Aledade: A Silicon Valley ‘Healthcare’ Solution

Farhad Manjoo: “The American health care system is a fragmented archipelago, with patients moving through doctors’ offices and hospitals that are often disconnected from one another. As a result, many primary care physicians — who often see themselves as a kind of quarterback who calls the shots on a patient’s care — have no easy way to monitor a patient’s meandering path through the health care system.”

Software developed by Aledade, a Silicon Valley startup, “addresses that by collecting patient data from a variety of sources, creating a helicopter view. Doctors can see which specialists a patient has visited, which tests have been ordered, and, crucially, how much the overall care might be costing the health care system … More important, the software uses the data to assemble a battery of daily checklists for physicians’ practices. These are a set of easy steps for the practice to take — call this patient, order this vaccine — to keep on top of patients’ care, and, in time, to reduce its cost.”

“Yet even though Aledade thinks of itself as a technology company, its doctors said its software is the least interesting thing it does …
Aledade — which now operates in 15 states and has relationships with more than 1,200 doctors … It has hired a battalion of field coordinators who visit practices and offer in-depth training and advice.”

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Brands Go Local To Beat Amazon

The Wall Street Journal: “As Amazon.com Inc.tightens its grip on retail sales, a growing number of brands are pushing back by championing local retailers. Some manufacturers are enforcing minimum advertised prices to make it harder for online sellers to undercut local merchants, while others give local stores first dibs on new products or funnel customers from their own websites to local outlets.” For example: “Luxottica Group SpA last year launched a minimum advertised pricing program that restricts the price at which its Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses can be advertised … The average discount on Ray-Ban sunglasses on Amazon has shrunk to about 3% as of this month from 37% in April 2016, according to Luxottica.”

“Free stroller tuneups are one way UPPAbaby, a Hingham, Mass.-based maker of baby strollers and car seats, draws customers back to local retailers carrying its products after they buy one of its strollers, which cost up to $900 … Running gear maker Brooks is testing a new app that uses an iPad connected to a treadmill to help local retailers determine which Brooks shoe best suits a runner’s biomechanics … Orb has a program designed to encourage local retailers to try out new products without worrying they might be saddled with excess inventory. At the end of each quarter, local stores can donate slow-selling items to a favorite charity. Orb then replaces the donated goods with new items selected by the retailer at no extra charge.”

“Arc’teryx salespeople use e-commerce sales data to help merchants determine which styles of clothing, shoes and backpacks are best sellers in their local market … If Simms Fishing Products had its way, the company’s waders and other fishing gear would never show up on Amazon’s website. The Bozeman, Mont., company doesn’t sell directly to Amazon, and its dealer policy specifically prohibits sales on third-party platforms … Simms employees visit local independent retailers and use computer-assisted design software to create customized Simms shops within each store.”

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Chick-fil-A: Service Trumps Politics

Business Insider: “In a few years, Chick-fil-A has managed to shed its controversial image to appeal to a broader swath of America, all without losing its loyal customers base. Chick-fil-A’s successful expansion north came after its biggest controversy. Dan Cathy, the son of the late Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, set off a fury among gay-rights supporters in 2012 that led to nationwide protests after he told the Baptist Press that the company was ‘guilty as charged’ for backing ‘the biblical definition of a family’.”

“These days, Chick-fil-A is warning all its franchisees against speaking out publicly or getting involved in anything that could blur the line between their private beliefs and their public roles as extensions of the Chick-fil-A brand, the company has said … The company still encourages its franchisees to get ‘entrenched’ in their communities … But Chick-fil-A says its focus now — both for local and corporate involvement and philanthropy — is on youth and education causes.”

Also: “Chick-fil-A started modernizing its corporate offices in Atlanta and opened an ‘innovation center’ modeled after the offices of Silicon Valley tech companies … The company hired chefs, food scientists, and dietitians to experiment with new menu items to appeal to upmarket customers who frequent chains like Shake Shack and Panera and are looking for healthier options … Key to Chick-fil-A’s reinvention has been its customer service, which consistently ranks No. 1 in nationwide surveys.” And: The company is investing in its employees. Mark Cohen, a Columbia Business School professor, comments: “Your employees are your ambassadors to the public. The folks who are staffing those Chick-fil-A stores are aggressively reengaging with people and talking about how great the company is.”

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Tesla Tries ‘Genius Bar’ on Wheels

Quartz: “Customers may love their Teslas—but servicing them is a cumbersome chore. Almost 30% of those polled said they could not get a service appointment within 10 days, and 22% said their problem wasn’t resolved on their first visit. Seventeen percent said they had to go back three times or more to resolve their issues. It’s something Tesla will need to address as it ramps up production of its Model 3, its first mass-market car.”

“Tesla will need a Genius Bar equivalent if sales projections prove accurate. While electric cars are still a small sliver of the US car market, they’re growing. Tesla reportedly has a backlog of reservations for the Model 3 that is near 500,000. The company will have to … ensure that it has enough routine customer support, and hold the hands of tens of thousands of newbies. It’s imperative because unlike an MP3 player, a working car, for most drivers, is a daily necessity.”

“Of course Tesla’s support network may not look like a Genius Bar at all.” JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technology officer, explains: “We’re deploying a mobile service strategy to take 80% of the cars and fix them where it’s convenient to the customer. Not at our location, at their location. Make it invisible to them.”

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Uniqlo Tries Airport Vending Machines

Quartz: “Heattech tops and UltraLight down jackets are two of Uniqlo’s big sellers, items that represent the brand’s style of simple but highly functional clothes. And now they’ll be sold in one of retail’s simplest and most functional of venues: vending machines … The machines will have a variety of colors and styles for women and men, changing with the seasons and local customer needs, and dispensed upon purchase in small boxes or canisters. The airport locations are especially fitting for the brand’s signature thermals and jackets, which are designed to be thin but warm and easily packable.”

“Uniqlo’s vending machines … are more of an experiment, offering a cheap, efficient way to introduce the brand and its down jackets ($69.90 in the vending machines) and Heattech tops ($14.90) to a new audience … They can also give Uniqlo insight on US consumers, which Uniqlo has been trying to reach—not always successfully—for years. In urban centers such as New York, the brand has found a firm foothold, but it has struggled to get traction in suburban malls.”

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Technology Cannot Hug a Customer

The New York Times: “Technology, some hotels are finding, has its limits. ‘Technology cannot hug a repeat guest,’ said George Aquino, the vice president and managing director of AHC+Hospitality … That is the reason his company, which manages several hotels, has been running a training program for some of its managers and other staff members to improve their hospitality skills, connect with local business leaders and learn more about local tourist offerings.”

“Similar programs are sprouting in other cities, involving not just hotels but also restaurants and even cities themselves, which see the personal touch as giving them a competitive edge. For business travelers, in particular, talking to someone knowledgeable about a city can lead to a good restaurant. And it can also help expand business leads.”

“A consulting program based in Tucson, Certified Tourism Ambassadors, trains hospitality workers. Mickey Schaefer, the chief executive and founder, said she had developed the idea in 2006 while working for the American Academy of Family Physicians to plan its conventions. Hospitality workers sometimes did not know their own cities, leading to bad experiences, she said … The program, she said, ‘is more than just helping the customer. It is helping them find the richness of whatever they are interested in.’ She added that the program also instills civic pride.”

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Robo-Shop: Will Cashiers Cash Out?

The New York Times: Our mental image of job-killing automation is robots in factories or warehouses. But the next jobs to disappear are probably ones that are a much bigger part of most people’s daily lives: retail workers and cashiers in stores and restaurants … Half the time worked by salespeople and cashiers is spent on tasks that can be automated by technology that’s currently in use, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. Two-thirds of the time on tasks done by grocery store workers can be automated, it said.”

“Retailers say automating certain tasks doesn’t necessarily displace employees, but frees them to do other things that are more valuable to customers. Lowe’s, for instance, said its customer service robot answered simple questions so employees could provide more personalized expertise, like home project planning … But shoppers often prefer to save time by interacting with fewer people, especially when they just need coffee or paper towels.”

Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the M.I.T. Initiative on the Digital Economy, comments: “The bigger and more profound way that technology affects jobs is by completely reinventing the business model. Amazon didn’t go put a robot into the bookstores and help you check out books faster. It completely reinvented bookstores. The idea of a cashier won’t be so much automated as just made irrelevant — you’ll just tell your Echo what you need, or perhaps it will anticipate what you need, and stuff will get delivered to you.”

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How Best Buy Engages Shoppers

The Wall Street Journal: “Best Buy, the electronics giant left for dead a few years ago, is bucking America’s retail slump by turning its cavernous stores from a potential drag on its business into a way to fend off Amazon.com Inc.”

“To fend off digital competition, Best Buy gave up efforts to charge consumers more in stores than online. It promised in 2013 to match online competitors’ prices and brought its prices in line with Amazon’s—a move that has paid dividends now that shoppers can instantly check prices on their smartphones … The price guarantee made a loyal shopper out of Anton Robinson, a 34-year-old lawyer in New York City. He buys his music equipment from Best Buy because he prefers to test products in person and doesn’t have to compare prices.”

“Best Buy also found a way to get more out of its giant stores. The company eliminated much of the floorspace once dedicated to DVDs and other media and has given it to brands such as Samsung, Verizon and Microsoft , which both pay rent and provide staff with expertise … Best Buy plans a nationwide rollout of in-home advisory services, in which consultants will visit consumers to field technology questions. Says CEO Hubert Joly: “Having these conversations in the home unlocks all sorts of discussions with the customers. There’s some needs that people never talk about in the stores.”

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Intuition, Math & The Supermarket Checkout

The Wall Street Journal: “We are used to the standard system of one line for each cashier. But what if there is just one big lane feeding multiple cashiers? … The single queue often snakes around, as lines do at airport security checkpoints. Mathematical queuing theory says that the serpentine system should be faster than separate lines leading to separate cash registers, but only with a condition called ‘no jockeying’—the assumption that people in multiple lines won’t hop over to a different line that has become free.”

“But that isn’t realistic, as we can all attest. If you allow jockeying in multiple lines, the serpentine system is no faster on average. It might intuitively seem faster because you won’t get stuck behind a single person taking a long time, but that same delay is just portioned out among more people, leaving the average wait time the same … In a curious twist, one recent study showed that cashiers work faster when they are serving a dedicated line. Perhaps it instills a sense of pride or connection with the customers waiting for one hardworking cashier.”

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The Stitch Fix Secret: Make Shopping Easy

The New York Times: Stitch Fix is a mail-order clothing service that offers customers little choice in what garments they receive, and shies away from discounts for brand name dresses, pants and accessories. Despite a business model that seems to defy conventional wisdom, Stitch Fix continues to grow … To the company’s founder, Katrina Lake, success comes down to delivering what consumers want: making it easier to shop … In her view, what was important was helping customers find clothing they liked without taking lengthy shopping trips and returning dozens of items.”

“At the company’s warehouse, Eric Colson, formerly a top data scientist at Netflix, spoke to the role that data science — once the province of high-tech giants — plays in nearly every aspect of the Stitch Fix business. Mr. Colson excitedly illustrated on whiteboards how the company’s systems can narrow down a broad range of women’s pants to a relative few that each individual customer is statistically likely to keep … Algorithms have even cut the number of steps needed for workers to pick out clothes for individual clients.”

“Yet the question remains whether customers who are initially thrilled by receiving a customized box of clothing will remain customers for months or even years … Stitch Fix executives declined to share their retention statistics, but claim that they are above industry averages.”

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