Last week, we had a post on how the rise of e-commerce was messing with college dorms. Now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the influx of package deliveries is also causing headaches at apartment complexes across the country (Web-Shopping Deluge Boxes In Landlords, Oct 20).

The onslaught has turned management offices of apartment buildings into de facto receiving centers as landlords grapple with recording packages, tracking tenants down to pick them up and finding places to store the parcels.

Camden Property Trust, the 14th-largest U.S. apartment operator by number of units, stopped accepting parcels at all of its 169 properties nationwide this year. Executives said the Houston-based landlord, which has roughly 59,000 units in 10 states and the District of Columbia, had received almost a million packages in 2014, and the rate was increasing by 50% a year. …

Each package results in about 10 minutes of lost productivity, Camden executives estimated. At a rate of $20 an hour for employee wages, that amounts to about $3.3 million a year, they said.

Beyond the staff costs, there are a number of other complications. For example, having the office at a complex open normal business hours may suffice for most things, but if residents leave for work before 8:00AM and don’t get home before 6:00PM, coordinating pick up can be a hassle for both the landlord and the resident. There is also a question of liability. If the office signs for a package as a courtesy for a resident, who is on the hook when it somehow goes missing? Given that these problem scale with more delivery, I can understand the desire to refuse to accept packages. Of course, that decision is not terribly popular with many renters. The article has multiple quotes from people who now have packages delivered to a relative’s house or who are just itching for their lease to be done so they can move to a more accommodating complex. Continue Reading »

The big news in the restaurant world this past week is that Danny Meyer, one of New York City’s most prominent restaurateurs, is going to be abolishing tipping at all his establishments. He discussed the move on CBS.

(He also had an interview on CNBC that covered a lot of the same ground plus a few other points that I will mention below.)

Tipping — at restaurants and in hotels — is something we have covered before. As much as I like the idea of linking pay to performance, I think that tipping is a pretty miserable custom. Meyer touches on some of these points in explaining why he is banning the pourboire. But he also highlights a completely different issue: Attracting and retaining talent.

Continue Reading »

Many years ago, I worked as an office assistant in my college dorm. One of the responsibilities was letting residents know if they had received a UPS package. Anything sent via regular mail went to the campus post office where we were all assigned a box. Since UPS couldn’t deliver to the post office box, it came to the dorm where someone would get around to writing out a paper form so the student could be notified. It wasn’t a particularly efficient process, but once you got past the start of the school year, there weren’t too many packages to deal with.

But times have changed! The Daily Campus (of the University of Connecticut) reports that UConn’s mailrooms are getting overwhelmed (Mailroom backup continues as officials search for solutions, Oct 5).

The number of packages received by the university for residential students has been increasing drastically in recent years, in large part due to the rise in online purchases, Assistant Director of Building Services Tracy, told The Daily Campus in an earlier article. As a result, there is a growing need to find long-term solutions beyond hiring more staff.

According to Cree, more than 100 student workers are involved in work related to the residential mailrooms.

In order to fix some immediate problems, plans have been made to modify existing mailrooms in the next few weeks. These alterations are intended to allow packages to be processed much more efficiently. …

In addition to these immediate changes that are to be put in place, UConn is also considering other ways to efficiently deal with the influx of packages and alter the current infrastructure to better reflect the needs of students. …

“We have been discussing the possibility of creating central locations for sorting, but also discussing distribution systems to get the packages delivered sooner,” [executive director of Building Services Logan] Trimble said.

The earlier article referenced above claims that UConn is receiving 3,000 packages per day. The Business Insider article on UConn’s mailroom woes notes that the school has about 31,000 students. Some of those presumably live off campus and have their Amazon sent to their apartments so we are probably looking at over 10% of on-campus students getting packages every day. I am glad my dorm assistant days are behind.

Continue Reading »

Call center agents often sound robotic — and that may well be by design. Having agents follow a script helps keep service times predictable, supports delivering consistent service, and possibly reduces training costs. The same logic holds for other forms of electronic customer service interactions — be they chat sessions, emails, or Facebook posts.

But not every firm follows this model, relying instead on unscripted interactions to build relationships with customers. Among these is Dollar Shave Club, a subscription razor service with 2.2 million members (Why Dollar Shave Club invests in unscripted customer service, Los Angeles Times, Sep 26).

The company employs about three dozen member service agents who answer phones and emails, conduct online chats and reply to queries on social media — all while channeling the brand’s distinctly playful and irreverent tone.

The strategy isn’t easy. Training takes weeks. Finding the right personalities is challenging. It would be cheaper and less hassle to contract with a third-party customer service firm, which Dollar Shave Club does to complement its in-house team.

But online retailers, including pioneers Zappos and Bonobos, have found the investment in unscripted customer service worthwhile. The interactions, they say, feel more authentic and help humanize e-commerce brands that are, by their very nature, faceless.

So when does a scriptless approach pay off? Continue Reading »

We have written in the past about some of the challenges of staffing retailer operations. Given competitive markets and an ample supply of labor, many firms have employed staffing models that may be kindly described as aggressive — although some might prefer to call them abusive (see, for example, here, here and here). In essences, firms want to avoid overstaffing but also don’t want customer service to suffer. Employees are caught in the middle of those goals as employers demand more and more flexibility from them.

But to some extent that has been changing. Labor markets have tightened and regulators have begun asking questions. Consequently, firms have backed off some of their more noxious practices (at least in some jurisdictions). Among the leaders here has been Starbucks. Last year it committed  to posting worker’s schedules at least 10 days in advance and to giving workers more consistent schedules. Further it said it would no longer have workers doing “clopenings” — closing the story one night only to have to be there for the opening the following morning. As the New York Times tells it, the transition hasn’t been so smooth (Starbucks Falls Short After Pledging Better Labor Practices, Sep 23).

But Starbucks has fallen short on these promises, according to interviews with five current or recent workers at several locations across the country. Most complained that they often receive their schedules one week or less in advance, and that the schedules vary substantially every few weeks. Two said their stores still practiced clopenings.

Continue Reading »

Apple is apparently getting serious about cars. It came out this week that building an electric car is now a “committed project” at Apple (Apple Targets Electric-Car Shipping Date for 2019, Wall Street Journal, Sep 21). But that raises the question of who would actually build it for them. It’s not that Apple has never made stuff before, but recent years they have generally leaned on the likes of Hon Hai Precision Industry (aka Foxconn) to assemble phones and laptops and such on their behalf.

That got me thinking about a quote from Carlos Ghosn, who runs both Nissan and Renault, that appeared last week in Automotive News (Ghosn sees tough time ahead for industry disruptors, Sep 18).

Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said aggressive hiring of auto industry executives by software companies shows how vital it is for new players to understand manufacturing and vehicle design. …

The complexity of cars means it will be tough for new players to enter the auto industry. ..

“That is one of the reasons you are seeing the outsiders massively hiring engineers from our industry. Why? Because they need to understand the product more in order to make the transformation they think they can make,” Ghosn said at a press conference here Wednesday.

Ghosn is not the only one thinking about what it would take for a tech giant like Apple or Google to get into the auto business (Apple and Google Create a Buzz at Frankfurt Motor Show, New York Times, Sep 17).

“What is important for us is that the brain of the car, the operating system, is not iOS or Android or someone else but it’s our brain,” Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive of Daimler, the maker of Mercedes vehicles, told reporters at the car show. IOS is Apple’s operating system for mobile devices.

“We do not plan to become the Foxconn of Apple,” Mr. Zetsche said, referring to the Taiwanese-owned company that manufactures iPhones in China.

Continue Reading »

UPS and 3D printing

When you think about United Parcel Service (if you ever do), you like think about the big brown truck that brings boxes to your house. But UPS does much more than deliver e-commerce purchases to residential addresses. They also have a significant business handling supply chain logistics. That business is potentially threatened by the evolving technology of additive manufacturing. Who needs a logistic purveyor when parts and components can be reduced to a file, sent around the world, and then printed at its point of use?

That concern has led UPS to experiment with 3D printing, investing in a start up and setting up a facility at UPS’s hub in Louisville. They currently have 100 printers and are planing to to expand to 900 (UPS Tests a 3-D Printing Service, Wall Street Journal, Sep 18). Just what are they doing with these printers?

UPS expects more companies will migrate some production to 3-D printing from traditional manufacturing on an aggressive growth curve, according to Rimas Kapeskas, head of UPS’s strategic enterprise fund. And UPS is also talking with customers about taking on a bigger role as a light manufacturer using 3-D printers. …

Late last month, the operation received an order for 40 mounting brackets for paper towel dispensers from a division of Georgia-Pacific LLC that makes dispensers, Dixie cups and cutlery. CloudDDM printed the mounts and UPS shipped them to a Georgia-Pacific engineer by the next morning. The brackets were slated for a month-long “stress test,” said Michael Dunn, senior vice president of innovation development for Georgia-Pacific.

Whirlpool turned to the operation recently when its own 3-D printers were all occupied. The maker of Maytag and KitchenAid products uses the printing method for prototypes of items like trays for refrigerators and venting systems for dryers, as a way to test parts on smaller scale.

The article also reports that UPS has used the service itself to produce parts for its fleet of planes. Continue Reading »


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