How Text & Chat Gets Satisfaction

The Washington Post: “The biggest shift in customer service since the 1-800 number is underway. Some 20 million businesses now use Facebook Messenger each month to talk with customers. Apple is leading companies as diverse as Lowe’s, Marriott and Wells Fargo into taking service queries, scheduling deliveries and even paying for purchases over iMessage. And Facebook’s WhatsApp, already used by 3 million businesses, including many outside the United States, is building a business around charging companies to better serve us over chats.”

“Business messaging isn’t the same as chatbots, which are programs that try — and often fail — to provide automatic answers to questions. This is about talking to real people, though some companies blend both automation and humans. Messaging a business can bring new kinds of frustrations. Not every company is prepared for 21st-century customer service; some put the newbie employees on chat duty — others rely too much on robots.”

“LivePerson, a company that makes support software used by 18,000 companies, says when given the option, 70 percent of people chose a “message us” button over a “call us” button on a company website or app. And it says customer satisfaction rates are 25 percent higher for chatting and messaging than for calling.”

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CVS Music Has Hold on Customers

The Wall Street Journal: “One of the most polarizing pieces of music in America isn’t being performed at any of the nation’s concert halls. Anyone can hear it by calling CVS … The composition is a keyboard song that flows through gentle valleys and builds to dramatic peaks, and has been played by thousands of CVS stores for almost two decades.”

“The CVS song has become a prescription for annoyance among some frequent callers, many of whom are irritated by poor sound quality … A change.org petition, which has about 30 supporters, suggests ‘Scandinavian thrash metal or nature sounds of whales mating’ as an alternative … On-hold experts recommend switching up phone music periodically to avoid irritating customers, but CVS isn’t the only company playing the long game.”

“Cisco Systems Inc. has sold systems with an ethereal, electronic hold tune—called “Opus No. 1”—since 2001. The company, which estimates millions of people hear the song every day, has never considered changing it, a spokeswoman said.”

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Store Check: Kitchen Arts and Letters

The New York Times: “Kitchen Arts and Letters doesn’t present as one of the world’s great bookshops. It has no library ladders or espresso bar, no smell of bookworm or brass polish, and nowhere to sit. It has only slightly more bookish allure than the nail salons and hardware stores that surround it on a commercial block of Manhattan’s Upper East Side … What the small storefront does house is a very deep knowledge of a very narrow subject: books about food. And that knowledge is rewarded by the kind of loyalty that induces customers to drop thousands of dollars at a clip, mostly based on the recommendations of Nach Waxman, its founder, and Matt Sartwell, the managing partner.”

“Rarely crowded, the store sees a constant stream of seasoned home cooks who know what they want … Curious culinary novices find their way in, and are tenderly guided through a series of diagnostic questions to a suitable starter book … those who have simple taste and want to cook for sustenance; those who already love to eat but never learned to cook; and those who are recipe-resistant but believe in mastering the kitchen through science.”

“But most of the store’s customers, though not present in the flesh, are the professional and aspiring chefs who routinely order whatever new volumes the owners are stocking, whether from Catalonia or the Carolinas. If they actually use the books, or even read them, is not pertinent; they act as a window into how the world’s most influential chefs are thinking, dreaming and plating … By determining which cookbooks to pull from the torrent of global publishing and send into our kitchens, they might be the most quietly influential figures in American cuisine.”

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Computers Teach Humans To Be More Human

The Wall Street Journal: “Can a computer program make humans more human? That’s the goal of new software aimed at making call-center agents better at their jobs by assessing performance on phone etiquette and social skills like empathy and patience … Cogito is one of several companies developing analytics tools that give agents feedback about how conversations with customers are going.”

“Its software measures in real time the tone of an agent’s voice, their speech rate, and how much each person is talking … That dance is sometimes out of sync, such as when an agent speaks too quickly or too much, cuts a customer off, has extended periods of silence or sounds tired … When the software detects these mistakes, a notification pops up on a window on an agent’s screen to coax them to change their strategy.”

“These tools don’t understand every nuance of what a person says—which, for now, might assuage privacy concerns about companies listening in on conversations and analyzing that data.”

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Chick-Fil-A: The Harvard of Fast Food

The Washington Post: “Carrie Kurlander, vice president of public relations for Chick-fil-A, said the Georgia-based chain receives more than 40,000 inquires per year from people interested in becoming restaurant operators (the company’s term for ‘franchisee’). After filling out an initial “expression of interest” online, they complete a formal, written application. From there, the company conducts recorded live-video and in-person interviews with applicants, taking business experience and leadership skills into consideration.”

“The chain opens 100 to 115 new restaurants a year, Kurlander said, and operators typically run one restaurant each. The company runs more than 2,200 restaurants in 47 states, and the average restaurant makes more than $4 million in annual sales. Again: that’s 40,000 people who hope to become operators, and about 100 to 115 who make it through. To compare, of Harvard’s 42,749 applicants for the school’s incoming freshman class, it admitted 1,962.”

Kurlander comments: “We are very intentional with our selection process as we believe this model is the key to ensuring our customers receive the best care and experience possible.”

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Sam’s Club, Walmart & Parental Pricing Supervision

Business Insider: “Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart, has for years told customers in stores and on social media that it won’t match Walmart’s prices, or any competitor’s prices … This is highly frustrating for customers like Craig Barnes, a Sam’s Club member for more than two decades, who said the warehouse chain should at least match the prices of its parent company if it’s charging members fees to shop there.”

“Barnes was recently shopping for a copper grill mat at his local Sam’s Club store in Torrance, California, and discovered that the price, at $8.98, was 11% higher than at Walmart. He also found that a Kumho car tire cost $84.66 at Sam’s, and $73.17 at Walmart.”

When Business Insider contacted Sam’s Club about these complaints, the company said that the price-matching policy needed clarification’.” Spokespersona Carrie McKnight “said Sam’s Club doesn’t have a specific policy enforcing price-matching, but that it empowers its store managers to use their best judgment in providing refunds or price-matching on certain items. For identical items carried at both Walmart and Sam’s Club, the club chain should match prices, she said … If customers are denied price matching on identical items by their local club, they should contact customer service or reach out to Sam’s Club on social media to resolve the matter, she said.”

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Waiting in Line: There’s No App For That

The Wall Street Journal: “Every day, Mitchell Burton orders and pays for an Italian B.M.T. sandwich on his Subway mobile app, so the sandwich is waiting at the counter. When he arrives, the 32-year-old Baton Rouge, La., parks and recreation worker frequently heads to the back of the line, to avoid seeming rude to less tech-savvy fellow customers. Line skippers sometimes ‘get the stink eye,’ he says, because fellow patrons don’t understand that there’s an app to order ahead.”

“Various ways to skip lines have gained momentum in recent years, as businesses ranging from retailers to movie theaters have come up with ways for customers to avoid a wait, often with mobile apps and ordering kiosks … In theory, order-ahead technology should appeal to everyone.” But: “Some line lovers say technology gets in the way of the personal touch. That’s why Al DiSalvatore sometimes puts his phone down and lines up the old fashioned way at coffee shops in Philadelphia. He likes when the baristas remember his name and order—something that reminds him of his time living in smaller cities.”

“Lining up is part of a gauzy nostalgia for the days before smartphones, which also includes professors banning laptops in class, people stopping at the register to write checks and shoppers skipping shopping online … Erik Fairleigh, 38, who works in communications at Amazon, also has a simple reason for sometimes joining the line. ‘I like to pay in cash,’ he says … Ashleigh Azzaria, a 34-year-old Palo Alto, Calif., event designer, typically chooses to wait in line for coffee at Starbucks, even though she has the mobile app installed and skips the line for bigger orders. ‘It’s my break,’ she says. ‘It’s my time to just kind of decompress, to not be on the phone’.”

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The Color of Money: Bias & The Brand Experience

Alexandra C. Feldberg and Tami Kim: “Over the past two years, we have investigated discrimination in customer service by conducting large-scale field experiments in the hospitality industry. We have repeatedly found that front-line workers exhibit racial bias in the quality of customer service they provide. In one experiment, we emailed approximately 6,000 hotels across the United States from 12 fictitious email accounts. We varied the names of the senders to signal different attributes, such as race and gender, to the recipients.”

“Overall, hotel employees were significantly more likely to respond to inquiries from people who had typically white names than from those who had typically black and Asian names … Hotel employees provided 20 percent more restaurant recommendations to white than to black or Asian people. Employees’ politeness also varied by race. When responding to white people, employees were more likely to address them by name and to end their emails with a complimentary close (e.g., “Best,” “Sincerely”) than they were when responding to black or Asian people.”

“Instead of relying primarily on trainings to remedy bias, if they truly want to transform the way they serve customers, companies need to make structural changes. For instance, they should standardize scripts and provide employees with specific protocols for managing these situations. Such efforts can institutionalize norms of behavior for employees when they interact with customers … To detect bias in these behaviors requires quantifying different aspects of customer service and comparing treatment quality across a range of customers … It is only after identifying these disparities that companies can develop targeted interventions to combat biases.”

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Wearhouse Hero: Boosting App-arel Sales

The Wall Street Journal: “Like many traditional chains, Men’s Wearhouse has had better luck converting store visits into sales than it has with shoppers browsing its website. Executives say they are turning to new technology created by a startup called Hero in hopes of improving results while still using the company’s existing workforce. Over the holiday shopping season, the company tested out the app in about 100 stores. It found that online shoppers were more likely to buy an item after chatting with a store worker, prompting an expedited rollout to the company’s remaining stores.”

“By September, more than 3,000 workers across both Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A Bank will be able to chat with online shoppers. The employees can wave their phones over product tags to generate web links to purchase the items and set up appointments through the app … The app connects an online customer with an available salesperson in the nearest store. To ensure that employees don’t become too pushy, it lets shoppers rate them, much in the same way an Uber passenger rates a driver. The video chat is one-way: Shoppers see into the store, but workers can’t see the customers.”

“Alistair Crane, the CEO of Hero, said his technology is built on the fact that store workers were already texting customers and using social media sites, like Instagram, to showcase products.”

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Boyd’s: Retail’s Past as Prologue?

The New York Times: “Like the Liberty Bell and the stone Rocky Steps, Boyds is a Philadelphia landmark, and one equally impervious to the shifting seasons. For 80 years, the family-owned business has outfitted lawyers, bankers, doctors, politicians and famous athletes … The store is where a young man goes to buy his wedding suit, and returns 30 years later, grayer, wealthier, thicker in the middle, this time bringing his son to buy his wedding suit … in this age of dressing down and click-and-buy, in an environment where the big chains have killed off the mom-and-pops and Amazon is killing off the chains, Boyds now feels like a shopping experience out of time … Out-of-towners who happen into this retail anachronism tend to react first with astonishment, followed by a sigh of pleasure.”

“It’s very possible that Boyds isn’t just one of a dying breed of old-fashioned retailers, however. Given its scale (50,000 square feet of selling space over four floors), and the level of service it provides, and the tailor shop and complimentary parking lot, and the near century of independent operation by the same family, it may be the only clothing store of its kind anywhere in the country … To understand how Boyds has avoided oblivion thus far, it’s instructive to spend an afternoon on the selling floors … The operation has a choreographed precision. Chris Phillips, the 43-year-old men’s tailored clothing manager, on this day stood near the elevator. It was his job to greet customers, determine their needs and spin them to the right salesperson.”

“Generally speaking, the men who come to Boyds aren’t there to browse. Overscheduled high earners, they view clothes shopping as one more task to be efficiently completed, an attitude to which every Boyds employee is attuned … Marc Brownstein, the president and chief executive of the Brownstein Group … dates his first Boyds shopping trip to high school, back in the ’80s, and now especially appreciates its delivery service to home or office, and the text messages he gets from the store when a brand is going on sale.” He comments: “The family just outthinks other retailers. They’ll deliver to your house, to your office. You park for free. You know what parking costs in the center of Philadelphia? They’re going to outwork and out-service everyone else.”

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