Open Letter to Vlad Shmunis, CEO, RingCentral

Color me surprised: Last week Wednesday (the 21st) I spent about half an hour on the phone with RingCentral’s Phillipines-based “customer retention” group since I was canceling my account (here is why). You’ve probably already guessed but I just received an invoice and yep, the account didn’t get canceled and I was invoiced for the full month!

So now I’m on the phone again with Philippines-based call center going through the same cancellation process. There was a “system glitch” last time apparently. This time the system must have worked because, after 30 minutes on the phone again, call center rep “Juan” got my account canceled.

By the way, if you are a small business, don’t bother with RingCentral. They are continuing to accelerate toward mid-market and larger companies, and they really don’t have time for you.

Here is Mr. Shmunis in 2013 being asked the question about SMBs (small to midsize business) and he certainly makes it seem like he’s interested in the “S” part of the market, but they are not:

The Yealink phone system arrived Tuesday afternoon and a meeting was set with the technical manager John (see July 11th Update). He and I spent close to an hour today and got the Yealink added to our phone system. Everything works. He clearly invested additional time to ensure that *everything* functioned, that our account didn’t have superfluous items on it, and really went out of his way to be accommodating. Thank you John.

While I know we’re a small business and the technical aspects of RingCentral—and that only accounts with “20 Users or more” get U.S.-based tech support—tells me that this company is targeting larger customers and has to…unless they find ways to make their processes, phone upgrades and tech support better. Those target customers are probably mid-market ones, usually $50M and above. While I don’t blame them for moving in that direction, we small business users are always sucking-hind-teat when it comes to drinking of the technology milk that will help us to be more competitive and productive.

Many large companies pay lip-service to “we’re going after SMB” (Small to Mid-size Business) but they always discover that—unless their self-help and community management is world-class—that catering to a small revenue/high maintenance customer base rarely pays off. I think that’s changing as more and more of us become more technical, but will continue to challenge us all in the world of tech…including our pals at RingCentral.

I received a call late today from John, a technical manager at RingCentral, and he was terrific. He apologized for the difficulty I’d had, helped me buy the Yealink phone system, listened to my additional complaints and suggestions, and all is (or will be) well when the Yealink phone arrives next week.

Turns out that if I had purchased the Yealink with RC’s Philipines tech support folks, the phone would have immediately been provisioned, shut off our Cisco ATAs, and we would have had NO phone service until the Yealink arrived! It is gotcha-after-gotcha like that which RingCentral must fix…or they’d better hire A LOT of guys like John to spend an hour or so with every customer.

ringcentral-logoAs a RingCentral (RC) customer since May of 2010, we have enjoyed your service and its capabilities. After my initial 40-50 hours of working with your Philippines-based support folks (yes, it was that painful to setup), we finally got everything up and functioning with our two lines (using Cisco analog telephone adapters), our 800#, fax line, and extensions. It has worked quite well ever since and we’ve evangelized RC to many clients and friends, many of whom have signed up with your service.

But man…is it ever hard to upgrade! Though we have had few issues with RC and little need to contact tech support, dealing with your folks in the Philippines is virtually impossible when it comes to upgrading our service or buying new phones!

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Skype’s Incredibly Confusing Product Mix

Since 2005 I’ve been an avid Skype user and enjoy its use for phone calls, international calling, screensharing, and even for podcasting and interviews. The quality of its audio is fantastic and I love having my contacts available everywhere. I have the unlimited subscription plan for $3/month so I can call landline and mobile phones in the U.S. and Canada, and usually leave a few extra dollars in the account so I can easily call my wife when she is traveling abroad.

To illustrate how embedded Skype is in my work and personal life, I even purchased a phone number some years ago so I could easily route calls to Skype. I then subsequently bought a Skype cordless phone so my account could be always-on and always-connected. Of course, I use the Skype apps on my iPhone and iPad too.

The #1 drawback with Skype, however, is how unbelievably confusing it is to give them my money and it’s even tougher to recommend to someone else how they can get set up initially. Some other issues include:

  • I’d like to add group video calling. This requires an additional subscription, separately managed, instead of an upgrade to my current account
  • For my business I set up Skype Business — mainly so I could allocate Skype Credit to others in my office — but I couldn’t “take over” my Skype account and manage it within the Business dashboard…I could only add additional credit. 
  • A friend wanted to get set up with Skype and emulate my account type. I had to screenshare with him in order to see what was on the screen since he had to buy a subscription.

It goes on and on. Now I have two sisters-in-law getting setup on Skype since one is traveling with an iPad and one is home. They needed to sit with me to figure out what to buy and why. I’d hoped that Microsoft buying Skype last year would have helped with making it easier to give Skype our money, but it’s worse. Just go to the Skype website and try to figure out what to buy and you’ll see what I mean. 

Skype for iPad is Still “Rare”

Like many of us who use and love Skype, I’ve been eagerly anticipating its release for the iPad, in the same way I look forward to a “medium well” juicy steak now and then. Unfortunately, like in a bad restaurant, I metaphorically bit in to the new iPad Skype app this afternoon and it turned out the damn thing is rare

Once I installed the app and launched it, I logged in and called one of my Skype accounts. The microphone and speaker didn’t function. Then I completely quit the app and I could still hear audio clicking coming out of the speaker. Hmmm….not good.

Then I completely quit all iPad apps and rebooted the device and relaunched Skype. It tried to connect and then, inexplicably, Skype killed my Wifi connection and I couldn’t re-enable it. Hmmm….not good.

Did the same complete-quick and reboot and relaunch of Skype. NOW the Wifi stayed on and the microphone and speakers functioned perfectly. So did my headset/microphone combination. NOTE: If you install Skype for iPad on your device, make certain you completely quit all apps and then reboot.

After proceeding to test it thoroughly several times, I was satisfied it worked. But searching for contacts? Yikes…there isn’t a search function. So if you have A LOT of Skype contacts like I do, be forewarned you’ll be flipping and flipping and flipping your various contact screens to find the person you’d like to call. This is a bizarre oversight in my opinion.

The interesting part of this not-quite-fully-cooked iPad app is that the iPhone app functions pretty well (and also if it that app is used on the iPad), even though I frequently get “low connection” errors when using Skype with iPhone on my home Wifi which is “N” and really fast. In fact, the iPhone app worked better on the iPad than the new iPad app does. If it wasn’t for video on the new iPad app, there’s little reason to use it over the existing iPhone app.

In many ways I continue to be stunned by what a mess Skype apps are regardless of platform. The Windows app is dramatically different (and better) than the Mac app (the latter which is a joke for user interface design and everyone hates it); the iPhone/Android apps are a bit closer in functionality but different enough to be material. The iPad app being so minimal, and with not very robust capabilities, is most bothersome. Hope Skype/Microsoft gets this right since I’ve been paying for the service for several years now and use Skype all day, every day and really want this iPad app to be awesome. 

Will Success Destroy Toktumi?

In September of last year I tried out the Toktumi (“talk to me”) service with their 30 day free trial and received a phone number. Not ready to pull the trigger and sign up at the end of that trial, I was ready a few weeks ago (and have six clients who could use it too) so decided to signup. Unfortunately, all hell had broken loose because The New York Times published David Pogue‘s review of Toktumi’s Line2 app for the iPhone (an app I’d downloaded back in September and still had on my iPhone) and an untold number of people tried to signup and hackers took the site down with some sort of account signup attack.

Toktumi took signups offline in order to recover and guard against future attacks so I added myself to the list of people being notified. But then the “impossibility gremlins” arrived to make buying their service impossible, mainly because their database still has my mobile number in it from last year’s 30 day trial so I’m unable to get past their “Activate Service” screen and complete the transaction.

Sounds easy to fix, right? A quick assistance from a human should do the trick, don’t ya think?

After several customer service emails, calling their toll-free number (support and sales…both of which aren’t answered and encourage filling out a help ticket) and attempting to receive help by using their live chat (which gives a rough time of engaging in live chat–mine has been 6, 8 or 10 minutes the three times I tried using it–but after 45-60 minutes I’ve given up and closed the chat window), I decided today to leave a voicemail for Peter Sisson, Toktumi’s CEO and describe the infinite loop I find myself in simply trying to buy their service, make him aware of it and see if I can “shake the tree” a bit and get some help.

Since I’m highly motivated I’ll keep trying through tomorrow and then give up permanently. It’s sad since I cover startups (at another site I’m involved in, Minnov8) and I’m well aware of the trials and tribulations entrepreneurs experience, especially when a sudden event blows up their company and they scramble to recover. But the ones that have survived “success” like Toktumi is experiencing have learned one thing and executed on it well: focus on those who want to give you their money and become your customers.

UPDATE: That was quick. 10 minutes after I published this post I emailed Toktumi customer service and they setup an account, told me how to upgrade and so forth so I’m moving forward.

Apple Opens up VoIP on 3G & it Works!

Every time I become aware of a new technology development that seems useful, I have to try it myself and experience it. When I read that Apple had opened up Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP or calls over the data connection) I had to try it out since this is a capability I use frequently (Skype is my favorite and I’ve used it for years).

Shortly after this Apple 3G support information was released, iCall sent out a release stating that their software could make calls over 3G, Fring said they had an update coming so their users could make calls, and Skype has indicated they’ll update “…as soon as Apple makes that capability available.”  Since Fring was the only app I had on my iPhone that might potentially work immediately, I fired it up.

If you haven’t used Fring, it has “add-ons” that allow you to essentially aggregate your other services in to one application. You can add chat accounts like MSN Live, ICQ, Google Talk, Twitter, Yahoo, AIM and more. Since Skype has chat I added it and then tried to make a call.

It worked over 3G! All of my Skype buddies came up and I launched a call to one of them. During the first few minutes of the call, I asked if he knew what I was calling him on (we usually talk either on our iPhones or over Skype and the latter quality is 5x as good as the mobile phone quality). He said, “Ahh…it sounds better than your iPhone but not as good as Skype. What ARE you using?” Yep, the quality is outstanding.

The moment Skype has an update I’ll download it as that remains my VoIP software of choice though iCall has an excellent business model too. Fring is marginally useful since I just don’t use chat that much anymore and few people reach out to me on chat.