Category Archives: Technology

Can Technology Be More Human Than an Actual Human Interaction?

I recently had to actually drive to my bank to deposit a check.  Aside from 2 receptionists there wasn’t a single customer service person to be found (you may be familiar with the archaic term, ‘teller’ – – or the archaic term ‘check’).   At any rate, no tellers in this bank.

Video tellers

There was, however, a Las Vegas-style array of video tellers, and my instant reaction was ‘great, this is the bank version of phone customer service hell’.

My actual experience was terrific.

in this case, technology enabled a customer service interaction that was polite, competent, quick and personable.  What everyone wants, but without an actual face-to-face encounter.  Sounds almost blasphemous.

Video teller 2

Of course, this approach started as a way to cut costs, by pooling resources centrally and deploying dynamically based on demand, rather than having to staff a large number of branches.

Bank teller 3

How can what is essentially cost-saving technology surpass the traditional gold standard of a smiling face in front of you?

  • Instant gratification. Because there are a lot of them in one location, a customer service rep was immediately available. No wait = good.
  • Great video quality – – clear enough so that facial expressions were easily visible, in either direction. So a good percentage of the personal interaction was preserved.
  • It happened to be my birthday (yes, and visiting a bank made it even more special) – – and to my surprise my CSR wished me a Happy Birthday.  My account info apparently flagged this on her end, and gave her the opportunity to delight the customer – – which she did, in a very cheerful way.  Sometimes it’s the little things that count, and this one gave my CSR the opportunity to make a personal connection – – which she did.

Compare this with the traditional experience of potentially waiting for a clerk, who then might mechanically take care of your business because he or she does this a thousand times a day.

Bored Teller

Maybe, just maybe, as technology and data use continue to mature, there may actually be hope that we won’t totally have to discard our humanity just to get a little service.

Now let’s see if we can do something about humanizing customer service experience just about everywhere else.

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Inside Candidate URL Guerrilla Warfare!

Recently Donald Trump’s campaign acquired the domain for jebbush.com* and directed it to donaldjtrump.com.

This raises the question, what sort of campaign is Jeb! running when his staff hasn’t even registered his own name?

Classic domain warfare dictates scooping up all likely (as well as expected negative) URLs so you can control the message.

As it turns out, Jeb! is not the only one who has missed this rather basic tactic.  (the screen shots below can be clicked through to the actual sites).  In fact, depending on whether the middle initial ‘J’ is involved, The Donald missed a few himself.

—> http://www.tedcruz.com was taken over by a group promoting immigration reform, forcing Ted’s people to base operations on tedcruz.org (wouldn’t have been his first choice).

—> http://www.carlyfiorina.org was hijacked by someone with an axe to grind.  (spoiler alert: the last screen tells us it was 30,000 people – – all of whom had families)

…and Donald himself was caught flat-footed when he allowed http://www.trumpsucks.com to be directed to none other than Fox News’s Megyn Kelly!  Megyn punks Donald!

By the measure of controlling the URL landscape, overall, aside from the Megyn Kelly thing, Trump does pretty well.  He grabbed Jeb’s site (probably paid a squatter for it), and got ahead of a few ‘Ihate***.com’ sites, including some of his competitors. (see chart below)

Ted Cruz and Jeb! fare worst.  They don’t have their name.com URL and both need a less obvious URL for their base of operations.  Jeb particularly has been rumored as a presidential candidate for at least 30 years.  You would think he would have been savvy enough to get ahead of the game and grab his own name domain.

John Kasich, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, and Hillary Clinton have decided to invest in only one URL.  The others are somewhere in between.

Is URL control a huge deal?  Probably not – – someone who gets redirected is likely not going to be automatically swayed just by landing on an unexpected site.

But still, there’s something to be said for controlling access to your message.  Maybe it’s time for each of us to look at www.(your name)sucks.com and see what comes up!

URLMatrix

*in WordPress, jebbush auto-corrects to nebbish.  hmmm.

Man vs Machine – Parts 2 and 3

Recently I observed a hair salon employee rejecting a customer’s minor request for his son to get his haircut first, solely because he had made his appointment online, and she was unable to override ‘Corporate Policy’ (as dictated by the technology).

My point was that while technology is often designed to enhance the user experience (and this chain’s reservation system is actually very good), we cannot ignore the value of personal interaction and judgment.

Since then I’ve experienced 2 more man vs. tech situations – one of which was negative, the other positive.

Schlotzkys

Case 1:  Schlotzsky’s Deli, Denver Airport.  Schlotzsky’s makes a fine sandwich, and has apparently long used kiosks, presumably to speed the ordering process.  (According to Schlotzsky’s, these were first introduced in tech-savvy Austin TX in 2002 to improve the customer experience!  Of course.)

I suspect the real reason is that since sandwiches are pretty modular, it lends itself to a automated selection approach, credit card payment, limited human interaction and most importantly, reduction in personnel cost.

The kiosks are fine, but an airport is a unique situation – – customers are by definition not locals, so the kiosk requires some instant learning.  And the lack of interaction with a human (their only role is to hand you the food) somehow depersonalizes an eating experience, which somehow makes it seem more like a vending machine and less like a temporary respite from the typically solitary travel experience.

The biggest issue is that despite all of the technology, my food preparation speed was glacial (I had to yell to the kitchen to start my sandwich), and for me there was absolutely no benefit to the kiosk.  The only employees visible had an expression of detached ennui.  Not a great experience.

Airport_Parking

Case 2:  O’Hare Parking.  I’ve used O’Hare for years and they have just recently un-manned the parking booths – no more attendants taking your money. In their stead is an automatic card reader (takes both your parking ticket as well as your credit card).

Now THIS is technology working for us!  In the past, the attendants were extremely slow, even though (maybe because) they were processing tons of mind-numbingly similar transactions that required zero judgment.

Now, you zip the ticket in, zip your card in, and you’re on your way.  The computer never gets bored or sullen.

Technology is helping facilitate a multitude of transactions that we make every day.  We just need to remember that when it comes to optimizing the human experience, technology can be amazing, but for some things there’s no substitute for the human touch.

Hopefully there’s an opportunity for the former parking attendants at a nearby Schlotzsky’s.

Not all Innovation is High-Tech. Not all High-Tech is Innovation.

To borrow an old punchline, sometimes companies innovate around technology ‘because they can’.*

A recent visit to the Hertz facility at the Denver airport illustrates the point – – innovation can only work when it is designed around the user experience.  Innovation that requires the user to adapt to technology, at the expense of experience, is not usually a blueprint for success.

My key car rental criteria are price, convenience and how fast I can get my car. At the counter, I preemptively say I don’t need an upgrade, don’t need insurance, and will fill it up myself. I also tell them they’re on the clock and my personal record is out the door in 3 minutes (although I had a wonderful 1:30 experience just this past week). It works, and it’s not nearly as jerky as it sounds. (really)

photo-1

So I was eager to experience the Denver Airport Hertz facility, which is huge (2500 s.f.) and bristling with open format desks, high-tech kiosks, and bumblebee-colored employees. The car rental facility of the future, right?  I’d be out of there in no time.

It was a disaster.  First, 25 minutes in a standard Disney-style winding line; then left the line and went to the separate line for a kiosk on the recommendation of a Hertz employee.  10 minutes to get to one of the kiosks, which needed assistance to operate.  The disembodied head on the kiosk video screen informed me that while I had a reservation, my car would not be available for at least another 30 minutes.  Except, of course, if I wanted to upgrade (at extra cost).  (we’ve seen this before)

I got mad and tracked down a manager, who finally gave me an upgraded vehicle without the upcharge (duh).  That was 45 minutes of hell in a facility that was presumably built on research and smart engineering.

The expensive technology and fancy building did nothing to help this experience.  The difficulties I had (kiosk operation, being held hostage for an upgrade) were resolved with the human touch.  The same human touch that gets me in-and-out of low-tech counters in under 5 minutes (often with a high-five to the counter person).Hertz charging

(Perhaps I should have thought more when I passed the cute ‘recharge’ station – under what conditions would you be using one of these at a car rental place?!).

photo 3

On the other hand, a recent Delta flight showed how smart innovation made the experience much better.  This was on a newly refurbished plane.

The overhead compartments had signs asking passengers to load their rolling bags vertically rather than horizontally, which gets more bags on the plane, and therefore keeps me from gate-checking.  Smart!  I win!

photo 1-1photo 5

Facing me on the bottom of the seat in front was an electrical outlet. I’ve seen these before but they’ve been awkwardly placed in a hard to reach place around my ankles, presenting the constant danger of feeling up my seat mate’s leg.

In both situations there was an outlet on each seat.  Delta figured out it’s better when you can see it.  Smart! I win again!

Technology has transformed our world and has fueled amazing innovation.  But this innovation has only worked when it has improved the user’s experience.  

Technology with no benefit is usually not lasting.

*it’s a guy joke.  If you don’t know it already, you probably wouldn’t appreciate it.

SAP spells ‘Trust Me’: S-I-M-P-L-E

Say ‘SAP implementation’ to someone who has been through one and you are likely to get a look conveying some combination of pain, pity, terror and dread (and perhaps schadenfreude).

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) giant SAP recently announced an approach and suite of applications called ‘Simple’.

For a company with a reputation of being anything BUT simple, this casting-against-type positioning could be tricky business; successful transformation will not be immediate.

And one look at their recent 2-page WSJ ad indicates they may not yet be fully embracing this ‘Simple’ concept.

SAP

5 years ago Domino’s acknowledged that it didn’t taste as good as it should, and used this acknowledgment to justify a reformulation that was the focal point for a new campaign.  By many accounts, this bold ‘we sucked, now we’re better’ approach has yielded good results.

DominosCombined

But ERP software is not pizza – – with pizza, a $10 or $15 mistake and you’re on to someone else.

Do a search for ‘SAP Implementation’ and it’s obvious that the stakes are quite a bit higher – – not only $100 million or more, but years of organizational churn and resources, as well as lost opportunity if/when things go awry.  You can’t say ‘we know we’ve messed these up in the past, but going forward we’ll be awesome – trust us’.

A few examples here, some others below:
Avon Products halts an SAP implementation, leading to write-down of $100-125 million
– Waste Management and SAP in $100 million lawsuit
– HP claims $160 million damage from flawed SAP implementation
Select Comfort abandons SAP ERP implementation
SAP issues at Hershey prevents $100 million in shipments for key holiday
While client’s management often has a hand in screwing things up, at the end of the day, it’s SAP’s name in the headline.

SAP has chosen to own ‘Simple’ as its defining principle going forward.  In the ERP space, this is a compelling proposition. And some industry experts are cautiously optimistic.

But based on SAP’s history, it’s a tall order – – and prospective clients will certainly have a ’show me’ mindset.

Requiring 2 full pages to explain Simple is not a great start.

Unexpected game-changers for our future food supply

[NOTE:  If you are getting this post in an email, click on www.thearmchairmba.com to see the accompanying graphics.]

I recently participated in an IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) workshop on the long-term future of our food supply.  These are the same food scientists that midwived the difficult births of Count Chocula, Betty Crocker and Chef Boyardee, but they have also developed fortified, functional and better for you foods and beverages. And they play a critical role in defining our food future. (I previously wrote about IFT’s FutureFood2050 initiative).

chipotle2

Supply Chain as rendered by Chipotle

You may think: How complicated can food be? Haven’t we been farming, shipping, making and eating for quite a while now?

It turns out that managing the food supply to meet future consumer, economic and regulatory needs is about as simple as airline scheduling logistics.

ComplexFoodSystem

Supply Chain – Actual

And as the workshop revealed, it will only get more complicated going forward.  Why?

First, consumer demands continue to increase: lower cost, variety, customization, easier/faster shopping, nutrition, natural, sustainable…and of course great tasting. Not all simultaneously compatible.

Second, farmers, manufacturers and distributors are pressured to meet these needs and still make a profit.

Finally, innovations, often seemingly not food-related, will play a critical role as the food industry evolves.

This future could be very interesting.

Consider these trends /technologies that might impact the future of food, all of which are happening now:

Farm drones/robots/blimps – – to monitor crop conditions continuously, greatly increasing farming efficiencydrone-corn720x540

Resource-sharing – – rather than time-sharing a car, how about meat-sharing a cow?   More accurately matching supply to demand.

CowShare

Crowdsourcing product design – – leading to higher success rate of new products

CrowdSourceFood

Versatile manufacturing – – economical short production runs, allowing more customization

Urban farming – – new technologies enable repurposing declining urban areas (Detroit-like)

VerticalFarming

Automated delivery – – driverless delivery to homes (drones, copters) – taking cost and time out of supply chains

Rise of B Corporations – – (“a new type of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.”) Transparency in social benefit, an additional differentiator.

B-Corp

Shorter IP protection – – forcing faster innovation and creating increased competition

Remote smell – – transmitting tastes/smells through the internet, making product development quicker and more successful. (Were this previously available, we may have been able to avoid Brussels sprouts.)

o-phone-smell-text-message-designboom03-300x200

oPhone

Genetic consumer cohorts – – low-cost genetic typing enables segmenting consumers by health-driven factors like allergies, facilitating meeting needs of key segments.

DNA

Expanded definition of acceptable food – – e.g. ground insects as source for cheap, high efficiency protein, creating an affordable ingredient for billions, and one heck of a marketing challenge for some.

Jiminy

What does all this mean?
Well, we don’t know yet.  That’s why they call it the future.

One set of outcomes could be:

  • Greater ability for consumers to quickly get foods customized to their wants/needs
  • More tools for farmers, manufacturers, retailers and distributors to drive down costs

A parallel set of outcomes could also be:

  • Benefits limited to those who can afford customization and speed (and the tools that enable them)
  • A more commoditized supply chain complementing the customized offerings, with lower cost, slower delivery and less choice – – for those who cannot afford (or just do not value) the more tech-enabled offerings

There would likely be huge collateral impacts, like increased complexity in regulation, labeling and distribution; new retailing models, etc.

Like it or not, food science and technology professionals will need to be prepared to meet these potential future challenges.

The rate of change in the food industry is accelerating.  I’m all for it, as long as there’s still bacon.

A Non-Techie’s Guide to the Internet Commerce Trade Show (IRCE)

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This year was the 10th anniversary of the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) and my first year of attendance.

IRCE logo

Trying to neatly summarize this sort of confab without a experience as an e-commerce operator is sort of like assuming you can translate Portuguese based on having watched the World Cup.  The show was large, chaotic and alien – sort of like walking into 100 Star Wars bars simultaneously.

So while I have decent e-retailing experience, I will not attempt to make sense of all of this.

But I do have some observations.

E-Commerce is based on a few simple objectives, not too different from the marketing funnel used for any other product marketing, but with different terminology:
– gain the right customers’ attention  (‘engagement’, ‘click thru’, ‘open rate’)
– encourage purchase (‘conversion’)
– efficiently delivering (‘fulfillment’, ‘final mile’)
– establish a relationship (‘customer experience’)
– encourage repeat purchase (‘loyalty’, ‘retention’)
– encourage WOM, referrals (‘evangelism’)
– etc.

Simple, no?  I mean, we all shop online, how difficult could it be?

Well, let’s illustrate some of the complexities using a typical grocery store as the template.  Imagine running this store.

This is a store where:
the store itself serves the entire world — yet it needs to be built to serve the right volume of customers profitably
– finding the store requires a guide — yet the description that will lead to your store changes every 6 months
– your most loyal customers can be lost if a competitor offers to carry the groceries to the car for free
one of your big vendors (i.e. ISP) can have a bad day and you are unable to open, with no control
competitors can pop up virtually next door – instantly – and go away just as fast
– about 4 in 10 customers fill up their carts and then exit the store, leaving the cart in the aisle
a person with bad intent could lock the doors of your store –  from thousands of miles away
your loyal shoppers are barraged with promotional messages from stores right next door – and around the world
your competitors’ customers don’t necessarily live nearby – – but you still have to find them
– some of your competitors sell products to an enormous store that’s in every market, and which sells them cheaper (hint: starts with an ‘A’)
– and all of this is changing at light speed — Yikes!

On the other hand, all is not lost.  Imagine if your store could:
remind customers when important events are, and even suggest items to buy for the occasion
– send customers totally personalized communications, including catalogs – – as often as you want, for almost nothing
make recommendations to your customers about what they might love, based on what they’ve already bought
– send customers not just promotions, but at the exact time that you know they typically buy, and the deals that they respond to
enable your customers to tell all their friends about your great store – – instantly, when they’re most excited
follow up every single purchase to make sure everything is ok
dress your store up for the holidays or another event – – instantly
change what your store offers based on what your customers are buying elsewhere
enable customers to order merely by touching the picture in the ad

This is the magic of e-tailing.  The ability to reach and influence is remarkable, and the rules are constantly changing.

Here are a few companies whose products looked interesting:

Ship 2 My ID – – from their website: “Ship2MyID is a social commerce enabler that will allow users to buy items online and send them to others without needing to know the receiver’s physical address. Both the sender and the receiver’s physical addresses are kept hidden from each other, and the receiver has to accept the shipment, ensuring security.”  Got it?  You give them your email or social media ID, they help someone ship something to you without their knowing your address.  yes, me too.

ShipToMyID

 

OrderGroove – encourages all-important loyalty by enabling subscription ordering (i.e. they figure out when you run out of vitamins, diapers, dog treats, whatever, and facilitate having the manufacturer send to you.)

Ordergroove

Bitpay – Still don’t understand bitcoins?  Doesn’t matter.  With these guys, your store can still accept them.

From their site:  “Instant conversion, no transaction fee, and bank deposits in US Dollars, Euros, GBP, CAD and more. We take the bitcoin exchange rate risk, your customers get the best rate on the market, and you get a payment you can count on, every time.”

Sounds pretty low-risk to me.

Bitpay

FeedVisor – Algorithmic Repricing for Amazon Sellers!   I will admit – – not 100% sure what these guys do.  Maybe not even 50%. There was a crowd of intimidating techies crowded around the booth so I just gave them wide berth and moved on.

Algorithmic Repricing

 

The IRCE show is one trade event that is actually worth attending every year, because you know that in a year everything will be completely different.