Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Alexa and Cortana - Why not?

Amazon Echo
Having been one of the early adopters of Alexa I can see why the connection between Alexa
Cortana
and Cortana will work. It is my feeling that they actually can enhance one another, and, like it was reported, each one does something different that can enhance the knowledge of the user.

Up front it takes a great deal of intricate technology to make either do the things they do. I consider both to have "Personal" benefits with different parts of the conversation. Now Cortana could connect to Alexa to purchase groceries and or needed tech products outside of the Microsoft Store. On the other hand Alexa could connect with Cortana for questions revolving around you work environment; email, calendar, contacts, who is running the office pool.

It would be great if they, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, & Apple, all worked together for the benefit of those of us using Personal Assistants. Most likely this  won't happen due to profit motives and Wall St. as well as fear someone will get ahead of the other.

I guess today it is not To Do or Not To Do, it is To Fear or To Create Fear. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Amazon and Customer Service

I have written before about Amazon and their Customer Service however this morning I read an article from Knowledge@Wharton that may say it even better; "Why Amazon Is Leaving Legacy Retailers In The Dust". There is a podcast there as well to listen to.

While the article states that "..Amazon's stock has increased by more than 400% in the last five years", there is one point I believe is a major stumbling block for a great number of publicly held major retailers of today.
"While the company's chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos, was criticized years ago for plowing profits back into the digital platform, that strategy has given the company the ability to sell virtually anything that can be shipped anywhere."
Besides Jeff Bezos belief in Amazon, what it does and how it operates, he has also held a vision statement that today says "To be Earth's most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online. Source is the Panmore Institute. To me the "Customer-Centric" part of that statement says it all.

I would loved to have shopped with John Wanamaker at Wanamakers, or Montgomery Ward, Richard Sears, Stanly Marcus, Rowland Macy, and Richard Sears. I did work for Lazarus at the old John C. Shillito stores. I have left out a number of the great retailers whose stores have now lost their way. I will continue to shop with Jeff Bezos and Amazon.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Customer Service Is a Really Big Deal - And Still Should Be!

I’m sitting in a small coffee shop where it’s just a fun place to go. It is not a big chain coffee shop, It is in a small community, and is visited by many on their way to work or for a break. I am only here in the morning and I do not live in this area.

The first morning I visited here was to meet someone who recommended this place. As I purchased my coffee the individual waiting on me, very pleasant, smiling, and after the hello asked “Mug or Cardboard?” I responded with Mug and proceeded to pay (less than the chain but more than a dollar). I received my change and put the coins into a jar marked Instant Karma. As I turned to get my coffee she says, “refills are free”, wow, Instant Karma. There were many people drinking coffee and some in deep conversations.

I do believe that true, sincere, friendly, Customer Service is the only thing that can really save brick-and-mortar retail establishments and this includes Big Box as well as Mom & Pop, and chain/non-chain coffee shops. To succeed they must have a belief in, and the presentation of, a customer centric attitude; "we are here for you". If this isn’t their love of business then the digital world will have it all eventually. We  do have a Keurig coffee maker at home and can order pods online anytime we want.

I don't believe that most retail businesses think as much about Customer Service as they did in the early 20th Century, the 1920's, 30's, 40's and maybe the 50's, after that Customer Service started to go downhill.  This could be the result of the great retail leaders of the time who died or were replaced with financial managers. Financial managers have a fiduciary responsibility to the stockholders, and are not guiding lights in retail leadership, or are concerned about the customer centric part of the business.

Another way of thinking about Customer Service is User Experience.

Where have all the Stanley Marcus, Morris Rich & Bros, the Gimbel Bros. gone? I love the line from Wikipedia on Gimbels:
"Gimbels principles and merchandise reflect the ideals of middle class America. Their principles consisted of "courtesy, reliability, good value, and enlightened management.".
This is what most of the retail giants of our past believed. In Minding the Store by Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus) the very first chapter begins with: “There is never a good sale for Neiman-Marcus unless it’s a good buy for the customer.” Stanley goes on to write:
That was one of the first declarations of business philosophy I heard my father, Herbert Marcus, made soon after I came to work at Neiman-Marcus in 1926. It was reiterated so many times that it became established as an article of faith in my mind, and on numerous occasions he demonstrated this enforcement of this principle even when it meant lost sales and profits.
The first page of this book is the ideal strategy for retailing and a lot of it is missing today.

This is from a story in the Columbus Business First, 2001, regarding a reunion of Lazarus Old Timer's.
"Regardless of what level of responsibility you had with the company, you spent time on the floor talking with the salespeople and talking with the customers, just making sure the service level was there," Lanphere said. (Charles Lanphere left the store in 1978 as senior vice president in charge of all the stores.)
From Best of times: Staffers remember when work seemed like a family printed in the Columbus Business First, 2001
The history of most of the major retailers in this country, and perhaps around the world, were of people doing what they loved and providing a service that impressed the consumer and the employee, and making a reasonable profit. It slowly went down as these leaders died or passed control to the financial experts.

Over this past Christmas my experience shopping made my coffee shop King of the Hill. I had an awful time in major department stores, Macy's for one, with people who could have easily been replaced by Androids - I meant robots but phones might work as well. This lack of service mentality carried forth in major chain coffee shops, restaurants, and even the Microsoft Store, where I have already broken my promise to never return.

The success of online businesses has a great deal to do with 1) how easy it is to buy, 2) the service you get when you have a problem, and, perhaps primarily with 3) the lack of service you experience at brick-and-mortar establishments. There are many small businesses that will stay alive because they know people, like people, and provide more service with their products. These Mom & Pop stores are usually niche businesses, they do not have great inventories and will never interest investors – which could be a good thing for their emotional well being.

Except for Costco (my opinion), Big Box retailers do very little training in product knowledge or service. To some they have a Customer Service department and do not need to train their employees how to treat (or deal with) customers, it's not in the budget. Ironically the companies do not train their people on how to get along with each other and that is often reflected in their relationship with the consumer. This is where the fun in retailing has gone out the door both with the customer and the employee.

My most recent Starbuck experience goes like this: I walk in and after what seemed forever (about 3 minutes) someone says, without even smiling, “What can I get you?” I used to go in and get “Hi, how are you?” and then “What can we make for you today?” Ironically I received a better reception, at the same store, when I ordered online and went in to pick up the coffee. They are training me. Maybe Jeff Bezos has been talking with Howard Schultz and convincing him people should buy online.

Not in my little coffee shop. “Hi, what can we get for you today?” and then “Thank you”. WOW!

Retailing is not fun to work anymore, and I should know. I loved retail, I loved the people – if there was a bad customer they would be followed with a good one. When UPS backed up to the dock it was like Christmas, what did we get today? I worked for many retailers in my life and my wife and I have been in the retail business. You must treat your people the best you can and your customers will get great treatment as well. I know you do have to practice fiscal responsibility however it's an overall combination of good people, product, knowledge and marketing, and that customer relationship that will lead to a reasonable profit. A reasonable profit in the retail business is not necessarily what today’s investors want.  I was once employed by someone who related a reasonable profit to a “conscienable profit” and I like that.

Blame it on money? No, it's shortsightedness on the part of management, I did not say Leadership. Most heads of retail giants today, as stated earlier, are managers put in place by stockholders to deliver a return on investment. They are not on the floor dealing with the people, employees or customers. The concept of Customer Service, or User Experience, is not in their ken. Perhaps most do not even know how it works, except for perhaps Warren Buffett or Tim Cook of Apple. The Apple Stores know!

In today's world, it is possible that the major return on investment should be in human capital and not in larger boats, or tall buildings with their name on it. Why go to a Big Box retailer? Information and knowledge can now be gained via the Internet. Products delivered in 2 days. In some cases, we can get the products in the same day.

Amazon is not what one would consider to be an ‘Outlier’ and yet in some ways it could be. I have had a wrong item shipped by an Amazon supplier and it was replaced faster than even I expected. I have had items accidently ordered and cancelling was not an issue. One item was received in bad shape and returning it was not a problem. We have been Prime members for a long time and plan to continue.  I can say we are nowhere near Amazon's big customer's either, but I feel we count - and that is the important part.

In an article in Stratechery, by Ben Thompson, where he shows that Amazon has reduced its stated goal to simply say:
We seek to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.
Read the complete article here https://stratechery.com/2017/amazons-new-customer/ (actually a referral from TWiT – This Week in Tech by Leo Laporte)

The big issue is that most retailers do not have the pop and sizzle they once had, there is no excitement about going to the store anymore, once there the atmosphere can be a downer, the employees are not happy and excited. And the food courts are not always the best.  If this happens online you don’t see it. One does not go online for pop and sizzle or food courts.
If brick-and-mortar retail wants to compete they will have to provide a service that is not provided online, that service would be customer contact or customer presence service. Bright, Cheerful, in-touch, knowledgeable people, who are in the “NOW” (Ekart tolle). Treat your people right and they will treat your customers right. Hmmm….The Golden Rule applies.

Back to Coffee Please in Madeira, OH right on Miami Avenue in the heart of Madeira. In the many times, I have come back here by myself I still get the same treatment. To say that this is a 25-minute drive from my home, and not in my normal driving pattern, should tell you something about how this place makes me feel. I am welcome without buying large muffins, sandwiches, or anything else other than the coffee, and the service is always the same, warm and friendly, and the coffee is always good. Note: the coffee’s many options are brewed fresh each day.

I need to get my next cup and the refill. I won’t tell them I wrote this, you will have to. 😊

Here is some recent personal shopping experience in the Cincinnati area.
Brick-and -Mortar Retail Experience

  • Coffee Please   
    • I’ve said all above, I’ll be there on Monday.
  • Panera Bread
    • Minum early staff and over time the traffic here appears to have diminished and I go there less myself. I understand they are building for an online ordering presence. I hope it works for them.
  • Microsoft Store
    • Bad experience with IT staff placed on floor to help customers. Very curt and abrupt. Vowed never to go back but lost that battle about 2 months later.
  • Best Buy
    • Good and bad because of good or bad knowledge. All are helpful but it is difficult to tell who has the real knowledge and who does not. Must be careful. To some degree online is best.
  • Costco
    • There is always someone who is generally (and genuine) most helpful. If online is as good as in store then this could be a formidable competitor in both areas. I enjoy going here just to see what is new. Many times we come away with things we did not intend to purchase.
  • Dillard’s at Christmas
    • Amazing service at two different stores. We go back there a great deal.
  • Chico’s 
    • The same as Dillard’s – but then the stores are small and the employee’s are most helpful and pleasant.
  • Macy’s
    • When you can find someone, it is generally good, generally that is. Finding someone was the trick. I hope Macy’s does well online, it could save them. Sadly, here I really loved Macy’s. I had worked for John C. Shillito in the past (see Lazarus above - they purchased Schillito) which is part of Macy’s history. I still have my Schillito badge from the 70’s.
  • Sears
    • Found the people to be helpful just not sure the store is going to be there long term. 
  • Lowes
    • The store is clean and nice but lacks somewhere with attention, again all appliances can be purchased online and sometimes less expensive. 
  • Home Depot
    • Does better with attention but I am learning not to trust. At this time, I am not very happy with Customer Service at Home Depot. They have never responded to a 2page letter and attachments, sent in February 2017, over a home water heater installation that went wrong.

Online Purchasing Experience

  • Amazon
    • As you can tell I have always had a great experience with Amazon. We have been Prime Members since 2007, 10 years.
  • Best Buy
    • When I have used Best Buy online it has been overall a good experience. I have also been a Rewards member of Best Buy for a very long time. We have been buying from Best Buy since 1994 in Lexington, KY.
  • HP
    • Over the years this has been a GREAT experience including Support.  I have recommended HP for a very long time.
  • Microsoft
    • I have always enjoyed the support from Microsoft and originally I was not their biggest fan – having been a Netscape user back in the early 90’s. Over the years I have become a LARGE fan of Microsoft Software and now their products. It was the store that I had my moments with.
  • Google
    • Always a good experience although it did take a while to figure out how to contact them.
  • Apple
    • I have limited experience with Apple however that which I have had has always been good.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Future and The Inevitable Change Upon Us

The Rise of the Machines – Why Automation is Different this Time - Watch and then sign up for the Futurism newsletter. 

Interesting video via Futurism, . If I take the 2 Decades (or 20 years) this video proposes it will put me at 98, my son at 73, and my oldest grandchild in his early 40's. Hmm... Are we, are they, prepared for this?  

What are we doing today for those in, or entering, high school? Are we preparing them for yesterday or tomorrow? Really? 

As for our government, it's not in their ken. They spend too much time getting re elected to have a good understanding of what is 'really' going on in today's world. One good reason for 2 term limits. They, like many others, haven't got a clue as to what is happening, and what we get are reactions, not based on knowledge, but lack of knowledge compounded by fear. 

The changes that came to us, and we were able to assimilate, for the most part, we had time. I do realize that not all of us have been enlightened with the technological advancements of today and some have not yet accepted the reality. Unlike the luddite's of earlier times I believe that most see the inevitable future, however; some are intimidated - as the luddite's may have been. 

Hmmm.....I wonder if intimidation was the fear behind the luddite movement?  

What about kids being born today; are the parents going to be able to prepare them for their future? Not to long ago parents could not contend with "the new math". 

As up-to-date as I may think that I am, I have no idea what the intricacies of AI are. Coupled with the complexity of evaluating the large amounts of data we are currently gathering. Where to from here? 

Admittedly I find this world of discovery fascinating; just think what we can, or will be able to, do. It amazing. 

Well, at least to me, the Curious Voyager...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tim Cook Receives the 2017 Free Expression Award

Tim Cook, CEO Apple, Inc.
Tim Cook receives the 2017 Free Expression Award in Washington D. C. from Newseum on April 18th. I think Tim Cook personifies this award and his thoughts expressed at the ceremony (see links below for notes) are something we should all take to heart. One quote I would like to repeat recorded by MacRumors (and others):
"We know that these freedoms require protection," Cook said of First Amendment rights. "Not just the forms of speech that entertain us, but the ones that challenge us. The ones that unnerve and even displease us. They're the ones that need protection the most. It's no accident that these freedoms are enshrined and protected in the First Amendment. They are the foundation to so many of our rights." 

I have posted other review links here.


Newseum

Since discovering the Newseum, and for what it stands, I find this award should have been noted everywhere. I read a lot of news and either missed this or it wasn't covered as greatly as it should have been. 
The Newseum is an interactive museum that promotes free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, while tracing the evolution of print and electronic communication from earliest days of the United States to the technologies of the present and the future. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newseum 
I believe that we should all be actively concerned about the free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. There are those today that would like to take some of them away or at least block them out. 

As an outcome of this I am now very much interested in Newseum and discovered that it's principal funder is the Freedom Forum which led me to learn about the Freedom Forum. 
The Freedom Forum was established July 4, 1991, under the direction of founder Al Neuharth as successor to a foundation started in 1935 by newspaper publisher Frank E. Gannett. The Freedom Forum is not affiliated with Gannett Co. Its work is supported by income from an endowment of diversified assets.  
The Freedom Forum, based in Washington, D.C., is a nonpartisan foundation that champions the First Amendment as a cornerstone of democracy, and is the principal funder of the Newseum and Newseum Institute.
The Newseum's modern seven-level, 250,000-square-foot (23,000 m2) museum is located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, in Washington, D.C. features 15 theaters and 15 galleries. And again thanks to Wikipedia for this description, picture, and location.


Always Learning.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Surface Pro Onscreen Keyboard Needs Update/Replacement

I really do like my Microsoft Surface Pro 4 however the keyboard is useless when attempting to use this device as a tablet.

After years of having a swype like keyboard (whether its Swype, Google, or some facsimile) on Android or Apple devices this Surface Pro onscreen keyboard is just not the best it could be. I would rather do my writing on my Android phone and then copy and paste it into my blog than use this dumb tap-tap-tap onscreen keyboard.

Actually the Microsoft Office 365 apps on the Android phone are really pretty good and I do start a number of Microsoft Word documents on the phone and then clean them up on a Windows device. Perhaps Microsoft's new connection to Samsung could bring this about.

Please note (and stated many times in the past) I am a keyboarder. I learned to type in the 50's (1950's that is) and, at one time, exceeded 70 to 80 words a minute. And yet I can be faster on a swype like keyboard - almost like taking shorthand (there is a memory test).

I know there are others out there who agree with me as I see it all the time on one of those Community Boards on Microsoft, which I suspect no one at Microsoft reads.

I have often wondered how this, so last decade, onscreen keyboard is maintained. My thoughts are thatit is IT and perhaps Engineer's who do not do much writing, or only use this for coding. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Field Trip–A GREAT App for Fun, Learning, & Trips

Field Trip was first published in 2012 by Niantic, which, at the time, was part of Google. Field Trip at Google PlayAs shown in Wikipedia:

Field Trip, a location-based mobile app which acted as "your guide to the cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you.

My wife and I have had Field Trip on our phones for a number of years and use it when we travel or just out for a drive and wanting to know the interesting places where we are. Pull out the phone, access Field Trip, and start reading, not while you are driving of course.

We have a deal; I drive and Pat reads Field Trip.

Recently we were driving on some small roads outside of Mason, OH and as we came down one hill and went across the Little Miami River there was this very large, not used anymore, old brick and concrete building. As I went over the small bridge and around the building there were other buildings and we became fascinated. Before I was too far away my wife was reading me the history of the Peters Cartridge Company in Kings Mills, Ohio. This place was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October of 1985. Great history. Field Trip on iTunes

It is fun when you are driving off the beaten path and see something of history – generally it is in Field Trip. Here is part of what it says at Google Play Apps.

Field Trip can help you learn about everything from local history to the latest and best places to shop, eat, and have fun. You select the local feeds you like and the information pops up on your phone automatically, as you walk next to those places.

One note of caution: When you are working or just busy, turn off Notifications, it will alert you to everything you drive or walk by.

I have used it to discover the background of older area’s of cities like Indianapolis and Cincinnati as well as many other places.

We highly recommend the app and it is free on Google Play Apps or iTunes.

I might add that Niantic Labs are also the people that developed Pokemon Go.