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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Study: Inclusion Begets Innovation

The Wall Street Journal: “Companies that welcome ideas from all employees have better growth prospects than those with a less-inclusive approach to innovation, a new study finds … Employees were asked how often they were included in larger, strategic decisions, whether they felt management was interested in their ideas and whether they were encouraged to try new approaches to their work. It found that companies where more people said they felt their ideas were sought out and valued tended to yield more revenue growth and employee productivity.”

“The analysis—which split companies into three tiers based on how many employees said they got opportunities to innovate—found workers at firms in the most inclusive group were 14% more likely to say they want to stay at their company long term than those in the least inclusive group. Those employees were also 32% more likely to describe themselves as willing to put extra effort into work, compared with the least-inclusive group.”

“At Quicken Loans Inc. … employees are given four hours each week of focused “bullet time.” During those hours, they are able to step away from day-to-day responsibilities and explore new skills and parts of the company’s business not directly related to their own work, said Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner … Wegmans Food Markets Inc., a family-owned regional grocery chain with 48,000 employees, says it has ‘innovation teams’ made up of frontline workers in Wegmans grocery stores and employees in the company’s main office. These teams come up with new programs and improvements that are tested at select stores with the prospect of being applied companywide.”

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Branching Out: Former Banks = Cool Stores

The New York Times: “Former bank branches have been reincarnated as pizza parlors, fast-food outlets, health care sites, massage chains, credit unions, educational institutions, churches and mobile phone stores. Some serve as locations for Starbucks, CityMD Urgent Care, CVS and other chains.”

“Attributes that were attractive to banks in the first place are now selling points for the converted properties. Many occupy corner locations on busy streets with heavy retail traffic. The buildings are often free-standing and well maintained, with sturdy brick construction. Depending on municipal zoning restrictions, canopied drive-throughs can be converted to other uses, such as fast-food pickup, side entrances or patios.”

“Part of an Apple Bank in Manhattan was converted to condos in 2006, and CVS moved into at least two banks in New York with high ceilings and marble columns … In the small tourist community of Lake Tomahawk, Wis., Tina Rydzik saw a marketing opportunity after she found it impossible to remove the vault from a former bank she took over and converted into a pizza house. She christened the enterprise Pizza Vault, and named nearly all the entrees after famous bank robbers.”

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Swedish Samosas: Ikea in India

The New York Times: “Ikea’s opening in India — and its subsequent success or failure — is likely to become a case study for other international retailers. India’s retail landscape is complex. With a growing middle class, its 1.3 billion people buy about $30 billion a year of furniture, lighting and household items like bed linens and cookware … But despite the efforts of a few local chains, 95 percent of those goods are sold through small shops that offer custom-built products, usually specializing in one category such as wooden furniture or lamps, and offer free assembly and delivery.”

“Ikea stores are the polar opposite. Part showroom and part warehouse, they are sprawling outlets that are far from city centers with mazes of giant bins and floor-to-ceiling shelves. Ikea’s brand signals affordable, mass-produced and functional, and its design aesthetic is lightweight and lean, in contrast to the heavier, bulkier furniture traditionally favored in Indian households … All of this has forced Ikea to rethink its product lineup and store operations for India. Although the Hyderabad store has the classic Ikea layout, what’s on display is somewhat different.”

“Given India’s lower income levels, the store features hundreds of products — from dolls to spice jars — priced at less than 100 rupees, or $1.45 … Indian families spend a lot of time together, with relatives frequently popping in, so the company added more folding chairs and stools that could serve as flexible seating … Some items popular in the United States, such as untreated pine furniture, do not endure in south India’s hot and humid climate … Even the cafeteria caters to Indian tastes, with biryani, samosas and vegetarian Swedish meatballs on the menu and 1,000 available seats, more than any other Ikea in the world, to accommodate the more leisurely dining style of Indian families.”

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Lucy Sparrow’s Felt Supermarket

Boing Boing: “UK artist Lucy Sparrow is back with a new shopping opportunity for lovers of her fantastic felt products. Until August 31, at The Standard hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Sparrow is showing her most ambitious exhibit yet: the Sparrow Mart Supermarket. This is her fifth and largest all-felt installation (it features 31,000 handmade products) and her first West Coast one.”

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The Price is Right — Or is It?

The Wall Street Journal: “A simple mathematical error leads shoppers to make mistakes when evaluating offers that promise to save them money. Sometimes they inadvertently pick the priciest option. Sometimes they overestimate the benefit of a bargain. And sometimes they don’t recognize that competing promotions offer identical savings. The problem involves percentages.”

“Instead of comparing unit prices, shoppers tend to judge offers based on the size of the benefit. Getting 50% more of a product must be better than knocking 33% off its cost, right? Wrong. The savings are identical, but on the fly, even savvy shoppers make mistakes … Consider a pound of coffee beans that normally costs $15. If a shopper receives 50% more free, the price is $5 for each half-pound. A discount of 33% reduces the original cost to $10, which is also $5 per half-pound.”

“One of the most common ploys used to sway consumers is the double discount. A 40% discount on a $1,000 suit drops the price to $600. Marking the suit down twice, first by 20% and then by an additional 25% decreases the cost to $800 before shrinking it to $600. The deals are identical, but the double discount feels more generous … To test responses to offers of discounts or bonuses along with shoppers’ ability (or willingness) to calculate percentage change, .. several experiments revealed that consumers generally favor product bonuses over price discounts, reduced quantities over increased prices and double discounts over single discounts.”

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The Hamptons: Where Filling Up is a Gas

The Wall Street Journal: “Stuart Markus is a full-time musician with one of the wackiest gigs around. Most summer weekends, he plays for the Maserati and Ferrari crowd at Gas Hampton … owner Sergio Celikoyar hired the musician as part of an effort to pry people out of their cars and over to his convenience store to spend a little more money. His aim is to create an aesthetic that screams Hamptons, not roadside pit stop.”

“Mr. Markus … gets paid by the owner about $150 for a three-hour performance, plus tips. Those can be as much as $20 a car. His filling-station set list includes Jackson Browne’s ‘Running on Empty,’ America’s ‘Ventura Highway,’ Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America,’ and—not surprisingly, given the crowd— Jimmy Buffett. One woman walked up to him recently on her way to the convenience store and asked if he played any ‘Jesus music.’ He played the first song that came to mind, ‘Amazing Grace.’ She tipped him $20.”

Celikoyar also “hired a local muralist to decorate the store as a beach, with surfboards, palm trees, sailboats and a lighthouse. Painted circus tents lead to the bathroom, which is so clean it drew praise from reality-television star Bethenny Frankel. She tweeted it was the ‘nicest gas station bathroom I’ve ever seen’ … On some summer weekends, when Mr. Markus isn’t singing, the owner pays a local magician to do card, coin and rope tricks. ”

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When Small Grocers Get Big Ideas

The New York Times: “DMG Foods, a bright, 7,000-square-foot, nonprofit grocery store … is one of a growing number of experimental grocery stores that have emerged as traditional supermarkets confront a crisis that industry analysts say could surpass the retail apocalypse that pounded shopping malls a decade ago … some of the most radical reinvention is happening at the local level, in both cities and small towns, where a new breed of small community stores use the grocery aisles to fill cultural niches and address social needs.”

“At Nada, everything, including toothpaste and chocolate, is sold package-free. Shoppers can buy scoops of frozen berries, a handful of crackers and just one egg, if that’s all they need. There’s no plastic wrap or paper at the deli counter. Customers bring their own containers, buy reusable ones at the store or take some from a stack that have been cleaned and sanitized, using a digital scale to weigh and tag them before they start shopping … There’s a similar store, Zero Market, in Denver, and one called the Fillery planned for Brooklyn. No-waste stores are already popular in parts of Europe, and are popping up in other Canadian cities.”

“Two thousand miles away in New Prague, Minn., population around 7,600, Kendra and Paul Rasmusson have been inundated with inquiries from people equally enamored with their grocery concept: a store that is largely unstaffed … inspired by a nearby 24-hour fitness center, they had an idea: Why not create a store that didn’t need staff, for shoppers who wanted organic ketchup, gluten-free crackers and vegetables from local farmers? Members pay $99 a year and use a key card to open the door. They can shop anytime they want. Lights are motion-activated, and checkout is done on an iPad. Members can use a space upstairs for community meetings, or hold classes on making kombucha or Spanish for children.”

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Canada Dry: A Promise Uprooted

The Washington Post: “Julie Fletcher filed a federal lawsuit against the owners of Canada Dry ginger ale alleging the beverage does not contain ginger, the Buffalo News reports. Canada Dry’s listed ingredients are carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, sodium benzoate, natural flavors and caramel colors … It’s not the first lawsuit to hold the ginger ale company to task for its ingredient list.”

“Law 360 reported that a similar suit in Missouri against Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., which produces Canada Dry, was dismissed in June. In that suit, lab tests revealed that the beverage did not contain ginger. But the company argued that ginger is used to make the ‘natural flavoring’ in the drink and contested the methodology of the lab test.”

“As for Fletcher, the Buffalo News says that one factor in her confusion about the product was a 2011 commercial where a hunky ‘ginger farmer’ pulled a root out of the ground — and was pulled up through a woman’s cooler of Canada Dry. Which, to clear up any confusion for future litigation, is physically impossible.”

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16 Handles: Frozen Yogurt Gone Wild

The Wall Street Journal: “At the New York-based frozen-yogurt chain 16 Handles, the main draw has always been the self-serve aspect: Customers are free to mix and match flavors and toppings at will, paying a per-ounce price, varying by store, for their creations. But this summer, patrons at the 10-year-old chain’s East Village location may be surprised to find a soft-serve machine positioned behind the counter. It is reserved for a special new line of frozen treats, dubbed Sugalips, that employees are charged with making.”

“Included in the offerings: an outer space-inspired Galaxy Cone, priced at $8.95, that combines frozen yogurt, cotton candy and rock candy, a colorful dessert designed with the food-on-social-media era in mind … it comes as 16 Handles has seen its same-store sales decline in each of the past three years, following an initial period of consistent growth.”

“For starters, the concept of self-serve frozen yogurt is no longer seen as novel. But even more important: Frozen yogurt isn’t the trendy dessert it once was. Artisan ice-cream companies, offering a wave of creative and even vegan flavors, are commanding increased attention. So, too, are makers of multicultural frozen treats, such as Thai-style rolled ice cream … While such changes might help bring frozen-yogurt chains a broader clientele, experts warn there is a risk of alienating the regular customer base if a company goes too far.”

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