annoyances travel

Advantage Rent-A-Car Customer Service Story Wrap-Up

Following up on the story I started here and here and since I haven’t heard from Advantage Rent-A-Car for two weeks, I decided to give them a call before disputing this through a charge back. After just 15 minutes on hold I got to talk to yet another rep that immediately told me that my contract didn’t exist. Thanks, I know that much already, all I need to find out now is under which contract you charged my card. Fortunately, she was able to locate the contract the money were charged to and things started rolling again. I was given a “manager’s personal fax number” (that was wrong, of course) and instructed to fax all the documents again to that number. The regular “we will call you back in 24 to 48 hours” cued in. After I figured the fax number was wrong it only took me another 22 minutes of hold time to reach them back and find out what the right number is. No big deal, right? In addition to the documents I have decided to document the whole story (the copy is below).

To much of my surprise someone from Advantage Rent-A-Car actually called me next day. Imagine that! I was told that they have recalculated my rates and the final amount would be something around 20 dollars less than the amount on the receipt I have. However, the representative declined the responsibility for overcharging my account. Overall I had a feeling she thinks she’s doing me a favor.

business technology

Small Business On The Cloud? Not There Yet!

Being a small business owner myself I often communicate latest and greatest of IT achievements to my fellow small business owners who aren’t as tech savvy. Since the latest hype seem to be the cloud, I am genuinely interested in feedback of people who are not on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn, but who are small business owners none the less. With all the hyped up trends of running your business off your favorite Blackberry/iPhone/PDA we, the tech guys, tend to forget about other entrepreneurs.

So I went around my own clients as well as their friends – whoever happened to be a small business owner had a chance to respond. The question I was asking is simple – how would you be able to benefit from the cloud services in your current set of operations. Plain English version: we are not changing the infrastructure of the business, we’re just trying to see what cloud services would be helpful to the business as it is.

The responses I got were surprising – to say the least. None of the business owners would trust cloud or any other internet service with any kind of critical part of their operations. Why? Because their internet connectivity is NOT 100% reliable. Why? Because their operations are mostly based on offline interaction.Why? Because their internet connectivity is not 100% reliable. See the pattern?

It makes little sense for a small business to justify paying for SLA-backed lines like T1, T3 which are a lot more expensive while providing significantly lower speeds compared to general consumer-grade connections (like cable or FiOS). Yes, they do use internet for job-related tasks – like downloading forms and brochures, doing competition and marketing research, advertising and so on. However, none of them could justify purchasing a dedicated commercial-grade internet connection for what they are being offered. Which means – business cannot rely 100% on their stuff being available online. Therefore – no cloud services.

It just boils down to this – we are not connected enough to use cloud services. Yes, a few of us live off their smart phones. If pushed hard enough I guess I could do away with any of my smart phones – if I am on the go (although I do lug my X61s pretty much always these days). But for the rest of small business owners I had a chance to talk to – this is not an option. Contacts must be local. List of clients, leads, price lists, suppliers, data backups – everything must be local and available offline. The longest shot I’ve seen to a mobility so far – is a take-home laptop that is synchronizing everything daily.

So while I am happy to see new cloud services every day, I guess the more important question to ask – before asking which cloud service could benefit your business – is this: are you connection good enough to rely on cloud services? Chances are – you still must keep an actual copy locally. Just in case.

internet social

Monopolies of the Crowd: Our Near Future

Various federal commissions are keeping tabs on companies in order to prevent them from turning into monopolies. But the onerous “web crowd” might overpower them with ease by creating de facto monopolies.

Starting with my own area of expertise – web site creation. If your web site isn’t on Google’s first couple of pages for your search terms – you’re effectively off the market. Why? Because no matter what FTC would do, we, the people, will “google it” first. Google didn’t just buy those 80% of search market – we handed it to them on our own.

If your video isn’t on YouTube – there’s hardly any substitute on that. Recent TechCrunch post on percentage shares of US video streams confirms that. I don’t remember YouTube stalking me with a bat to make me use their services.

Next – social networking. While MySpace/Facebook/Ning leave some room for competition, Twitter is the only game in town so far and so are Flickr, and LinkedIn (to a point).

It’s not that these companies are brutal in extinguishing their competition, something Microsoft did to Netscape back in the old age of browser wars. Also, there are alternatives –  technically speaking. But there is no real competition in terms of services’ social population and  amount of interaction one would encounter. Heck, the reason Twitter crumbles every now and then because there is no competition, so there is no other place to tweet. It’s just that after we played with most social web sites out there, we tend to come back to one or two most populated, since being where the social action occurs is the whole point of exercise.