April 11, 2006 by Colin
Apologies for the affront to the collective genius of Frankie Goes To Hollywood/Edwin Starr. What is the true, quantifiable, worth of corporate social responsibility? Aside from polishing up Nike’s annual report? Or pulling a veil over the dirty workings of international oil conglomerates? Wal-mart must be wondering that as it tries to marshall positive voices in favour of its banking application, currently being heard by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Voices like Andrew Young and the Salvation Army.
Arrayed against the corporation, it seems, is every community bank in the country, local activists, and a sizable number of members of Congress. And the Wal-mart haters. Wal-mart flavoured haterade must be on sale, because there are some people with some real issues speaking out on this banking application:
“walmart has decided to try to rule the world. The stores and their domination are bad enough. If they have control of a financial institution it could be a disaster. All their friendly, good old boy, we’re with you America ads are just a sham. They are out for one thing, the all mighty dollar, and it has to go into their pocket. I’m not fooled by their folksy attitude one bit. If they control a bank in any area they control the area, if you’re not with them, you’re against them and you get no loan for your new business.” (FDIC submission, .pdf)
Hearings are on now at the FDIC offices in Virginia, and:
“At times, the hearing felt more like a referendum on Wal-Mart’s integrity than the wisdom of allowing it to open a bank, with friends and foes of the retailer marshaling character witnesses. Testimony touched on Wal-Mart’s role in port security, its efforts to recover missing children, the generosity of its health insurance plan and the cost of a shovel at its stores.”
The corporation’s certainly facing an uphill battle. The lobbying battle against the application seems to be led, in part, by the Independent Community Bankers of America. Common themes, and phrases, run through many of the letters filed with the FDIC. Quite a few seem awfully similar, like the 49 or more nearly identical letters from the Citizen’s Tri-County Bank.
I understand the value, from the pespective of sheer quantity and physical impact, of organizing a petition or letter campaign. But what is the real effect of all that work (or, in the case of an online email campaign, not that much work)?
Research with members of Congress has shown that form letters, or letters that are evidently the product of an organized lobbying or petitioning campaign, are discounted by politicians. Communicating with Congress: How Capitol Hill is Coping with the Surge in Citizen Advocacy, prepared by the Congressional Management Foundation, provided quantitative and qualitative backing for this finding:
“I wish that outside groups would understand that overwhelming our office with form letters does
more harm than good for their causes.”
—House Correspondence Staffer
“One hundred form letters have less direct value than a single thoughtful letter generated by a constituent
of the Member’s district.”
—House Correspondence Staffer
“In cases where the Member/Senator has not reached a firm decision on an issue, 44% of staff surveyed said that individualized postal communications have “a lot” of influence, compared to 3% for identical form communications. As one House staff member noted, personal communications are more effective than form messages “because the recipient knows that the author was truly motivated by the issue.”
April 11, 2006 by Colin
Your next drive-thru order at MacDonald’s may not be taken by a sweaty, slightly overweight and harried assistant manager with an ill fitting corporate dress shirt. If you’re in Hawaii, the person asking you about supersizing may in fact be over a thousand miles away – in Santa Maria, California.
Thanks to low-cost VOIP, centralized call centres and a standardized menu, remote order-taking has arrived.
MacDonald’s executives first floated the idea at a retail conference a year ago.
“”You have a professional order taker with strong communications skills whose job is to do nothing but take down orders,” said Matthew Paull, McDonald’s chief financial officer.
Paull said a “heavy percentage” of complaints the company receives are from drive-thru customers who got the wrong order. “Even if 95% of the time it is right, those 5% are very upset with us,” he said. (USA Today)
Today, the NYT details how one call centre 150 miles from L.A. is serving drive-thrus in Mississippi, Wyoming and Hawaii – among 40 locations.
“When the customer pulls away from the menu to pay for the food and pick it up, it takes around 10 seconds for another car to pull forward. During that time, [Doug King, CEO of the outsourcing firm Bronco] said, his order-takers can be answering a call from a different McDonald’s where someone has already pulled up.
The remote order-takers at Bronco earn the minimum wage ($6.75 an hour in California), do not get health benefits and do not wear uniforms. Ms. Vargas, who recently finished high school, wore jeans and a baggy white sweatshirt as she took orders last week. (New York Times)
I can see one benefit to the consumer: an outsourced call centre may be able to provide better service in spanish – if the right order-taker picks up. I don’t know whether these order-takers will be immediately familiar with local condiment or combo preferences.
Really, are we going to revert back to the old Automat restaurants, with giant displays of prepared food ready for sale at the drop of a quarter? It’s bad enough I can see the teenage “cook” take the sausage patty for my Egg Mcmuffin out of a plastic warming tray – like an Easy Bake oven – without dropped data packets ruining the call and completely depersonalizing the experience.
Remember, at lunchtime, Skype “Ronald’s McNuggets”
For further commentary, American Public Radio reported on the use of call centres in fast food in January 2005.