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Sprint, Verizon, AT&T waive fees for those in path of hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian is now a Category 3 major storm and is still gathering strength as it moves toward Florida, where it could make landfall as soon as late Monday as a Category 4 hurricane.

All of Florida has been placed under a state of emergency and authorities are urging residents to stockpile a week’s worth of food and supplies, with the governor warning that the storm could be a “multi-day” event.
 
As a safety precaution, some of the major telecom providers in the United States have announced that they are waiving fees for those in the path of Hurricane Dorian
 
 
Verizon announced they are offering unlimited call/text/data for customers in Dorian’s path. https://twitter.com/VerizonNews/status/1167506290626760704 https://www.verizon.com/about/news/hurricane-dorian-way-and-verizon-ready
 
AT&T announced they are waiving data overages in affected areas of Florida from 9/2 until 9/8. https://about.att.com/pages/disaster_relief/storm_dorian.html
 
Sprint announced that they are waiving call, text, and data overage fees for customers in the U.S. Virgin Islands effective August 28 through September 4. https://newsroom.sprint.com/updates-on-dorian.htm?linkId=72887125
 

Taking Stock of Your Personal Telecom Network

We’ve all had a similar experience you get a bill in the mail, scan down to the bottom of the letter for the cost, and your eyes bulge. More than you expected? We know the feeling.

We also know that keeping your expenses down while maintaining the speeds and data you need to operate can be a delicate balance. With so many different options, how can you be sure you’re getting a great deal, as opposed to a raw one? Here are some tips for managing your own personal network to ensure you’re getting what you need without breaking the bank.

1: Assess your bills

You need to make sure you understand exactly what you are paying each month and what you’re getting for those payments. Are you paying full price? Are you paying for services you don’t need or want? How about services you don’t even realize you have access to? Are you signed up for a minimum-term contract with penalties for breaking it? If you don’t understand any aspect of your bill or service arrangement, call customer service and have them explain it to you!

This information is important not only for your own records, but also for your negotiations. If you know exactly what you’re paying for, you’ll know exactly how to bargain for better prices. Ensure that you review your account information, billing information and contract so you have a thorough understanding of where your money is going.

2: Know what you need

It’s very important to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sometimes you see a deal that sounds too good to pass up, but you need to remember that a deal is only valuable if it’s something you’re actually going to use! Why pay for a great deal on a home phone and cable bundle if you only use your cell phone and stream Netflix? Even if you’re paying a reduced price, if you’re not using the product, it’s not worth your money.

3: Pay on time, in full

Phone and internet providers want your business as long as you’re paying for it. As soon as you’re not making timely payments, your business is no longer a priority. Write down your payment dates and pay them in full, on time, every month. As long as you keep consistent and you’re always paying on time, you have leverage to use in your service negotiations.  After all, the company wants to keep you as a customer! You can use that to bargain down prices.

4: Haggle

So now you’ve assessed your payments, you’ve trimmed the fat and gotten rid of the things you don’t need and you’ve paid your bills in full and on time. Your service provider wants to keep you around! Now is the time to haggle.

Don’t accept the posted price. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! If you can’t get a deal from the person you’re talking to, escalate the call and ask for the retention department. Come prepared with alternative options and services if they try to call your bluff – with the amount of competition, you can squeeze even the large companies to give you a discount.

Finally, remember to be polite and professional. Sometimes, discounts are discretionary – which means an employee can decide whether or not to offer them to a customer. If you’re rude and aggressive, you’re much less likely to be offered the discount.

Are hiring algorithms right for your business?

You may remember in 2018 Amazon announced it was ditching its hiring algorithm due to apparent sexist outcomes of the online recruitment process. This is the exact opposite of the intended result of hiring algorithms, which are created to remove human bias and margin of error from the equation when searching for the best job candidate. Popular services like Monster and Zip Recruiter offer companies the use of their AI to make their hiring process easier and more fair.

As an article in Harvard Business Review explains, there are a lot of small tasks that hiring algorithms carry out. The article says that algorithms can “play different roles throughout this process: Some steer job ads toward certain candidates, while others flag passive candidates for recruitment. Predictive tools parse and score resumes, and help hiring managers assess candidate competencies in new ways, using both traditional and novel data.”

Hiring algorithms can automate some rather tedious labor and save time and money for people in human resources and executive positions. As Richard Marr, chief technology officer for recruitment platform Applied, told Forbes, “If done well, [using hiring algorithms] not only means efficiency savings but could also mean benefits for candidates such as quick responses and meaningful feedback.”

As great as this sounds, this software can actually preserve traditional biases that impact the hiring process, such as “amplifying disadvantages lurking in data points like university attendance or performance evaluation scores.” Thankfully, at the end of the day, humans still have the final decision in who gets hired.

Even the minds behind online recruitment service Monster admit that hiring algorithms are not a perfect solution to everyone’s hiring needs. The company posted an article to its website, judging the benefits and limitations for companies looking to use it. The article admits that there will always be the human temptation to overrule the algorithm.

“Who wants to hire a candidate — top-rated by a bloodless software application — who struck the hiring manager as somehow just not right for the job?” The article asks.  “Almost no one wants that. This situation presents a conundrum for HR and company executives.”

Monster’s advice for companies looking to use a hiring algorithm is to properly train their Human Resources departments and other individuals involved in the hiring process in how to balance the data given by the software with their natural instincts.

So is this technology the right fit for your business? It can save you time and money, but can also have some potentially negative impacts when used incorrectly. Since Amazon dropped its software because of the gendered bias, lots of research and development has gone into making these algorithms better; but they will never be perfect without the attention and training on behalf of the user. If you believe that you can balance the limitations of this software with its benefits, it might be a great tool for your business.

Your Office Move is an Opportunity to Save Time and Money on your Telecom

The decision to relocate your business is never made lightly. While the process can be stressful and distracting, it’s also full of wonderful opportunities to make improvements and save money – particularly when it comes to your telecom services.

To help make your move a success, we’ve put together a list of things to keep in mind concerning your telecom equipment and services while you’re undergoing this process.

 

Establish your tech requirements:

  • Can the wiring at your new location handle your current setup?
  • Do you have the physical space you need for technology resources like power, cooling, conferencing, and wireless connectivity?
  • Do you have an accurate estimate of how much it will cost to purchase new equipment versus moving your old hardware?

It’s inevitable that your big office move is going to have hiccups, but going in with a plan can help you weather the storm of unproductivity. It’s important to consider your technology and its support systems before you commit to a big move in order to minimize your downtime and prevent large gaps in your overall office efficiency. For example, if your new location isn’t properly wired, you will need you will need to be on top of the re-wiring process to make sure your equipment has the proper connections it needs to function.

Assess current services:

  • Is your office keeping up with technology advances and taking advantage of the best, most recent deals for telecom services?
  • Are there services you can renew, eliminate or change? Do you need to downsize or upgrade?
  • If you’re moving your old services and implementing them at the new location, will your incumbent service provider force you to sign a new contract – locking you in with your current setup?

The telecommunications industry is a dynamic marketplace. The technologies, services and players are always changing. Whether you’re implementing your old services in your new office or finding new vendors entirely, you need to be fully aware of all the options available to you in order to make sure you have the technology you need, at the lowest possible price.

Talk to a telecom cost-reduction professional:

A professional cost-reduction consultant can help take the weight off your shoulders when you’re preparing for an office move. They can:

  • Set up a site visit and handle your tech audit beforehand, making sure nothing slides through the cracks.
  • Fully analyze the market and make sure you’re not getting locked into any overpriced contracts.
  • Investigate the most cost efficient way of getting you set up in your new location, including simplifying and modernizing your setup, while reducing costs in the process.

Your big move is a great opportunity to both find savings on your telecom bills and increase your overall satisfaction levels with your telecom environment. Plan for your future needs, assess your current tech, and make sure to contact a professional!

Ensuring Point of Sale Security (Both Online and Off)

When you’re operating a business, customer trust is paramount. Your shoppers trust you to be able to provide what they need, when they need it. They trust you to treat them fairly. Perhaps most importantly, they trust that conducting a transaction with you isn’t going to come back to bite them. If your customers’ credit card information is stolen because your payment solution wasn’t properly secured, their trust, and subsequently their business with you, will go right out the window.

Enter Point of Sale (POS) security. The prevention of unauthorized access by hackers looking for ways to steal customer information. By providing data protection and blocking up any security gaps, you can secure your customer transactions and ensure you’re never on the chopping block for leaking sensitive information – not to mention avoid potential massive fines from the card brands.

Consider the following points when addressing the security of your POS systems, both online and on-location.

1: Point-To-Point Encryption

Ensure that you have software in place to protect your customers’ data from exposure. Point-to-point encryption tools encrypt your customers’ data as soon as it’s received, and encrypt it again when it’s sent to the POS server. In other words, whether an attacker is trying to steal the data from the terminal or intercept it on the way to the server, you’re covered.

 2: Physical Location

You’ve probably heard the term “skimmer” before in reference to hijacking data from a customer’s card. Whether you still swipe cards or use a newer chip machine, a common tactic used by fraudsters is using physical equipment to tap into the POS terminal and intercept the information. Key loggers can record your PIN, and most of the time these devices are hidden within the terminal itself.

It’s much easier for a hacker to install a skimmer on a device that is simply sitting at a front desk or bar then it is to install one locked in a security case. If your terminal is sitting in view of the entrance to your location, consider keeping it under lock and key and under the supervision of a security camera. Hackers search for low risk, high reward terminals and a simple security case and camera are often more than enough to make your terminal an unattractive option.

If your terminals have a wireless connection, such as those used by servers at a restaurant, ensure you have a system in place to keep track of the physical terminals, and make sure you write down their individual serial numbers. Any terminal that goes missing for any length of time should be immediately suspect. In fact, merchants dealing with significant sales through their POS terminals should make checking for tampering part of their daily routine.

3: PCI Compliance

One of the most common issues we see with new merchant services clients here at Schooley Mitchell is with PCI compliance. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of procedures maintained by the PCI Security Standards Council. It has tons of guidelines revolving around authentication, encryption, vulnerability testing, antivirus, and more. These standards are designed to protect credit card information by ensuring that the systems used to transmit the data are sufficiently secure. Failure to adhere to these standards drastically increases your risk of data theft.

Validating your PCI compliance involves filling out an annual questionnaire and, depending on the scope of your own POS terminals, completing quarterly scans to check for vulnerabilities. In addition to keeping data secure, maintaining PCI compliance can also reduce the fees you are charged by your merchant services provider on every transaction. The safer your data, the smaller the risk you represent to the credit card companies.

4: Address Verification

You should always use an address verification system (AVS) if you accept online sales. Address verification is done by comparing the billing address from the purchase “request” with the address data on file at the issuing bank. This is an important step in preventing fraud, because a criminal stealing a card number often has no access to the billing address associated with the card itself. If they attempt to use the card for a purchase and the address doesn’t match, your AVS system will alert you to the discrepancy. Between your AVS and proper requirement of the CVV number on the back of your card, a fraudulent charge can be avoided even if the entire credit card number is stolen.

5: Suspicious Purchasing Patterns

If you accept payments online, you need to be aware of the warning signs and red flags that go hand-in-hand with online fraud. Signs include exceptionally large orders paired with one-day shipping, emails comprised of long strings of numbers and letters instead of real words or names, and several orders from a single IP address using multiple different credit cards. While none of these things are definitive proof of a fraudulent transaction, they can represent early warning signs, especially when used in tandem.

By monitoring for these red flags, along with utilizing your other fraud detection tools, you can help even the playing field and catch fraudulent transactions before they cause significant damage to you, your processor, and your customers.

By paying special attention to the points listed above and consulting with your merchant services provider directly or through a merchant services expert, you can maintain your reputation as a safe and reputable merchant, avoid the fees that go hand-in-hand with a data breach, and protect both yourself and your customers.

Canada Post and its union aren’t negotiating

shipping cost reduction servicesSometimes, you just have to find someone else to make a decision for you.

It’s been over a week since Canadian postal workers were forced back to their jobs by legislation – but Canada Post and its union aren’t negotiating. Instead, they’re waiting for the government to appoint a mediator to resolve the issues that have plagued the Canadian post environment for nearly a month and a half.

Back-to-work legislation was officially passed last Monday ending legal strike action, but the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) warned officials that their fight is far from over.

CUPW president Mike Palecek called the legislation unconstitutional, stating “you cannot legislate labour peace.”

“In the coming days, we will be calling on our allies and membership for a campaign of mobilizations, demonstrations and non-violent civil disobedience,” Palecek’s statement said.

Both Canada Post and the CUPW were warned last week by Employment Minister Patty Hadju that the government would issue back-to-work legislation should they fail to reach an agreement within a few days.

True to her word, Bill C-89 was fast-tracked by the Liberal government through the House of Commons, and the Senate vote passed by 53 to 25, with four abstentions. C-89 imposes fines anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 per day on anyone found in contravention of the act, and up to $100,000 per day against CUPW or Canada post if either are found guilty of violating the terms.

Many Canadians depend on Canada Post to ship their small packages and mail, especially with the rapid approach of the holiday season. Despite the legislation, Canada Post has warned Canadians that they can expect delays of both mail and package delivery into the new year as a result of the rotating walkouts employed by CUPW.

If you’re nervous about potential delayed or missed deliveries this holiday season, there are several domestic and international small package shipping and courier businesses in Canada that remain unaffected by the strikes.

If you’re a business owner looking to reduce shipping costs, visit https://www.schooleymitchell.com/services/shipping/ for more information.

Are VPNs on the rise in the United States?

Since the repeal of net neutrality came into effect in June, a spotlight has been shown on Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs. These networks allow users to be anonymous while browsing. Some consumers are flocking to them “to maintain some control and security over their digital lives.”

PCMag recently “surveyed 3,000 US consumers about VPN use and buying trends” to see just how popular this option has become in the United States.

The publication says, it found “that while fewer than a third of consumers currently use VPNs, 52 percent of respondents said they’re more likely to use a VPN since net neutrality rules officially went kaput in June. More significantly, one in four respondents (26 percent) said that the net neutrality rollback directly influenced them to purchase a VPN app.”

Of the consumers using a VPN, there were four recurring reasons to do so. Forty-eight percent say “for security purposes,” 30 percent say “to safely access public Wi-Fi,” eighteen percent say “to share data securely,” and seven percent said they use a VPN to “avoid government surveillance.”

It looks like those selling VPNs have a lot to gain from the repeal of net neutrality, even as states such as California are passing laws to bring back the laws within its jurisdiction.

Source: pcmag.com – How Net Neutrality Repeal Is Fueling VPN Adoption
Published: October 22, 2018

Telecom employees penalized for giving customers better prices

telecom cost reduction services logoDon’t like the prices you’re getting from Canadian providers? Neither do their employees. A recent CBC report has revealed that employees across numerous Canadian telecom carriers are being punished for trying to help customers get a better deal, or for having a customer cancel services on them.

The news comes mainly from Rogers, Bell, and Fido employees.

Jason Harley, who worked as a Rogers sales representative in a Kitchener, Ontario call centre for two years call the job “brutal.”

According to CBC, Harley, “is one of a handful of past and present telco call centre employees for Rogers, Fido and Bell who are speaking out as the CRTC prepares to hold a public hearing on the sales practices of telecoms, due to begin Oct. 22.” The inquiry was ordered by the federal government after hundreds of past and present telecom workers contacted CBC with claims of unethical practices.

Harley told CBC that sales representatives at Rogers earn points towards commission for every product or service they sell. However, they also lose points for every time they cancel a customer’s service. “I would do everything I could not to cancel a customer’s services, even though that’s what they wanted,” Harley admitted. He believes that the system created “a culture of dishonesty” at Rogers, where workers employed a variety of tactics to trick customers into not cancelling their service.

One tactic is what Harley calls ‘the hot potato game’, where reps would “transfer a customer who wanted to cancel a service to another agent, who in turn might transfer the call to another colleague.” The point being, the agent that gets stuck with the customer, is the one losing the points.

He even admits that sometimes sales reps simply wouldn’t record a customer’s request to cancel a service. Harley also says that he “often heard agents tell customers who wanted to cut services that it would be easier to go to a Rogers store to do that, instead of the rep handling it over the phone and getting financially penalized.”

Worst of all, Harley told CBC, “I think the most dishonest one is when they say they processed the cancellation, but they didn’t.”

Another employee echoed Harley’s story during her time answering calls for Fido, a Rogers subsidiary. “If I try to help them [a customer], my statistics will go down and I’ll be shown the door,” she told CBC. “So what do I want more? Do I want to help the person, or do I want a paycheque?  It stresses you out.”

Rogers is of course denying the allegations made by Harley and the anonymous Fido employee, saying in an email that the stories “do not reflect our values or our customer service practices and we have no tolerance in our organization for unethical behaviour.”

Stories from Bell employees are much of the same. Former Nordia employee – Nordia being a call centre company owned by Bell – Anthony Savage told CBC that “the incentive is to do as little as possible [for the customer].”

It is no surprise that Canadian telecoms are facing complaints from customers, but all these damning stories from former employees give the complaints a lot of credibility. Do you think Rogers, Fido, and Bell will have to change their tactics?

Source: CBC.ca – Rogers, Fido and Bell call centre workers penalized for reducing plans, offering credits
Published: October 14, 2018

Are we under-producing batteries?

They power our smartphones, laptops, tablets, and the growing number of electric cars. Batteries are everywhere. But The Toronto Star has some bad news about them; the world might not be producing enough batteries to keep up with the consumer demand of the “smart” era.

The paper asserts that “All of the new demand from North America, Europe and Asia is constrained at the moment by a market that remains heavily dependent on a few producers.”

A large contributor to the new demand comes from the electric car market.

“Today, there are more than 3 million electric vehicles on the road worldwide; by 2025, Volkswagen AG alone plans to build as many as 3 million electric vehicles per year. Those vehicle batteries — in addition to storage batteries for homes, businesses and utilities — will have to come from somewhere,” says The Toronto Star.

The Star says that a key player in the battery shortage is South Korea: because of some change in government policy, the country’s main battery producers Samsung SDI and LG Chem – two of the leading international manufacturers – are “prioritizing sales in their home country.” Meaning, relying on batteries coming out of South Korea might have disappointing results in the future. The Star explains that U.S buyers in particular “often rely on Korean-made batteries. Almost 60 per cent of the utility-scale batteries deployed in the U.S. last year were made by Samsung SDI and LG Chem.”

Larash Johnson, chief technology officer of Stem Inc, one of America’s largest U.S battery companies, told The Toronto Star that “There is definitely some tightness in the global market. It’s one of the reason we’re looking for new suppliers.”

Another large battery supplier is Tesla, which has a sizeable battery factory in Nevada. Despite its high capacity for production, Tesla “can pick and choose who they want to deliver to” and “they are not delivering to everyone.” As The Star says, “Together, Tesla and the Korean battery-making giants can expect to enjoy intense demand.”

These three companies might have a near monopoly on battery production, but another potential source for production expansion is China. New factories are popping up across the country with huge capacity for production.

Source: thestar.com – For now, at least, the world isn’t making enough batteries
Published: October 5, 2018

Why it’s important to keep current with device updates

It can be annoying when your smartphone, laptop or tablet sends you repetitive notifications about those pesky software updates. They are easy to ignore, rather than taking the time out of your day to update. If you are one of the many people who do this – because we know you aren’t alone – Popular Science has some advice for you.

In an article attempting to convince you not to ignore these updates, Popular Science says, “Gadget updates take care of a lot of problems, but their most important application might be security. When disasters strike, they usually hit hardware that’s running outdated software. To prevent this, manufacturers will regularly roll out crucial patches that protect your laptop, phone, and other gadgets from the latest threats.”

So while you might not care about getting the latest slew of emojis, there is some real benefit in updating your device. In fact, it could be a real safety concern if you don’t. On top of that, a lot of performance issues you might be experiencing could be related to not installing updates.

“If your gadget suffers from poor battery life, can’t connect to Wi-Fi properly, keeps displaying strange characters on screen, a software patch might sort out the issue,” Popular Science explains.

Each device is different in terms of when and how many updates you are likely to receive. iOS devices get updates much more frequently than Pixel phones, for example. If you are an iOS 12 user, you even now have the option of using the new Automatic Updates feature, selectable on the Software Update screen. By choosing to enable this feature, your device will “automatically apply patches overnight, waiting until the device is idle, plugged into a power charger, and connected to a Wi-Fi network.”

Source: popsci.com – Stop putting off your device updates – here’s why
Published: September 23, 2018