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    Published on: November 13, 2012

    by Michael Sansolo

    When it comes to customer satisfaction these days, business is wise to heed the sage words of Yoda, the Jedi master from the Star Wars movies. Yoda, you may recall is a diminutive creature who reminds us not to judge him by his size.

    The Force (the mystical power in the realm of Star Wars) is Yoda’s ally and it’s one powerful ally.

    Despite the similarity of my last name to Han Solo, I don’t have access to the Force. I have something better: Yelp.

    And I'm not afraid to use it.

    Overall, I am a really good consumer. Because I’m sympathetic to business I try hard to stay calm in the face of frequently questionable service. I know the challenges businesses have and I know that the person facing complaints usually has little or no power to change anything.

    But even I have my limits.

    A few months back, I bought a new car. I have a dealership I love because its pricing is clear and transparent, the salespeople are low-key and my satisfaction (for those rare occasions when I buy a car) is usually pretty high. This time, it wasn’t. This time the sales help was confusing and somewhat annoying. Thanks to the Internet the power of car buying has moved to the consumer and I was able to navigate the process on the terms I wanted. So despite the problems, I made the purchase.

    Sadly, the story doesn’t end there. My car came with temporary tags, as is usually the case, and I started getting concerned six weeks later when those tags were getting close to expiration. So I called the dealership to find out the status and was assured I would get a call with information later that day. Three days passed with no call.

    Now I was getting really irritated, but I remained calm and called again. This time I was assured an answer was coming within the hour. No call ever came. Now with only a week left on my tags I made two more fruitless calls. Then I accessed the Force.

    More correctly, I posted a detailed complaint on Yelp, the consumer review website. I made sure the review was measured and detailed, but also made it clear that I, a repeat customer, was being chased away with terrible customer service.

    Suddenly, the dealership shared my urgency. Within two hours I got both an e-mail and a phone call to explain that the problem was with the state motor vehicles department, which is hardly a surprise in any state. To my delight the entire situation suddenly became a priority and my tags were delivered one day before the temps expired. In gratitude, I pulled the Yelp review.

    The question that nags me is why it even came to that. All I needed was one call from the dealer explaining the situation and reminding me that they were working for me. Silence wasn’t golden; it was poison.

    Today all merchants live with Force-enabled shoppers. With little or great justification, shoppers can use sites like Yelp to share complaints widely. Honestly, I have to give this dealer credit for responding so quickly and correctly. But it never should have gotten that far.

    It’s equally important for companies to recognize that shoppers no longer have to settle for dissatisfaction. Every employee is now on the front lines and rude or dismissive customer service no longer has to be ignored. Now the experience can be shared and damage can be done.

    Because like Yoda, we have the Force on our side and are not be underestimated.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Think of its as a message to marketers who have been using text messaging to communicate with consumers.

    The New York Times reports this morning that "for the first time, the American wireless market saw a decline in the total number of messages sent by each customer each month ... In the third quarter of this year, cellphone owners sent an average of 678 texts a month, down from 696 texts a month in the previous quarter. Though that’s a small dip, the change is noteworthy because for several years, text messaging had been steadily growing in the United States."

    It isn't that people are turning away from texting. The story makes clear that it appears that Internet-based messaging services, such as Apple's iMessage and Facebook messaging, are proving to have growing popularity with people who use smartphones, a group that grows every day.

    But it is yet another example of how fast things are changing ... and how important it is to stay abreast of changing technologies and consumer preferences.

    However, this also made me think about an observation that Tom Brokaw made yesterday on "Morning Joe." Brokaw suggested that we may be in a unique era for the American family - that despite some abiding cynicism in the country about the future of the traditional family, technology makes possible a degree of connection between generations that never has happened before. Many of us, when we were young, rarely or never talked to our parents when we went off to college and moved away from home. But now, this has changed ... that cell phones and texting and email make it possible for us to be in contact all the time, creating unique generational bridges that will sustain the family, not erode it.

    And so while text messaging may decline, and internet messaging may rise, what really matters is the degree to which people continue to forge and maintain connections. Which shows no sign of subsiding.

    It is an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    A majority of the 19 named plaintiffs in the antitrust class action suit against MasterCard and Visa, charging the two companies with illegal activities when it comes to setting interchange fees, said yesterday that they plan to file an appeal of a preliminary court approval of a proposed $7.2 billion settlement.

    Late last week, a US District Court judge granted preliminary approval to the proposed settlement offering nearly 8 million merchants $7.2 billion in cash and temporary reductions in the interchange, or swipe fees, they pay to process credit and debit transactions. However, a number of the plaintiffs continue to object to the settlement, saying that it does little to restrict the card companies from increasing their swipe fees in the future, as well as indemnifying them against future lawsuits.

    The plaintiffs say that they will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to deny preliminary approval due to the legal defects in the proposed settlement.

    According to a released statement, "The majority of named plaintiffs – including NACS – have rejected the proposed settlement, and approximately 1,200 additional merchants and retailer groups have filed papers objecting to preliminary approval of the proposed settlement. Additionally, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) and the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) each filed Amicus briefs in support of our opposition ... The named class plaintiffs opposing the proposed settlement of the case, which is known as “In Re Payment Card Interchange Fee and Merchant Discount Antitrust Litigation,” are NACS, Affiliated Foods Midwest, Coborn’s Inc., D’Agostino Supermarkets, Jetro Holdings LLC, NATSO, National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), National Grocers Association (NGA) and National Restaurant Association (NRA)."
    KC's View:
    What may be most depressing about this story is that it may be years before it all is resolved.

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    The New York Times this morning reports that lawmakers in Denmark have repealed the fat tax - charged on foods high in saturated fats - after just a year, saying that it had little impact on obesity rates because people would just go to Sweden and Germany to buy affected products.

    In addition, the Danish government said that it was canceling plans for a sugar tax.

    In the US, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells the Times that she was "not surprised they had trouble with a fat tax," adding, “It’s much easier to tax specific foods, say a tax on sugary sodas, than to tax at the nutrient level like a fat tax or a sugar tax.”

    The Times reports that regardless of the impact on obesity rates, the fat tax "raised $216 million in new revenue. To offset the loss of that money, the Legislature plans a small increase in income taxes and the elimination of some deductions."
    KC's View:
    I suspect that this had more to do with public criticism and revenue lost to those damn Swedes and Germans, as opposed to the impact on obesity rates ... mostly because I'm not sure a year is a long enough time in which to make that judgement.

    But I think the Danish government has made the right decision here.

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) is out with a new study saying that "already eyeing hot toys, fashions and exclusive products, consumers are beginning to make a dent in their holiday shopping lists ... 52.8 percent of Americans have already started their holiday shopping, up from 51.4 percent last year."

    The study also says that "47.3 percent of consumers said they will look for holiday gift ideas online. Coming in a close second is in-store inspiration, with 45.2 percent of Americans noting that they will take a stroll in the store to find the ideal gift. Other popular areas for insight include advertising circulars (36.2%), television (35.4%) and friends and family (40.4%). Proving they are still seen as a value to shoppers, more than one-third (34.1%) of consumers say they will seek ideas from catalogs. Additionally, 13.3 percent will head to Facebook and 5.8 percent will use Pinterest to gain inspiration."
    KC's View:

    I was talking to a class last night at Cornell University and one of the students asked me what I thought was a really perceptive question: Will the growth in online shopping eventually put a big dent in Black Friday promotions?

    It is a good point. I've argued here before that while I hate the idea of stores opening on Thanksgiving, the simple fact is that Amazon and its online brethren are open on Thanksgiving, so I certainly can understand the impetus. And I do think that by not being hemmed in by artificial boundaries - Black Friday is, after all, a marketing construct, not a real thing - it seems entirely possible that online retailers could change traditional rules.

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    • MyWebGrocer, which works with a network of 130 retailers in the US and provides digital solutions to the grocery and CPG business here, said this morning that it is expanding its international footprint by opening an office in London. MyWebGrocer already partners with Foodstuffs Wellington, based in New Zealand.

    In the announcement, MyWebGrocer says that this is the "first MWG office outside the United States and provides direct access to the growing eCommerce and digital marketing industry in Europe. Three-quarters (74%) of UK consumers already use the Internet for household grocery shopping, according to Nielsen." Ross Gillanders will be serving as MWG's Managing Director, Europe.

    As always, full disclosure: MyWebGrocer is a longtime and valued MNB sponsor, helping to bring MNB to you free of charge each business morning. I suspect that MWG may be using its sponsorship segments to offer more details on this European strategy, but also thought that the story was worth reporting on the editorial side.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Groupon "is offering free standard shipping and returns for the discounted products that it sells through Groupon Goods. The free shipping applies to any U.S. or Canadian order of at least $15 before tax. Returns on eligible products are free within 14 days."

    According to the story, "The free shipping and returns policy comes as e-commerce companies prepare for another competitive holiday season. Groupon is also pushing its Goods category as a new source of revenue and holiday shopping destination. The company said Monday that it has launched online holiday catalog, one for toys and a more general one for gift ideas. The Goods channel sells everything from jewelry to consumer electronics to housewares. Unlike Groupon's core local deals business, where the company acts as a middleman between consumer and merchant, Groupon controls most of the inventory for Goods and sells the products directly to its subscribers."
    KC's View:
    Groupon is having a tough time in terms of profits, and it may be that its impact may outlive the company's actual existence. This particular story, I think, illustrates a larger point, about how different companies are embracing things like free shipping and expedited shopping as a way of differentiating themselves and competing in a cutthroat marketplace.

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that Toys R Us has decided to follow the lead of Walmart and Target, and will open its doors on Thanksgiving evening in order to give shoppers an advance jump on Black Friday promotions.

    Toys R Us said it will open at 8 pm on Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than last year.

    • The Boston Globe reports on a new study from Staples suggesting that "nearly 80 percent of the survey’s respondents said they come to work even when sick, an increase of 20 percent from a year ago."

    According to the story, "When the economy is in recession, as it was a few years ago, many people go to work sick, presumably out of job insecurity. Perhaps understandably, these folks are more concerned about hanging onto their jobs than about exposing their coworkers to flu germs. It would seem, then, that now that the economy is a bit better, workers would be more inclined to use their sick days. But the new Staples survey suggests otherwise."

    • The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) said yesterday that Daniel Wegman, Chief Executive Officer, Wegmans Food Markets and Timothy Smucker, Chairman of the Board, The J. M. Smucker Company have each been selected to receive 2013 GMA Hall of Achievement Awards at the GMA Chairman’s Lecture on January 19th in Arizona. The Hall of Achievement Award represents the highest honor given by the 104 year-old association,and honors the extraordinary service and contributions of the consumer packaged goods industry’s most distinguished leaders. Established in 1984, 2013 marks the 29th anniversary of the award whose past recipients include AG Lafley of The Procter & Gamble Company, Doug Conant of Campbell Soup Company, and Ric Jurgens of Hy-Vee, Inc.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    Bloomberg reports that troubled Best Buy has hired former Williams-Sonoma Chief Financial Officer Sharon McCollam as its new CFO, as well as its new chief administrative officer. The move comes as Best Buy looks to reduce the number of its bricks-and-mortar stores and simultaneously improve its online operations.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    The headline was this:

    Former USDA Inspector Fights Against Feces And Pus In Chicken

    And the press release said, in part:

    "Phyllis McKelvey, a retired chicken inspector and grandmother of eight from Guntersville, Alabama, is petitioning the USDA on to stop expansion of a new pilot program she says is already letting bile, feces, pus, and scabs into the nation’s poultry products.

    "McKelvey launched an online petition on to rally support from consumers concerned about the USDA plan, commonly known as HIMP, which increases line speeds while decreasing the number of inspectors tasked with protecting the nation’s food supply.“'I have seen contaminated chickens go down the line, but inspectors like me were able to stop them before they reached consumers,' said McKelvey. 'But under the USDA’s new plan, I’m afraid that birds covered in bile, feces, and pus will become chicken nuggets and be served to young children. More than 170,000 people signed my petition so far, and I’m sure support will keep growing – because no one wants to eat chicken covered in glops of feces" ... McKelvey says that unlike at standard inspection facilities, inspectors at HIMP plants cannot see inside the carcass, where most of the feces and pathogens can be found. Because the entire carcass cannot be inspected, McKelvey says, inspectors may not be able to detect potential fecal contamination inside the birds."
    KC's View:
    I don't know about you, but any paragraph that contains the terms "chicken nuggets" and "glops of feces" just tends to grab my attention. And make me glad that we're at the point in our family where chicken nuggets aren't the standard fare that they were when my kids were little.

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    On the subject of emailed receipts, one MNB user wrote:

    The first time I experienced an e-receipt was at the Apple Store, where I bought a new battery for my elderly laptop. The young CSR told me my receipt would appear in my email, and it did, instantly -- convincing me that more retailers ought to adopt e-receipts. For those who never get the right size, color, or style when shopping, the days of rummaging through coat pockets to find lost receipts are over. This is a dandy idea - even though cynics will point out that it's a way for retailers to get hands on customers' email addresses, and begin sending sale notices. But so long as the customer can opt out, I don't see the harm.


    On another subject - same day shipping - MNB user Glenn Cantor wrote:

    Local, same-day shipping should not be earth-shattering innovation.   Pharmacies, pizza shops, and Chinese food restaurants have been doing it for decades.  How difficult would it be for my local Wal-Mart to buy a van and use it to fulfill on-line orders?

    And MNB user Roy Dacke chimed in:

    Prediction:  Same-day shipping will bring e-commerce out of its niche and into the foreground of retail sales.  People will begin to see that they can order online, at prices as good or better than in-store, and receive goods at their home same-day.  When this happens, Pandora's box will open and e-commerce will become a much larger slice of the pie.

    Still another comment on the subject of tattoos, which has occupied so much attention here over the past few days, from MNB user Jim Green:

    Many of the writers sound like some parents did when Rock & Roll, the Beatles, Hippies, etc. started to go mainstream. The stories about chickening out on the “Yes” tat and the 83-year-old widow getting inked hit home for me. In my college fine arts school in the late 60’s there was an “older” guy student (probably 25) who supposedly had lived in Tahiti and Hawaii. He had a black pearl pierced earring in his left ear. Even in the Age of Aquarius, a guy with an earring was quite the topic of conversation around the student union and at “Happenings” on and off campus. I never forgot that earring.

    Fast forward 40 years of corporate advertising and a retirement/career change to a trip to a local shopping mall. My wife and I were passing a Clair’s store when she surprised me by suggesting that since I’d been talking about the black pearl earring ever since she’s known me I should finally “just do it”. The young lady tech at Clair's who did the deed and the pre-teen customers were intrigued to see a grandfather getting his ear pierced. The rest is history. And, if my hair stays around long enough a ponytail is next.

    Good for you.

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a Los Angeles Times report on a new study from Robert Half International saying that "managers spend nearly 17% of their working hours dealing with poor performers ... That's basically a full day a week that could have been spent being productive."

    One MNB user responded:

    This Robert Half International study seems to take the “glass half empty” approach. If a manager is spending that 17% of his time training and re-training poor performers to be more efficient in key areas and to help drive sales and customer relations, than I presume that this would be time well spent with a formidable ROI.

    We've had some discussion over the past few days about some cases in which the Apple Store may be seeing some decline in service levels, which led MNB user Robert Hemphill to write:

    I've been an Apple user for many years, and my experience is more positive.  My first impression - the Apple stores were very different from any other tech retail outlet.  For Mac computer users, it was fantastic to have a store full of employees who actually understood Apple tech and could provide valuable help, quickly and enthusiastically.  I've been very impressed with store associates' knowledge and pleasant attitude over the years, and that's probably been at least 50 visits.  Yeah, a couple disappointments - I had to wait at times.  But if I got an appointment in advance, it was usually done on time with excellent, quality results.  I've had a number of repair issues in which they offered very good deals for fixing a broken, out of warranty device, at greatly reduced pricing, and in some cases, gave me a perfect refurbished product for 1/2 cost of doing a repair.

    The original Genius Bar was a good start, but had a problem - you didn't need an appointment.  So pretty soon, it was a madhouse and very difficult to get time with someone when you came in for help.  The large crowds at Apple stores are a challenge - lots of people are there to buy stuff, but when you need help or advice, experts soon got very, very busy.  Now that you have to do appointments, it's much better.  I understand that if you didn't know this, you'd be disappointed.  Once you understand the program, the appointments aren't that onerous; you can call in, go to the website, and ya, there's also an app for that.  

    My best analogy - try to drive in to your favorite car dealer and get someone to diagnose and fix your car, while you wait, without an appointment.  Never worked for me either.

    In addition, Apple's phone support is excellent for a lot of times when you need help with something, and don't want to drive to the store.  When under warranty, Apple sent me a box that fit my macbook and had it picked up the same day from Fedex, and it was fixed and delivered back in two days.  Oh, and I had a bused wifi airport router, with no warranty, but since I bought it at the same time as the computer, they replaced it free.  There is a fee for an extended period of AppleCare for covered phone support, and I've often taken advantage of it.  I've had many hours of Apple phone support over the years, and it's almost always been satisfying, especially when I compare it to the "support" I've gotten from AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.

    So I'll take the Apple store, genius bar and AppleCare over whatever else you'd like to compare it with.

    I'm with Robert on this one.

    As I hope I've made clear, I've found service levels at the Apple Store to be superior almost all the time. But I also think that as the company continues to grow and even morph, it is critical for Apple - just as it would be for any company - to keep its eye on the ball, to make sure that it continues to stay focused on being superior and exemplary in how it delivers on its promises.

    I guess my main takeaway from this discussion would be that it is important to never be satisfied, to never think that the job is done, that the reputation is earned.

    Like I said yesterday, a reputation is what you earned yesterday. Today, you have to earn it all over again.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 13, 2012

    In Monday Night Football action, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 16-13.
    KC's View: