Social Media: Call Center ‘Matchmakers’

The Wall Street Journal: “The next time you dial customer service, who answers your call may be determined by what you have said on Facebook. Companies from casino operator Caesars Entertainment Corp. to wireless carrier Sprint Corp. are increasingly checking social media and other personal data to tailor calls for each customer.”

A startup called Afiniti International Holdings Ltd. has artificial intelligence software that “has been installed in more than 150 call centers by dozens of companies, examines as many as 100 databases tied to landline and cellphone numbers to determine the best agent to answer each individual caller. Such matching can result in more satisfied customers and more sales, the company says.”

“Afiniti’s technology not only pulls callers’ histories for a business and credit profile, but seeks insights into their behavior by scouring their public Facebook and Twitter posts as well as LinkedIn pages. In the case of a sales operation, a caller is matched with the agent who—based on the agent’s own call history—has been able to close deals with customers with similar characteristics.”

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Constitutional Crisis: Freedom of Promotional Speech

The Wall Street Journal: “For decades (New York State) has barred companies from tacking on a fee when customers pay with plastic instead of cash. A hair salon now challenges that law, claiming businesses have a constitutional right to impose surcharges—and that behavioral economics provides the theoretical foundation.”

“The salon can already give customers, say, $1 off for paying in cash. So why does it want the ability to add a $1 surcharge for paying with credit? What’s the difference? Enter behavioral economics … the salon argues that surcharges are more effective at changing behavior because consumers suffer from a ‘loss aversion’ bias. More customers will decide to pay with cash, the theory goes, if faced with a ‘loss’ (the $1 surcharge) than a ‘gain’ (the $1 discount).”

“The salon argues that the only meaningful difference between the two pricing schemes is what they’re called—and that’s a matter of free speech. Barring the ‘surcharge’ label but not the ‘discount’ label, the argument goes, violates the First Amendment.”

Update: “The justices’ view of the case seemed to turn on where they stood in a rolling debate at the court about how the First Amendment applies to laws regulating economic matters, an issue that generally divides the justices along ideological lines,” The New York Times reports.

“Some of the more liberal justices said that the law was an unexceptional and permissible economic regulation.” Justice Stephen Bryer comments: “What this statute says is, you can’t impose a surcharge… What’s that got to do with speech?” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy counters: “It’s a matter of how the pricing structure is communicated in the speech.”

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Daily Rewards: Key to Gamer Engagement

The Wall Street Journal: “Daily rewards have emerged as the indispensable tool for hooking players in a field of more than a million game apps … Extracting as much time as possible out of users is critical because games like ‘Galaxy of Heroes’ make money selling virtual goods. The more people play, the more likely they will spend.”

“Companies have myriad ways to encourage routine use, such as a monthly calendar that tracks a player’s progress or weeklong side missions with extra-valuable rewards. The latest mobile-game hit, ‘Super Mario Run,’ rewards players for competing daily against friends … Daily-reward initiatives aren’t foolproof, though. One mistake is giving away so much players don’t need to spend. Another is punishing players for taking breaks.”

“The most alluring daily hooks give surprise rewards. Not knowing what to expect excites people, said Michael Hanus, a professor at the University Nebraska … Exclusive offers, such as the opportunity to unlock a rare character during a one-week event, tap into people’s natural fear of missing out, he said.”

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Printed Books Are Not Beaten to a Pulp

Gallup: “Despite the abundance of digital diversions vying for their time and attention, most Americans are still reading books. In fact, they are consuming books at nearly the same rate that they were when Gallup last asked this question in 2002 — before smartphones, Facebook or Twitter became ubiquitous. More than one in three (35%) appear to be heavy readers, reading 11 or more books in the past year, while close to half (48%) read between one and 10 and just 16% read none.”

“The number of Americans who say they read no books in the past year has doubled since the first time Gallup asked this in 1978, from 8% then to 16% now, but has been fairly steady near the current level since 1990 … Although the survey did not track the types of books that Americans read by age group, book reading in general is fairly similar by age group among U.S. adults. It is a bit more prevalent among the oldest and youngest age groups than among those in the middle years.”

“With the advent of e-readers and tablets in the past decade, some futurists predicted the imminent extinction of printed books … However, this prophecy appears to be far from true — so far. Among those who say they read at least one book last year, the vast majority say they most often read printed books, at 73%. About one in five most often read electronic books, while only 6% mostly experienced books in audio form.”

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‘Genderless Danshi’ Defy Fashion Norms

“Just as some American males have embraced makeup, young Japanese men are bending fashion gender norms, dyeing their hair, inserting colored contacts and wearing brightly colored lipstick,” The New York Times reports. “Men like Ryuji Higa, better known as Ryucheru, his signature blond curls often pulled back in a headband, and Genki Tanaka, known as Genking, who rocks long platinum tresses and often appears in miniskirts, have made a leap from social media stardom to television celebrity.”

They are known as “genderless danshi” — “‘danshi’ means young men in Japanese.” Jennifer Robertson, an anthropology professor, comments: “It’s about blurring the boundaries that have defined pink and blue masculinity and femininity.They are trying to increase the scope of what someone with male anatomy can wear.”

“Young girls are the most ardent fans of the genderless danshi, making up the bulk of their social media followers and showing up at events … Nagisa Fujiwara, 16, a high school sophomore in Tokyo, was one of about 200 girls who lined up after the brief concert to take selfies with” Toman, a “genderless danshi” model and pop singer. She says: “He looks like a girl. But when you put that together with his maleness, I see him as a new kind of man.”

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Wine Labels: The Wallaby Paradox

Quartz: “Interestingly, wine drinkers claim they don’t find ‘has an animal on it’ to be a very desirable advantage for a wine label. But five of the nine top-selling wines in 2005 in the US sported animals on their labels. And wine drinkers … rated as second-most attractive a label with an animal—Yellow Tail, with its vibrant picture of a wallaby. The label that achieved the highest rating for attractiveness was Twin Fin, with its colorful picture of a classic convertible with a surfboard near the beach. The top two labels delivered on the characteristics wine drinkers say they like: eye-catching, unique, stylish, creative, clever, and colorful.”

“Interestingly, in a cross-generational survey of the importance of attractiveness, millennials and Baby Boomers both rated a wine label’s appearance more important to them than Generation Xers did. For the most part, wine drinkers of all ages agreed which labels were most attractive … Women preferred more creative, eye-catching, colorful, and ornate wine labels than men did. Similarly, women rated plain, less colorful logos lower in attractiveness than men did.”

“Almost half of the wine drinkers surveyed—49%—said the words on the back label are at least somewhat important to their purchase decision. Further, 55% said they read a wine bottle’s back label at least somewhat often … Consumers indicated that a description of flavors and aromas of the wine on the back label is the most important information … Awards and climate information may also increase purchase likelihood. The romantic story did not increase purchase interest.”

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Jack-in-the-Box Tacos: Repulsive & Irresistible

The Wall Street Journal: “More than 1,000 times a minute, someone bites into what has been described as a wet envelope of cat food—and keeps eating. Jack in the Box is known to most of the country for its hamburgers and bigheaded mascot. But for many of its devotees, the magic of the fast-food chain lies in its interpretation of a taco … A tortilla wrapped around a beef filling that is dunked in a fryer and topped with American cheese, lettuce and hot sauce, the taco appeared on the menu in the 1950s … Jack in the Box now sells more tacos than any other item on its menu thanks to a legion of fans who swear by the greasy vessels even as they sometimes struggle to understand their appeal.”

Aficionado Heather Johnson says the taco is “vile and amazing.” Fellow traveler Mike Primavera describes a “soggy, nasty middle” and the “rim of crunchiness on the outside.” He adds: “You can’t look at it too long before you eat it. You just kind of have to get it outside of the sleeve and into your mouth.”

“Despite some unusual qualities, Jack in the Box hears from a lot of customers that the tacos are close to authentic,” says Jack in the Box product marketing director Jen Kennedy. “We are always imitated but never duplicated.” She says the tacos allow customers to “take a break from the norm and instantly satisfy their cravings.”

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Paper Tigers: Calendars Keep Their Cool

The New York Times: “It may seem counterintuitive that a print product can thrive in the digital age. But the continued success of some paper calendars mirrors that of printed books, an industry that several years ago was confronting what seemed like the very real possibility that e-books would outsell the printed variety. Instead, a Pew survey this fall found that most readers still preferred their reading material printed on paper.”

“Bertel King Jr., in a blog post last year for Make Use Of, a technology and productivity site, made the case for paper calendars.” He wrote: “Having to open another tab, fire up another piece of software, or launch another app to access my calendar amounts to one more onscreen thing vying for my attention. Suddenly a paper planner starts to make sense.”

“Melissa Ralston, marketing director for BIC Graphic, said in an email that companies have found paper calendars to be an effective advertising vehicle with a mass market appeal. She said studies have found that 82 percent of recipients enjoy getting a calendar as a complimentary gift and 70 percent plan to do business with the company that provided the calendar.”

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Sneaker Culture: The Politics of Footwear

The Atlantic: “Though it’s been touring the U.S. since it opened in Toronto in 2013, the exhibition Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture generated frantic curatorial discussions … As the exhibition shows, over the last 200 years, sneakers have signified everything from national identity, race, and class to masculinity and criminality; put simply, they are magnets for social and political meaning, intended or otherwise, in a way that sets them apart from other types of footwear.”

“Politics … fueled the rise of sneakers as much as athletics … Mass exercise rallies were features of fascist life in Germany, Japan, and Italy. But sneakers could also represent resistance. Jesse Owens’ dominance at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games stung the event’s Nazi hosts even more because he trained in German-made Dassler running shoes … Sneakers became footnotes in the history of the Civil Rights movement. In 1965, I Spy was the first weekly TV drama to feature a black actor—Bill Cosby—in a lead role. His character, a fun-loving CIA agent going undercover as a tennis coach, habitually wore white Adidas sneakers, easily identifiable by their prominent trio of stripes.”

“The growing popularity of sneakers on both sides of the political divide set the stage for a raging culture war over the shoes’ ties to criminality, or lack thereof … sneakers evolved from symbolic consumer objects into small-batch vehicles for unambiguous social commentary. In one notable example, the artist Judi Werthein designed the 2005 Brinco cross-trainer to assist with illegal border crossings from Mexico. Werthein distributed Brincos to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border for free, while also selling them to sneakerheads for $215 per pair at a San Diego boutique.”

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