Brands Acting Responsibly Amid COVID-19

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Providing the best customer experience has taken on new meaning in light of COVID-19, which has impacted how companies worldwide conduct business amid shutdowns, social distancing, and, for now, a new way of life.

“This is a time without precedence. Businesses will now have to rethink what CX even means on the other side of this shelter state,” said industry analyst Brian Solis, who is also a digital anthropologist and author. “One thing is for certain: Brands can no longer go about business as usual. That’s behind us. Getting back to basics must become a priority. And the building blocks of basics will need to be informed by what I call data-driven empathy. We learn, unlearn, and innovate in order to build our way forward.”

As you’re about to read, plenty of brands already are doing exactly that—and their resulting customer experiences are all the better for it.

Wave goodbye to travel fees

Most airlines have strict policies around passengers who need to reschedule or cancel their flights, typically charging fees for changes. But with the Coronavirus bringing travel plans, whether for business or pleasure, to a halt, CX-minded airlines are relaxing their rules by dropping penalties for the foreseeable future.

“Our teams have learned from situations in the past, like H1N1 and Ebola, to prepare us to protect you,” said Delta chief customer experience officer Bill Lentsch in a video on the company’s website. “We’re also offering you peace of mind and flexibility with travel waivers, and we are adjusting our schedule in response to State department guidance while listening to where you tell us you want to fly.”

JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and United are among other carriers that have done the same. So has national railroad provider Amtrak and North American bus service Greyhound Lines.

“We would like to ease your worries with our Peace of Mind travel policy, offering to reissue your ticket with no change fee if you know when you’d like to reschedule, or exchanging your ticket for an eVoucher if you don’t have your new dates just yet,” Greyhound said on its website.

Online education moves to the head of the class

With most primary and secondary schools closed, educators and parents, alike, are turning to virtual learning options to keep the academic year moving along.

Scholastic Corporation is certainly answering that call. The century-old education and media company published free online resources on its Scholastic Learn At Home website that contains three weeks’ worth of lessons for grades pre-K to ninth grade and higher.

“Our active learning journeys are available on any device and will provide your child with up to three hours’ worth of exciting learning experiences per day,” said Lauren Tarshis, Scholastic Classroom Magazines’ senior VP, editor in chief, and publisher, in a post on the site. “They can go on virtual field trips, meet best-selling authors, or dig deep into a topic they love.”

Microsoft, too, is doing its part by offering its Microsoft Teams collaboration platform free to students and accredited academic institutions.

“[Our] Office 365 A1 offer … provides a completely free customized hub for class teamwork with Teams that includes video meetings, online versions of the Office 365 apps, as well as compliance tools, and information protection,” the company stated on its website.

In addition, Microsoft has created a series of webinars for educators new to the platform, a “remote learning community” that connects educators with each other and to Microsoft education experts, as well as a guide for parents on how to use its tools.

Similarly, Adobe, has made free our Creative Cloud desktop apps for students until May 31, among a number of other programs, such as distance-learning resources “to help educators and school leaders discover inspiring projects, best practices, and new ideas so they can continue to drive valuable learning in virtual environments.” In addition, Adobe is offering free access to the Adobe Connect Web conferencing solution.

“Adobe’s mission has always been to enable our customers to produce the world’s digital experiences,” said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. “Creativity, document productivity, digital marketing and e-commerce are too fundamental to our society and economy to be curtailed because we are working remotely or unable to travel.”

Internet for all

With huge volumes of people now working remotely, students learning from home, and others looking to pass the time, their use of Internet data is poised to go through the roof. In response, the major carriers—including AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon—are offering customers unlimited data. Many said they’re also waiving fees for late payments for 60 days, with the promise not to terminate service, and are offering additional free hotspot data. Verizon also said it will offer free international calling to countries that the CDC labels “level 3″–those whose citizens must avoid nonessential travel.

Carriers are giving back to the community, too. T-Mobile, for example, said it planned to donate to Feeding America, a nonprofit of more than 200 food banks, based on the number of clicks on its T-Mobile Tuesdays app ($1 per click). AT&T and Verizon have pledged to ensure first responders law enforcement, government agencies at all levels, and health care agencies and workers remain connected.

“Our networks and our people stand ready to serve our customers at work, at home and remotely—including first responders and those protecting the public—when critical connectivity is needed most,” said Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg in a letter on the company’s website.

A much-needed entertainment break

To help stop the spread of the Coronavirus, theaters of all kinds have gone dark. But that’s not stopping them from bringing entertainment to their customers. The Seattle Symphony, for example, is sharing free video broadcasts and livestreams until its venue, Benaroya Hall, can reopen.

“As musicians, we unite in good times and bad to make music as a community, for our community. So, to our friends in Seattle and our friends around the world, here is our gift to you in the language we know best: music,” said Alexander White, associate principal trumpet and chairperson of the Seattle Symphony and Opera Players’ Organization, in an online statement.

Broadway shows can also be enjoyed from perhaps the next-best seats in the house—the living room couch. Filmed versions of live musicals, such as Cats, Peter Pan, and Newsies, are at the ready (for a fee) from many popular streaming services. Playbill offers show lineups here and here. The American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco is offering live streams of the final two shows of their 2020 season, for audiences with a “Pay What You Can” model.

As for big-screen movies, it typically takes 60 to 90 days before they’re transitioned from theatres to streaming. But NBCUniversal has decided to make new movies rentable the same day of their planned theatre releases via sister companies Comcast and Sky. “Trolls World Tour” will be the first to make its debut, set for release in early April, with new releases already in theatres now available on demand.

For those who already purchased movie tickets, Fandango is issuing refunds—”please know that this will be automatically processed, and you should receive a full refund without needing to contact our team,” it said in an email to customers. Fandango is also extending expiration dates for those with reward money from its VIP+ loyalty program.

Related to entertainment, Nvidia, which designs high-performing graphics processing units for the gaming and professional markets, is encouraging gamers to donate their unused GPU computing power to help fight the Coronavirus, among other diseases, via its Folding@Home initiative. The company is also offering its Parabricks genome-sequencing tool free to any researcher studying the Coronavirus.

Take good care of yourself

Amid gym closings, it’s more important than ever—both physically and mentally—to keep exercising. Planet Fitness, like all gyms, had to close its doors, but wants to keep its members moving. The company is directing its community to use its mobile app, which gives members access to fitness content and hundreds of exercises that can be done at home. Planet Fitness is also hosting “Home Work-Ins” on its Facebook page, where its trainers will lead free fitness classes streamed live Monday through Friday.

“Physical and mental health is extremely important, especially during stressful and uncertain times. While we will miss seeing you in the club for the time-being, we are still here to motivate and support you along your fitness journey,” the company said on its website.

For some, a little bit of online retail therapy can help soothe the mind. Global beauty brand Sephora is waiving standard shipping fees through early April. It’s also issuing refunds for products purchased in-store starting Feb. 16 within 30 days of its stores reopening, and doubling the period for online returns to 60 days.

Crowded supermarkets can also up anxiety levels. That’s where meal delivery can provide peace of mind. An added feel-good: In support of local business, Uber Eats said it’s waiving delivery fees for more than 100,00 independently owned restaurants and is donating 300,000 free meals to first responders and healthcare workers in the U.S. and Canada. In the U.K., County Range Group, a national buying group for food service wholesalers, is working with its members to create direct-to-consumer Web-based pop-up e-commerce stores. For example, one of its members, Caterite, debuted a “click and connect” service to the public. Wholesale food service Turner Price has similar plans.

Finally, relief also comes via CVS and Walgreens. Both of pharmacy store chains are waiving fees for the home delivery of prescriptions. Walgreens is also offering free shipping on all purchases from its website.

“We’re working around the clock to best meet the needs of our customers, patients and in communities we serve, as our role as a trusted health care partner has never been more critical,” said Walgreens president Richard Ashworth in a statement.