You Don’t Have To Be Danny Meyer …

The New York Times: “At Back Label Wine Merchants on West 20th Street in Manhattan, you won’t get very far into the handsome shop before you are greeted cheerfully and offered assistance. The sales clerk may engage you in conversation to determine your tastes and what you are seeking, or will recognize that you are browsing and don’t want a hovering presence.”

“It’s all about hospitality, of course,” said Patrick Watson, who opened Back Label in May 2014. “You don’t have to be Danny Meyer to understand how critical hospitality is to the experience.”

“Hospitality is more than a warm greeting. It’s anticipating how people shop and what information they want. At Back Label, Mr. Watson arranged the display as if following the progression of wines at a dinner party, starting with bubbly and moving through whites to reds, Old World to New World, subdivided by localities. For a more in-depth perspective, he also displays wines by characteristic — those made from grapes grown in limestone soils, say, or wines with lively acidity.”


Slower Is Better for Younger Coffee Drinkers

“Once about speed—sloshed into a paper cup and gulped on the ride to work—quick coffee now signals cheap coffee and not what customers want,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “More coffee shops are betting that a wait of four minutes or more is desirable … Coffee shops are weighing costs and revenues of slower service by evaluating employees behind the counter, longer brew times, and how that effects prices and lines.”

“Consumers in their 20s and 30s who grew up around Starbucks and coffee culture’s bolder flavors are helping drive the slower service, says Spencer Turer, vice president of Coffee Analysts, a coffee consulting firm in Burlington, Vt.” He comments: “That conversation with the barista is a key part of the experience.”

“The extra minutes also provide time for the smell and sounds of coffee which add to how consumers perceive their coffee, says Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, who also researches consumers’ sensory perceptions for food companies … The complex aroma and flavor of coffee comes from about 40 individual chemical compounds, he says.”

“’The sounds of grinding, dripping, spluttering, those are all meaningful,’ he says, and play a role in how the consumer perceives both the flavor and quality.”


Unbound Collection: Hyatt & The ‘Anti-Hotel’

“The Unbound Collection is a curated list of what Hyatt calls ‘stays,’ which for now means boutique hotels that are co-branded with Hyatt,” Fast Company reports. The short list includes Austin’s haunted hobnobbing space, the Driskill, and a restoration of the Hawaiian resort made famous by Elvis Presley, Coco Palms. These hotels will both advertise and operate as themselves, but they’re presented in marketing as ‘by Hyatt.’ The hotels pay a percentage of their revenue to be involved, while Hyatt offers them a customer base, a booking back end, and the sort of purchasing power a business the size of Hyatt can get.”

Maryam Banikarim, CMO at Hyatt: “What you’re seeing is the idea of travel has changed, and people want to explore and develop and have new experiences. On the flipside, they are creatures of habit—human nature wants things that are familiar.”

“For now, the ‘stays’ Hyatt is offering will take the form of boutique hotels … But in the future, the Unbound Collection will be a place where Hyatt can experiment with its own identity in the travel experience. ‘We’re not limiting ourselves just to hotels,’ Banikarim says … So while Hyatt is bullish on expanding outside of conventional hotel stays, it’s not renting out single-family homes just yet. But ‘a river cruise down the Nile?’ Banikarim suggests. That’s a distinct possibility.”


Chik-fil-A Customers Fly The Cell Phone Coop

Business Insider: “Noticing that diners often seemed more interested in their phones than their dining companions, a Chick-fil-A franchisee in Suwanee, Georgia named Brad Williams decided to take action … Williams and his team developed the Cell Phone Coop: a small box that sits on each table at his restaurant that issues a simple challenge for customers. If diners can enjoy their meals without removing their cell phones from the coop to check for calls or texts, they can let the staff know and receive a small ice cream cone.”

Says Williams: “The challenge has completely taken off. We have families who aren’t successful the first time and come back to try again. We even have people asking to take the boxes home with them!” Chik-fil-A has now “announced that more than 150 restaurants had decided to offer customers the chance to take the Cell Phone Coop challenge.”


Hotels: Where The Bedbugs Bite

“The worst hotel experiences can be caused by an insect smaller than a fingernail clipping,” The New York Times reports. Bedbugs “are causing headaches for hotel owners who not only have to figure out how to get rid of them, but also now have to respond to online accusations of bedbug infestations … those complaints have high stakes for hotels. A University of Kentucky survey of nearly 2,100 travelers in the United States found that a single recent review that mentions bedbugs lowers hotel room values by $38 for business travelers and $23 for leisure travelers.”

“There is no national data on bedbug complaints at hotels, but exterminators around the country report a growing problem. In Houston, Phoenix and St. Louis, for example, exterminators have reported recent increases in bedbug infestations, many of them in hotels. And nearly two-thirds of exterminators in the United States polled by the University of Kentucky and the National Pest Management Association last year said bedbug complaints were increasing.”

“Experts suggest that travelers check hotel beds thoroughly before sleeping and that they keep luggage in the bathtub to prevent the bugs from coming home with them. And storing luggage in plastic bags between trips can prevent travelers with home infestations from bringing bedbugs with them to a hotel … In addition to complaining about bedbugs on Twitter and sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia, travelers use more specific sites like the Bedbug Registry.”


Routehappy Scores Flights on the Experience

Routehappy has found a business in scoring air-travel options when you shop for tickets,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Routehappy’s website ranks flights by specific scores that compare not just prices but onboard amenities. It even compares different flights on the same route offered by the same airline.”

“Routehappy has eight attributes that it tracks for each flight offered for sale by 225 airlines: aircraft, seat, cabin layout, entertainment, Wi-Fi, fresh food, power outlets and duration. The criteria weigh basics like legroom and often overlooked but important factors like seat width … seat and duration are the biggest factors in a score.”

“More factors are coming—likely on-time performance will be the next to be included … though finding accurate information about flights is a challenge because airlines routinely change flight numbers. Routehappy also hopes to someday let users pick what’s most important to them and customize scores.”


The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

“Gary Friedman, head of Restoration Hardware Holdings Inc., painted a dire picture of the furniture chain in an internal memo to employees, comparing its operations to a burning building with people on fire,” Bloomberg Business reports.

“Upset about customer service and late orders, Friedman fired off the message to the entire organization in late January … ‘We were sitting there discussing how the building caught on fire, why the building caught on fire, how long we expected the building to continue burning,’ he said in the memo … ‘NO ONE WAS FOCUSED ON THE PEOPLE IN THE BUILDING WHO WERE ON FIRE. THEIR CLOTHES BURNING, AND MANY OF THEM DYING. WE HAVE LET CUSTOMERS DIE.'”


Explaining the memo in an interview, Friedman said: “It’s empowering people in the organization,” he said. “We have a leadership culture, not a followship culture.”


Macy’s Simplifies Its Shopping Experience

The Washington Post:”This week, Macy’s announced that it is shaking up its discounting practices: The coupon system will remain in place for full-priced items, but the retailer is implementing a different strategy to get shoppers to pounce on its clearance merchandise. The move is effectively a bet that shoppers prefer simplicity over the thrill of demonstrating their shopping savvy.”

“Here’s how Macy’s new approach works: When an item is on clearance, you can’t apply coupons or other discounts to it. Macy’s said it will apply deeper cuts to the ticket price than it did previously, but the price you see on the tag is the price you will pay. The retailer has also moved all the clearance items to a centralized area in the store — one for men’s apparel, one for women’s — instead of having the racks scattered throughout the store. So far, Macy’s has seen upbeat results from the change.”

“In a conference call with investors this week, Macy’s chief financial officer Karen Hoguet offered this explanation for why the change was getting traction: ‘I think what happens is, customers want simplicity. And when you are looking for deep clearance goods you could just see the price of the item and not have to do the math in your head. And it’s easier.'”


Bluetooth Can Be a Driving Headache

“The road to the autonomous future, it seems, is not as smooth as it appears,” The New York Times reports. “Problems related to cars’ rapidly advancing technology are now at the top of the list of consumer complaints, according to the 2016 J. D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study.”

“The biggest issues are balky voice recognition systems and problems with Bluetooth pairing, accounting for 20 percent of all customer complaints. Over all, the discontent drove a 3 percent decline in vehicle dependability in the study … Complaints about technology have gone from being fifth most troublesome in the 2014 study, to third last year, to now being first.”


Customer Service Declines When The Economy Improves

Quartz: “Consumers are more unhappy with customer service at department and discount stores than ever. According to the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, satisfaction is at its lowest level since 2008, falling during the last year by 3.8%. Consumers are griping about store cleanliness and slow checkout lines, specifically.”

“Of the bigger companies, the steepest decline in satisfaction—an 8% drop—went to Macy’s … While an improving housing market increased competition between Lowe’s and Home Depot, both groups saw drops of 9% and 4%, respectively. Among supermarkets, Whole Foods took a 10% hit, knocking its ranking below Trader Joe’s, Kroger and Meijer.”

“The relatively buoyant economy is partly to blame. After 2008, competition for consumer dollars intensified, prompting discounts and better service. Employees fearful of losing their jobs stayed motivated to work hard pleasing shoppers. Then, things got better.”