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Life and times of a small biz: what's a fax number worth to me?
Sep 24th, 2010 by Nancy

fax machineA couple months ago I eliminated my fax number.

Although I wasn’t going out of my way to get rid of it, I am now no longer reachable by fax.

I guess it isn’t accurate to say I eliminated my fax number.  Actually, it was taken from me.  Here’s what happened:

I subscribed to a service called eFax that assigned a telephone number to me that served as my “fax” number.  If someone wanted to send something to me, they’d dial that number then eFax would email me a digital file (like, though not, a pdf) of the sent pages, and I’d be good to go.  Best of all, it was free, simple, and seemed a good environmental choice – no trees were killed in the conveyance of information to me.  eFax did offer several other “premium” plans that came with a monthly price tag, but since I’d receive maybe one fax every other month, the free option was absolutely sufficient for my needs.

Recently, I worked with a customer that apparently didn’t have my email address, but did have my fax number, so he sent me a handful of faxes – about six in all, each about three or four pages in length.

What I didn’t realize (or more likely since I’d had this service for a couple years, what I didn’t remember) was that if I sent or received more than 20 pages in a single month I’d not qualify for eFax’s free service any longer.

So I was a bit surprised to get a notice from eFax stating that because of my recent activity I no longer qualified for the free option and in order to continue using their service I’d have to upgrade to the premium plan.

SO – Does $17 a month seem a bit steep for a biz to pay for a service that it uses maybe 6 times a year? To send or receive information that can also be conveyed – in better form – via email?  Which, ironically, became my only choice not because I sent a bunch of faxes, but because someone else sent just barely 20 pages in a 30 day period?

‘Seemed that way to me, but I wanted to find out if eFax felt the same way.  I called them several times, and was given the same answer several times – in order to keep my fax number I had to cough up $16.95 a month.

After mulling it over, I realized that (even though it feels otherwise) THIS WAS NOT BAD CUSTOMER SERVICE.  The eFax phone people were cordial, honest, and straightforward. The 20 page limit was there in my original plan, I exceeded my free limit, and I was shown the door.

THIS IS ONLY A REALLY LOUSY BUSINESS MODEL.

The fax number just sat there in my signature block, quiet and safe and staid: address, phone, fax, email, website.  It wasn’t really doing anything except adding one more line to the block, and maybe adding the perception of one more nugget of legitimacy to my operation here: “see? I’m a REAL biz – I have a fax number.”  Now that it’s gone, though, I realize it won’t be missed.  While I feel for the people that have my contact information but don’t know the fax number isn’t live anymore (although so few of them fax anything I’m not losing any sleep over it).

But as a small biz owner, I am somewhat more concerned to think that eFax considers this a viable way to do business. Yeah, they weren’t making any money off me, so why should they care?  Here’s why:

They hasten the demise of their own services by kicking me out.  They weren’t losing any money on me either, but they did lose a whole lot of goodwill.

I hear it said that bad customer service stories are repeated nine times by the “victim”.  I don’t want that kind of storytelling about Lunchsense, ever.

It’s actually not been that big of a hassle to get my fax number off my “collateral” (that’d be the name for all the paper stuff that has my biz information on it), as most of it I print on-demand – for example, I have the file with the letterhead, and when I need to write a letter, I write it and print it (or, more often, email it).  Invoices, packing slips, carton inserts, whatever – most of it either didn’t have the fax number to begin with or I only print in small quantities.

I can also email printer scans for someone who has to have my signature, so the ONLY THING I’m now left without is the ability to receive a fax.  It is no significant loss, frankly.

Please: do you have a similar story?  If you were me, what would you have done?

Next week: a customer service tale that I strive to emulate.

It's a wrap
Sep 17th, 2010 by Nancy
Actually, I'm really not that into southern rock.

Actually, I'm really not that into southern rock.

We’ve all had bad weeks.  This one is no exception.

Lunchsense is my “full time” job, which means I attend to it every weekday after my two boys get to school (8:15) and before they get out of school (2:35).  This isn’t nearly enough time to keep all the plates spinnin’, so I often return to work in the evening after dinner.  Since I work at my house, to keep it – work, house, kids, laundry, groceries, dinner, whatever – all together I try and keep to a pretty tight schedule.

With the start of the school year I’ve tried to get a steady supply of playdates to keep my kids busy (and happy) so I can avoid having to shlep over to the grade school at 2:30 and lose an otherwise very productive hour (or more).  Ideally (so the plan goes) at least half those gigs would be at someone else’s house, and the perfect storm would find both my boys going somewhere other than our house so I don’t have to kill that hour going to the school only to say that yes, they can go to their friends’ houses.

I’m Oh-for-five this week, though. Ouch.

I’ve had a houseful of “spares” (as in kids – also known as “strays”) all week long, which would be fine (we call it “subtraction by addition”, this bringing-in of kids to keep mine out of my hair) except several have been the recalcitrant types who don’t WANT to be here, and to prevent them from breaking out and trying to walk home I’ve had to keep a weather eye on them.  I actually did have to chase one four blocks and carry him back.  It is, sadly, not a great way to work.

We’ve also had houseguests.  I really like houseguests, and as members of couchsurfing.com we have a steady stream of fascinating, generous, kind, complete strangers staying overnight here.  Of course we have complete control over who stays and who doesn’t, but when we agree to host a couchsurfer we have no idea what life will have served up in the interim.  Our most recent guests were delightful – among the favorites of everyone we’ve ever hosted, in fact – but haven’t we all had that night of “I am having an absolutely wonderful time with these people, which is only slightly ruined by the recall of the huge pile of work I should otherwise be doing”??

I’ve also had evening meetings.  Again, they are for groups I absolutely love and wouldn’t dream of giving up, but the end result is that I haven’t been able to carve out even an hour or two for work most nights this week.

Did I mention that one of my boys misplaced, in a record-setting 48 hours’ time, his glasses, his shoes, two sweatshirts, the family camera, and his school binder?  All were eventually found, but you know how it is.  Just one more thing.

Same boy, different day: he brought to me (to his credit, sheepishly) three food containers for his Lunchsense lunchbox that had been waylaid under his desk for…weeks? I have no idea.  And I had just ‘bought’ (from company inventory) three more of the exact same containers that very same day.

So here it is, Friday afternoon, and my to-do list for the week is not only NOT shorter, it’s way, way longer.  Simple things – what the &^# do I do when a printer has “print skew”?? – have completely shut down my productivity.  THE WHOLE WEEK has been a testimonial to bad customer service: technical issues that should take 5 minutes to fix have taken 30; Thirty minute problems have taken 90. To top it all, I’ve spent over an hour on customer service hold lines every day this week, and every day has been for a different problem.

Speaking of “customer service,” I’ve created my very own disaster, all by myself, by shipping an order meant for Malta…to Malaysia.  Seriously.  (Therein lies the great downside of autofill. Type M-A-L and hit return, yeah? Um, no, Nancy.)   Another hour went down the rabbit hole trying to un-disaster that beauty.

So, to all who care to hear, I’ve dug down deep and found a refuge from this week’s frustrations.  Here it is (Forgive me, in advance, for showing my age. Note, though, I highly recommend this to them of any age):

Lynryd Sykynryd.  Freebird.  Really, really, really ear-bleedin’ loud.  (I have to acknowlege – painfully – that it’s not loud enough.  Have I finally wasted my hearing?)  Nine minutes and nine seconds of escapist bliss. I’m on about my seventh time ’round and it’s exhilarating, liberating, and exactly what I need to scrub out the memory of this wretched week, and I highly recommend it to anyone with ears and a bad day in the rear view mirror.

Next up: Inagaddadavida (Iron Butterfly).  Frankenstein (Edgar Winter Group). Hold Your Head Up (Argent.  First line: “And if it’s baaaad, don’t let it hold you down, you can take it”  Aaahhh, pearls of wisdom).   Sunshine of your Love (Cream).  Hocus Pocus (Focus). Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress (the Hollies).  Bungle in the Jungle (Jethro Tull).  And, of course, Stairway to Heaven (Led Zep).

And I’m not even going to try and fix iTunes, which seems to unable to find over half the music in my library.  That’ll be Monday’s problem.

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