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Whether you own a business or work at one, customer service is crucial for success. Here's how the best companies pull it off.

By Stacy Johnson May 18, 2010 5:59PM

This post comes from partner site Money Talks News.


Every year Bloomberg/BusinessWeek and J.D. Power & Associates survey consumers to come up with the 25 best big companies for customer service.

What's interesting is that, despite the variety of businesses, the winners nearly all used some combination of only two techniques to get to the top: using the latest technology to better serve their customers, and creating employee loyalty.


Seeing how the top companies work tells you what you should look for as a consumer, as well as provides ideas to improve customer service at your business or workplace.


There are tricks to deciphering the weekly grocery ads. For instance, not everything in the circular is on sale.

By Karen Datko May 18, 2010 4:49PM

This guest post comes from Kris at Cheap Healthy Good.


Tuesday evening has rolled around, and it's time for some spur-of-the-moment food shopping. You saunter through the sticky sliding glass doors of your local grocery store, pondering what to purchase with the $15.09 you've budgeted until Friday. Then you spot it, lying prostrate and unused in a misshapen stack by the shopping carts: the supermarket circular.

Cackling like a maniac, you scuttle over to snatch the half-soaked, seven-page spreadsheet. You're hunched and focused, madly scanning the deli section when it hits you: You have no blessed clue how to read this thing. Sure, there are pretty pictures, and yes, the numbers look tantalizingly low, but do you have to buy seven jars of jelly to get the seven-for-$7 discount?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind.

Just kidding. The answer is almost certainly "no."


Ever wondered what hotels do with slightly used soap? Two groups are recycling it to create new bars for the world's poor.

By Teresa Mears May 18, 2010 2:24PM

Have you ever wondered what happens to those little bars of soap in hotels after you use them once or twice? It seems so wasteful to throw them away, yet no one wants to reuse someone else’s old bar of soap.


The waste amazed Derreck Kayongo, a refugee from Uganda whose father had once owned a soap factory. Kayongo came to the United States 15 years ago to attend college. "I called my dad back home and told him, 'You wouldn’t believe what happens here. They throw away soap that is used only once,'" Kayongo told GlobalAtlanta.

"We laughed about it. But the idea stuck in my head. What if we took some of this soap back home, recycled it, made brand new soap and gave it to people who didn't have a single bar of soap?"


Last year, he finally was able to take action. He and his wife, Sarah Kayongo, founded Global Soap, which collects used soap from hotels in the Southeast, sanitizes it and makes new soap for use in refugee camps in Africa. Global Soap sent its first small shipment to Uganda in January.


If the Missouri model works out, the company's charitable foundation hopes to open hundreds of 'pay what you can' cafes.

By Karen Datko May 18, 2010 2:07PM

Ron Shaich, until recently the hugely successful CEO of Panera Bread, has launched a terrific social experiment. He's converted a Panera restaurant into a nonprofit where customers make donations rather than pay for their food.


The Saint Louis Bread Company Cares Café is just like a regular Panera store with two distinctions -- one major and one minor: The cashier lets you know what your meal would normally cost, and you put what you can into a donation box. The baked goods, except for the sandwich bread, are a day old.


So far, since the St. Louis area Panera location reopened as a nonprofit on Sunday, a third of the diners have donated more than they "owed," USA Today says. Those who can't pay are asked to donate time in the store.

"I'm trying to find out what human nature is all about," Shaich, who now runs Panera's charitable foundation, told USA Today.


Every professional sports team has a rebuilding year. Here's how to apply the concept to your financial life.

By Karen Datko May 18, 2010 10:52AM

This post comes from Jim Wang at partner blog Bargaineering.


In every professional sport, there's the concept of a "rebuilding year." These are the years when the team is working on drafting good prospects, building up young talent, and crafting a competitive championship-caliber team piece by piece.


It's difficult to field a championship team every year for more than a few years, with free agency and all, so it's expected that after a few years of stellar performance, you're bound to have a few leaner years where you're rebuilding your talent.


The good teams do this well, and others do it poorly.


How does this apply to you?


Survey says Southwest is the best bet for availability of seats in exchange for frequent-flier miles.

By Karen Datko May 17, 2010 6:33PM

Today's travel quiz: Which airline has the worst seat availability for travelers trying to redeem their frequent-flier miles, according to a new survey?

  • US Airways was lowest with a 10.7% seat availability rate.
  • Delta Airlines' SkyMiles program was next at 12.9%.
  • The third worst on the list was the Miles&Smiles program of Turkish Airlines, 35.3%.

Some U.S. airlines were among the best for redeeming frequent-flier miles for trips:


Making everyone their own pension fund manager means that almost everyone has an incompetent pension fund manager.

By Karen Datko May 17, 2010 3:37PM

This guest post comes from Frank Curmudgeon at Bad Money Advice.


I think the folks at WalletPop must be running some kind of obvious-headline contest. Recently they carried "Airlines rake in billions from extra fees" and "Majority of social network users share too much." And then we got "Study: Longer life can bring pension money woes."


I'm willing to forgive WalletPop some for that last one. They are a bunch of kids who probably have not thought much about retirement. They do not yet realize that one of the biggest challenges in retirement planning, maybe even the single biggest one, is the somewhat counterintuitive fear of living too long.

If you are retiring on an old-school pension or annuity, which will pay you a certain amount every month as long as you are around to cash the checks, then living a long time is not much of a fiscal danger. Social Security works the same way.


But if you reach that golden moment of retirement with a pile of money that needs to last as long as you do, longevity risk is a tough problem. Interestingly, it has a fairly tidy solution, but nobody likes it.


Learn to cook, keep in touch with your friends, exercise and marry the right person -- these are all keys to financial success.

By Teresa Mears May 17, 2010 2:14PM

This time of year, college graduates are bombard with financial advice, career advice, life advice -- all the wisdom of their elders.


And we think they should listen. It's important to start your adult life on a strong financial footing. Our partner blogger Jim Wang at Bargaineering is providing an entire week of posts about financial nuts and bolts for graduates.


We agree with everyone who has advised you to get a job, make sure you have health insurance, avoid credit card debt, participate in your company’s 401k plan, draw up a budget, pay yourself first, pay off your student loans and live within your means. Quit sponging off your parents. And don't buy a new car.


But what key financial advice has been left out? Drawing on life experience (we are probably older than your parents), plus the collective wisdom of the personal-finance blogosphere, we came up with our own list of less repeated but equally important financial advice.



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