Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Facebook A Great Place To Network With Others...

Len Rapoport's Facebook profile

As president of International Press Association a web based organization with international members of the independent media, photographers, photojournalists, journalists and others, I do quite a bit of networking. This means going to trade and consumer shows, media events, travel destinations and many other places, but I have found the internet one of the best places to network with others.

Check out this video: Harolds NY Deli - Humongous Portions

I first started to network on LinkedIn and you can even see a link to my profile on this blog. I also joined YouTube which gives me an opportunity to post my little video productions, grab the code and then simply paste it into my profile page on my web site. I also went over to MySpace and opened an account there, but frankly, I think MySpace is more for the kids and haven't done anything there other then upload some videos because I have found their compression scheme on uploaded videos much better then the one YouTube uses. I tend to use MySpace as a free storage unit that can serve my videos, slide shows and images on my web site without my server getting bogged down and using my bandwidth to serve the content myself. I have included some samples of a MySpace video and slide show to show you what I mean.

Now back to Facebook. Facebook is a wonderful social networking site that encourages you to invite your friends and family to your "Friends" network so you can share many aspects of your personal life with them. This means your photos, videos, profile, your current mood, your interests, what you are doing now, links and so much more. They offer companies like mine two ways to set up a presense on Facebook, the first is meant for the musician, artist, photographer, small business to have a "Page" on Facebook. Unlike a group the page lets you invite people to become a "Fan" of your page. You can usually find these pages set up by individual fans of a singing star or actor/actress. Many models amateur and professional will also set up a Fan page and IPA now has one as well. You can view our page by clicking here.

On our page we can include fans photos, videos, topics to discuss, wall postings and much more. It also allows us the ability to send out a message to all our fans. We can invite them to a party, meeting or if you are a singer, the next performance of your act in their town.

Now the Group page is a bit different and can only be set up by the entity that owns that group or company. So you will see our International Press Association Group on Facebook that looks a bit like the page, but again has its own special features.

On our group we have similar features to upload photos, videos, wall postings, links, etc., but we can't send a message out to part of or all of the group members. The difference is that one is a company page and the other Fan Page is just that a fan page and tends to be a bit different.

We ask all of our members and friends to join both and if they want a personal relationship with me to simply invite me to join their Facebook network. All they need to do is a simple member search using my name: Len Rapoport.

Len Rapoport's Facebook profile

Now remember, you can use these sites to take advantage of many free services that other site will charge you for including, Friend Finders, and others and they probably have more members on a Facebook or MySpace site then many of those paid sites. Give it a try, it is not hard to learn how to use and you will find a great way to keep in touch with old and current friends and relatives too.

Gotta Love Scotts Lawn Products - Best Guarantee

Well, as you know I just love companies that believe in their products and are "willing to put their money where their mouth is." The Scotts Miracle-Grow company, the folks who produce the garden and lawn products is a company that optimizes this statement.

I have purchased their products almost exclusively for my garden and lawn with the exception from time to time on a sale product from another company. The reason I give them most of my business is not only because I like their products and have the best lawn and garden in my neighborhood, but because this is a fine American company that makes a quality product and gives you a no questions asked satisfaction guarantee on all their products.

Now understand a normal guarantee usually covers a manufacturers defect in the product and then they may replace a part that you would install or you might have to return the item to their factory service center. In some cases they want you to send them the balance of the unused product. Well all of those guarantees for me is just about worthless because in dealing with this type of product the cost to return a $40 spreader would be more then it would be worth.

Secondly, how would you ship a used bag of fertilizer back to them? What would the cost and effort be? So Scotts lets you know up front on every hang tag and label that they offer a Satisfaction Guarantee and that like the Costco Guarantee means if you are not happy with the product for any reason, let them know and they will refund your full purchase price.

I had occassion in the past to call them about one of the lawn chemical products that didn't seem to do what I had expected and they gladly sent me a refund after I sent them a part of the lable (usually a UPC proof of purchase tag). Now a number of years later I had one of their rotary spreaders and the gear box on the underside split open and I couldn't repair it myself.

I was getting ready to throw it out, after all it was only around $40 and I had it for 2 seasons. Of course I only used it maybe a dozen times in that period, but I had the original store receipt an their guarantee label in my files and pulled them out. I decided to call their toll free customer service number and had a very sweet lady offer to either send me replacement parts, which I declined for fear it could take me too much time and effort to fix it myself (if I could) and asked if they could simply refund my money.

She agreed to do so with no hesitation and asked me to remove the wire that goes from the handle to the hoper and send it to them with a form she emailed me. I took my wire cutter out, snipped the cord and rolled it up and mailed it to them with a copy of the original store receipt.

Within a couple of weeks I received this letter of apology and a check to cover the full amount of my original purchase. Who does this today? Companies that believe in their products and appreciate their customers, Scotts Miracle-Grow is just such a company and I can assure you and them, that I am a customer for life.

Hell, if you figure the costs in advertising and getting customers to purchase your product, I suppose offering this type of service and support to build loyal customers comes out to be a fraction of what it would cost to get another customer to buy their products.

Scotts, once again you have given us all faith in the American manufacturers that understand what it takes to do business in this troubled economy.

Verizon Fios...Fawgetaboutit!!! - Verizon a Big Failure

Verizon Fios keeps sending me their offers in the mail and I have even had a guy knock on my door to try to sign me up. So with the horrible economy and all my cable bills going up, I decided to make the switch. Hell at $94.99 a month for a year, no installation costs and their boxes included with high speed internet, Extreme HD TV, and their Freedom Essentials telephone, how could I resist. After all I am paying Comcast $150 per month and my Voip phone costs me another $30. I would save over $1200 my first year and even if they raised rates on my second year, I was sure it would still be lower overall.

So I signed up over the phone, nice rep took my order and we set up an install date of 10/14/2008. They tell you that they will show up between 8 AM - 12 Noon, so I got up nice and early, moved some of my furniture as they suggested so they would have access and was ready to go.

The rep showed up around 10 AM and walked around my home shaking his head about my wiring. My electrical inbound wires were near the front of the house, the telephone lines on the left side of the house and the cable connections from Comcast on the right side. I have 7 outlets for TV and one for my computer. He told me that I might not be able to get great service in all of my TV's because of the wiring. I said I couldn't take a chance of not having equal or better service because I work from my home office and own an internet based business.

Finally after an hour and a half, he admitted that this job would take 8 hours and would be a two man job and that he really couldn't do it himself. I asked if he could get a supervisor out to look at my situation to assure me that it could be done properly. Apparently that is not possible from what I later found out. So after he left and told me he would have them note that it was a two man job, I received an email with a new install date of 10/30/08, 2 weeks later. Now there were issues with paying Comcast for another month which starts on the 25th of each month and my phone bill. The reason for the 14th as an install date was to avoid that extra months bill.

Well, I called their retention line, you know when you want to cancel a service they send you there to try to save the customer...well the guy there promised once I was set up they would reimburse me for the cable and phone bill for that month. OK, I thought that was fair, so I waited until the next install date. I got a dozen recorded calls on the phone to remind me of the install date and a few emails as well.

On Oct. 30th, once again I was up at the crack of dawn, cleaned up the house, my office and was ready for the installation. As the hours passed, I was concerned and finally at 11:30 AM called their retention office because I didn't know who else to call. You see you can get lost or have your call dropped if you go through their main toll free line. For a company supposed to offer superior service and be in the communications industry, their phone system is the worst circle jerk I have ever seen. After a number of options that never really fit, you can't seem to get to any human. When you do and find out it is the wrong department ("oh, you need our Fios team") and they attempt to transfer your call, you get dropped and once again enter the world of automated phone answering systems as you call back in and again have to explain why you are calling.

To shorten the story, I won't go through all the calls to Verizon on the day of my promised install, but needless to say they never showed, they never set it up for a two man install and at 3 PM that day I decided I was just wasting my time with Verizon and asked them to cancel my order. I decided to wait for their retention people to speak to their supervisors and let me know if there was anything else they could do for me, especially since they screwed me up now two days. The best they offered was a $180 discount, $30 per month for the first 6 months of service. I felt it wasn't enough now and the next morning when they called me to set up a third date for another 2 weeks later, I decided to simply cut my losses and cancel the order.

I got another call about an hour later to inform me that my telephone number was already ported over to them and no longer would work for me since it wasn't hooked up to any companies service. So now I lost my number, would have to have Packet 8 my Voip service get it back and deal with people trying to reach me and finding the number had been disconnected.

So now, Packet 8 told me they would give me a temporary number so I could make outgoing calls, but I would still have the incoming call issue until the number ported back over to them from Verizon. Two weeks passed and the number was still not working, so I called Packet 8 who told me it could take 6 weeks which I argued it should not. Verizon told me they do these very quickly and would only take a few days.

Packet 8 wasn't much help either and I couldn't get to a supervisor there either. So once again, with them, I spoke to a half dozen people until I found one that told me that the number must have gone back into the pool of available numbers once Verizon canceled my order.

He was right, so once again back to Verizon now in panic that my 15 year old business number would be given away to some one else. The number was so good, 888-2777 that I didn't want to lose it. All my stationary, business cards, web site, web site registrations and listings, etc. would have to be changed and you know how hard that could be when you own a media company and have tons of web pages on the net.

So I got on the phone with Verizon because Packet8 told me that number wasn't available in their pool of numbers. Sure enough it was in the Verizon pool and was still available. I explained what needed to be done. I told them that I had to place a new phone line order and grab that number until Packet8 could port it back over. I pleaded with them and told them I didn't want to lose thousands of dollars reprinting stationary, etc. and wanted to avoid a law suit against Verizon. I certainly have grounds if I could show financial loss.

She told me they would have to run a financial check, I told her this was a second line in my home and that should not be necessary. I suggested we set up the new order with a long installation date. This then would lock the number, give me time to port it over to Packet8 and then we could cancel the new line install.

She was very nice and really wanted to help me and did in fact take my phone number, told me she would go to a supervisor and set it up and call me back. Well, she did it just right and the install date was set for late in December, so that should be sufficient time to regain my number.

Now I have to stay on top of Packet8 to make sure they will do it. I faxed them a request to port the number over so they have my written permission and have to deal with people calling my business number only to hear a message that the phone has been disconnected with no forwarding number.

I have asked them why their service was so poor and so messed up and the answer was they are very busy. I can guarantee that they are overwhelmed with new installs and probably aren't adding any new staff to handle the action. Frankly, now that I know they have to put a huge box in my home where the lines go in and out, I an not sure I would even want this service. They said they could put it in my garage, but frankly with all my shelving and wall space taken, there isn't much room to put this box in. If I wanted a big ugly box on the outside front of my home they could do that, but it would be seen by anyone entering my home, not a good option.

I am thankful that I decided to cancel before the installation because I know if I had a problem, their service would not be very good and I might be out of business while waiting for a tech to either call me back or show up.

Stay away from Verizon Fios for now, they are not ready for Prime Time and although their marketing team would have you believe they are, their install and support team will tell you "they are just too busy."


December 19, 2008 - Update on this story

If you read this story, you should also read my posting on Packet8 as the story continues there.

The short story is that I couldn't get my number back from Verizon and over to Packet8 and Verizon almost lost my number that I have had for 15 years. I decided to finally give in and had Verizon install the line and left Packet8. It is more then two weeks now and because of faulty installation and issues on the "Pole" I have not had phone service on that line.

I will keep you updated on this very long and frustrating journey.

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