Last week we posted about sustainability in retail. This week we have looked even further into the realms of social consciousness for examples of kindness and humanity in customer experience across a range of environments. Organisations walk a tightrope when it comes to so-called “random acts of kindness”. There is a fine line between genuine kindness and PR stunt and not everyone gets it right. Here are 5 examples that we found from the last few months – manipulative marketing or genuine gestures – we’ll let you be the judge of that.
We start with something from Expedia that surely warms even the coldest of hearts. Expedia has been working with St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis Tennessee – with young cancer patients who are not able to move far from their hospital beds – giving them the closest thing that they might experience to a holiday of a lifetime. They installed a temporary 360-degree installation at the hospital that “transported” the children to Argentina, Florida and Mexico amongst other places. But this was no “ordinary” virtual-reality experience. What made this so powerful was the fact that these experiences were entirely real-time. Expedia employees whose own lives had been affected by serious illnesses were on location as personal tour guides to show the kids the sites. So for example, in one "adventure," a girl in love with horses watched them gallop across the Argentine plains with Expedia employee Sara, a brain tumour survivor herself. Because it's all occurring in real-time, the patients were able to ask questions, "touch" and explore the locations with the help of their guides. Expedia’s belief in the transformative powers of travel is genuine and certainly in this case, does not restrict itself by requiring actual physical travel. To find out more – and to watch some videos from these experiences click here.
One of the signs of a strong community is that it looks after its children and its elderly. And we are seeing more and more organisations take on a broader community role. Last year we wrote about Waitrose in the UK who offer a service where their delivery drivers can raise an alarm if vulnerable people who are due to receive food deliveries don’t answer their door. Customers simply need to register a “secondary” contact with Waitrose. This number will then be contacted if the driver receives no response from the residence. Read about it here.
Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn has shown similar compassion with some in-store trials aimed at spotting early signs of decline among older customers. As part of an initiative with the Hague’s city council and the Royaal Zorg care organisation, supermarket checkout assistants will be taught to spot signs of forgetfulness, loneliness or self-neglect by older customers. It makes a lot of sense. Many checkout assistants see these customers on virtually a daily basis and have done so for years so they are likely to be one of the first to notice if someone has forgotten their PIN number or is buying the same product several times a day or just isn’t looking as healthy as they could be. Read more about this here.
Some critics wonder if initiatives like this demonstrate a failure of society to look after its elderly. That may well be the case but in a world where the population is ageing, it would seem everyone needs to play their part. Perhaps this may seem difficult when our society appears increasingly narcissistic – as evidenced by the "selfie" phenomenon. In an initiative which would seem to take a leaf out of the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” book, Toyota launched an initiative called “Selflessie” at the end of last year. They say that it is a “selfie for someone ‘elsie’” – geddit? Whilst we like the idea of spreading some awareness to what is sometimes seen as a rather self-indulgent generation – we’re less convinced by the “do some good by looking good” tagline. Having said that Toyota’s role is an altruistic one in that every selfie that has the hashtag #Selflessie triggers a US$50 donation from Toyota to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Toyota America have donated $750,000 so far so they have dug deep.
If the previous example seemed a little frivolous, here’s an example to end on that restores faith in humanity. It is an unfortunate commentary on the world today that we are seeing more and more food banks and soup kitchens opening up in some of the supposed richest parts of the world. This experience can be extremely humiliating for those who need to use them and potentially destructive to one’s self worth. At The Kansas City Community Kitchen in the US, their volunteers include greeters and waiters who provide free food to the homeless in a restaurant-style environment. Diners are greeted and seated and orders are taken at the table. Even the food itself is a cut above – with a menu created by a local executive chef who himself once had to rely on soup kitchens. The centre doesn’t just provide food but also skills that might enable homeless people to get jobs or apprenticeships at local restaurants. As one volunteer remarked, “See them smile today? This can change a man’s heart.”
Too true…. It is easy to underestimate the importance of dignity, respect and humanity in today’s busy world.
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This article was first published on LinkedIn.