Women, Men & Storytelling

The Wall Street Journal: “New research … shows that women find men who are good storytellers more appealing … Psychologists believe this is because the man is showing that he knows how to connect, to share emotions and, possibly, to be vulnerable. He also is indicating that he is interesting and articulate and can gain resources and provide support … The men didn’t care whether the women were good storytellers, the research showed.”

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Quote of the Day: Ralph Pini

Inside Blackberry: “Sometimes it can be very tough to let go. For BlackBerry, and more importantly for our customers, the hardest part in letting go is accepting that change makes way for new and better experiences.” – Ralph Pini, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager for Devices at BlackBerry, on the company’s decision to discontinue the Blackberry Classic and its tactile keyboard.

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Coming Soon: Robo-Burgers

Popular Mechanics: “In 2012, robotics start up Momentum Machines invented a machine that can make a burger from start to finish. This impressive feat will soon be put to use with a robot-run burger restaurant in the South of Market area in San Francisco … Every aspect of the burger is customizable, from thickness and cook time to condiments. The machine will take up about 24 square feet and the tech blog Xconomy predicted it could save a restaurant $90,000 a year in training and salaries.”

“Many people worry that the use of work-saving robotic technology like this machine will put vast numbers of people out of work … Momentum Machines says that their project will actually create jobs by providing opportunities in restaurant management and technology development. That probably isn’t too comforting to your average line cook.”

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Asking ‘Why’ Sparks Innovation

The New York Times: “Asking questions can help spark the innovative ideas that many companies hunger for these days … Business breakthroughs — including the invention of the Polaroid instant camera and the Nest thermostat and the genesis of start-ups like Netflix, Square and Airbnb — in each case, some curious soul looked at a current problem and asked insightful questions about why that problem existed and how it might be tackled.”

“Getting employees to ask more questions is the easy part; getting management to respond well to those questions can be harder … For questioning to thrive in a company, management must find ways to reward the behavior — if only by acknowledging the good questions that have been asked … Leaders can also encourage companywide questioning by being more curious and inquisitive themselves. This is not necessarily easy for senior executives, who are used to being the ones with the answers.”

“They could set a better example by asking ‘why’ and ‘what if’ — while asking others to do likewise. And as the questions proliferate, some good answers are likely to follow.”

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Amazon Is Dropping List Prices

The New York Times: Amazon “built a reputation and hit $100 billion in annual revenue by offering deals. The first thing a potential customer saw was a bargain: how much an item was reduced from its list price. Now, in many cases, Amazon has dropped any mention of a list price. There is just one price. Take it or leave it.”

Larry Compeau, of Clarkson University comments: “They are trying to figure out what product categories have customers who are so tied into the Amazon ecosystem that list prices are no longer necessary.”

“In some categories, like groceries, Amazon seems to be using just one price, the buy-it-now price. If Amazon brings the milk and music into your house, not to mention videos and e-books and the devices to consume them on, as well as a hot dinner and just about any other object you could want, that presents a pricing challenge of a different sort. Untangling what those deals are worth — as opposed to what they cost — is probably impossible.”

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Helpline Hell: Bad Service on Purpose

The New York Times: “Getting caught in a tech support loop — waiting on hold, interacting with automated systems, talking to people reading from unhelpful scripts and then finding yourself on hold yet again — is a peculiar kind of aggravation that mental health experts say can provoke rage in even the most mild-mannered person. Worse, just as you suspected, companies are aware of the torture they are putting you through.”

Justin Robbins of the International Customer Management Institute comments: “Don’t think companies haven’t studied how far they can take things in providing the minimal level of service. Some organizations have even monetized it by intentionally engineering it so you have to wait an hour at least to speak to someone in support, and while you are on hold, you’re hearing messages like, ‘If you’d like premium support, call this number and for a fee, we will get to you immediately.’”

“Customer support experts recommended using social media, like tweeting or sending a Facebook message, to contact a company instead of calling … You can also consult websites like DialAHuman.com and GetHuman.com for phone numbers and directions on what digits to press to bypass the automated system and get a live person. Failing that, apps like Lucy Phone and Fast Customer will wait on hold for you and call you when an actual person picks up.”

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When Payless Means ‘Pay More’

The New York Times: “Rummage around on the Payless site and you will find little about refueling rules. But two weeks ago, another of the company’s livid customers — and there are many on sites like Consumer Affairs — said she was charged $79 for a fill-up, although she returned the car with the tank full. Why? She was told that she did not meet two criteria: ■ She failed to fill up within five miles of the airport. ■ She failed to fill the tank within half an hour of returning the car.”

It obviously doesn’t matter when you refill a gas tank. A full tank on Wednesday is a full tank the next Tuesday. But even the five-mile rule is a gotcha. A Nissan Versa, part of Payless’s compact fleet, gets 31 miles per gallon in the city, 40 on the highway. So let’s say that on average it gets 35 miles per gallon. That makes five miles one-seventh of a gallon. A gallon of gas now costs about $2.30, according to AAA. So five miles of gas costs about 33 cents. Payless, in other words, will charge drivers for a full tank — in this case nearly $40 — if the company spends more than 33 cents to top off the tank of a Nissan Versa.”

The five-mile rule “does not apply at Avis or Budget, which are part of the same company, the Avis Budget Group, that owns Payless. (Come out and wave to the people, Chairman Ronald Nelson.) Asked why Avis and Budget don’t use such a draconian standard, the spokeswoman explained it is because ‘Payless is a low-cost provider’.”

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Story-doing: The Kellogg’s Café

The Wall Street Journal: “Who would go to a restaurant to eat Frosted Flakes—and pay $6, maybe even $8 for it? What if the bowl was topped with a sprinkle of lemon zest, toasted pistachios and fresh thyme, and was singularly delicious? Kellogg’s will find out the answer on July 4, when it opens its first-ever restaurant, in New York’s Times Square … a sleek, intimate space in which to challenge eaters’ conceptions.”

“The playful recipes … include the pistachio- and lemon-spiked bowl of Frosted Flakes and Special K … and ice cream topped with Rice Krispies, strawberries and matcha powder. Customers will pick up orders via a set of ‘kitchen cabinets,’ a kind of un-automated automat. Inside the door will be their food and a little surprise, like those found in a box of cereal. Most days, it will be a small treat—a plastic ring or a morning newspaper. But there are also plans in the works to give away several tickets to the Broadway smash, Hamilton.”

“This is story-doing versus storytelling,” said Andrew Shripka, the associate director of brand marketing. “We could have put a great recipe on the box. But this is so much more powerful.”

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Selfridges Stages ‘Refashioned Theater’

The Stage: “London department store Selfridges is to launch a 100-seat theatre that will allow customers to watch a Shakespeare production being rehearsed and performed. The department store has also teamed up with drama school RADA to provide two weeks of workshops and masterclasses for shoppers. Called the Refashioned Theatre, the venue will have a traverse stage, a box office, a designer royal box and a bespoke lighting rig from White Light.”

“The theatre company will offer audiences the chance to watch rehearsals, which Selfridges compared to the experience shoppers get while looking at its own window displays. The play will feature nine actors, plus five “digital cameos”, where digital images will be projected on to mannequins.”

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