January 15th, 2015 by Maria Minsker

Before immigrating to the U.S. with my parents when I was six years old, I lived in Moscow, Russia. As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was take the Metro to the middle of the city and visit my dad at work. He’d have long lunch breaks, and once a week, my mom brought me to his office and we all went to a McDonald’s down the street. I remember playing in the little jungle gym, getting a Happy Meal, and playing with my new toy all the way home. When we moved to New York, everything was foreign. Everything except, you guessed it, the McDonald’s down the street. Sure, the menu items were slightly different, but there it was, a Happy Meal. And when neither me nor my parents knew a word of English, walking into a restaurant and ordering a familiar meal and enjoying a familiar moment with my parents was priceless.

Fast forward to today, and McDonald’s is constantly under scrutiny for the quality of their food, for the low wages they pay their workers, and for their kid-targeted advertising. Now, I agree that these issues need to be addressed, but to accuse McDonald’s of using tragedy to sell burgers is just not fair.

The burger giant’s recent campaign is being criticized for commercials that feature signs outside of McDonald’s restaurants. Some acknowledge happy occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries, while others tackle tragic events. Some refer to 9/11, hurricane Sandy, the Boston Marathon, and others. One that made me tear up declared “We are open” despite some visible damage following a flood or hurricane.

If you ask me, the commercials are done tastefully. I can understand why some people are angry, but at the same time I think it needs to be said that McDonald’s isn’t really trying to sell burgers in these commercials. Yes, no doubt, it is the ultimate goal of every commercial, but hear me out.

Over the last few months (perhaps even a year now), McDonald’s has been busy revamping its image. The company is well aware of the criticism it receives, and has been taking steps to answer consumers’ concern. In an effort to repair its flailing image (and slipping sales), McDonald’s has also launched its “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign, an effort that has largely gone unnoticed. As part of this project, McDonald’s is inviting customers to ask questions via Twitter, which it promises to address. So far, the company has been transparent, often sharing detailed images and infographics that illustrate how certain foods are made. For instance, the company has stopped using Pink Slime, and continues to make positive changes.

What isn’t changing, however, is the role McDonald’s has played–and continues to play–in the communities it serves. I’m referring to that familiarity that I mentioned before. That’s what McDonald’s is selling in those commercials. The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal hits the nail on the head:

But there’s a reason why McDonald’s restaurants are so often seen in coverage of floods, tornadoes and earthquakes. It’s because they’re a symbol of normalcy. If they’re underwater or in ruins, it’s a short-hand for everything else that’s been upended or destroyed.

McDonald’s food may never get raves. It’s unlikely to be seen as trendy. It’s common enough to almost be seen as a utility. But in its ubiquity, it owns a place in the American consciousness, so why not build on that?

I completely agree. It would be silly to ignore all of McDonald’s faults, surely. But it also seems silly to pretend that it’s not an iconic, classic brand that has actually been along with us for the ride. When my neighborhood McDonald’s was shut down because the block it was on is currently being turned into a huge condo, I was sad. My mind wasn’t flooded with memories of greasy burgers and over-salted fries, but of my friend Inna’s birthday party. Or that time my mom and I split our first Big Mac and liked it so much that we went and got another one.

In short, McDonald’s has its faults. A lot of them. But it’s a piece of our culture, as hard as it may be for some to admit. So next time you see one of those commercials, I urge you to see past the grease and remember a time you actually went to McDonald’s. I bet there’s some fondness in there somewhere.

January 8th, 2015 by Maria Minsker

Gift giving is stressful, but sometimes, so is gift receiving. We all have that one relative or friend that insists on getting us a massage pillow, or a weird scarf, or something that would actually be nice, if it weren’t lime green. And then we make that trek to Brookstone or wherever else the heinous item was purchased and try to return it, sometimes with a gift receipt, and sometimes without one. And retailers are well-aware that the end of holiday shopping marks the beginning of holiday returning. This year, roughly 1 in 4 consumers will return or exchange at least one of the items they received as a gift, according to a new study from Retale, a mobile app and Web site that generals weekly retail circulars.

Retale found a reassuring piece of data: about 62 percent of consumers say that the in-store return and exchange process was convenient. But there’s still much work to be done.

The insight also revealed that when asked to identify some of the biggest challenges to the process, consumers says that keeping track of necessary receipts (34%), shipping and handling (26%), confusing return policies (20%) and additional costs associated with a return or exchange (16%) were among the top pain points. Some brands have already become attune to these concerns, and have started to make changes. Receipt-free returns are becoming more commonplace as companies become more lenient with their return policies. Brands have also made an effort to be more clear about return procedures, spelling them out more explicitly and in simpler terms on their Web sites.

According to Retale, only 9 percent of shoppers prefer to make returns online by initiating the return on the company Web site and shipping the item back themselves. A huge majority–over 70 percent–prefer to make returns and exchanges in physical stores, even if the item was originally purchased online. This is likely because the process of shipping items back has historically been, in short, a major pain. Many retailers require consumers to log in online, fill out a return form, print out a shipping label, and, sometimes, even pay for the shipping themselves. Businesses that place a pre-paid, pre-printed return label into the shipment box have made a world of difference for consumers, and as more companies adopt this model, consumers are likely to become much more comfortable with returning items via mail.

Ultimately, there’s no way around it: no business likes returns. It means they’re losing a sale, and potentially, a customer. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Returns and exchanges are opportunities for brands to shine in the customer service department. Sure, I didn’t want that turquoise sparkly sequined dress from Nordstrom that my aunt bought for me, but my experience while returning said dress reinforced my loyalty to the store. They didn’t need a receipt, they didn’t ask me a million questions, and the process was quick and painless. The recipe is simple: make returns frictionless, regardless of whether the purchase took place online or in-store. And send pre-paid labels. I’m looking at you, Forever 21.

January 5th, 2015 by Forrester Research

The following post was written by TJ Keitt, a senior analyst serving customer experience professionals at Forrester Research.

Thanks to digitization and inexpensive storage, businesses can now collect incredible amounts of information on their customers, competitors, and other market factors. But the only way to profit from this bounty is if an employee can find the right data nugget when he needs it. And here lies our problem: The average information worker lacks the tools to cull disparate data repositories for useful information.

The foundation for addressing this issue is emerging in cloud-based collaboration services. Vendors such as Huddle and Microsoft are embedding social analytical tools in their collaboration portfolios to observe when, where, and how employees interact with people and content. As these collaboration services begin to understand these relationships, they promise to make these information workers:

  • Aware. Fundamentally, social analytics surfaces information and people an information worker had not considered before. Giving employees a broader perspective will help perform functions such as staffing a fast-moving consulting project.
  • Prescient. Social analytics can also help employees anticipate what they will need to know in a future situation. For example, suggesting a salesperson review specific background documentation and gather certain product collateral before a client meeting will lead to a more fruitful sales call.
  • Adaptable. The greatest potential of these tools is helping an information worker determine her next best action. Imagine helping a cable repairman decide how to prioritize appointments based on the technician’s location, local traffic patterns, and the location of other techs.

Odds are these social analytics tools are already in your business. Between 2011 and 2013, interest in and deployment of cloud collaboration services increased from 56 percent to 71 percent of the software decision-makers Forrester surveyed. The reason? The cloud is a natural place to connect your employees, partners, and customers. This means there’s a great opportunity to give employees greater awareness, prescience, and adaptability at the junction of your business ecosystem.

Now comes the caveat: This requires an adventurer’s spirit. We’re in the early days of these social analytical tools, and that means we’ll have to endure the associated growing pains. And to shorten the learning curve, you’re going to have to work with these vendors to help perfect these analytical tools. What does this entail? You must be willing to:

  • Teach the system. These analytical tools get smarter—and therefore more accurate—when they have lots of data to analyze and human input on the results. So your organization must do two things: 1) Use the cloud collaboration tools, contributing files, profiles, and other information to the repository; and 2) Use the analytical tools, accepting or rejecting their suggestions to help the system better home in on what is relevant.
  • Provide feedback. The vendors are learning how to develop and bundle these solutions into their collaboration offerings, and they need guidance. So it’s important that you surface issues and give suggestions through channels like your account representative, customer success consultants, or executive advisory groups.


December 29th, 2014 by Oren Smilansky

I’m not always successful at this, but, as a rule of thumb, I try to engage with what we call “the real world” whenever I can. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I’ll spend a lot of time (and by extension money) in public places if it means I can spend it alongside other people I know are alive and breathing. For this reason among others, I chose to see a movie in theaters this past weekend to staying in and watching The Interview on my laptop, (though I’ll admit that watching the movie accompanied by a live tweetfest  from Seth Rogen and James Franco holds a certain allure).

When it comes to shopping, though, I usually prefer to do it online, in the privacy of my own home. No matter how necessary or pressing a purchase—whether it’s groceries, clothes, books, what have you— I have a tougher time trading my hard-earned cash for solid goods in a physical store. It’s not that I don’t like to look around; I can spend hours in a store. But the anonymity, convenience, and affordability of online shopping appeal to me at the moment.

This is evidently the case for many other Americans, who didn’t let the fact that it was Christmas day stop them from splurging this past Thursday. As a testament to the power of online marketplaces, Amazon attracted 10 million new users to join Prime on December 25th, and according to a study released by IBM on the 26th of December, online sales increased by 8.3 percent  from last year.

Not surprisingly,  over a third of the online purchases tracked by IBM were  made on mobile devices. The report points out that Apple iOS is outranking Androids in how much their users bought. Those using Apple’s iOS spent an average of $97.28 compared to Android users, who only spent $67.40.

Smartphones were widely used to browse online shops, constituting 57.1 percent of reported traffic, but tablets accounted for a larger percentage of the purchases made this year (18.4 percent, vs. 16.3 percent on mobile).

That being said, I think I’ll hold off on that tablet I’ve been wanting…. For now.

December 22nd, 2014 by Oren Smilansky

Amidst all the chatter about a mobile revolution, I’m inclined to reflect on how I’ve been affected by technology as someone who writes for a living.

Over the past year, I’ve seen myself transformed from a dumbphone operating Luddite into a full-on smartphone addict who panics any time he’s running out of battery. My phone is no longer just a heavy watch/alarm clock combo that buzzes on occasion; I’ve reached the point where I rely on it for nearly as many functions as I do my laptop.

And yet I remember a time— it couldn’t have been more than five years ago—when I got annoyed that  a novelist I admire admitted to composing the final paragraphs of his newest book on an iPhone. With that simple act, he’d somehow betrayed my idea of how a true artist should conduct himself, especially while producing those sacred final pages of a book. Here was this respected man of letters, a Pulitzer prize finalist, writing in a Home Depot with the aid of something I thought of primarily as a toy.

But as fate would have it, I too reached the point where I could no longer keep up with the world without the aid of a smart phone. I began to notice that I could no longer get along in the world in 2014 the way I had in, say, 2011. People no longer forgave the fact that I let their emails go unanswered for several hours at a time, even on Sundays.

I caved in and got my smartphone in February of last year, and as I’ve gotten more comfortable using it I’ve also warmed up to the idea of writing with my thumbs. There are times when it comes in handy to have a word document on your phone. For instance,it makes no sense to pull out a laptop or a notebook when you’re standing on a crowded train, that source of endless inspiration. (Although another writer I admire claims that he wrote an entire novel on the subway–sitting down, of course, but still.) And writing on public transportation isn’t that  bad an idea; there’s usually no internet access undergound, and the net–though an incredible tool–can be one of the greatest distractions for a writer.

None of this is to say that I think handheld devices will ever be capable of replacing the experience a full-sized keyboards offer writers. (I need to feel the keys clicking as I type something, and for the record, I still draft my pieces out longhand when time affords.) But I think it’s worth thinking about whether future generations will prefer composing essays on their phones to writing on laptops, the way many of us prefer writing on keyboards to using stationary.


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