Hyatt Aims For Terminal Kindness

Quartz: “Hyatt Hotels spent two years developing a new system that radically speeds up check-in at its properties, giving clerks more time to pay attention to guests and their needs. While assigning a room once required 143 key strokes on a terminal fixed behind the check-in counter, guests can now be on their way with three strokes on a tablet, says Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian. The system is being tested in six hotels, and is expected to roll out across the company’s 600-plus hotels worldwide over the next year.”

“There were sound business reasons to redesign the system beyond just improving the experience for guests, Hoplamazian said. While the old system was difficult to teach and learn, the new one can be picked up quickly by new hires.”

“The streamlined process also means Hyatt can focus on personality, and not technical skill, when hiring. The company is now thinking of how its new front-desk experience will work in each of its brands. At the high end Park Hyatt, an attendant may accompany you to your room and check you in there. At Hyatt Place, where the desk clerks also serve drinks, they’ll have more time for each customer.”

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When Labels Say … They Really Mean …

The Wall Street Journal: “Government regulators forbid ouright dishonesty, but labels with narrowly defined, cleverly deployed or unregulated buzzwords can confound shoppers trying to figure out what’s what.” For example: “‘Made with’ often means ‘made with very little,’” said Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Many consumers assume it means made only of whole grain. That’s simply not true.”

“Cage-free: Most egg-laying hens in the U.S. are confined in small, wire cages that measure 67 to 86 square inches per hen … Cage-free birds, on the other hand, are allowed to roam in a room or open area—but they are not guaranteed access to the outdoors. Free range: These chickens … do have outdoor access, although producers may provide minimal outdoor space or use screened-in porches with floors made of concrete, dirt or grass to provide the access.”

“Hormones aren’t allowed in poultry or hogs … Nonetheless, some producers label those products ‘no hormones added’ … Natural: This refers to the preparation of a product, not how a plant or animal was raised, and the label is supposed to include a statement explaining what it means … ‘Free’ means there is less than 0.5 gram per serving of a nutrient that has a daily value … ‘Low’ means there are 3 grams or less per serving … And ‘reduced’ means there is at least 25% less of the nutrient compared with another food.”

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Online Agreements Are Under Fire

The Economist: “A surge of lawsuits in America claims that companies’ online agreements violate consumers’ rights. Consumers are banding together in class actions against targets including Apple, Avis, Bed Bath & Beyond, Toys R Us and Facebook … The suits seek to exploit the Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act, enacted in New Jersey 35 years ago. This was intended to prevent companies that do business in the state from using contracts, notices or signs to limit consumer rights protected by law.”

“Whatever the outcome of individual claims, the barrage of litigation will probably prompt firms to adjust their online terms … For example, a company might no longer add words to terms-of-use agreements that seek to limit liability from gross negligence or fraud … That would be good news for consumers. But changes to terms of use do not always serve their interests … In the end lawsuits over restrictive contracts may make them more restrictive still.”

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Small Rivals Trip Big Brands

The Economist: “For a time, size gave CPG companies a staggering advantage. Centralising decisions and consolidating manufacturing helped firms expand margins. Deep pockets meant companies could spend millions on a flashy television advertisement, then see sales rise. Firms distributed goods to a vast network of stores, paying for prominent placement on shelves.”

“Yet these advantages are not what they once were. Consolidating factories has made companies more vulnerable to the swing of a particular currency … The impact of television adverts is fading … At the same time, barriers to entry are falling for small firms … Distribution is getting easier, too: a young brand may prove itself with online sales, then move into big stores.”

“Most troublesome, the lumbering giants are finding it hard to keep up with fast-changing consumer markets … As their economies grew, local players often proved more attuned to shoppers’ needs. In America and Europe” shoppers “can choose from cheap, store-brand goods … But if a customer wants to pay more for a product, it may not be for a traditional big brand. This may be because shoppers trust little brands more than established ones.”

“EY, a consultancy, recently surveyed CPG executives. Eight in ten doubted their company could adapt to customer demand.”

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B-Dubs Wants to Eat Chipotle’s Lunch

Business Insider: Buffalo Wild Wings has introduced “a 15-minute lunch guarantee. Starting now, when customers order a meal off the ‘B-Dubs Fast Break’ lunch menu, servers need to bring the dish to the table within 15 minutes, or the entire meal is free … The company said the decision to debut the 15-minute guarantee is rooted in research that many customers only have 30 to 40 minutes to eat lunch, from the time they enter the restaurant until the time that they leave.”

“With the rise of fast-casual chains like Panera Bread and Chipotle, a number of casual dining chains have struggled to keep up with the speedier rivals.”

“The 15-minute guarantee is part of a bigger plan at Buffalo Wild Wings to boost its quick-service lunch business. In February, the company announced it was investing in growing its take-out business in 2016 … Meanwhile, competitors with speedier service are thriving. Takeaway accounts for 75% of business at Buffalo Wild Wing’s rival Wingstop — something that Wingstop has said to be key to growing sales for the last 12 years.”

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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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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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