December 19th, 2014 by Leonard Klie

Every year around this time, people from all walks of life come out with their list of predictions for the coming year. Many, unfortunately, come with an agenda attached: Widget vendors every year seem to predict that the New Year will finally be the year of the widget, hoping that potential customers who have been hesitant to buy widgets before will be spurred to make the purchase or risk the embarrassment of being the only kid on the block without a widget. Others have political or social agendas and tailor their predictions more around what they’d like to see happen rather than what is really going on.

I’m a bit of a Luddite and do not usually one to follow the trends, or to give credence to a lot of the predictions about them. I’ve gotten along this far without a widget, and will probably survive 2015 without one as well, so don’t market your particular brand of widget to me just yet.2015

BUT, that’s not to say that there aren’t some valid predictions as well. Every year, as we get set to toss out another calendar, Forrester Research publishes a number of predictions that usually turn out to be spot-on.

Here are some of this year’s prognostications:

  • 2015 will be the year of Apple Pay.
  • Alibaba won’t displace Amazon, but may partner with eBay.
  • Microsoft’s commercial cloud profit margin will exceed on-premises.
  • At least 60% of brands will discover a breach of sensitive data.
  • Apple, Facebook, or Google will launch a marketplace for mobile branded content.
  • CMOs and CIOs will determine the future of business.
  • Apple will release its 12.9-in iPad.
  • Facebook’s buy button will ignite a social commerce comeback.

These are just some of Forrester’s more than 40 prediction reports, which you can view here.

I’d like to come back in a few months to see whether these are coming true.

December 18th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

I recently stayed at a resort up in the Poconos, and my weekend there really left me confused. I still don’t quite understand how the resort, which shall remain nameless, simultaneously did so many things right and so many things wrong in terms of hospitality.

Let me set the scene: the hotel wasn’t part of any big name chain like Hilton or Marriott, but it wasn’t a tiny mom-and-pop B&B either. It was a pretty large property in a quiet Pennsylvania ski-town, where guests stay in one- or two-bedroom villas. It was affordable, considering the area is booked solid during ski season, but what appealed to me most was the size of the accommodations. I was traveling with several other people and to reduce the headache associated with renting a house for a weekend, we decided to go with this location.

When we arrived, I was impressed. The check-in process was easy, there were no problems with our villa, and the parking was free. The furniture and general decor were a bit of a throw-back and I felt like I was in an episode of That 70s Show, but that didn’t bother me. I don’t mind a retro feel if it’s got a retro price too. And for a hotel, the amenities were great–there was a washer/dryer, a dishwasher, and all the appliances you would ever need. I thought that by opting for a hotel rather than a rental house we would be losing this homey experience, but I was pleased to see that I was wrong. There were pots, pans, silverware and everything in between. There was even dish soap, which I thought was a nice touch.

Things went downhill pretty soon after, though. For one thing, there were the incessant phone calls about buying timeshare property. When I checked in, the woman at the front desk asked me if I was interested in hearing a presentation on timeshares in exchange for a free vacation, but I declined, knowing full well what these presentations entail. That, however, didn’t stop the hotel from calling my room several times after that conversation to ask again. So I’d like to offer a hospitality tip: Guests understand why some hotels offer timeshare presentations, but no one likes to get pushed around. If someone refuses to participate, back off! 

My next grievance is a small one, but an important one nonetheless. Tell me, what’s the one thing you always leave at home when staying in a hotel? If you said soap, collect 100 points! I’m not even talking about body soap or shower gel. Just your basic gotta-wash-my-hands soap. And I’m not even going to mention shampoo or conditioner. Hint: They didn’t offer any! But seriously, it’s hand soap. It’s conveniently located in the same aisle as the dish soap, which the hotel did manage to purchase. For tip number two, I’m going to keep it simple: Don’t skimp on the basics! Guests have certain expectations when it comes to hotels–please don’t make them drive to Walmart at midnight to find some Head & Shoulders.

We’ve now arrived at problem number three, and don’t worry, I saved the best for last. When I initially booked the stay, I was kind of confused by the 10am check-out time. I think 11am is the earliest I’ve ever heard, but most places I’ve stayed at typically let guests have a late check-out until noon for free if they ask for it, and even offer to extend the stay longer for a fee. Now, at a hotel where the check-in is at 4pm (which is pretty late, if you ask me), shouldn’t there be at least a little wiggle room in terms of check-out time? But really, that’s beside the point. Mainly, I was frustrated by the fact that on the morning that I was supposed to check out, I woke up with brown water in the bathroom sink, the kitchen sink, the toilet, and the shower. When I called the front desk, they told me minerals  had come up from the ground, and that this happens often. It would take about 30 minutes for the piping to clear up, the woman at the front desk assured me. When I asked if I could have a late check-out because I could not shower, brush my teeth, or drink some coffee until the problem cleared up, guess what she said. No! Not only did she refuse to budge even though almost every self-respecting hotel allows for a late check out, but she also didn’t see the problem with leaving me waterless all morning. The mess didn’t clear in 30 minutes. In fact, I left before anything was resolved. This brings me to tip number three: Problems can arise anywhere and at anytime. The true measure of a company is how it handles the problem and whether or not the customer ultimately walks away happy. I didn’t walk away happy. And as a result, I’m not coming back.  


December 16th, 2014 by Oren Smilansky

In the CRM sphere, there’s a lot of talk about the benefits of having access to information. Knowing as much as possible during a sales call can be of great help in determining what to focus on when talking to a customer. And, of course, much of the technology that aids in the process can be hugely beneficial. Just last week I was talking to Klink, whose solutions aim to present the most relevant information at the time of call. Klink’s representative opened our conversation by mentioning that he had discovered certain details through my LinkedIn page, which came up along with my phone number. He went on to use this as an example of how a caller could bring up a topic during a sales call. If he saw there was a note that said I took a ski trip in December for example—and for the record, I haven’t yet, but there’s still hope—he could ask me about it and move on from there.

I’m all for that approach, if executed properly. But I think there’s a thin line between coming off as considerate and scaring a customer away.

One thing that turns me off is when salespeople feign an unwelcome familiarity, without establishing a relationship first. This usually comes in the form of a smarmy tone that they summon, apropos of nothing. “Hi, Oren,” the slick talker says, not in so many words, “This is your best friend speaking, and we’re picking up where we left off last time. Don’t you remember?” Often I’m forced to ask myself, do I know this person? And when I figure out that the answer is no—that I do not in fact know this person– I become a bit distrusting of them. In a sense, they’ve also opened the conversation with a lie by trying to convince me that we were already friends. I hang up, feeling slightly victorious, even though there’s a small chance that I would have benefited from what was being offered.

One thing that’s always fascinated me is how a good salesman—or speaker in general, for that matter– can manage to keep someone engaged in a conversation they weren’t looking to have. For me, sincerity goes a long way.

Not long ago, I got a phone call from a man asking me to take a survey. There was nothing coaxing about his presentation. He didn’t pretend to know anything about me, not even my name or age.  But he made it clear to me that he was mindful of me and my time, and communicated to me that he would benefit from my help. I somehow felt compelled to spend the three minutes he said it would take, and I ended up taking a very bizarre survey about mayonnaise, in which I was asked if I knew which ingredients were in mayonnaise and if certain brand names meant something to me. Granted, this man caught me at a time when I was available and open to this sort of thing…. and I was partly attracted to the weirdness factor, I’ll admit.  But he kept me on the line, which is something.

December 12th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

Uber has been under a lot of scrutiny lately. From extreme surge pricing to questionable behavior from top executives (including accusations that SVP Emil Michael threatened to stalk a journalist that made negative comments about the company), Uber is in a big boiling pot of hot water right now. So what does this mean for the business, and what alternatives do fans of the service have? Well, when it comes to NYC, there are about a dozen similar transportation apps that have become popular in recent months, including GetAround, GetTaxi, and perhaps most notably, Lyft. But how does Uber’s top competitor measure up? Here’s my take:

There are more Uber drivers than Lyft drivers

Over the past few weeks, every time I’ve needed a ride, I’ve opened both apps to check out my options. Assuming it’s not the middle of rush hour or Saturday night, Uber typically has at least 5-6 cars visible on their availability map, while Lyft has 2-3. I assume that with more available drivers, there’s a higher chance that one of them will be willing to accept a rider. In most cases, this has been true–with only 2-3 drivers available when I needed them, securing a Lyft driver was more challenging. As the app becomes more popular and more drivers sign on however, this could change.

Uber provides a better fare estimate

Uber allows riders to estimate every fare depending on the pick-up location and destination from within the app, while factoring surge pricing into the estimate. Lyft requires riders to look at fare estimates on the company’s Web site, and doesn’t offer destination-specific estimates.

Lyft drivers aren’t any nicer than Uber drivers

I’m not going to defend Uber regarding it’s drivers, because the accusations of sexual assault or harassment are alarming to say the least. But I do have to say that fortunately most of my experiences have been positive. Lyft drivers are polite and courteous too, but I think there’s this belief that Lyft drivers are going to invite riders to sit in the front seat with them and chat about life. I haven’t had that experience.

Uber’s approach to tipping and rating is a home run

One of the things customers love most about Uber is that the tipping is so seamless. As a rider, all I have to do is give a 1-5 star rating for my experience with a particular driver, and Uber handles the rest. With Lyft, I have to not only give the driver a rating, but also choose a dollar amount for the tip. Also, sometimes I don’t open the app again until days after a ride, so does that mean my driver is just left tip-less?

While we’re on the subject of ratings though, I do have to hand it to Lyft. I really appreciate that they make the rider ratings so transparent, because frankly I want to know what drivers think of me as a customer. Uber has been notoriously secretive about their rider ratings, which frustrates me. Still, I did receive my Lyft rating after I provided the tip, which makes me feel like the two are definitely related. And that’s kind of annoying.

Uber’s UI is much cleaner

Uber’s app is cleaner, more intuitive and more intelligently designed. The car display is clearer, so it’s easier to see where drivers are located as they make their way to the pick-up location. On Lyft’s display, it takes a couple of clicks to get to the information on the driver’s car, including the model and license plate. Uber puts that information right up front. And Lyft, here’s some advice: please cool it with the balloons. Please.

December 8th, 2014 by Oren Smilansky

Cliché as it is, I spend a lot of my free time lounging around in coffee shops, writing or reading something or another. And I hate to admit it, but the last thing I take into consideration before entering such establishments is the quality of their coffee products. There are, however, several other factors that I do weigh beforehand.

First off, if I’m going to spend a few hours slumped over my work (or, more realistically—at least much of the time–YouTube videos and Facebook chat), I have to find a comfortable seat with reliable back support. (And I don’t care how good the coffee is, I’ll walk out of the place immediately if there aren’t any seats available.)

If  I am fortunate and do find somewhere to sit, I prefer that there’s a power outlet nearby, lest my laptop runs out of battery and I can’t continue watching the aforementioned YouTube videos.

Not the least important factor to consider is the noise levels. I can’t be sitting next to some big talker who refuses to be quiet; the music playlist doesn’t have to be mind-blowing, either, but it can’t be unbearable.

Say what you will about Starbucks, but of all the coffee shops in my neighborhood it’s consistently been the most likely to meet the criteria on my checklist. The other day, I bypassed all the trendy, up-and-coming places that were full of out-of-towners and stressed college students, knowing that there’d probably be a place to sit and work at Starbucks. When I entered, they were playing a Christmas song—no surprise, given the season–and I must say that I’m not a huge fan of Christmas music. But no matter; I could always put in my headphones.

Drink purchased, I sat down at and got to work, prepared to put  ramp up some doom metal and drown out my surroundings if need be. But before I could plug myself up to all human contact, the next song on the Starbucks playlist came up–one I reluctantly admitted to myself that I kind of enjoyed. As far as I could tell, the song had nothing to do with Christmas, either. I secretly jotted down some of the song’s lyrics so I could look it up later. I began working without my headphones in, and before I knew it a few hours had passed and my ears still weren’t bleeding. I wasn’t consciously paying attention to the music, but I started to notice a trend: Instead of a continuous stream of holly jolly Christmases followed by jingle bells this and jingle bells that, Starbucks’ playlist was dotted with some non-holiday songs for good measure. Some of them were actually pretty good. And the holiday songs they played weren’t of the familiar, destined-to-get-stuck-in-your-head-for-the-rest-of-the-day sort. Rather, they were reinterpretations that were at least somewhat interesting and new. So while I can’t say I’m happy that they were playing even a bit of Christmas music, I was not peeved.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from my experience, it’s that coffee shops should put some minimal effort into their holiday music playlists. It might be impossible to accommodate every Grinch who enters the store, but you can at least limit annoyance levels to a bare minimum.



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