Are we reaching the limits of virtual?
We had two interesting conversations yesterday with business leaders touting the benefits of “integrated” business models, that combine both online and in-person customer relationships. John Shrewsberry, CFO of Wells Fargo, talked to us about how virtual transactions are booming at his bank, but the number of branches – and traffic in those branches –is not declining. “We are absolutely convinced,” he said, “that you need a visible presence” to succeed. Moreover, he echoed a line we heard last week from Target CEO Brian Cornell: “Our best customers are the ones who use both” the virtual and the storefront channels.
Separately, Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian was in, and told us the biggest transformation he’s engineering at Hyatt hotels is not about technology, but rather about satisfying the customers’ desire for more authentic human interaction. He’s retraining Hyatt employees, who’ve always excelled at “rules based” service, to “get their head” out of the computer and show “empathy.”
The business world understandably quakes with fear these days that the big four technology giants — Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple — will use their wizardry to dominate commercial interactions and own the “customer relationship.” But it seems the customer wants at least some of those relationships to remain real.
Enjoy the day. And speaking of Facebook, be sure to read Erin Griffith’s piece about their forceful foray into video, which will appear in the Fortune 500 issue of the magazine, out this week.
• EPA to set new emissions limits
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to report as early as Friday its conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes endanger human health. As a result, the Obama administration is set to announce it will require new rules to cut emissions from airlines, expanding a string of significant regulations already levied on cars, trucks and power planets. New York Times (subscription required)
• Global growth outlook trimmed
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development cut its global growth forecast, now seeing the world economy expanding by 3.1% this year versus an earlier estimate of a 3.7% increase. Last year, the world’s economy grew 3.3%. What is to blame for the more muted view? Big companies are reluctant to spend on plants, equipment and technology, and that lack of demand is holding back wages and employment. Bloomberg
• Pimco’s capital preservation plan
The bond fund manager has turned to Australian government bonds and short-term Japanese government debt as it hunts for yield, but also to protect capital in an uncertain global fixed-income environment. California-based Pimco, which until recently managed the world’s largest bond fund, has gone for bonds that will prove resilient if economic conditions deteriorate. Reuters
• Surveillance reform bill becomes law
President Barack Obama has signed into law legislation the Senate passed earlier on Tuesday that formally ends the government’s surveillance programs involving the collection of U.S. phone records. The new law requires telecom firms to collect and store phone records as they do now for billing purposes, but can only hand over the data to U.S. intelligence agencies in response to a government request. Reuters
Around the Water Cooler
• Nestle trims salt, artificial flavors
Nestlé plans to remove artificial flavors and cut salt by 10% from 2013 levels in its frozen pizza and snack brands by the end of 2015. The move is just the latest in a strong of announcements from packaged-food companies and restaurants to ditch ingredients that consumers increasingly say they don’t want. Legacy food companies are aiming to remake themselves in response to society’s changing definitions of health. Fortune
• Google’s plan to count calories
The search engine has unveiled an app that uses algorithms to analyze photos of food uploaded to Instagram and estimate the number of calories in it, powered by technology from a firm that Google bought last year for $400 million. But food labels, where the app gets its data, have been shown to be inaccurate, raising questions about the app’s potential accuracy. Fortune
• Are World Cup sponsors off the hook?
The sports world dominated headlines yesterday with the news that Sepp Blatter, who last week was reelected as president of FIFA, has resigned. While corporate sponsors put out tepid statements after recent U.S. indictments alleged bribery payments to several FIFA officials, none of them pulled their sponsorship dollars. And another crisis remains unaddressed: a human rights crisis that is unfolding at construction sites in Qatar, which is preparing for World Cup 2022. Fortune