We are now discovering which businesses truly have soul

For the entire global human population, these last few weeks have been frightening, stressful, challenging, worrying, demanding, and for many thousands of families, tragic. For those millions of us who are in a position to be able to do so, our lives have been dramatically curtailed through lockdown, while many millions more are still working in either essential services, or having to work in order to be able to contiue paying their bills and feeding their families.

The political leadership of different counntries have reacted and responded in many different ways, either helping to mitigate against the worst impact of Covid-19, or in other instances placed more people in danger through delayed or inadequate responses. With many countries therefore experiencing a void in collective help and support, businesses and organisations have been stepping in to help their customers, clients, worksforces and communities.

What we have been discovering in this trategy is therefore which organisations and businesses truly have soul. Which ones are more focused on sales and profit at any cost, and which ones are acting with humanity, understanding that their success can only come from the collective efforts of their people, and from serving their communities from which their livelihoods come from. In moments of crisis we are really able to see which companies are authentic, and which ones are not, because a crisis amplifies the articulation of the essence of the company.

In the UK, there have been some high-profile cases of businesses making cavalier statements about the manner in which they were intending to carry on with business-as-usual, with executive and managerial staff working from home, but front-line staff continuing to work, thereby running the risk of both becoming infected with the virus, and also spreading it to customers and colleagues.

Even though sports retail was considered as “non-essential”, Mike Ashley recently had to apologise after declaring that Sports Direct was an essential service, selling sports products for people to be able to exercise at home.

Despite publicising this letter of apology, the chain are still selling their products online, despite struggling to ensure that all safety procedures are being carried out to protect workers in their Derbyshire warehouse.

Waterstones, the UK book store also came in for a huge amount of public criticism for keeping their stores open, with much of this criticism coming from staff who were posting their experiences on social media. This tweet is a series of tweets from ‘Kajsa’ who documented the lack of hygiene facilities and also the emotional toll working in such conditions were having on staff.

These cries for help would result in Waterstones making a U-turn in their policy and finally closing their stores.

Weatherspoons also experienced a huge backlash from the British public after Tim Martin downplayed the risk of the virus and refused to pay staff until after receiving government financial aid. This backlash became physical with some pubs having graffiti written on their windows, demanding that staff be paid.

With the majority of businesses facing monumenal challenges, not all have reacted in this way. It has been heartneing to see examples all around the world of people helping in any way they can.

In Customer Experiences with Soul, two of our main case studies are BrewDog and Timpsons, with Maria and I including quotes from their respective heads, James Watt and John Timpson. CEO James Watt discusses the way in which BrewDog was built from the funding and involvement from their thousands of Equity Punk crowdfunding investors, and Chief Executive John Timpson talks about Timpson’s ‘upside-down’ management structure which is designed to empower front-line staff.

For BrewDog the financial impact of the shutdown was huge, with the business experiencing an immediate 70% fall in revenue. Timpsons, also being in retail, also are experiencing this same impact. It was therefore interesting to hear on the 26th of March this week, British Chancellor Rishi Sunak citing both BrewDog and Timpson along with Pret as examples of businesses who are looking to do all they can to avoid redundancies, stating that:

Working closely with businesses and trade unions, we have put together a coherent, coordinated and comprehensive economic plan – a plan which is already starting to make a difference:

  • big employers like Brewdog, Timpsons and Pret have already said that our Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme means they can furlough thousands of staff, rather than laying them off. And we are publishing this evening detailed guidance on how the scheme will operate so that other businesses can take advantage, too

BrewDog have also launched an initiative to produce hand sanitiser for hospitals which they are distributing free in Scotland to health authorities close to their brewery. Many other breweries have also done the same, switching production to focus on that which is immediately necessary. In addition, Watt, along with BrewDog’s other co-founder, Martin Dickie, are not taking a salary in 2020, and COO David McDowall has taken a voluntary 50% pay cut.

This is in contrast to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, who became £4.3bn richer in February after selling Amazon stock shortly before global share prices crashed. It is no wonder therefore he also faced a public backlash after asking the public to donate money to a relief fund for his contract employees working during the pandemic.

Here in Brazil, Banco Itaú were extremely fast to react to the crisis, launching a new campaign to help with those who are facing challenges with repayments on their loans. Those customers whose bank loan is up to date can request the next payment to be in 60 days, with the advert explaining that “because at this moment in time we know you have far more important things to think about”.

And in direct comparison to Mike Ashley and Sports Direct, writing on LinkedIn, Lee Bagnall, CEO and Managing Director of JD Sports thanked both customers and staff as well as all of those health professionals working so selflessly for our health and protection:

“Who would have thought just a few weeks ago we would have changed our logo to this. THANK YOU to our TEAM, our CUSTOMERS and our PARTNERS in BUSINESS. Most of all WELL DONE to our wonderful ESSENTIAL SERVICES and the NHS for everything they’re doing for our country. So remember GO Indoors – Protect our NHS – Save Lives.”

Credit: Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson

At the heart of our Customer Experiences with Soul framework lies authenticity. For us this comes before purpose, since without this coherence, our words, what we really wish to say behind our words and our actions will not have the impact we wish them to, and in some cases they will result in the opposite.

Rachel Howarth, Sophie Halle-Richards and Sarah McGee from the Hull Daily Mail reported on conditions inside of JS Sports’ warehouse, and just like Sports Direct, conditions were found to be far below that necessary for the protection of workers:

A look inside the JD Sports warehouse where ‘thousands’ of people are still working for the online store

We are now moving into a new age of economics, one where people and planet well and truly matter. This new economic reality is being driven by technology which is making remote working ever more viable. But at the same time, the benefits of this new technological reality are not currently being evenly distributed, with many millions still living in dire living conditions and with a lack of the basic level of income necessary for a dignified, safe and healthy life.

As I mentioned, the television news in Brazil has shown many acts of kindness from very small business owners who are doing all within their own limited powers to help their local communities, especially the homeless and destitute. What is now needed are solutions which are developed from people who are living the five universal human values of peace, truth, love, righteousness and non-violence.

These are the universal values which are fundamental to the essence of any business or organisation, and which Maria and I have been helping organisations here in Brazil to instill and express through their purpose, strategies, technological platforms, products and services, and indeed, through their customer experiences with soul. There can be no digital transformation without cultural transformation. These two activities are different sides of the same coin.

As we say in our book, your customer experience is fully expressed in the experience of those people who are not your customer. And in these deeply difficult times, we are now seeing more than ever before, those businesses who truly have soul.

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