Weekly Empathic Company
Gap, Inc.

- July 7, 2009 3:59pm , Comments Off on Gap, Inc.

Thanks for everyone who voted in last week’s Empath-O-Meter poll about Ford. To our great surprise, this was the only unanimous vote we’ve ever had, with Ford earning a perfect 100 percent score in Striving — a rating that seems about right in the midst of the turnaround happening in Dearborn.

This week, the debate is about Gap, Inc., the retailer and apparel maker behind such brands as Banana Republic, Old Navy, and, of course, Gap. Thanks to reader Rick for the suggestion! Gap is a fascinating company to consider from an empathy perspective. At various times in its history, it has had its fingers on the pulse of American casual fashion, from its early days making blue jeans in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury to the incredible success of khakis in the 1990s. Nonetheless, the organization’s revenue peaked in 2004 and has been drifting down ever since as fierce competition from H&M and Zara has transformed the American apparel market.

How well do you think Gap gets you?

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Ford Motor Company

- June 29, 2009 4:06pm , Comments Off on Ford Motor Company

Thanks, everyone, for your nominees for the Empath-o-Meter. Based on your votes last week, we have judged Radio Shack to be Low Empathy, receiving almost 79 percent low ratings. We’ve also updated the list with Nordstrom in high empathy and Walgreen’s in striving. Keep your nominations coming! Up now? Ford.

The last nine months have been among the worst in the history of the American auto industry. Chrysler and General Motors both entered bankruptcy, accepting billions in loans and direct investments from the U.S. government just to avoid liquidation. Only Ford Motor Company has avoided the need to accept federal dollars in order to stay afloat.

While it’s clear that Ford has done a better job of keeping a good reserve of cash on hand in case of a rainy day, however, it’s not necessarily clear that the organization is set up to succeed beyond keeping its head above water. Though Chrysler and GM’s woes have brought positive attention to Ford, we don’t know if the company will be able to create a product portfolio that will help it thrive when the economy comes back. There are positive signals that the company has an outward-facing culture — CEO Alan Mulally is known to drive the cars of his competitors and have a clear sense of how consumers see the auto market.

What have your experiences been?

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Radio Shack

- June 22, 2009 3:23pm , 2 comments

Long before there was Best Buy, Radio Shack was the biggest electronics retailer in the U.S., offering everything from raw parts for hobbyists to toys for kids. But how’s it doing now? The Fort Worth, Texas-based giant has recently faced fierce competition from emerging players in the space, and CEO Julian Day instituted a major program of cost-cutting when he joined the organization following a stint at Sears/K-Mart. And in that time, some insiders say, the company has started to lose its most critical form of empathy — the deep knowledge of the products it sells that allowed Radio Shack to provide electronics for the masses. All that, and current and former employees of the organization say that it’s become out of touch with the needs of people inside the company, too.

What have your experiences at Radio Shack been like? Do they get you and your life?

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General Motors

- June 1, 2009 10:22am , Comments Off on General Motors

Today marks the bankruptcy of an American titan — General Motors. The organization was, at one, time the very largest company based in the United States, and the dramatic drop in its profitability in growth over the last decade have been staggering. At least some of that must be attributed to senior leadership’s inability to see that a boom fueled by gas-guzzling SUVs and large trucks couldn’t last forever, in addition to its struggles to create solid offerings in the small and mid-size car categories. But as it hits bottom today, there are signs of hope at the company. The plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, due next year, promises to be significantly greener than the Prius and have none of the range limitations of the all-electric Tesla Roadster. In many ways, it’s a car of the future.

So where does GM rank in empathy for today.

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- April 29, 2009 10:35pm , 1 comment

This week’s empathic company nomination of the week comes courtesy of reader Lynn McLeod, who submits the following nomination for drug store chain Walgreen’s. Rather than weigh in, we’ll let her speak for herself:

“Walgreens replaced a mom and pop stationary store in our local shopping area (Los Altos) and they had a very tough time winning us over.  Several years later the store is a mainstay, the only “general store” close by.  They have all the day-to-day necessities and lots of house brand items that are high quality/low cost.

The interaction that finally won me over completely was when I had to find a prescription that my regular pharmacy (Target) was out of.  I stopped in Walgreens and was treated so well, in a personal manner, that I moved all my prescriptions.  Target, which I love generally and has GREAT, innovative drug packaging, has service that I would rate as “fine” but did not have the terrific services and inventory management that I find at Walgreens.

– friendly, expert service that follows through on cases
– usually has what I need in stock, gets it fast if not
– staff understands the complex insurance. medicaid, drug rebate, etc.
programs, is willing to do the research to save me money
– has a “drug club” discount program for those of us with no drug
coverage in our insurance
– inexpensive generics”

Lynn’s made her voice heard. What do you think? Please vote and leave a comment with your thoughts!

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- April 2, 2009 2:25pm , Comments Off on RIM/BlackBerry

The BlackBerry has become an icon of our always-on, ever-faster globally connected culture. The e-mail device, infamously nicknamed the “CrackBerry,” has made it possible for people to communicate in writing from just about anywhere. As we noted in our piece for the Toronto Sun, the original development of the device sprung from Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion, a company that had been dedicated to helping create wireless cash registers, credit card verification, and other mission-critical data applications. So when the company made a messaging pager, it was for people who need their notes to get through the first time, every time: doctors, construction workers, politicians, and executives. They got these folks brilliantly, which is why the BlackBerry became the icon of the busy and important.

But recent competitive challenges and new markets have challenged RIM’s empathy. The arrival of the iPhone led the company to abandon its strengths and put out the Storm, a me-too touchscreen phone that worked a lot like an iPhone — but worse. As work and life blend ever more, the BlackBerry needs to do a better job of supporting both people’s workstyles and lifestyles. And that means empathy greater than the affinity that has brought them thus far.

How do you think they rate?

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Starbucks and Empathy

- February 17, 2009 2:51pm , 1 comment

The business press is a-buzz this week with the announcement of Starbucks’ new VIA ready brew instant coffee. While many people think the product line is off-brand for the world’s leading provider of premium coffee drinks, company CEO Howard Schultz cites VIA as evidence that the company is willing to meet consumers where they are in tough times. He was right 25 years ago with his prediction that a $3 cup of coffee would soon be a mainstay; do you think he’s right this time? More importantly, does Starbucks get you? Does it understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of people who are cutting their personal budgets and eliminating luxuries?

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- January 29, 2009 11:43am , 2 comments

We’ve been getting a lot of requests to examine luxury brands through the lens of empathy, as their position during an economy is rather unique. Though many of their consumers are still doing just fine, luxury itself is out of fashion at the moment. What does that mean for a company that has a brand built on that notion.

I decided to start with Nordstrom, because the high-end retailer has a world-class reputation for customer service. In Built to Last, Jim Collins tells legendary stories of Nordies going above and beyond the call of duty: getting lunch for customers, taking returns of products the company doesn’t sell, even acting as personal valets.

But great customer service alone isn’t Widespread Empathy. And on this point, the jury is out. Do the products stocked at Nordstrom and the services offered make it clear that the organization has an intuitive sense for the people it serves? We leave it to you to make the call.

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- January 20, 2009 4:32pm , 1 comment

Microsoft’s Xbox was a smash-hit launch in the video game market in 2001. Out of nowhere, a new platform managed to challenge Sony’s dominance, and the Xbox 360 even surged ahead. It was a triumph fueled by empathy for hardcore gamers and gaming developers, which is why XBox is on our list of High Empathy organizations.

But the empathic culture of a single division in a much larger company doesn’t necessarily translate to the rest of the organization or to other customer targets. Microsoft at large is a great example. On the one hand, Microsoft Windows, Internet Explorer, and Office are dominant in their markets, used almost universally in homes and offices. Zune has yet to find a mass audience, and Microsoft’s critical Windows Vista has suffered from poor performance, bugs, and the reluctance of business customers to upgrade their computers, all of which are troubling signs for the larger organization. Rivals Apple and Mozilla have made gains in PC sales and browser usage when it once appeared those leads couldn’t be threatened.

Even so, Microsoft’s next operating system, Windows 7, is reputed to be a major improvement from Vista, and it has incorporate lots of customer feedback into its design. Anyone who wants to can even use Windows 7 today free of charge to ensure it will be significantly better when it ships. 

Where do you think MS at large ranks? Do they have widespread empathy for the people they serve? Are they striving to do develop it? Or are they struggling to understand the world outside their walls?

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How Much Empathy Does Apple Have?

- January 8, 2009 10:07am , 3 comments

Apple is universally renowned for bringing humane design to the computer industry. CEO Steve Jobs manages to anticipate demand for emerging technologies long before they go mainstream. But at the same time, his intuition has led him astray as often as it has tapped into the next big thing. And it’s entirely likely that the company’s reliance on his intuition may make it harder for the entire firm to have more of a gut-level sense for the lives of their customers. Quite often, spokespeople for Apple are proud to say they design products they would want to use, which works well some of the time — and quite poorly at others. So where does the home of the iPhone, the Mac, and the iPod rank? Make your voice heard, then visit the Empathometer to continue the conversation!

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