature is the recently released Resource Metrics, a tool for clients to rate the efficiency and reliability of the resources. Resource Metrics measures the number of assignments performed, punctuality, assignment cancellations and abandonment rates, level of activity and overall performance of each resource during thirty and ninety day periods. This tool helps clients better select resources for their groups and assignments, thus rewarding the most reliable resources with the best ratings.

Conversely, the client rating system was improved as well. Resources now rate clients after the assignment is completed and they have received payment for services rendered. According to Work Market, This improvement was made to encompass the entire work relationship.

While adding these new features, Work Market removed an existing one to improve the overall platform experience. The social and networking groups were phased out by Work Market due to under utilization by legitimate clients and complaints from resources alleging abuse of the groups by spammers. The company pared down the groups to a single category consisting exclusively of groups that send assignments.

In addition to the other features recently introduced on the platform, perhaps the most interesting is a new payment option. Work Market now offers PayPal as an alternate way to receive earnings. The new payment option was fully operational as of Friday, September 9. Resources who prefer PayPal to conduct monetary transactions can simply log into their Work Market account, go to Manage Accounts, click on Add Financial Account and choose PayPal from the Method drop-down box to receive payments from Work Market clients through the popular online payment system.

About Work Market

Work Market is the world’s first modular, web-based Labor Resource Platform™ designed to enable any business to efficiently deliver and manage employee, consultant and contract labor and services. Businesses post assignments and can invite professionals with specific qualifications or post the assignment to the entire Work Market network.  Professionals can post their profiles, join groups, take tests and background screenings to align themselves for assignments that match their skill sets.

Work Market was founded by Jeffrey Leventhal, (who also founded the on-site services marketplace OnForce.com) and Jeffrey Wald. The company is backed by Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures.

Time Warner outage defines exemplary customer service and support

Last night, Time Warner once again demonstrated their genius tech support and classy, top-of-the-industry customer service in a dazzling display of quick response time, troubleshooting, resolution and professionalism.

Our Time Warner Business Class Internet connection went down.

My wife and I rely on a constant, stable connection to the cloud. She works online from our home full-time and I remote into the office at my day job and manage The Force Field at night. We rely on 99.999% uptime from Time Warner. This service is crucial to our livelihood. So when we lose the service, it is a potential disaster and a matter of urgency to have it restored as quickly as possible.

I immediately called Time Warner Cable.

The first time I dialed their primary number, there was no response. I mean, there was literally no response from the phone. The number did not even dial out, much less ring. Strange, I thought. I was on my Droid and it had full bars. Perhaps it was the phone itself. I dialed my son’s phone to check. Sure enough, the call went through. It was not the phone. So I tried the Time Warner number again. The number was dead. I dialed the main customer service line. This one rang, but after a brief announcement from the IVR to “stay on the line” for connection to customer service, the call dropped. I dialed the number again. Same result. Then I called a third number for Time Warner. That one was dead too.

Now I was getting worried. Did the entire company suddenly go dark? What was going on at Time Warner?

I had one other source to check: the Time Warner web site. I pulled the browser up on my Droid and connected through Verizon’s 3G network. Yep, the site was still there. I checked for notices of an outage. There were none. This was no surprise, since Time Warner generally didn’t proactively announce outages on their web site. I clicked on Tech Support, which consisted of Frequently Asked Questions (and rather mundane ones at that), which was no help at all. There was only one other option: Live Chat.

Yes, I entered the world of Time Warner Live Chat. This was always a fruitful, entertaining experience, chatting with the knowledgeable, friendly professionals at Time Warner who were always quick to resolve an issue and never patronized their customers. I had a very strong feeling that this chat session would meet or exceed my expectations as usual; right on par with all of my previous experiences with the universally praised and highly regarded Time Warner Customer Service and Tech Support teams, whose various departments communicated with one another in harmony and with one ultimate goal: to provide best in class service to all of Time Warner’s valued customers.

I was not disappointed.

After years of troubleshooting technical issues and a “gut instinct” for deduction, I quickly put two and two together and realized this wasn’t an isolated incident, but a general outage. Based on my ability to access their phone system, or the lack thereof, I deduced that the suspected outage was probably fairly widespread. This outage was more than just disruptive, it was essentially a broken lifeline. I needed answers and, as a paying customer, I needed to be in the loop. So, on Sep 1, 2012 at 10:23 PM Eastern Daylight Time, I entered a live internet chat with a representative from Time Warner Cable.

Sep 1, 2012 10:23 PM:
Jasper: Thank you for contacting Time Warner Cable. At the end of our chat you will be given the option of taking a brief survey. My name is Jasper. Please give me a moment while I access your account.

I provided my account information and a description of the issue when I entered the chat, including the fact that their phone lines were down. This is important to keep in mind as you read the chat log.

Sep 1, 2012 10:24 PM:
Me: Hello
Jasper: Hello!!
Jasper: Thank you for waiting.
Jasper: Since when you are experiencing this issue?
Me: Within the last half hour.
Jasper: Okay.

Jasper: To resolve this issue, I will refreshed the Signals from my end your cable box will reboot.

I knew he was going to try this first, because it follows their standard flowchart. Since I suspected a system outage, I didn’t think this was going to work, and I lamented the fact that Time Warner’s troubleshooting flowchart was flawed, because technically he should have checked for a possible outage first to avoid taking customers through tech support hell, but I wasn’t in the mood to argue, so I let him do his thing. To move things along, I gently offered a clue, just in case he happened to have any real troubleshooting skills and could think outside the box.

Me: Your tw phone numbers are not working so i am contacting you through my cell phone. (He didn’t get it and completely ignored this fact. That was disappointing, but no surprise.)

Jasper: I have refreshed the signals from my end this should resolve your issue. (It didn’t).
Jasper: Okay. (Okay, what? I could tell from my end he couldn’t even ping it, much less send a signal to reboot it).
Jasper: no problem. (At this point I realized he had no idea what was or wasn’t happening with the modem).
Me: So far no go.
Jasper: Okay.

Now, I’ve dealt with Time Warner customer service and tech support (if you can call it that) for a number of years, and I have lot of stories to tell, some of them absurd. But I didn’t quite expect what happened next.

Jasper: In this case, I will place a request for a service call. A technician will visit your house and will fix the issue.

Was he serious? One failed reboot and we get a truck roll? He didn’t check anything else and he didn’t even try? This was absurd even for Time Warner.

Me: When
Jasper:  Let me check the earliest available slot for you. (I knew exactly what he was going to say next).
Jasper: Selected TimeSlot : 11-1PM on Tuesday September 04 2012

And he did. I knew he would say that for two reasons. One, it is Labor Day weekend, and Monday is a holiday. Two, For residential class service, it’s always on Tuesday. Yes, they will always schedule a truck roll out to me on Tuesday, no matter what day of the week I call. There was just one little difference, one that he should have been aware of since he already took a moment at the start of the chat to “access my account”.

Me: This is tw business class. Full uptime is needed for my job.
Me: That is not acceptable.
Jasper: Alright.

Oh, no, he won’t get rid of me that easily. He still didn’t get the situation and it was obvious he wasn’t interested in doing much more than whatever he could to close the chat, so I decided it was time for me to do his job for him and tell him exactly what he needed to do next.

Me: Is there an outage in my area?
Jasper: Let me check this for you.

A minute or two later:

Jasper: Thank you for waiting.
Jasper: There is an outage in your area.
Jasper: Our technician are working on it.
Jasper: It will be resolved within couple of hours.

That’s it? No further explanation? Not even the old “we apologize for the inconvenience”? At least give me that.

Me: What is the issue and is there an eta for uptime?
Jasper: Well, honestly I do not have detail information about it.

Sadly, I knew he was honest about this. It is a known fact, and one that I’ve corroborated by talking to many of their alumni over the years, that the different departments at Time Warner generally aren’t very good at inter-departmental communications, especially at times like these, much to the chagrin of their “valued” customers. However, Jasper could have figured the problem out on his own, had he been trained properly to “listen” to the customer and simply paid attention to the clues.

Me: Okay. Why are the tw numbers dropping when I call?

Me: is your cs call center down too?
Jasper: That is because of large calls volume.
Jasper: Yes, it is down too.

Now, it isn’t at all uncommon for customer service and support agents to make stuff up on the fly when they don’t really know the answer, just to tell you what they think you want to hear and to keep up the appearance that they do. Time Warner is no exception; they have falsified the facts to me on more than one occasion. This is also when I fully realized from the poor grammer that I probably wasn’t chatting with someone in my own country, so it was more than likely he had absolutely no idea what was going on at Time Warner Cable in North Carolina. So I pressed him.

Me: Do you know this for a fact or are you just saying that?
Jasper: I got an update about this.
Jasper: Then I am giving you correct information.
Jasper: I want to get this done for you.

Yeah.. riiiigght. Up to that point he really hadn’t done anything.

Me: Okay. Fair enough. Forgive my skepticism but I used to work in a cs center like tw and I know how it works inside. (In other words, okay, okay, but don’t patronize me. I can read between the lines. Don’t overdo it).

Jasper: Thank you for your cooperation.
Jasper: In this matter.
Jasper: You are so nice and patience. (He did it anyway, and he did overdo it).
Jasper: Don’t worry, I will try my best to resolve your issue. (How? What is he going to do?)
Jasper: I have made a note on your account about this. (Oh, well, that will help a lot. Hey, I may not have Internet, but at least we have notes about it. Woo-hoo! I feel better already).
Me: I will wait a couple of hours. Thanks. (Thanks for wasting my time. Just get me out of this chat).
Jasper: Your issue will be getting resolved within 2-3 hours.
Jasper: You are welcome.

Sep 1, 2012 10:46 PM:
Jasper: Is there anything else I may assist you with today? (I think you’ve already done enough, which was basically nothing).
The chat session has been closed.

This chat session would have lasted all of two minutes had Time Warner practiced better communications between departments and trained their agents to do one thing first after account verification before doing anything else: assure their own systems were in good order. One of the problems with this company is that they don’t take outages seriously enough to instantly notify all of their teams when an outage does occur and provide as much pertinent information as possible to keep the customer happy. Nothing complicates down time more than unhappy customers and nothing makes customers more irate (besides loss of service) than being kept in the dark and out of the loop as to why.

Unfortunately, Time Warner (and many, many other companies as well) don’t really understand their customers and what really makes them happy. Oh, they think they do, and their philosophies for happy customers are drummed into the heads of every customer service and technical support agent in call centers throughout the company. Take ownership of the calls, they say. Sympathize with the customer, they say. Tell them you “understand their frustration”. Connect with the customer. Tell them you will do whatever you can to solve whatever issues they have, even though in many cases you can’t. Repeat the issue back to the customer to assure him or her that you are actually listening to them. Before the close of the call, always ask them if there is anything else you can do for them today. Because when you close that call, you want that customer to feel good about talking to you, you want them to feel good about the company and you want them to feel good about themselves, even if you haven’t actually solved or even addressed the issue. Because that isn’t important. The most important thing is for the customer to feel good about the company and make the company look good to the customer, whether the customer gets what they paid for or not.

There’s just one problem. It’s all crap.

This charade of “customer service” is somewhat rooted in the ideology that people are idiots and can be easily satiated, at least momentarily, with the perceived notion that the company is personally interested in the problems of each individual customer, when in fact customer service is just another annoyingly necessary Cost of Business and a huge one that many businesses prefer to rid themselves of, if at all possible. Yes, there are idiots out there to be sure, but most people aren’t stupid and do not like to be patronized as if they are. They didn’t call the company for a warm and fuzzy feeling. They called the company to solve a problem.

Then there is the IVR. Ah, yes, the Interactive Voice Response, the virtual voice of big business that speaks to the customer with the warmth of a HAL 9000 computer and the personality of a vending machine. Some customers tolerate it, others loathe it, but few of them can escape it when it picks up the call.

The IVR was supposedly created to increase efficiency, decrease agent call times and generally save money on the staffing of real living, breathing people who could actually talk to customers somewhat intelligently and think for themselves. In reality, all it does is cause confusion, increase frustration and generally alienate callers. But that doesn’t stop companies from using it, including Time Warner Cable.

Among its other virtues, one of the greatest benefits of the Time Warner IVR is its natural ability to create an even thicker layer of protection from the customer and detach the company even further from the image of a brand perceived as consumer friendly and personal. Indeed, their phone system is long winded, counter-intuitive and seems designed to do whatever it can to prevent you from talking to a real person. It is difficult to describe in one paragraph. You have to experience it. To put it simply, Time Warner has an IVR from hell.

Companies complain about the Cost of Business when it comes to customer service and after sales support and do whatever they can to keep costs as low as possible. What many of them don’t realize or refuse to acknowledge is that when it comes to these costs, the company is usually its own worst enemy. Time Warner’s own corporate infrastructure, environment and management actually costs them more to deliver good customer service than it should.

Take the chat above for example, or any typical support call. Had I not told Jasper (probably not his real name) what he should have checked in the first place, the conversation could have taken one of two pointless directions. Either he would have authorized a truck roll (which he did anyway, more on that in a moment), which is expensive for the company, especially if its subbed out to tiers of contractors, or he would have taken me on a time consuming and expensive ride into tech support land, where we would be swapping cables, disconnecting devices and rebooting routers for eons until he either ordered a replacement modem or finally figured out the problem could be on their end, in which case he would have rolled a truck anyway, wasting not only more money, but everyone’s time.

Imagine if the company had a local or widespread outage. If they had a plan for broadcasting the news of such an outage to relevant departments quickly, to all customer service reps, to all support reps, with as much information as possible, and periodic updates on the status of the outage as well as an estimated time for repairs, and if such information were treated as if it were an urgent matter, an alert, if you will, posted on a relevant page on their web site, as if it were a weather alert, and if this plan were followed as a matter of corporate policy and adherence, they may find the load on both customer service and various levels of support to be quickly handled and greatly diminished, saving time, energy, and money. Since most customers who call during an outage want to either report the outage or want know what happened and when it will be fixed, these customers would get exactly what they wanted, improving confidence in the company and increasing customer satisfaction.

In other words, the customers would be a lot happier if, instead being patronized as idiots, the company just gave them what they asked for in the first place.

Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen anytime soon, if ever. After all, Time Warner has a reputation to uphold, and what a reputation it has! According to Customer Service Scoreboard, Time Warner Cable Customer Service has a terrible one, with a score of 33.62 out of a possible 200. Yes, I said two hundred. Over 92% of customers surveyed on the site are not happy with customer service at Time Warner.

Ratings on a scale of 1 to 10 in specific categories include: 2.7 for reachability (their IVR is extremely annoying, generally unhelpful and almost as long-winded as my posts), 3.8 for Friendliness, (one rep on another support call was rude and practically accused me of lying about the issue, but that is another story for another time), 2.8 for Product Knowledge (reference the chat log above) and only a 1.8 for issue resolution (I can certainly understand that one).

Now, if you are still reading at this point, you are probably asking yourself this question: if Time Warner is so bad, why are you still with them? The answer is simple. I need the bandwidth. I need the speed, and Time Warner has it (when it works). For high speed cable internet, they are the only game in town.

Oh, I want leave them, and if I could, I would. Thanks in large part to lobbyists, local governments and the FCC, my choices are limited to either one cable monopoly in this area or unacceptably slower speeds for what we need on DSL or wireless. Yes, there is AT&T, and they have Uverse, but their data speeds aren’t even close to what I can get from Time Warner. Ditto on the wireless option, and it may not work well where I want it. In addition, as bad as Time Warner is for customer service, AT&T is even worse. In fact, in December 2011 AT&T was rated by Consumer Reports as the worst carrier for the past two years, and according to complaints on the Internet, they may win that rating again for a third. At least Time Warner pretends they care about their customers. AT&T simply doesn’t. I used to be an AT&T customer, and I don’t plan to go back. I am basically stuck with Time Warner, unless or until another carrier with better bandwidth and a better reputation comes along.

So did Time Warner fix the outage? Yes, eventually they did. I woke up this morning relieved to find our household and our home offices back online. Unfortunately for Time Warner, I am now using their cable connection to write about my experience with their amazing customer service in the cloud.

And, yes, Jasper (or whatever his real name is) did schedule a phone survey as he promised at the beginning of our chat. We received it this morning. It was an automated survey doled out by a wonderfully humanless IVR, requesting a follow up on our internet chat the night before.

But it wasn’t really a survey at all. It didn’t ask for my sentiment on the customer service I received, or my satisfaction with their support or an opinion of their operation. It simply wanted to know if the service was now back up and if I still needed a truck roll.

As I was about to press a number on the keypad to confirm restoration of my Internet connection and cancel the onsite visit, the virtual voice suddenly, and without warning, said thank you, goodbye and hung up.

The truck rolls on Tuesday.

In memory of Renee Wright, aka Genoagirl

Renee Wright
This past weekend, The Force Field lost an Admin and a friend. Renee Wright passed away.

Renee, who was known on our site and forums as Genoagirl, died August 18 after a long battle with cancer. She was 48.

I knew she was dealing with a health issue but I wasn’t sure about the specifics. I had not spoken to her in awhile, so her passing came as a bit of a shock.

I first met Renee in the OnForce Forums sometime between 2005 and 2006. As a female in a male dominated platform, she held her own and quickly gained the respect of her male counterparts as a capable IT professional. She became an OnForce forum moderator and her dedication and common sense approach impressed me so that when I founded The Force Field portal, I made it a point to ask her to become an Admin. It turned out to be a good call, because her presence and influence became a great asset to The Force Field community, especially in its early days.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting her in person, I did get to know Renee online and considered her a friend. As one of her fellow Admins, Todd Hughes said, “Renee (G-girl) was instrumental in making this forum what it is today. She spent many long hours organizing, adding content, etc. Although she was conspicuously absent from here the past year or so she will be missed by those of us that were here from the beginning and understand all she did for the FF forums.”

Renee was indeed instrumental in getting these forums up and organized, and she kept them in order, especially in the early days. She wasn’t always out front in the forums, but she was there, working quietly behind the scenes, and whenever there was a call to action she was usually the first to respond and do whatever was necessary to make things happen.

Renee had a lot of friends here. She was well liked and well respected by her peers. Forum communities tend to become highly charged and even volatile at times, and personalities tend to get in each other’s way. Renee tended to avoid getting caught up in such conflicts and always kept it professional. She moderated with a firm even-handedness and was quick to help calm a tense discussion. Folks liked her quiet, professional approach and engagement in discussions. She helped keep the peace in the community.

She was never hesitant to contribute when the need arose and she often did so proactively. She monitored the web site and forums closely, sometimes more so than I did. It was not unusual for me to log in late at night or early in the morning and find her online, checking up on the site or performing some task.

There is something else that most members are not aware of. Renee put a lot of work into the back end of the portal on the administration side that probably no one else knows about and likely no one will ever see. She also contributed to the ill-fated wiki and was one of the few to actually take an active interest in it. There was no doubt that she took her Admin position seriously and with dedication. I will always admire her for that.

I also interviewed Renee for The Force Field podcast. If you would like to hear her contributions to the show, you can listen to her in episodes 7 and 10.

I do have one major regret. Renee had been absent from the forums for the last year or so and other than the occasional post on Facebook I had not heard from her. I had not checked in on her for quite awhile and intended to e-mail her at some point but kept procrastinating because with everything else going on with the site, it just didn’t seem to take priority. This was a painful lesson for me about putting things off until tomorrow, because as the saying goes, tomorrow never comes.

It is rare that I find it difficult to express thoughts and opinions in writing and I am seldom at a loss for words. Today, however, is different, and the right words are not easy to find. I wish I could say it directly to her, but it is too late for that. I will post it here in her memory and honor.

Renee, thank you for your hard work, loyalty and selfless dedication to The Force Field. Your contributions meant more than you ever knew and I appreciate everything you did for us and our online community.

Thank you for your service as an Admin and thank you for your friendship. May God be with you and your family.

Rick Savoia

 

Update: I was informed by her sister that the funeral will be held Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 11 AM at the Robinson-Walker Funeral Home, 501 West St., Genoa, OH 43430. Interment will be at Clay Township Cemetary and a wake at Rayz Cafe in Genoa will follow.

We respectfully ask members and friends of The Force Field Community who would like to honor the memory of Renee Wright (Genoagirl) to participate with a donation to The National Breast Cancer Foundation.

How many techs does OnForce really have?

A couple of weeks ago I was directed to an article on The SmartVan, a web site aimed at field service technicians. The piece was called Service Outsourcer OnForce Touts ‘Efficient’ Job-Filling Model and was posted Julu 27, 2012 by Darren Weiss, a contributing writer for the site.

It is, of course, a marketing piece, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The article itself is a rather straightforward promotion of the OnForce platform. If more techs engaged in this kind of PR for their businesses, they would likely have more customers of their own and rely less on service platforms for work. Marketing is a good thing. I have no issue with that.

I do, however, have one issue with this article. It is a chronic issue that really needs to be addressed.

When marketing your business, it is important to lead without misleading. Truth in advertising, so to speak. Articles such as this are a powerful marketing tool because the average reader tends to take the author at his or her word and accept what he or she says based on the assumption that the facts have been researched and are, indeed, factual. This is especially important if the author is supposed to be a journalist.

The issue is with the number of techs OnForce purports to have.

The article states “OnForce has a database of over 100,000 technicians in all sorts of fields, which companies can contract out on a one-off or ongoing basis.”

OnForce has over one hundred thousand techs? Really? A hundred thousand? I don’t think so.

Okay, before I go any further, let me explain why this bothers me. I am not trying to pick at OnForce here. This is about the facts. It’s about telling the truth. Some OnForce techs have long chided the platform for “overstating the numbers” when it comes to how many “Pros” and “Buyers” are using it. Many providers are aware of who their competitors are and how many of them are around. Those who have used OnForce for a long period of time also know who most, if not all of the Buyers are, so they know a bogus figure when they see it. OnForce providers already know the facts.

No, what this is really about is honesty and journalism, or the lack thereof, and how it affects the marketplace.

It’s an accepted fact that bloggers are not held to the same standards as journalists, so source and fact-checking isn’t required. However, Mr. Weiss isn’t labeled a blogger. He’s billed as a journalist. They are, or were, held to a higher standard. Bloggers, for the most part, editorialize. Journalists are supposed to report and stick to the facts. Proper research and fact-checking is what they are supposed to do before they publish the numbers.

Now, he did state that OnForce has a database of over 100,000 techs. That officially translates to a roster, or list, if you will of all the techs who signed up for the platform. He didn’t say they were all active techs. But he never goes on to explain that. Instead, it is all left to the reader to make that connection. And he reinforces the number by restating it later in the article. No, the article doesn’t actually say OnForce currently has a full, active complement of 100,000 techs. But by both the omission of key details and repetitive use of that number, the notion is implied.

So, if OnForce doesn’t really have 100,000 techs, just how many are there? Why is it even important and why should you even care? Why does the actual number even matter?

To the general public, it doesn’t. If you’re a Buyer who routes work through the platform, it does matter somewhat, because the hype can make a difference as to how your work order is taken, who will take it or if anyone will take it at all.

To the technician, it makes all the difference in the OnForce “marketplace”. Without going into a long dissertation of the specifics, which are other topics entirely, The “true” versus “promoted” number affects the provider’s leverage when negotiating the work orders and their ability to accurately determine whether or not they have any leverage to negotiate at all. This isn’t based on the tech’s perception of the promoted vs. real number, it’s based on the Buyer’s perception of its own reach within the marketplace.

For instance, if the Buyer thinks there are 100 active techs in the area he needs to service, that buyer is inclined to lowball the work order and reject conditional offers. If the buyer knows there are only two or three active techs in that area, the techs have more room to negotiate a rate that is closer to what the actual rate should be and what the tech requires.

In short, overstating the numbers can unfairly influence the rates in the marketplace in favor of the Buyer, thus influencing the marketplace itself. To Mr. Weiss’ credit, his article does state the obvious. He added “…after all, with so many technicians in the database and so many work orders, OnForce can often be in a position to drive the service contractor market in an area”. This is no overstatement; on the contrary, it’s an understatement. It is a real, bona fide fact and has long been a point of contention within the OnForce Provider community.

How many techs or “Pros” does OnForce really have? I’m not talking about the total number of techs who have joined or even applied since the company was founded. I’m not talking about the number of techs listed on the roster period. They don’t count. How many current, active techs does OnForce have in the United States and Canada? What is the REAL figure? (Hint: we already know it isn’t the number listed in the article and it probably isn’t even close).

I posed this question to the OnForce Providers Group on LinkedIn. This is a group comprised of former and current Provider alumni who know the platform very well. Some of them have been a part of it since Day One, when OnForce was called ComputerRepair.com. Since they are the platform experts on the technician side, they know who their fellow technicians are, and who they are not. So I polled them.

Among the Providers (I don’t use the term “Pros”) polled, 13 percent said there were more techs than advertised and 6 percent said the number was accurate. Over 80 percent of the Provider alumni polled said there were fewer than 100,000 techs on the OnForce platform. Further comments from Providers indicated the number wasn’t just a little off, it was significantly lower than advertised.

In other words, according to the Provider alumni, the number of techs OnForce purports to have on its platform is completely bogus.

To be fair about this, I also posed the question directly to an OnForce representative in the group. While the group is intended for OnForce Provider alumni only, the OnForce rep was allow access to serve as a liaison between the group members and OnForce. I even delayed writing this for two weeks in order to give the company ample time to respond. As of the date of this article, he hasn’t.

Is confidentiality the reason? Before we start in with the “confidentiality” stuff, let’s set the record straight.

First, OnForce freely posted and promoted the number of both Providers and Buyers on its platform in the past in their press releases and on the home page of their web site. These were rounded figures for an obvious reason; since the platform was constantly evolving, these numbers fluctuated constantly. That was a given. Since OnForce has freely thrown around its Provider and Buyer numbers in most, if not all of its PR and marketing campaigns, the “confidentiality” argument doesn’t wash.

In addition, the other techs, potential techs and Buyers have a RIGHT to know, because the number DIRECTLY affects their ROI as “customers” and users of the company’s services, the same services that BOTH parties PAY for. If the number is confidential, it shouldn’t be.

A couple of members of the OnForce Providers Group on LinkedIn provided a compelling formula and metric to debunk the “100,000 techs” claim. I won’t go into it in this article as it is somewhat involved and requires a separate discussion of its own. For the scope of this article, I will do it the easy way and simply use the company’s own historical, publicly posted numbers to make the case.

Up until the end of 2010, OnForce claimed to have around 13,000 techs, or “Pros” as the company calls them. At the time, the legitimacy of this figure was seriously questioned by some of the Providers. One area of concern was whether some techs were counted multiple times or had duplicate accounts and the possibility that the company was not counting techs, but registered accounts. Even if only a small number of the accounts on the platform were duplicate registrations of techs for other cities, that could artificially inflate the roster significantly. The company assured the providers that was not the case and all Providers were only being counted once. The assurances and the company’s overall lack of transparency didn’t stop some Providers from wondering if they were being told the whole story.

Sometime around 2006 OnForce decided to “cull the herd” as the Providers put it and cleaned up their active Provider roster. This was done partly to update the system and partly in response to growing dissent in the Provider base and a number of complaints about the discrepancies. This pared the advertised number of Providers to around 10,000, and it didn’t stay there long. Soon after it was not uncommon to hear the number 12,000 bantied about.

The OnForce Services Market Index (OSMI) Report for Q3 2008 (pdf) gave the number of Providers on the platform as over 14,000 and the number of Buyers as 5,000. (The number of Buyers is also purported to be greatly inflated – by up to ten times! But that is another topic.)

As of the OSMI Report for Q2 2009 (pdf), the number of Providers was down a bit to over 13,000. The number fluctuated somewhat during the year; in some cases it was touted to be as high as 14,000. While not a significant change, it does indicate the roster had at least returned to its previous size before the purge.

In December 2010, OnForce again culled its Provider base in what became known in some circles as “The Great Purge”. Curiously, after this culling, the numbers swiftly increased again, this time surpassing the previous marks by a significant margin.

Sometime during 2011, the number of OnForce “Pros” was purported to be as high as 30,000. This figure appeared in one OnForce manager’s public LinkedIn profile. This number is more than double the figure last officially posted by OnForce at the end of 2010.

So within one year they now have over 100,000 techs? How is it possible? Given the history of growth at OnForce, it isn’t.

Keep in mind that it took from the end of 2003, when the company was originally founded, to 2006, to get past 13,000. From then until at least 2010, save for normal fluctuation, that figure never changed. Suddenly, within 18 months, they have increased their numbers nearly ten fold? No way.

Another clue the number is bogus: the competition. Their primary competitors are Field Nation and Work Market. Those and a couple of other platforms have grown considerably in the marketplace within the last few years and are giving OnForce a run for the money, and they don’t claim to have 100,000 techs combined.

The final clue lies with the Providers themselves, or more specifically, their “Pro IDs”. Each OnForce Provider is assigned an ID number, and this number has historically been assigned sequentially. If your “Pro ID” is 1150, you were the 1,150th tech to sign up and you’ve likely been with OnForce since it was founded as ComputerRepair.com in 2003. My Provider ID is 5259. I joined OnForce in May 2004. There were just over 5200 techs on the platform when I joined.

Today, the “Pro ID” is six digits. The highest number I recall seeing to date is around 140,000. Okay, 140K? That is considerably larger than 100K, so the number is actually greater! Hold on. Not so fast. Remember, I am number 5259. However, I am no longer listed on the OnForce platform as an available tech, and I have not been active since two years before I was booted from their forums. In other words, I am no longer an OnForce Provider. I don’t count. Yet, I am still counted.

And I am not alone, either, because there are tens of thousands of other former Providers just like me. Some have left on their own. Some have been suspended for a specified or unspecified period of time. Others have been banned or booted. They no longer show up in the system. Yet they are still in the database and are still officially counted!

In other words, OnForce may have culled their list of active Providers, but they are not removed from the database, effectively and artificially raising the official Provider count!

In addition, there are many Providers who are listed as active on the platform, yet have never accepted a single work order. I was still listed as active until The Great Purge of 2010 and I had not performed any work for them for nearly three years! I wasn’t active, yet according to OnForce, I was!

I just performed a search for Providers within an 80 mile radius of my area. Guess what I found? Out of 114 techs listed, nearly one-third have never accepted a work order. Not one. This was no surprise to me, as I have performed that search many times during the last eight years in many areas and the results are generally the same. On average, about one third of the techs listed have never run a single work order, meaning that those techs are usually not active.

There are reasons for this. The most common scenario is that a tech will sign up as a Provider and, for one reason or another, just move on. Whether they actually participate or not doesn’t really matter when it comes to the numbers. Each one is still added to the database and counted.

A few years ago I challenged their Provider count in the OnForce forums. At the time the count was somewhere between 12,000 and 14,000 techs. Based on my own calculations and those of other forum members, I argued that the actual number of techs was considerably less. I do not recall the precise number but it was less than half the figure OnForce advertised. It was finally admitted by one of the OnForce reps that the advertised number was not accurate and my number was not far off the mark.

Let’s be real. OnForce does not have 100,000 active techs. Sure, over 100,000 techs may have signed up on their system during the past nine years, but some of them are no longer actually on the platform for one reason or another and among those who still are, at least a third probably aren’t even active. I should know, I was one of them.

So how many techs does OnForce really have? The truth is, no one outside of the company really knows the actual figure. OnForce, the service platform that purports to be “transparent”, is itself a private company and the actual figures are apparently now a big secret, since there was no response to my official inquiry.

One last item to note. The last time the number was officially recorded or released by the company in print was in the Year End and Q4 OSMI(pdf) released January 25, 2010, giving the official count as “more than 13,000 service technicians”. Since then OnForce has removed the figure from their web site, media kit and all of its press materials, stating only that the platform has “thousands of highly skilled service professionals to fulfill on-site work throughout the US and Canada.”

What do you think? Do you agree that the number of techs on the platform quoted in the article is correct? If so, why? If not, how many techs do you think OnForce really has? Of those, how many are active?

Take the National Contractor and Service Platform Survey

Yes, it’s the first of its kind, and it is here at last. It’s The Force Field 2012 National Contractor and Service Platform Survey.

If you do any contract work for companies such as Barrister Global Services or Endeavor or web-based service platforms such as OnForce or Work Market, here is your chance to rate them according to best and worst. The results will be included in an upcoming article and an episode of The Force Field Podcast this fall. Survey respondents will remain anonymous, however you can opt in to leave your name and/or the name of your company with comments in The Force Field Forums if you like.

I don’t think anything like this has been done before. So far the response has been great but I would like a sampling from as many techs as possible for the best and most accurate ratings. Based on the number of responses so far, this is one hot topic among techs.

The survey is open to all techs. Although you can register or log in to The Force Field portal if you want, it isn’t necessary to access the survey. You can access it directly at The Force Field 2012 National Contractor and Service Platform Survey.

The forum discussion Topic 2012 National Contractor and Service Platform Survey is open if you would like to leave longer comments (both positive and negative) and stories (inspiring, enlightening, funny and scary) for inclusion in the article and on the show.

And yes, it’s in the public forums, because it’s for all the techs, it’s a public discussion and that is where it should be.

Take the survey!

Please keep the comments and stories factual and family friendly.

Marketing your business in The Force Field Part 2: Sevacall responds

Last week I blogged about a recent incident in which The Force Field Forums were spammed by representative from a new web-based “lead generation” platform called Sevacall. I wrote about it for two reasons – as an effort to fight back against forum spamming, and to use this as an opportunity to explain the basics of social media marketing on the web with a real world example of its potential return on the branding of your business.

The post was titled My new approach to fighting spammers – or how to market your business in The Force Field. As part of this exercise, I publicly released an e-mail response I sent to the member from Sevacall whose one and only post in the forums started it all. There were no real expections that my post would actually enlighten the average forum spammer and curb such an annoying and unethical practice. In fact, a lot of forum spammers are really just spambots, and those who are human aren’t promoting reputable brands anyway, so chances are they don’t care what anyone thinks of them or not. They just want to leave links that will get them higher rankings in the search engines. Normally, the links are the key component in the spam post. To these spammers, it’s all about posting links to boost Google page rank on their sites. That’s all the forums are to them.

However, while this spammer did attempt to mislead the members by posting a phony “testimonial” of sorts as a satisfied customer instead of as direct representative of the company (which is who this individual really was), this individual forgot the one key thing most forum spammers are there to do – embed the forum with all the spammy links. This is what prompted me to check them out. What I found was a bona fide startup that was trying to market itself elsewhere as legit.

How could a company like this make such a huge marketing blunder? Were they really out to sabotage their reputation and destroy their brand as they built it? Or did they really not understand how to market their business to forum communities? This is why I wrote the article. It wasn’t for the spambots and the sleazy spammers marketing phony meds, pirated software and porn. It was for those companies who are legit and are trying to do it right, but don’t understand how to market to communities on the web. It is also a primer for professionals like us who want to learn how to market their IT businesses and build their brands properly.

Okay, there are other companies out there, some of them quite well established, that have made one, several or all these mistakes. Some of them never learn from them, either, as they continue to make them, despite the negative feedback from their customers. I’ve written about some of them before as prime examples of how not to market your business. Barrister Global Services, Endeavor and Geeks Mobile USA are three that immediately come to mind. Given those examples, I wasn’t really sure if I would receive a response to my e-mail message or not.

But I did.

A couple of days after I sent the e-mail, Sevacall responded. Since I posted my e-mail to them publicly, I want to be completely fair and post their response publicly as well.

 

Rick,

We are sorry to hear that your forums are getting spammed so much.  Some of our team members at Seva Call have had the pleasure of moderating an active blog/forum in the past and have also dealt with tens of thousands of spam messages.  We know it can be frustrating and from that perspective we are happy to see your blog post.

We also appreciate the level of research you conducted on our behalf before writing the blog and e-mail.  You are correct in saying that we have recently launched and also brought on 17 summer interns, most of whom have not even been here a month yet.  The post you marked as spam was, in fact, written by one of our interns, and we do apologize for that.  We should have given that particular intern more direction on how best to use forums as a marketing tool.

Although there are several lead-generation platforms in existence, we have designed Seva Call to enable real-time conversations between consumers and professionals that best match the specific request.  We allow professionals to prescreen service requests before they choose to accept or reject them.The prescreening process provides professionals with the consumer’s availability, location, and the details of the request, allowing them to make an informed decision about the quality of the lead before they spend any money.

Along with that, Seva Call’s Pay Per Conversation model makes Seva Call more cost effective than other lead-generating platforms because professionals are only charged if they have a conversation with a potential consumer about their service, as opposed to buying contact information and having to track down the consumer only to find out that they no longer need help or it isn’t really a good match.  We scratch the consumer’s itch when it happens and get a high quality professional on the phone immediately.   

As a side note, we also offer service pros a Free for Life account which allows them to get conversations at no cost.  Professionals using the Free for Life status are prioritized lower in the matching process, but there is no cost at all.

The good news about your post is that this gives us an opportunity to have a team meeting and re-visit our ethical policies and our forum marketing strategies.  We will be taking some action internally to improve our marketing processes and review intern work before it goes live.  We appreciate the opportunity to do this early in our launch cycle so that as we grow into a larger company we will have the proper processes in place.  We went from a 4-5 person team to a team of over 30 in a few short weeks.

The bad news is that most other spammers aren’t budding young start-ups that care for their reputation and will modify their internal processes and go out of their way to make sure they do things the right way.  Therefore, it is doubtful that the blog you wrote will really be an effective deterrent for future spam, but I do understand your sentiment.

Best of luck to http://www.theforcefield.net and all your members.

Thanks,
Seva Call Team
http://www.sevacall.com

 

There is a right way and a wrong way to market your business. If or when a mistake is made that could threaten your reputation and your brand, there is a right way and a wrong way to handle it. No matter what one thinks these days of web-based service platforms in general or the “lead generation” model in particular, Sevacall may earn some respect based on their response alone. I think their response deserves promotion as an excellent example of how to properly handle negative press and avoid a potential blemish on your reputation and brand.

Whether Sevacall helps or hurts the industry with their lead generation service, only time will tell. They do have one thing in their favor. They got this one right.

My new approach to fighting spammers – or how to market your business in The Force Field

Last week in The Force Field Forums, we got spammed.

We get a lot of forum spammers every day. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A lot of them are spambots, a few of them are real humans, but nearly all of them we catch before they even get approved for membership in the forums and all of them are immediately banned. Okay, that’s not news. Hardly enough to write about in a blog, right?

Except for this spammer. This one was different. This one got through. And this one was representing a new, legitimate business. So the Admins trashed the post. But we didn’t ban this spammer. Nope. We’ve banned over 125,000 known forum spammers and its time to set one straight. So we’re going to give this spammer an education. But it’s more than that. It’s a learning experience for all of us trying to make it in a Web based world of business, particularly in IT. It’s a lesson in how to market our businesses to others and build a good, solid business reputation and reputable brand with etiquette, ethics and finesse.

The individual who spammed The Force Field Forums was a representative from Sevacall, a new startup that has been in beta mode for awhile and just officially opened its virtual doors June 13, 2012. Sevacall is a “lead generation” type service platform that connects clients with service providers over the telephone. Just when you thought you were done with services like Geekatoo (Geekatoo? Really? Sheesh!), along comes Sevacall. Yes, I know it’s quite innovative and all to be another lead generation platform on the web with the same old “connect Buyers and Providers for the lowest price” line, but what makes it really unique? Spamming forums to recruit service technicians? Trying to alienate their provider base right out of the gate? Well, so far they’re off to a great start.

To be fair, they have 17 interns on staff, so it is possible the culprit was some college kid who didn’t know network marketing from his rear end and not the CEO himself. So I decided to “reach out” as they say in the corporate world and give Sevacall a chance to redeem themselves. I sent an e-mail response to the spammer. The e-mail is below:

 

HeretoHelp,

I noticed you signed up for our forums recently and was approved for membership. Unfortunately your first post was flagged by a member as spam and subsequently moved to the trash folder by our Admins. The forums are a place to network with other members and self-promotion is encouraged within reason. While we do encourage our members to promote themselves and their businesses, there is a certain standard protocol for this. To avoid confusion or misunderstanding, we do request that all new members read the forum rules before they post for the first time. You can read the forum rules at http://www.theforcefield.net/forums/index.php?topic=5292.0.

You may be surprised to learn that spamming the forums certainly did not win you any friends in there. This is unfortunate, since Sevacall is a potential resource for techs in The Force Field and, had you done this properly, you could have actually won some of them over to your service. It’s all in the approach.

You likely found The Force Field Forums by Googling for sites with keywords related to Thumbtack and Geekatoo, which you may consider as your primary competitors when recruiting techs. While that may a logical procedure for recruitment, it isn’t the only one, and as you have probably discovered by now, spamming the sites that appeared in the search results is hardly effective and can actually make more enemies than friends, ultimately hurting Sevacall’s reputation.

There are other less intrusive and more effective ways to accomplish your goal. One tried and true method is by (gasp!) advertising in the right venues to your direct audience. Yes, it costs money, but if you’re going to invest in the other aspects of a legitimate business, marketing your business is very important, so you can’t skimp on that if you want to do it right.

There are also FREE ways to market your domain that are ethical and highly effective. (spamming the domains of others is NOT ethical and can actually be self-destructive). One powerful, yet cost effective way is through product or service endorsements on blogs and social media networks. Yes, it takes more effort on your part, but it can be well worth it in the long run. It can even boost your reputation in a positive way, if you do it right.

A third way is the one you encountered June 18, 2012 at 2:29:48 PM – the exact day and time you registered for The Force Field Forums. Had you bothered to explore the entire site before you made your first post, you would have discovered great potential for promoting Sevacall – most of it absolutely FREE!!

Since you probably didn’t do this (or you wouldn’t have spammed the forums) you probably don’t know who I am and you probably don’t know what The Force Field is, thus you probably have no idea what I am talking about. So I will explain it to you.

The site you stumbled upon is a business portal of news and resources for IT service providers – the very “service pros” you are trying to recruit for Sevacall. The Force Field offers a Business Resources Directory, news, reviews of products, services and companies, blogs, and, of course, The Force Field Forums. The Business Resource Directory offers FREE listings for companies who want to partner with providers and allows the providers to comment on them, recommend them and rate them. The blogs feature articles and rants about issues of the day as well as reviews and editorials on tech products, services and companies. Many techs use The Force Field Forums to network with each other and exchange ideas and recommendations from others regarding which companies to work with and which to avoid (guess which way they lean with Sevacall right now?)

Then there is the podcast. Yes, we have a podcast, an Internet radio show that is heard on-demand in over fifty countries around the world. An interview on The Force Field show is a great way to reach techs globally and recruit them for Sevacall in a positive way. Best of all it’s free publicity. You can’t beat free.

Had you looked over the site, checked out the show and contacted me first, things would be a lot different. I would have invited you into the forums, written Sevacall up in my blog with links to your site, and – yes, I would have offered to interview you for The Force Field show.

Yes, entering The Force Field community, getting to know it first, reaching out to me and the other members and actively engaging in meaningful discussion by networking socially takes a little longer, and is more work on your part, but the long-term rewards are worth it, as you could have built a long-lasting, trusting relationship with the techs you wanted to recruit and develop a great reputation for Sevacall.

But you didn’t do that. You didn’t even try. Unfortunately, instead of participating in The Force Field community you decided to go for the quick and easy, drive-by, one-shot spammy post. Instead of introducing yourself and your company and identifying yourself as a representative of Sevacall, you attempted to pass yourself off as a peer, a tech who uses the platform, which was disingenuous, misleading and dishonest, which does not build trust in the company at all. As someone with some experience in marketing and promotion, I can tell you that you made all the mistakes of someone who does NOT understand how to market a business to professionals in a social network on the web.

Normally, our Admins at The Force Field would simply trash your post, send you a warning e-mail (which they already did), and, if you did it again would simply ban you from the forums permanently.

However, this time I decided to do something a little different. Collectively, the anti-spam system, the other Admins and I have already banned over 125,000 spammers and I’m getting just a little tired of it all.

So, this time I’m going to make an example of Sevacall. I’m going to use you as an example of what happens when a company does all the wrong things to market their business and alienates the audience they are attempting to reach instead of endearing them to your company. But I’m not going to be mean about it. I will admonish you for your uncouth behaviour, yet reach out to Sevacall and give you folks a chance to do it right.

Now, if you really want to do this right, start with the introduction. Please identify yourself and your position with the company. Who is HeretoHelp? Are you Gurpreet Singh, the CEO? Are you the president and COO Manpreet Singh? Are you one of the other members of “The Team” (as you call yourselves) at Sevacall? Or are you one of the 17 interns listed on your site? (Don’t tell me the company is entrusting its online reputation with an intern).

Second, don’t misrepresent yourself. If you work for Sevacall (which, according to your e-mail and IP address you do – yes, I checked, it’s Sevacall’s IP) then just come right out and say so. Don’t pretend to be a tech who uses the service and likes it better than the others. It’s called a lie, and businesses that do it don’t earn anyone’s respect or trust in this community or the marketplace in general.

And third, you owe the members of The Force Field Forums an apology. You need to apologize for intruding on their discussion without a proper introduction, for lying to them about who you are, and for interrupting a serious discussion to promote your service. Yes, other people do it, and some other companies do it, but they are usually less than reputable and I don’t think you really want your business to have that reputation, do you?

Now, some of the damage has already been done. For starters, you don’t get an interview on The Force Field podcast at this time. Also, Sevacall reminds me too much of Service Magic with telephones, and I was already burned by them a few years back. Service Magic was prone to what I call lead fraud, much of it perpetrated from within the company itself. Sevacall is about phone leads, a technology with its own potential for abuse. So, don’t look for a personal endorsement from me, because I generally don’t trust this “lead generation” type of service platform. I hesitate to sell you any ad space in the show or on the web site, either, because although our rates are reasonable – as you can tell from our media kit – it’s reserved for products and companies I have vetted and I can personally endorse.

But I will do this. I will devote an entire post in my blog to Sevacall and give you a few links back to your site. I’ll even do it FREE, with no reciprocal link or other compensation expected from Sevacall in return. In fact, I’ve already done it. You see, what started off as an e-mail in response to your spam post in my forums turned into a blog post for the front page of The Force Field web portal. The topic? My new approach to fighting spammers – or how to market your business in The Force Field.

So, you get some promotion for Sevacall after all. It’s just probably not what you expected. And if you spam the forums again, I’ll post another one. And then I’ll ban you. Permanently. Harsh? Maybe. But after dealing with over 125,000 forum spammers, it’s time to draw the line and fight back. You just happened to be the next one in line to cross it.

Isn’t that what you wanted anyway? A quick and easy, drive-by, one-shot spammy post promoting Sevacall? Well, you got it, right in my blog for the entire world to read. And it was FREE, compliments of The Force Field.

You’re welcome.

But, hey, you earned it.

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