I’ve read a lot in the last few months about people having difficulties registering their install of QuickBooks. I’ve heard Intuit employees respond that improvements have been made.

So with some degree of optimism, I installed and registered a new license of QB Pro 2010 on a computer running Windows Vista.

Overall, I found that the process seems somewhat better than a lot of what I’ve read. But there is room for improvement. See my four suggestions at the bottom of this article.

I insert the QuickBooks install CD and it fires up. I put in my license code. I accept the default options for an express install. About 15 minutes later, it’s done! No problems so far. Do I want to run QuickBooks now? Sure! I’ve got a good working  QBW file. Let’s open it up.

Error -6000,-77. What!? I don’t recognize the -77 part right off, but 6000 errors often mean data damage. Sometimes they mean environmental issues. I know this data is clean. (I look it up, and a -6000 -77 error means there is a folder permissions problem where the data is. Not sure why that would apply here though.)

I close out QB and it closes cleanly now. I find my QBW file through Windows on My Computer and double-click it. Voila! It opens up just fine now. Now it wants me to register.

OK. I’ll be curious about this. There has been a kind of conspiracy theory on Twitter about the registration process. Some say that Intuit wants to upsell their users hard, so the online registration never works – it  always makes you register over the phone. Why? So you have to hear the sales spiels, you see. That’s what suspicious minds think, anyway.

I start the process of registering online. I already have an Intuit ID, so I log in. It wants more info about me. OK. I have to put in my billing information. Why? I am not going to buy anything. But the asterisks say it’s required info. so I enter it.

I’m in my account overview screen, but, uh, where did QuickBooks go? On my monitor, part of the information is off the screen, below the last field. Is there a submit button down there? This is not a scrolling or resizeable window. I have no idea where the focus of the window is right now. I dare not just press ENTER, fearing that I’ll then be signing up for all manner of optional services.

I monkey around with tabs and clicks, and somehow can now see the “Save” button. I save. Now what? I can’t see a “Return to QuickBooks” button, if there is one. There are no relevant navigation controls at all. The only thing remotely “exit-y” is “Sign Out”. I click that. Uh oh. The registration takes me down a dead-end street and drops me off. I see this screen:

What the heck? No navigation controls except links to Intuit corporate pages. I’m not in a browser window, although it kinda looks like one. Close Window control doesn’t respond. I’m tempted to Task Manager/End Task my way out of this but that definitely wouldn’t be right, and as far as I know, my company data is still open. It would be a sad thing to CTRL-ALT-DEL it into corruption.

I poke around. F2 brings up my QuickBooks Product Information. OK, QuickBooks is still alive in there… It says my product is still UNREGISTERED. Figures. I randomly hit ESC. Voila! Back in QuickBooks again. It says that the online registration failed and I have to register by phone.

Ah, so here we go. I call the 800 number. Please enter my phone number. I do, but it doesn’t like it. “You will now be connected with a registration representative to help you.”

You know those March-of-Dimes coin funnel things they have in grocery stores sometimes? I feel like a penny spiraling down the giant funnel of this registration process – my destination is inevitable. There is no way I’m going to avoid talking to a rep who is going to try to sell me a bunch of stuff.

So in less than a minute, a fellow named Brian comes on the line. He asks me a couple of questions. He gets my license codes. HE DOES NOT OFFER TO SELL ME ANYTHING. He gives me my validation code and has me press F2 again. REGISTERED.

Brian bids me good day. OK! All’s well that ends well.

I suggest that Intuit consider changing the following aspects of their product registration process:

  1. Launch a browser session to capture the information, rather than putting me in an ill-designed pseudo-browser with non-standard flow and controls.
  2. Don’t ask me for billing info. If I want to buy an optional service/app later, there is plenty of time to get my billing details later.
  3. Give me a nice, clear, “Return to QuickBooks” link somewhere, or other appropriate form controls. Don’t dump me in a blind alley. CTRL-ALT-DEL shouldn’t be coming into my head…
  4. If I registered, count it. In spite of the difficulties, I was able to save my information on the form. So why didn’t QuickBooks show that it was registered?

My first tech job long ago was doing software quality assurance, so it was kind of fun analyzing my experience with the QuickBooks registration process.

My final thought: Kudos to Intuit for listening to users’ complaints about over-marketing and toning that down. I am impressed that, though they are large, Intuit seems to respond to its users.

What are your thoughts on the current QuickBooks registration process? Was your experience like mine?

QuickBooks disasters come in at least three flavors.

Scenario #1: System failure: A QuickBooks user has some kind of system catastrophe. A fire, a computer theft, a flood, a server hard drive crash and trash. The computer goes down and takes QuickBooks with it.

That is the time when current, reliable backups are more than handy — they are the lifeline to restoring your normal accounting and/or business operations. It’s true that my company can repair damaged QuickBooks files, but the cost is not insignificant. The best thing is just to have a good backup from, say, yesterday. How to avoid a QuickBooks disaster? Backup.

Scenario #2: Human failure: Your brother-in-law is pretty good with computers, you say. So he got on your computer, and trying to clean things up, ended up deleting your Quickbooks files. Or your just-fired bookkeeper sends you a message: he/she reformats your computer before he/she walks out the door. How to avoid a QuickBooks disaster? Backup. IT pros can maybe recover your files intact, or maybe not. Best thing is to have good current backups.

Note: Making backups seems to be one of my big themes; I hope you don’t tire of it. The reason I talk about it so much is because I have conversations almost every day with QuickBooks users who find themselves wishing they had more or better backups than they have. The fact that they don’t have them is good for my support business, but not much fun for my clients. FYI.

Scenario #3: Accounting control failure: QuickBooks has the reputation of being pretty easy for non-accountants to use. That’s a double-edged sword: it gives people in small business the power to do their own books, but in the wrong hands, it also gives an avenue to embezzle money. This is especially true in businesses where one individual is responsible for everything related to the books.

A lady in my town was convicted a couple of years ago of defrauding the construction company she worked for out of several tens of thousands of dollars, and that was their scenario. How to avoid a QuickBooks disaster? Have more than one person involved in the bookkeeping, and have your books audited. There is a lot more to say about this; consult your local CPA.

I just read a great article in Start Up Nation Online. It describes customer service in pretty stark terms: people notice either really good or really bad customer service.

A quick search of  tweets on “QuickBooks” from the last 24 hours shows the following:

  • installing quickbooks required me to call support to register the product. No web based reg? have to call? really? sheesh.
  • I want to integrate my bank transactions with Quickbooks Online Plus, no one at your bank’s 800 # has a clue, any help?
  • Is QuickBooks Online down for anyone else this morning? #needtopaypayrolltaxes

A tweet on the positive side: The QuickBooks Balance for those using online banking has been added back to the homepage per QB Online user requests. Yeah feedback! !

And another positive example: @RebeccaTervoCPA Just had a potential client call to say “My Quickbooks are a mess, and I need them fixed for the bank by next Thursday!” I’ll try my best:)

So it gets me thinking. What makes for a really great QuickBooks customer service or support experience? These tweets plus my own experience suggest these qualities:

  • Great communication: Listening to users and responding with action
  • Great empathy: Responding to the urgency of the problem.
  • Great competence: Dealing with someone who is an expert.
  • Great timeliness: Getting  a quick and effective solution to the problem.

What would make for a really bad software support experience?

  • Poor communications: Having difficulty finding out the status of what’s going on.
  • Poor relationship: Being treated primarily as an upsell prospect
  • Poor system: Being put on hold for a long time.

No support organization is perfect. It’s great that Twitter makes it easy to feel the pulse of the QuickBooks user; all of us who support QuickBooks can adjust and improve the way we serve end users.

When QuickbooksUsers.com helps someone with a software issue, we often send them a “How did we do?” questionnaire to get feedback. We use that feedback to tweak what we do. But maybe we have some blind spots. Let me know…

Do you have anything to add to the list of what makes great or awful service and support?

Here are four ideas to be more successful with QuickBooks for the balance of this year:

1. Make a good backup plan, and implement it. Talk to your local IT pro or give us a call for practical advice on this. Everyone knows they should have good regular backups. Studies show that 90% don’t follow through. But you go ahead! If your computer crashes later this year, you will thank me. Yes! You will.

2. Get your versions of QuickBooks, Windows, and your hardware all lined up. Don’t run QuickBooks 2005 under Windows 7. Or run QuickBooks 2010 on a PC you bought in 2005. Hardware, operating system, and applications work together best when they were produced around the same time.

3. Make QuickBooks work harder for you. It can do more than just pay your bills and reconcile your bank account, you know? Have you ever showed your QuickBooks reports to someone who can interpret them for you and tell you how you could tweak your business to make it way more profitable? That’s where some hidden accounting beauty lies…in the potential bottom line. Talk to your CPA, to a virtual CFO, or talk to us to get connected to one. You’ll spend a little, but maybe save or make a lot.

4. If you are using QuickBooks 2010, check out some of the optional services/apps. Online document management, online check depositing, email marketing…there are lots of new services to consider that can help save time or create new revenue.

Are you going to try anything new with QuickBooks this year?

I got a call last week from someone running accounting software on her Apple IIe computer.

If you don’t know the Apple IIe, it is *not* the latest Mac product. It was, in fact, Apple’s state-of-the-art computer in 1982.

The lady has been using her old accounting software (not QuickBooks) on her old computer for almost 30 years. Without any problems. This week, the original floppy program disks finally wore out and gave up.

Which raises the question: When should you upgrade your accounting software? My (not original) philosophy: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it’s broke, fix it.

One caveat: If the newer version has new capabilities that you are pretty sure will save you a lot of time, money, or hassle, do the upgrade. QuickBooks 2010 has new capabilities that may well fit that description for you.

But I talk to QuickBooks users sometimes that wish they could go back to an earlier, ‘simpler’ version. I heard a lot of that when the QB 2006 version came out. What an outcry! I heard special pining for the old QB 99 version. I guess 1999 was a very good year for QuickBooks.

If you use QuickBooks payroll services and your version gets so old that Intuit doesn’t support it anymore — it’s broke. Fix it. Intuit only supports releases going back three versions.

If you are trying to use an old version of QB on your spankin’ new Win 7 machine, it won’t work. Fix it.

Otherwise, if what you are using now does 90-95% of what you want, I say be happy with what you’ve got.

What do you say?

You rely on QuickBooks to make lots of important things happen in your business. It’s mission critical.

Paying your bills, your employees, and tracking your cash are just as important to you as to Fortune 500 companies. Here’s the thing, though: the big guys rely on software that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your accounting software of choice? Costs maybe a couple hundred bucks.

The amazing thing is that your small business software can perform the basic (and some not so basic) accounting functions as well as the big guys’ software. Your P&L, balance sheet, and payment processes are probably just as effective as theirs.

And with the ever-increasing number of add-on programs and online solutions available with QuickBooks, your accounting power and options are only going up.

So be encouraged — you are part of the Fortune 4.5 Million (QuickBooks approx. install base). You can produce and *use* accounting information that will help your business succeed. And if that happens, you’ll have something over a lot of the big guys these days.

Do you ever feel at an accounting system disadvantage compared to large companies?