This is Kickstart—the daily morning management briefing on innovation, leadership, technology and the economy from the editors of Canadian Business. Sign up to get it directly to your inbox each weekday at 6 AM Eastern.
Good morning! Here’s what’s on our radar at the moment:
A simple way to measure customer satisfaction
You might have seen HappyOrNot’s terminals at a restaurant or retail store already: Just four buttons, ranging from a bright green smiley face to a red frown, and a simple directive to push whichever one is closest to how you feel about your customer experience. There are now hundreds of thousands of such stations installed in stores all around the world, and the Finnish tech company that invented them has now collected 600 million button-presses recording customer satisfaction levels. The blunt nature of the system can’t possibly capture the nuance of what makes for a satisfied customer—but its brutal simplicity also means that people actually give feedback, which can be surprisingly meaningful. A basic button that consumers will actually press is way more valuable, it turns out, than a more comprehensive survey that no one will bother to fill out:
A single HappyOrNot terminal can register thousands of impressions in a day, from people who buy and people who don’t. The terminals are self-explanatory, and customers can use them without breaking stride. In the jargon of tech, giving feedback through HappyOrNot is “frictionless.” And, although the responses are anonymous, they are time-stamped. One client discovered that customer satisfaction in a particular store plummeted at ten o’clock every morning. Video from a closed-circuit security camera revealed that the drop was caused by an employee who began work at that hour and took a long time to get going. She was retrained, and the frowns went away.
Link: The New Yorker
What to watch for this week
Coming up in the next few days of #cdnbiz:
- Thursday: Bank of Canada deputy governor Carolyn Wilkins speaks at an event in Montebello, Quebec. Bank-watchers will be looking for hints of future rate hikes following a quarter-point rise in January.
- Friday: Statistics Canada publishes the latest employment figures. The jobless rate fell to a 40-year low in December.
Earnings reports preview
Canadian publicly traded companies of note scheduled to report quarterly earnings today:
Nutrien Ltd. (NTR), Synex International (SXI), Toromont Industries (TIH)
Coming later this week:
Tuesday: WestJet Airlines (WJA); Wednesday: Manulife Financial (MFC), Suncor Energy (SU); Thursday: BCE (BCE), Telus (T);
Walmart workers are fine with robots
U.S. retail giant Walmart now has robots working the aisles at 50 of its stores. Made by a company called Bossa Nova, the bots wander the shelves, doing inventory scanning, noting when things are out of stock, and alerting staff to mislabeled or mispriced items. This is exactly the kind of thing that people sounded the alarm about in recent years—that robots are going to displace human workers. But according to Martin Hitch, a senior exec at Bossa Nova, that’s now how it’s worked out in practice. Walmart employees have apparently been much more accepting of their new robotic colleagues than anyone expected:
“When we first deployed a robot in a store, the associates were the people that understood it first. This boring, repetitive task of scanning the shelves—we have yet to meet someone who has liked to do that. Employees instantly become the advocates for the robot. One way they do that is by giving it a name—the robots all have Walmart name badges on. The employees have competitions to see what the right name is for each robot. They also advocate for the robot to the general public. It’s the store staff saying, “It’s helping me.” We see them now defending the robot.”
Link: MIT Technology Review
How your TV is secretly talking to Alexa
One of the big ad buys during the Super Bowl last night was Amazon’s 90-second spot advertising the Echo, its voice-activated appliance, and Alexa, the virtual assistant that provides its voice. Alexa famously “wakes up” to listen when you say her name—so a TV advertisement in which her name is spoken 10 times could actually pose quite a problem. Aside from irritating Echo owners, having millions of Alexas wake up and bombard Amazon’s servers during one of the biggest TV events of the year could crash Amazon’s systems. To fix this problem, the ads actually employed some audio trickery that allow the TV to shout “Alexa” without waking the system. That’s easy when the company is itself making the ad, but it even has a method in place to recognize such instances on the fly:
Our advertising, engineering, and science teams are able to anticipate major events like the Super Bowl, but what happens when someone like Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon does a comedy routine about Alexa, which the team couldn’t anticipate? Manoj Sindhwani, director for Speech Recognition, explains that our teams build acoustic fingerprints on-the-fly within our AWS cloud. When multiple devices start waking up simultaneously from a broadcast event, similar audio is streaming to Alexa’s cloud services. An algorithm within Amazon’s cloud detects matching audio from distinct devices and prevents additional devices from responding. The dynamic fingerprinting isn’t perfect, but as many as 80 to 90 percent of devices won’t respond to these broadcasts thanks to the dynamic creation of the fingerprints.
Link: Day One
- Stock market trading activity mostly happens during the day, but all the gains accrue overnight. (NYT)
- The incoming CEO of Sony has a reputation as a disciplined, even ruthless, cost-cutter. Could be quite a shock to the system of a fairly bloated conglomerate. (Ars Technica)
- Farmers are hacking their own tractors to circumvent manufacturer software that inhibits DIY repairs. (YouTube)
- Digital startups all use the same kind of illustrations. (Subtraction)
Thanks for reading! Have a truly excellent day.