Posts by Christine Wilson

What happens when a package is shipped to you?

There’s a good chance your business sends or receives packages – perhaps a lot of them! But have you ever stopped to think about the journey one of these packages makes? By better understanding the shipping process, you can make more informed choices about your shipping solutions.

Whether you’re sending a package or receiving one, your package goes through several steps between point A and point B. So what happens when you make a purchase and are expecting a shipment?

The first thing that happens – or happened, even before you personally made your purchase – is the vendor chooses a company with which to ship your package. Whether its UPS or FedEx, the United States Postal Service or Canada Post, each shipping company will have different options and rates that will directly correlate to how fast the shipment is delivered.

Depending on what you’re shipping, you may have no choice but to use ground-based shipping. Say you’ve purchased a large supply of lithium batteries. Since they’re considered dangerous goods and can’t be transported via aircraft, ground shipping is the only option. In addition, pricing for different shipping methods varies – ground is cheaper, but notably slower. FedEx gives a good example of your options on their website:

 “For a real-world example, let’s say you need to ship an iPad from Dallas to your best friend in Chicago. Your package weighs 2 lbs., and your box is 13″ x 11″ x 2″. Using FedEx Ground, you will be able to ship that package for as little as $10.78 and it will arrive in only two business days… ‘When it Absolutely, Positively Has to Be There Overnight®,’ FedEx Express has you covered. If it is Monday, and you need that iPad delivered from Dallas to Chicago by the end of the day on Tuesday, FedEx Standard Overnight® will be your choice. This service will cost as little as $67.33 to get your package there the very next day.”

Depending on when you need your package to arrive by, and how specific that arrival date is, most companies will provide a range of options for you that balance price for speed. This factor impacts the price of shipping on your bill.

After your purchase is completed and before the vendor can utilize the shipping company it has chosen, the product in question must be located in a warehouse. Depending on the size of the vendor, this can either be a simple process, or very complicated. For example, Amazon has warehouses across the world and uses an algorithm to decide what gets stored where. A smaller company won’t have nearly the same quantity of stock. This variable also affects how much AI and other tech is involved in preventing human error in the order fulfillment process. Larger warehouses will have more tech available to help human employees pick the right item for your order and know exactly where to find it.

Once the product is located and properly packaged, it is sent out for delivery via whatever method has been chosen. This may mean it’s loaded onto a truck or aircraft. If you are ordering from overseas and it is an especially large package, it may even be loaded onto a ship. If you want to track your package’s progress, you may receive a notification saying the order has been shipped when it reaches this point, allowing you to better estimate its arrival time.

If your package is being shipped internationally, you also have to expect it to go through a security clearance process through your country’s customs agency. For example, when Canada Post is bringing parcels into Canada, it must present each incoming package to the Canada Border Services Agency. The CBSA then inspects each parcel and either holds them for review or clears them for entry into Canada. Generally speaking, if you haven’t ordered anything off the prohibited items list, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.

As you can see, a lot of work goes into getting your package from point A to B, especially if the package is being shipped internationally. There is much to consider when shipping packages, especially for businesses that ship often and must balance the cost with their customer satisfaction.

Should your business consider mobile payments?

By 2030, experts expect that digital wallets, like those used by Apple Pay, will be the primary source of payments around the world. Mobile payments are often as simple as using a physical card, and you can make secure purchases in stores, in apps, and online. So is it time for you to add mobile payments to your arsenal of merchant services solutions?

One thing to consider regarding mobile payments are the demographic of your customers. According to Big Commerce, which surveyed businesses that added Apple Pay, many of them chose to do so because they had a younger, millennial and Gen Z demographic in mind. This has been especially effective for businesses using online transaction options with mobile payments in mind.  The same business surveyed by Big Commerce answered that Apple Pay improved the outcome of their online sales, with fewer items being placed in a user’s ‘cart’ being abandoned due to a complicated checkout process.  

Mobile payments are useful for in-store transactions as well. With Apple Pay, anyone with an iPhone or certain iPads can utilize this method. Of course, not all of your customers will have Apple Pay equipped on their devices, or use Apple devices at all, so it is important to have a wide variety of POS solutions in this mobile era. Mobile payments are also generally secure, with multiple levels of authentication before confirming a purchase. For example, if you’re using your iPhone to make a payment via Apple Pay, you will likely have to use your thumbprint. This might also be a reason why many customers would be attracted to the option of using mobile payments to make their purchases.

Of course, there are plenty of risks to mobile payments as well. High-profile data breaches make overarching security a large concern for both business owners and customers. While the payments are generally less expensive than traditional point-of-sale systems, most still require you to purchase new technology and upgrade your terminals. With the variety of mobile devices on the market, a one-size fits all option can be very difficult to implement.

In conclusion, if you are willing to outfit your Point-of-Sale terminals with the necessary tech, mobile payments can be a rather convenient addition to your merchant services solutions that can also help improve the customer experience. Online check-out buttons attached to mobile payments have proven to make online sales easier for merchants and buyers. If you are hoping to attract a younger demographic, mobile payment solutions can be a great way to go about it.

Is a mobile payment solution right for your business?

Reducing your Workplace Waste

One way to help make a positive impact on our planet is to think about the ways you and your colleagues can reduce the waste you generate at work. But waste management can be expensive! From printing to drinking habits, here are some of our suggestions for maintaining a cost-effective, waste-conscious work life.

Paper and Printing:

This may seem obvious, but one key area where most businesses could improve is paper waste. With today’s technology, it is easier than ever to maintain a paperless workplace, and doing so could save time and money and reduce waste.

Utilizing services like Google Docs and Dropbox allows co-workers to collaborate, review and send files from person to person without ever using a printer. Even when printing is necessary, printing double-sided, black and white and in draft mode are all ways to reduce the amount of paper and ink you are using. Create a culture at your workplace where printing isn’t the default – it’s a decision made after thinking about whether a printed copy of a document is truly necessary.

When it comes to recycling paper, remember that convenience is key – so make sure the recycling bin is easy to find. If every desk in your office has a small recycling bin, the amount of recyclable paper ending up in the trash will decrease.

Office Supplies:

Many of the products we buy for work come with a lot of packaging. It is possible, however, for you to make the conscious effort to search for products and alternatives with little to no packaging. One example might be buying things like pens in bulk rather than in smaller, individual packages. You can also search for companies that deliver in your area via returnable containers, cutting back on the overall waste and impact of your operations.

Be sure to recycle electronic equipment and batteries that might otherwise end up in the trash. The Balance recommends that small businesses looking to cut back on waste “… don’t allow obsolete equipment to take up space and collect dust. The sooner it is recycled, the quicker that valuable resources will be available for reuse, thus avoiding the processing of more virgin materials.”

You can also change habits to make office supplies last longer. Remind employees to clean the tips of their pens and keep them in a cool, dry place when not in use to expand their life cycle. Losing track of pen and marker caps creates waste and is an unnecessary expense. As well, using supplies that are more environmentally conscious – like paper clips instead of staples – can save money in the long run. Even investing in refillable fountain pens rather than one-use ballpoint pens has a positive environmental and financial impact.

Other important items that are easy to reuse are binders and file folders. By providing your employees with labeling stickers rather than endless folders, you’ll be able to write over old labels and reuse these organization tools again and again.

Personal Initiative:

As much as it is important to change the office culture surrounding waste, you must also lead by example. Packing a lunch, bringing a reusable mug and water bottle and avoiding paper plates and plastic utensils at lunch are all good habits that will eliminate waste. Make a company policy banning plastic water bottles and provide company-branded reusable water bottles to your employees as replacements. These initiatives will save your business money in the long run and leave a positive imprint on the environment in the process.

In conclusion…

There are so many ways to reduce your waste spending and your environmental impact at work. It really is a win-win situation, if you are willing to put the thought and time into changing your habits and your office culture.

Are hiring algorithms right for your business?

You may remember in 2018 Amazon announced it was ditching its hiring algorithm due to apparent sexist outcomes of the online recruitment process. This is the exact opposite of the intended result of hiring algorithms, which are created to remove human bias and margin of error from the equation when searching for the best job candidate. Popular services like Monster and Zip Recruiter offer companies the use of their AI to make their hiring process easier and more fair.

As an article in Harvard Business Review explains, there are a lot of small tasks that hiring algorithms carry out. The article says that algorithms can “play different roles throughout this process: Some steer job ads toward certain candidates, while others flag passive candidates for recruitment. Predictive tools parse and score resumes, and help hiring managers assess candidate competencies in new ways, using both traditional and novel data.”

Hiring algorithms can automate some rather tedious labor and save time and money for people in human resources and executive positions. As Richard Marr, chief technology officer for recruitment platform Applied, told Forbes, “If done well, [using hiring algorithms] not only means efficiency savings but could also mean benefits for candidates such as quick responses and meaningful feedback.”

As great as this sounds, this software can actually preserve traditional biases that impact the hiring process, such as “amplifying disadvantages lurking in data points like university attendance or performance evaluation scores.” Thankfully, at the end of the day, humans still have the final decision in who gets hired.

Even the minds behind online recruitment service Monster admit that hiring algorithms are not a perfect solution to everyone’s hiring needs. The company posted an article to its website, judging the benefits and limitations for companies looking to use it. The article admits that there will always be the human temptation to overrule the algorithm.

“Who wants to hire a candidate — top-rated by a bloodless software application — who struck the hiring manager as somehow just not right for the job?” The article asks.  “Almost no one wants that. This situation presents a conundrum for HR and company executives.”

Monster’s advice for companies looking to use a hiring algorithm is to properly train their Human Resources departments and other individuals involved in the hiring process in how to balance the data given by the software with their natural instincts.

So is this technology the right fit for your business? It can save you time and money, but can also have some potentially negative impacts when used incorrectly. Since Amazon dropped its software because of the gendered bias, lots of research and development has gone into making these algorithms better; but they will never be perfect without the attention and training on behalf of the user. If you believe that you can balance the limitations of this software with its benefits, it might be a great tool for your business.

Are VPNs on the rise in the United States?

Since the repeal of net neutrality came into effect in June, a spotlight has been shown on Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs. These networks allow users to be anonymous while browsing. Some consumers are flocking to them “to maintain some control and security over their digital lives.”

PCMag recently “surveyed 3,000 US consumers about VPN use and buying trends” to see just how popular this option has become in the United States.

The publication says, it found “that while fewer than a third of consumers currently use VPNs, 52 percent of respondents said they’re more likely to use a VPN since net neutrality rules officially went kaput in June. More significantly, one in four respondents (26 percent) said that the net neutrality rollback directly influenced them to purchase a VPN app.”

Of the consumers using a VPN, there were four recurring reasons to do so. Forty-eight percent say “for security purposes,” 30 percent say “to safely access public Wi-Fi,” eighteen percent say “to share data securely,” and seven percent said they use a VPN to “avoid government surveillance.”

It looks like those selling VPNs have a lot to gain from the repeal of net neutrality, even as states such as California are passing laws to bring back the laws within its jurisdiction.

Source: pcmag.com – How Net Neutrality Repeal Is Fueling VPN Adoption
Published: October 22, 2018

Hurricane Michael damaged Verizon Fiber Network

If you live in Florida, Georgia, or Alabama and you have internet with Verizon, there is a good chance you’ve gone without it for days following Hurricane Michael. Four days after the storm landed, 300,000 homes “were still without home Internet, phone, or TV service,” according to Ars Technica, with 200,000 of them being in Florida. 15 percent of cell sites in Florida are suffering outages as well, says the Federal Communications Commission.

Unfortunately, the damage that has left these households without service might be lasting. Although telecoms have worked hard to get their services up and running again, some are facing “extensive fiber damage.”

On Verizon’s webpage for hurricane updates, the company said “The storm caused unprecedented damage to our fiber, which is essential for our network – including many of our temporary portable assets – to work.”

“We continue to work around the clock on network restoration efforts and have seen some positive movement, although fiber connection… still poses a significant challenge. For example, as soon as we have fiber repaired and start to see sites come back on air, we experience new cuts resulting from other restoration efforts happening in the community such as clearing roads, residential property clearing, and replacing electric poles,” Verizon explained.

This isn’t completely devastating for Verizon’s business in the states hit by Hurricane Michael. According to the carrier, 99 percent of its network in Georgia is in service, and 98 percent in Florida. It says, “”[T]he hardest hit area of Panama City, Panama City Beach and the surrounding communities [are] still experiencing the most impact.”

Source: Verizon fiber suffered “unprecedented” damage from Hurricane Michael
Published: October 15, 2018

Telecom employees penalized for giving customers better prices

telecom cost reduction services logoDon’t like the prices you’re getting from Canadian providers? Neither do their employees. A recent CBC report has revealed that employees across numerous Canadian telecom carriers are being punished for trying to help customers get a better deal, or for having a customer cancel services on them.

The news comes mainly from Rogers, Bell, and Fido employees.

Jason Harley, who worked as a Rogers sales representative in a Kitchener, Ontario call centre for two years call the job “brutal.”

According to CBC, Harley, “is one of a handful of past and present telco call centre employees for Rogers, Fido and Bell who are speaking out as the CRTC prepares to hold a public hearing on the sales practices of telecoms, due to begin Oct. 22.” The inquiry was ordered by the federal government after hundreds of past and present telecom workers contacted CBC with claims of unethical practices.

Harley told CBC that sales representatives at Rogers earn points towards commission for every product or service they sell. However, they also lose points for every time they cancel a customer’s service. “I would do everything I could not to cancel a customer’s services, even though that’s what they wanted,” Harley admitted. He believes that the system created “a culture of dishonesty” at Rogers, where workers employed a variety of tactics to trick customers into not cancelling their service.

One tactic is what Harley calls ‘the hot potato game’, where reps would “transfer a customer who wanted to cancel a service to another agent, who in turn might transfer the call to another colleague.” The point being, the agent that gets stuck with the customer, is the one losing the points.

He even admits that sometimes sales reps simply wouldn’t record a customer’s request to cancel a service. Harley also says that he “often heard agents tell customers who wanted to cut services that it would be easier to go to a Rogers store to do that, instead of the rep handling it over the phone and getting financially penalized.”

Worst of all, Harley told CBC, “I think the most dishonest one is when they say they processed the cancellation, but they didn’t.”

Another employee echoed Harley’s story during her time answering calls for Fido, a Rogers subsidiary. “If I try to help them [a customer], my statistics will go down and I’ll be shown the door,” she told CBC. “So what do I want more? Do I want to help the person, or do I want a paycheque?  It stresses you out.”

Rogers is of course denying the allegations made by Harley and the anonymous Fido employee, saying in an email that the stories “do not reflect our values or our customer service practices and we have no tolerance in our organization for unethical behaviour.”

Stories from Bell employees are much of the same. Former Nordia employee – Nordia being a call centre company owned by Bell – Anthony Savage told CBC that “the incentive is to do as little as possible [for the customer].”

It is no surprise that Canadian telecoms are facing complaints from customers, but all these damning stories from former employees give the complaints a lot of credibility. Do you think Rogers, Fido, and Bell will have to change their tactics?

Source: CBC.ca – Rogers, Fido and Bell call centre workers penalized for reducing plans, offering credits
Published: October 14, 2018

Google working on detecting spam from call ads

A new report from Search Engine Land explains that Google is looking to crack down on spam advertisements. According to the publication, “Google has begun informing advertisers that it may record some of the calls that come in through call-only ads and call extensions in ads.”

Google is apparently making a goal of protecting users “from fraud and spam and to ensure a trusted environment for advertisers.”

In an email to Search Engine Land, a Google spokesperson said, “Fraud in the advertising calls ecosystem is a growing issue and we are committed to combating it and improving call quality for consumers. We have introduced a program in the U.S. to record a small fraction of the calls in call ads. Our efforts will help prevent spam and other negative user experiences as well as reduce wasted marketing spend for advertisers.”

You might know that Google already has a similar program with text ads, in which it collects data to better understand and detect signs of fraud. The call program will work “much in the same way.” Google wants to build a model that will automate fraud detection and prevent fraudulent calls and texts.

The program will work in the following way: “only a small fraction of calls will be recorded, and only in the U.S. Callers will hear a message that Google will record the call for quality assurance — a standard type of message used across industries… Google will anonymize recording data and evaluate calls to ensure they comply with Google’s ad policies around misleading, inappropriate and harmful ads.”

Google promises none of the information collected will be used for ad targeting.

Source: searchengineland.com – Google to record some calls from ads for quality assurance
Published: October 9, 2018

Are we under-producing batteries?

They power our smartphones, laptops, tablets, and the growing number of electric cars. Batteries are everywhere. But The Toronto Star has some bad news about them; the world might not be producing enough batteries to keep up with the consumer demand of the “smart” era.

The paper asserts that “All of the new demand from North America, Europe and Asia is constrained at the moment by a market that remains heavily dependent on a few producers.”

A large contributor to the new demand comes from the electric car market.

“Today, there are more than 3 million electric vehicles on the road worldwide; by 2025, Volkswagen AG alone plans to build as many as 3 million electric vehicles per year. Those vehicle batteries — in addition to storage batteries for homes, businesses and utilities — will have to come from somewhere,” says The Toronto Star.

The Star says that a key player in the battery shortage is South Korea: because of some change in government policy, the country’s main battery producers Samsung SDI and LG Chem – two of the leading international manufacturers – are “prioritizing sales in their home country.” Meaning, relying on batteries coming out of South Korea might have disappointing results in the future. The Star explains that U.S buyers in particular “often rely on Korean-made batteries. Almost 60 per cent of the utility-scale batteries deployed in the U.S. last year were made by Samsung SDI and LG Chem.”

Larash Johnson, chief technology officer of Stem Inc, one of America’s largest U.S battery companies, told The Toronto Star that “There is definitely some tightness in the global market. It’s one of the reason we’re looking for new suppliers.”

Another large battery supplier is Tesla, which has a sizeable battery factory in Nevada. Despite its high capacity for production, Tesla “can pick and choose who they want to deliver to” and “they are not delivering to everyone.” As The Star says, “Together, Tesla and the Korean battery-making giants can expect to enjoy intense demand.”

These three companies might have a near monopoly on battery production, but another potential source for production expansion is China. New factories are popping up across the country with huge capacity for production.

Source: thestar.com – For now, at least, the world isn’t making enough batteries
Published: October 5, 2018

Get ready for the Pixel 3

On October 9th, Google will be announcing the upcoming Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones. According to TechRadar, excited customers can also begin pre-ordering the devices immediately following the announcement.

The news apparently comes from an email received by Android Central. As Tech Radar explains, “The email also apparently shows a number three, which transitions between black, white and mint colors, which seems an obvious hint that the Google Pixel 3 range might come in those shades.”

The mint theory is backed up by leaked images of a white Google Pixel 3 phone with a mint-coloured power button. Mint is not a colour commonly seen in smartphones, so this is a potentially unique design that could stir up some real attention.

TechRadar says that Android Central’s email ended by suggesting “some things to ask Google Assistant, namely ‘What’s this announcement about?’, ‘When are you making this announcement?’, and “How can I found out more about this announcement?’ … The answers don’t give much away, but one response is ‘Looks like there might be something about a new phone – and maybe, just maybe a few other new things.’”

Source: techradar.com – Google Pixel 3 pre-orders apparently start on October 9
Published: October 5, 2018