Archive for the ‘Services’ Category

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? (more…)

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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.


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I must confess that I have never really been enthralled by Trader Joe’s. I have never lived close by one so it was a convenient option for shopping nor have I ever been desperately loyal to their private label products. But there certainly are people who love Trader Joe’s and their stores can be quite busy. As consequence, the check out lines at some locations can be a special sort of experience. McSweeny’s offers a parody “Trader Joe’s Waiting in Line App” asking user to rate their overall shopping experience on the following scale:

  • 4 stars: Took a while, but got what I needed.
  • 3 stars: Eerily friendly cashier weirded me out; there was hardly any bagged lettuce left.
  • 2 stars: Constant gridlock. Teeth gritted the whole time.
  • 1 star: Anarchy. Like the ending of Lord of the Flies.

What does the ending of Lord of the Flies look like? Check out BuzzFeed’s “The Nightmare Of Shopping At Trader Joe’s In Manhattan.” It’s one thing to have to mark where the line starts; it’s another to need a sign marking the middle of the line so clueless (or super-aggressive) shoppers don’t cut the queue.

What then is a shopper to do? According to a recent Slate piece, the answer is to shop while in line (The Six Rules of Line-Shopping at Trader Joe’s, Aug 24).

Not long ago I was waiting in line at the smaller-than-average and perpetually mobbed Trader Joe’s near Union Square in Manhattan when I noticed the shopper in front of me had come up with a clever, possibly devious solution to the crowd problem. Upon entering the store, she claimed a shopping cart and staked out a spot in the checkout line (which snaked around almost the entire perimeter of the store). She proceeded to do all her shopping from her place in line: picking up produce as the line crept through the produce aisle, frozen goods as it passed by the freezer case, cereal when it neared the cereal section.


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A quick update on Wednesday’s post on running queues last-in, first-out. First, the Washington Post had a story on this as well (Researchers have discovered a better way to wait in line, and you’re going to hate it, Sep 9) and to their credit they get the gist of the model right; the fact that customers value getting served early is key to their results.

Second, I was asked to speak about this article on an NPR station out in California (AirTalk, KPCC, Sep 10). You can hear it here.

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Suppose you are waiting in line for something. How would you expect the service provider to take people out of the line?

Unless you are at some place like an emergency room where different customers have clearly different needs and different levels of urgency, you might expect that customers are served in the order of their arrival — that is, a first-in, first-out discipline is used. That’s a natural and common assumption (at least in the US). It is also makes headlines like “Have we been queuing all wrong? Lines move faster if the person at the back is served first, study finds” (Daily Mail, Aug 14) or “Danish researchers have an enraging proposal to speed up queues: Serve the last person first” (Quartz, Sep 7) attention grabbing . Here is the crux of the Daily Mail article:

A group of Danish researchers have discovered a rather unexpected solution to the long lines of people that can appear ahead of new iPhone launches or to get into sporting events.

They say serving the person at the back of the queue first can actually make lines move faster – something which may horrify British and Americans who adhere to the strict etiquette of waiting your turn.

Instead it suggests people like the Italians, who often frustrate other tourists with their lack of regard for the order of a queue, may have been on to something after all.

The findings could put an end to traditions which have become almost British institutions such as queuing to get tickets for Wimbledon or the Proms.

So what is going on here? Is serving customer last-in, first-out really the answer to queuing woes? (more…)

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How to get people on to planes is something we have covered many times on this blog. However, it is always interesting when some airline tries something new. That gets us to Delta’s Early Valet (Airlines try to save time with speedier boarding process, Associated Press, Jun 1).

Delta’s Early Valet service will offer to have airline employees take carry-on bags at the gate and put them in the bins above assigned seats. The airline wants to see if its own workers can load the bins faster than passengers.

The service began Monday on about two dozen flights, and that number is expected to rise steadily during June, Delta spokeswoman Morgan Durrant said.

Early Valet will be offered through August on some departures from Delta’s busiest airports — Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle.

It will be available only on flights that typically have a high number of vacationers. Presumably, business travelers know how to board a plane efficiently. Specially tagged bags will be stowed on the plane before boarding begins, Durrant said.


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The Supreme Court hears a major civil rights case today on same-sex marriage. As you might surmise, there are a lot of folks with a very personal stake in its outcome. Many of those people might want to actually witness history and be present when the case is argued before the court. As Slate tells it, that isn’t so easy (Not All Must Rise, Apr 27).

For many Americans, the arguments in the marriage equality cases will be the most important inflection of the court into the very core of their homes, their lives, and the status of their families. Many of those Americans started lining up Friday, four days before arguments that will take place on Tuesday morning, for a chance to witness one of the most important moments in Supreme Court history.

Many other Americans simply paid a line-standing service $50 an hour to secure a place for them.

Starting Friday, if you or your law firm had $6,000 to shell out, a paid proxy—a company such as LineStanding.com or Washington Express—would arrange to have someone hold your place in line. The fact that some of these line-standers appear to be either very poor or homeless and may have to stand in rain, snow, sleet, or hail so that you don’t have to irks at least some people who feel that thousands of dollars shouldn’t be the fee to bear witness to “Equal Justice Under the Law”—the words etched over the door to the Supreme Court building—in action.

The article goes on to note that because the court hearing room is small and various seats are reserved for guests of the justices, media types and so on only 70 or seats are available for the general public. Yesterday morning, Slate reports that 67 people were already in line and that many weren’t overly forthcoming when asked for whom they were waiting.


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