I tried out Filemaker’s new personal database, Bento, and am not only delighted with the $49 product, but also the service and support.
All this in spite of some really, really horrible messups that would usually be reported here in much stronger terms.
I downloaded the preview version and was impressed enough to start on a household inventory (actually, I was sold the moment I could manage all my x years history in iCal – deleting only up to the start of 2006 and having it work perfectly – all from within Bento itself). The product is largely self evident (that is, you don’t need a user manual) and the forums and feedback was excellent to product requests, enhancement suggestions and cries for help. TSGal deserves a huge pat on the back for her work there (and a bonus!).
There were some howlers – the ‘Buy Now’ link resolved to a ‘page not found’ error. A killer for the marketing guy in me, even though this was beta software. There are still some of those (read on) in the released product.
I made a couple of suggestions and had questions (from TSGal) to clarify and feedback that my requests had been passed to the development team. Wow, a response! Score 1.
The initial release is announced and I sign up. Filemaker incurred my wrath for stupid (that is information that MAY be valuable to them, but that i should not be OBLIGED to disclose in order to buy) mandatory questions on the order form. For example, this is a personal purchase but the form would not let me proceed without entering a company (as an aside, MacWorld got a repeat of last years silly inputs to its sign up form again – this time the check in crew had a sense of humor and laughed at my company – MYOB). So I wrote ‘This is not a mandatory field’ in the company slot, and sure enough I was allowed to spend money.
I think there computer has a wry sense of humor though. My purchase completed, I scanned my email for the unlock key. Sure enough, it arrives. I enter my name, as requested, and my software key – carefully cut and pasted to ensure accuracy. Nothing. The unlock button stays stubbornly grey. I continue to use Bento in ‘Try’ mode.
I read the forums, sure enough I’m not the only one with problems. I carefully follow all the suggestions – the cause seems to be that those of us who used the preview version, then installed the trial to unlock were struggling. But that IS what we have to do. So I download the trial again, make sure I delete the old installation and install again (at least on a Mac this stuff is trivial and simple). Same result.
I read the forums, make an entry saying that I’ve done all that is suggested, and still had the problem. More suggestions, try them, comment on the forum. TSGal is there, with good suggestions. None of which worked for me. ‘Send me a private message with a number, dates and times our support can contact you’ says TSGal. Are they kidding? They’ll call me? I respond, and sure enough a great tech support person called me.
Turns out that the unlock mechanism didn’t want my name (I tried all the suggestions: use lower case throughout, use two spaces between first and last name, etc., etc.) at all. For some reason – that is still not clear – the registration mechanism wants the Company details, not my name. This is a bit of a surprise, as it’s supposed to be an optional field. So my software is now registered to ‘This is not a mandatory field’. Who says computers don’t have a sense of humor.
I’m a delighted customer. Really.
The lesson here is that our expectation is not for perfection (especially in beta software), but how a company reacts to correct a problem. Filemaker’s people were exemplary. They replied to posts on the forum, they took the problem and owned it, they called me (I still can’t believe that) and they laughed and treated me as a human whilst solving the problem. The support lady who called me said she would report the problems to the dev team. I believe her.
What an organization – represented by extraordinary people.