You really don’t need crashes

After 18 months of firefighting with a system that is meant to help him run his business, Jon Brownsey says he is beyond angry now. He first got in touch with Forecourt Trader last September over ongoing problems at his Fordingbridge Service Station, Hampshire, with his Micros (previously Torex) system. It summed up as crashes, error messages, inability to poll at night or to order grocery supplies from Londis.

The problems coicided with a software switch as he had just changed from Total to Harvest Energy for forecourt supplies but, as it had followed a year of problems anyway, which included his back-office system packing up and poor reconditioned units being installed as replacements by third-party maintenance company Phoenix, he decided to go public.

It did appear to get sorted but he got back in touch in December to report numerous crashes and again in February to say that new software supposedly developed for Texaco had been installed. We crossed our fingers but it turned out to not be the cure-all.

His recent problems included a faulty printer on till number one; at a certain point it won’t print and then locks. The till can crash at any point during transactions.

An engineer visited (no longer Phoenix but a company called TLM) and said he would need to get a spare part from Micros.

Since then Jon has identified another quirk. If a credit card transaction is going through till two at the very moment that someone logs on to the master till (ie if they coincide), then till two gets an error message which says "EFT result unknown". It goes on in a rather long-winded way about pushing a button to accept or refuse (he has watched CCTV footage showing staffs’ fingers hovering over buttons, clearly wondering which one to push). Eventually the message reads "press accept to approve the transaction" so they always push accept. I think most people would, but it’s WRONG! While staff assume the transaction has gone through, in fact it has been dumped, the customer doesn’t get charged and so far Jon has lost £225 in transactions.

A further point: when till two is in use, it is because till one is busy, therefore so are the staff there isn’t time to ponder messages written by geeks that clearly could be made far more simple.

Micros said it had trialled new software on five sites which solved problems similar to this. They wanted to do a (remote) download on a Friday and said Jon would have to close the site for 45 mins. He requested a Monday, when it would be quieter. The download actually took over six hours so he lost a whole day’s trade. Micros said all was now fine now but in fact the first card transaction failed.

The following morning the first Amex card failed.

When he last spoke to me at the end of June, till one had crashed again and was refusing to talk to the back office. Micros had offered him another download but he had refused as he said he couldn’t risk losing another day’s trading and it would probably be to no avail anyway. Micros has agreed that the case has been problematic and has now downgraded the software to avoid the question that was being posed to the cashiers, thus taking care of the ’wrong answer’ and is now continuing to work on getting the software up to speed.

The company has also acknowledged that it might have managed the expectations of the ’down time’ a little better. A spokesman added: "We have many sites out there with this software and most cope with the evolution and being prompted with different questions during a transaction. But we will continue to work with Jon to get him to a version of software that is both current and fully compatible with his needs."

Micros has passed this on to its development team and apparently there is now no time frame.

I guess this means that Jon and Micros will get there in the end. We all have to live and work with computers these days. And they are getting more stable. The trouble is, when you have networks and interactive software, plus humans involved you generally still need someone in your organisation who is ready and willing to get under the bonnet. A geeky member of staff is a brilliant thing to have.

Claiming money back

Happy to report a good outcome for Chris Toole, who runs James Street Service Station in Carlisle, over his wrangle with Payzone. In the last issue I reported that he was about to challenge the low-volume charge imposed by Payzone because he couldn’t find any reference to it in any of his paperwork. He also decided to get rid of the terminal as it clearly wasn’t earning its keep.

In the end Payzone was unable to prove that he had signed any new contract in the first place with its more onerous terms; his original contract of 2010 was therefore still in place and it agreed to refund the whole fee of £480 but only after Chris went to the small claims court. The minute he did this, Payzone caved.

Staying legal

I was contacted recently by someone who inadvertently hired a part-timer who wasn’t legally allowed to work in the UK. I recommend before anyone hires anyone, they check out the website, which replaced Business Link and last October.

I did a little test drive and clicked on ’employing staff for the first time’. There are five things you must do and if you don’t already know what they are, then I suggest you pay a visit too.