Friday, September 13, 2019

When Cracker Barrel's processes leave you feeling processed

I've been around a lot of process people over the years. After all, I worked for Motorola for nearly a decade. But even though a few of them seemed to be enamored of process for process' sake, the vast majority of them realized that processes are merely things that allow a company to reach its strategic objectives. In most cases, those strategic objectives are related to customer satisfaction.

Which brings me to the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain.

When you think about it, it's obvious that Cracker Barrel is highly dependent upon process. Cracker Barrel markets Southern nostalgia - in its food, in its store, and even in its decoration. And for those who think that Cracker Barrel is merely Bubba and Grandma preparing the home cooking, take a gander at what Cracker Barrel executives really think about:

But turning to the larger dynamic, Cracker Barrel is dealing with declines across guest experience metrics and faltering on value positioning, as well as failing to deliver “craveable food offerings,” at the rate it needs. [CEO Sandy] Cochran believes this hurt traffic, especially with lighter users.

“We've been reevaluating the touch points we have with our guests in order to execute more consistently, particularly at dinner, which has been the most challenged of our dayparts,” she said in regards to the guest experience.

One example of this is what Cracker Barrel calls the “check back, check down,” process, where servers will give a table their check before they’re finished eating. This has worked with travelers and earlier dayparts, but it’s not an effective strategy with dinner guests in every market, Cochran said.

So Cracker Barrel is process driven. Especially in its food. When a customer leaves the interstate and goes to a Cracker Barrel conveniently adjacent to a freeway exit, the customer is expecting a certain type of food. For me it's fried okra.

And biscuits.

So today - Friday the 13th, of course - I had lunch at a Cracker Barrel. But what if I had chosen an alternative? Based upon years of (self-funded) competitive intelligence studies, I could have expected the following.

Perhaps I might have gone to an Olive Garden restaurant. If I asked for breadsticks to be brought before my meal, the wait staff would have no problem bringing me breadsticks. (Well, within reason.)

Perhaps I might have gone to a local restaurant like Coco's. If I asked for bread to be brought before my meal, it would have arrived.

Or, if I were in the mood for Mexican, I could have gone to the Inland Empire - Orange County chain Rodrigo's and asked for chips and salsa before my meal. The wait staff would have brought me chips. And then would have brought more chips.

But I didn't go to any of those restaurants for my Friday the 13th lunch. I went to Cracker Barrel, where I asked the waitress if she could bring some of those Southern nostalgic biscuits before our meal.

"No," she replied.

Eventually biscuits were brought, but the waitress and the manager made it very clear that such activities fell well outside of the process employed by this Cracker Barrel restaurant. I won't name the exact location, other than to say that it was somewhat south of the Victorville Cracker Barrel.

Somewhere along the way, the whole idea of customer satisfaction was lost.

But I bet the numbers look great. If not for the buttermilk biscuits, then certainly for the corn muffins - especially since that pesky Joe Koblenzer isn't around any more.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

When simple keyword searches affect your livelihood (and yes, my livelihood too)

Well, that was interesting.

Remember my Wednesday post that talked about content scraping? Here's the relevant portion for now:

I was following up on some links and I ran across an article that began like this.

Without revealing any specifics, let's just say that the links that I was following were sourced from a site that keeps track of particular keywords. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I am not going to reveal those keywords here, but let's just say that they rhyme with rompetitive shintelligence.

So basically this site conducts a simple keyword search and locates articles of interest that include those keywords. And anything that hits those keywords is automatically included on the site.

Even if it's poorly written garbled stuff such as "[Rompetitive shintelligence] collecting may be a beneficial exercising that yields important records to manual your enterprise and advertising strategy, or it can take a seat in a laptop document and accumulate the equal of digital dust in case you’re no longer care."

So my post was published on Wednesday.

On Thursday I went back to this site to keep what new stuff had been found. guessed it...there's a link to an Empoprise-BI post on the site - solely because my post included the words rompetitive shintelligence.

Now I'm not going to fault the site for using automated search techniques without human review. I guess I could, but I won't.

I am going to fault the search engines for not allowing more complex searches.

I use another site for my daily work that DOES allow such complex search statements, with a plethora of AND and OR and parentheses to help to make sure that I'm not getting a lot of "digital dust." And even then I have to manually review the results, and I get a number of false hits. For example, as I write this, the Alabama Sharpiegate stuff is showing up in my search results, even though it has nothing to do with what I truly want to see in my search.

Our current search tools are good, but they are not good enough.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

When content scraping affects your livelihood (well, not my livelihood)

The Internet demands content, and when the Internet wants something, it gets something. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Internet is getting a bunch of ORIGINAL content.

How many times have you run across an article from ReallyCoolNews that basically quotes a previous article from TodaysNewsForYou? Sometimes it seems like 90% of all news articles are regurgitating stuff from other articles.

In fact, if I'm going to be honest, this blog post itself is a repurposing (that's the euphemistic word here) of something I wrote on Facebook yesterday.

But, let's begin at the beginning (although, as you'll see, it's really at the ending - but I digress).

I was following up on some links and I ran across an article that began like this.

Competitive intelligence collecting may be a beneficial exercising that yields important records to manual your enterprise and advertising strategy, or it can take a seat in a laptop document and accumulate the equal of digital dust in case you’re no longer care. While an aggressive intelligence undertaking can convey out your internal spy, it may also lead to confusion, misinterpretation of statistics, and faulty approach-putting.

So I scrolled down to the bottom of the article to see if it was written by someone who was NOT a native English speaker...and found that the author had a name that appeared to correspond to a native English speaker's name.

And the author was employed as a marketing writer - or, as the brief author bio said, she worked for "a content advertising and marketing firm that offers mild advertising and marketing via sturdy writing."

My first reaction was to think of one of my high school friends, an editor who occasionally shares examples of shoddy writing. Boy, did I have a beaut for her!

But something seemed off about this whole thing. I couldn't imagine that a native English speaker who is employed as a marketing writer would write something that terrible.

And, as it turns out, she didn't.

Fast-backward to something that I wrote over nine years ago on this topic. Here's an excerpt:

But some sites move from "fair use" to uses that appear to have more questionable fairness....

In most cases, those types of sites take someone's content, pass it off as their own, and surround it with a bunch of ads. In essence, those people are definitely making money off of the original writer.

But I'm mystified by people who appropriate content and DON'T surround the content with ads or redirect you to other places.

So I began wondering - did someone lift some content from someone else and INTENTIONALLY garble the content to make it hard to link the revised content to the original?

Well, since the (alleged) content scraper included the name of the original author and her company, I did a little bit of searching and found the original article. And here's how the REAL article began:

Competitive intelligence gathering can be a useful exercise that yields important information to guide your business and marketing strategy, or it can sit in a computer file and collect the equivalent of electronic dust if you're not careful. While a competitive intelligence project can bring out your inner spy, it can also lead to confusion, misinterpretation of data, and faulty strategy-setting.

So this was just a case of super weird content scraping.

But in this case something else was at stake.

What if I had not pursued my questions, and if I had stuck with my earlier assumption that the author was an incompetent writer?

Worse still, what if I had gone ahead and shared this with my editor friend, without bothering to realize the truth that the original writer had been ripped off?

To be quite honest, if someone were to rip me off (again), perhaps some harm would be done, but it wouldn't really damage me. But when an independent contractor's work gets garbled, thus potentially damaging her reputation, that's a different matter entirely.

You will note that this post does not link to the ripoff version of the article. (If you really want to see it, pursue the link to my Facebook post at the beginning of this post.)

Or, better yet, perform your own Google or Bing search for the words 10 tips for effective competitive intelligence gathering. It turns out that multiple sites have published the ripped-off, garbled version of the original author's content.

By the way, the original author is Jeanne Grunert. Here is one of her websites. And one more time, here is the real article that she wrote.