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Archive for the ‘Services’ Category

One of my favorite examples I have learned from doing this blog is Chronodrive, a French chain specializing in pick up groceries. Specializing in the sense that this is all that they do. It makes for a nice example since it allows for a contrast between a firm that has tailored all of its operations for one niche against conventional supermarkets that have tried tacking on pick up or delivery onto standard stores.

Of course, in the current environment, lots of firms have had to tack on pick up or delivery options onto their existing stores. To paraphrase Don Rumsfeld, sometimes you have to serve customers with the processes you have, not the processes you might want or wish to have at a later time. But will pick up — some form of click and collect — have legs?

The Wall Street Journal reports that for both restaurants and grocery stores, pick up has been a good business and has been holding up even as states have reopened (Pickup Gains Ground Over Delivery, June 25).

Pickup grocery sales were up 81% in the week ended June 13 from the start of this year, according to Nielsen, while delivery sales rose 33% in that time. At restaurants, carryout accounted for 42% of orders by dollars in May, according to data from research firm NPD Group Inc., compared with a 13% share of sales for delivery. Carryout has maintained its share of restaurant sales since dining rooms began to reopen in May, NPD said, while drive-through and delivery have lost some ground to dine-in orders.

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OK, another story about pandemic driven lines. But this one has a twist. Yes, the virus is forcing lines to form outside of stores, but what would you give to be able to see the line before you left the house? Apparently, if you live across the street from a Trader Joe’s, your friends pester you enough about the current line situation that you set up a web cam or just tweet regularly (Is There a Line at Trader Joe’s? Social-Media Spies Are Keeping Track, Jun 12, Wall Street Journal).

The die-hard fans of Trader Joe’s may be waiting the longest. The grocery chain is known for its specialty items, cultlike following and ubiquitous lines that were bad enough before the pandemic. Now, even as the economy reopens, queues at several locations can stretch for blocks beyond the entrance.

Coming to the rescue is an informal network of Good Samaritans who are quarantined with prime views of a local Trader Joe’s. As a public service, they regularly tweet or broadcast updates on the lines outside.

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The British are famous for queuing. The stereotype has them as embracing orderly waiting their turn. But what if it’s waiting to vote in Parliament?

The powers that be in London have decided that online voting won’t do and that MPs should vote in person. There was consequently an in-person vote on a measure mandating this but the actual vote was executed with the appropriate social distancing guidelines. Here is how Politico described what went down (House of Commons bans virtual voting, opts for a queue, Jun 2):

Standing in a long line stretching from the chamber through to Westminster Hall and out of the building, roughly two-thirds of MPs slowly edged their way into the chamber to cast their votes in a process that took just over 45 minutes.

The system replaces the usual “divisions,” which see MPs walk through either the Aye or No lobby and usually take around 15 minutes, even if all 639 voting members are present.

What might that look like? Check out the video from the Guardian:

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There are some things that simply cannot be solved with an online FAQ. And if you have a question that needs to be answered or a technical problem that needs to be resolved, that likely means you need to call into a call center. Demand at many call centers should be relatively unaffected — or even boosted — by the ongoing pandemic. The call volume at an ISP’s tech support has to go up as more people are working from home and every hiccup in their connection becomes clear to them.

Unfortunately, call centers are not great places to be during a pandemic. Management has an incentive to pack agents like sardines. Business Insider had an article about a South Korean call center which had a significant Covid-19 outbreak and whether you got sick was really determined by where you sat. That seems to suggest that call center agents should just be allowed to work from home. As Vox explains, many firms have tried that (One nation, on hold, May 13).

Many call centers have scrambled to send thousands of customer service representatives to work from home for the first time, a process fraught with logistical and technical hurdles. Others have continued to tell employees to come into the office — which they can do, since call centers have been designated as an essential service — but at reduced numbers. A growing number have seen workers get sick with Covid-19.

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The ongoing coronavirus crisis has changed many aspects of American life. According to the Washington Post is also has forced many people — particularly those in poor areas — into lines (Day-to-day, line-to-line, April 26). Here is their description of life in the Bronx:

[A] line of 32 people stretched out from the front door of the bank where the computers were still down and Halls was still sitting in his folding chair, watching his neighborhood come to life.

Across the street, a line was forming at the pharmacy. A few doors down, the line was growing at the credit union. Around the corner, people were lining up for the bus, for the lottery, for the check-cashers and the two hawkers at folding tables spread with $5 masks, $10 Advil and $20 cough syrup. Two months into the coronavirus pandemic, this is what life was becoming in one of the poorest and hardest-hit neighborhoods in America. A life of lines.

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One of the interesting challenges of managing services is managing customers. A car chassis going down an assembly line goes where you tell it to go. A customer moving through a store, not so much.

And that gets us to thinking about masks. Here in Illinois, like much of the country,  we have been under a stay at home order for several weeks. Obviously, we are allowed to run necessary errands like going to the grocery store. In the first several weeks of the stay at home order, there was (at best) limited guidance on how to behave on those errands. But municipalities have started to set clearer expectations. Evanston and some other towns in suburban Chicago have now mandated that you must wear a mask to go into a store. At the end of last week, the governor extended the state’s stay at home order and also made wearing a mask in stores a statewide rule .

Sounds good. But how do you enforce that? (more…)

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Escalators are back in the news! A little over a year ago, Transport for London (i.e., the London Tube) got some press for an experiment they ran essentially prohibiting people from walking up the escalators at one of their stations. (We posted about that here.) Now the New York Times has seen fit to revisit the topic (Why You Shouldn’t Walk on Escalators, Apr 4). The Times’ definitive stance has not gone unchallenged. Indeed, Gizmodo has an essay taking the opposite side (Why You Should Always Walk on Escalators, Apr 4).

The source of controversy here is that Transport for London found that escalators moved more people per hour and delays to get on the escalators were shorter when people were kept from walking up the stairs. This is obviously a paradox. From an individual point of view, walking up the stairs has to be faster. If each individual can move faster, how can the overall wait be worse?

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Last week I posted on the challenges Starbucks was having with an increasing number of mobile orders. Now, it seems that the company is going to test a different approach: A location that only takes mobile orders (Starbucks to test mobile order and pay-only store at headquarters, Mar 30, Reuters).

Starbucks’ headquarters has two cafes that serve the more than 5,000 company employees who work there. One of those cafes, which is available only to company employees, is among its top three stores in the United States for mobile ordering.

Mobile orders from the building will be routed to the new store, which will have a large window where customers can pick up drinks and see them being made.

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In a perfect world, technology solves problems instead of creating them. Things don’t always go that way. Take, for example, Starbucks’ mobile ordering. This is, in theory, a convenience for users of their app. They can place an order before hitting the store, pay automatically, and get their drink and food without waiting in line.

Or at least that is the theory. The reality is that a surge in mobile orders has created a bunch of headaches for the coffee chain. Here are some details from when they announced their earnings at the end of January (Starbucks Tempers Revenue Forecast, Jan 26, Wall Street Journal).

Mobile order-and-pay represented 7% of U.S. company-operated transactions in the quarter, up from 3% in the prior year. The number of its highest-volume stores for mobile order-and-pay, where orders placed via the app account for more than 20% of transactions during peak hours, doubled to 1,200 stores over the prior quarter.

The high rate of mobile ordering was blamed by Starbucks for increased waits and with that lost customers. In the last quarter, dollar sales were up because the average purchase size outweighed a 2% decline in transaction.

But just how bad is the delay? That’s the subject of a recent Business Insider piece. The headline pretty much lays out the article’s agenda: We went to Starbucks every day for a week to see how the coffee giant is dealing with its biggest problem (March 19). (more…)

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Di Fara Pizza is a small, single-location pizza place in Brooklyn. According to its Wikipedia entry (yes, it has a Wikipedia entry), it has been named to many, many lists of the best pizza in New York City. The place’s secret sauce is Dom DeMarco, the shop’s owner, who essentially makes every pie. He opened the shop in 1964 and is now 79. He doesn’t work too fast and really does everything right down to slicing basil on to each slice. Consequently, the lines can be a tad long. It is one of the principle things that on-line reviewers comment on:

It’s nice to see that the original pizza making man still has the passion to make pizza. But the wait is ridiculously long and people in there are just too pushy. “Next! What do you want?”

So how does that kind of wait affect their business and the customer experience? That was the topic of discussion of a recent episode of The Gist podcast (Your Food Will Be Ready When You Look Hungry Enough, Oct 12).

The guest of that episode is Dan Pashman, who describes his visit to Di Fara as well as the research he did to put together an episode of his own podcast, The Sporkful (Is This Pizza Worth Waiting For?, Aug 11).

Some of that reporting also ended up in an episode of Freakonomics Radio (What Are You Waiting For?, Aug 10)

That’s right: The man made one trip to Brooklyn and it resulted in three podcast episodes.

The Sporkful and Freakonomics episodes are worth a listening. Both talk about different aspects of managing queues. The former emphasizes more psychology and physiology (especially how waiting affects hunger) while the latter puts more emphasis on the economics of queue. (more…)

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