One of the most inspiring consequences of the current COVID-19 crisis is the exceptionally high number of initiatives from companies that are pitching in to help out: by offering their services temporarily for free or by adapting their production facilities and business models to offers goods and services that are more relevant than their own standard offer. Albert Einstein once claimed that “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity” and I feel that all the companies stated here below have completely understood that.
Most initiatives are obviously directed at supporting the healthcare sector, as these are the people standing in the line of fire and crucial for the further development of the pandemic. But many other companies are finding ways to help people cope with the confinement, boredom and difficulty of staying at home, without any direct contact with their family and friends.
Supporting healthcare workers and government
- Face masks: Next to working hard on producing a vaccine, Johnson & Johnson has donated one million masks, as well as goggles, protective suits, thermometers and respirators to ho help ensure that healthcare workers who are working tirelessly in impacted areas in China have adequate protection. Fashion companies from H&M and Zara to luxury firms LVMH, Kering, and Prada, too, and even car companies like Fiat are contributing to the fight against Covid-19 by supplying protective items for medical workers.
- Ventilators: Car firms like General Motors, Ford, Tesla and Nissan, then, are rearranging their production lines to help make more ventilators.
- Hand sanitizers: perfume-makers like Givenchy and Christian Dior have switched production lines to making hand sanitisers, as have alcohol giants including Absolut Vodka and Brewdog.
- Hotel rooms: Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel battling the coronavirus pandemic can stay free of charge at the five-star Four Seasons New York.
- Transportation: Hertz is giving NYC health-care workers free car rentals so that doctors, nurses and other professionals don’t need to use public transit and avoid contamination.
- Footwear: Crocs launched a program to supply U.S. health care workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic with free footwear.
- Tools: Facebook is partnering with developers to provide free services to government and UN health organizations to create better information tools for people to use. It’s also launching a virtual (online) hackathon to see how developers can create messaging solutions to help promote some of the important aspects of fighting the virus, such as social distancing and more general information services.
Many other tech companies are making their services more accessible in order to support the many people working from home: Microsoft offers a free trial of the premium plan for its Teams chat app, available for six months. Google allows free access to the enterprise version of Hangouts Meet to all G Suite and G Suite for Education users. LogMeIn is making “Emergency Remote Work Kits” available for free for three months. Cisco is offering the free version of its Webex service with no time restrictions. And these are just a few of the many initiatives.
Educating people at home
Coursera, which offers a broad array of online courses, made its content free to universities in response to the coronavirus pandemic until July 31, 2020. Udemy too is offering numerous free courses for the quarantine period.Online learning platform Udacity is offering free tech training to workers laid off as a result of the crisis. With a slightly different approach, GamerzClass announced that those who donate at least $10 to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO (World Health Organization), will be able to access a detailed, in-depth FIFA ‘Masterclasses’ tutorial for free. LinkedIn, too, is opening up 16 of its learning courses (how to build relationships when you’re not face-to-face, use virtual meeting tools or balance family and work dynamics in a healthy way) for free.
Supporting mental health problems that come with social distancing
- Free courses: Those who find it difficult to stay sane during the coronavirus pandemic, might be able to find solace in Yale University’s mega-popular “happiness” course – “The Science of Well Being” – which is available for free online through Coursera. Oregon State University will offer a coronavirus-related class on the science of stress and evidence-based coping skills that OSU students can take for credit and the public can take for free.
- Free mental health sessions: Start-up company Real is offering free mental health group sessions, mental health check-ins and online events in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Egypt, online therapy social enterprise Shezlong has offered 150,000 free sessions to help people cope with anxiety or depression. Online therapy platform Talkspace, a company with more than one million users, is donating a free month of therapy to 1,000 healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus outbreak. And these are just a few from the many local initiatives.
Entertaining people at home
- Free reading material: online library Scribd – containing ebooks, audiobooks and magazine articles – is making all of its content accessible for free for 30 days. Audible, which is owned by Amazon, is offering free audiobooks for kids during the lockdown. Apple Books offers ‘stay at home’ collection of free read-alongs for kids, mysteries, and audiobooks
- Free movie streaming: Comcast is opening up some of its premium content and some on-demand offerings for free to customers to help them deal with being stuck at home during the coronavirus outbreak. Amazon Prime Video is streaming kids’ movies and TV for free, no Prime membership required.
The Future of Customer Experience
I truly hope that these examples can inspire your company to see if it can help out in one way or another, if you aren’t already doing that of course. (Leave a message in the comments of my social post if you are.) It is well-known that big crises always speed up the future and I truly believe that these initiatives from companies that are trying to save the world are a big sign of the way forward for brands.
As you know, I have been writing a lot about the three ways that brands will need to ‘pimp’ their customer experience if they want to stay alive, each one of them a little more advanced than the next:
- Transactional convenience: This one has become pure hygiene: if you don’t offer a fantastic frictionless experience to your customers, helping them save time, I’m sorry to tell you that the days of your company will be numbered.
- Emotional convenience: One level up, we have the brands that want to really help their customers to accomplish their hopes and dreams. A great example here is Lumi by Pampers from Procter & Gamble who created an entire baby management system where they help young parents with the safety, the healthcare and the routine of the baby’s life (on top of offering a subscription model for pampers of course).
- Save the world: Your customers are concerned about global warming, the new ‘cold war’ between the United States and China, the volatile situation in the middle east, the refugee problem, Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and many other challenges. More and more of them will expect companies to tackle these issues, not as some fancy marketing trick but through real added value.
It is precisely the last one that is relevant here: I believe that the COVID-19 crisis will be speeding up a trend that has been slowly surfacing for the past years. Where corporate social responsibility used to be a ‘nice to have’, the (further) emergence of huge world problems, has turned customer opinions upside down: they will not just prefer those brands who will help them save the world, pretty soon they will ignore the brands who are not. These fantastic initiatives from above are a sign, and I believe that we will never fully return to the situation from before. Adding value to the world is becoming the new normal.