On his blog earlier this week, Seth Godin discussed the asymmetry of expertise: the value of relying on the guidance of those experts who have been through a situation many times that you are only encountering once. “In these asymmetric situations,” he writes, “it’s unlikely that you’re going to outsmart the experienced folks who have seen it all before. It’s unlikely that you’ll outlast them either.”
While Seth is mostly talking about one-time events (or so you hope) like weddings or root canals (likewise), I see his framework playing out with positive results as well in the ongoing COVID-19 economic and public health landscape. More and more it seems that companies with specific expertise, in fields from technology to hospitality, are sharing resources and know-how to help the rest of us get through it.
To wit: Throughout the world, healthcare is under extreme stress. Who better to alleviate some of that stress than a global technology company? The leadership team at Freshworks, a customer engagement company with offices in more than a half-dozen countries worldwide (and a particularly significant presence in India and the U.S.), wanted to see what they could do to help healthcare institutions better respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. To get the effort underway, Freshworks formed a “weekend squad” composed of employees in both the US and India to develop free applications that could be immediately used by organizations that are responding to the pandemic.
The Freshworks team created a COVID-19-specific chatbot application with both human and AI chat capabilities that’s designed to help healthcare organization better manage the surge of requests and queries from patients and concerned citizens. The application enables hospitals and other frontline organizations to automate answers and provide self-service support as it pertains to people’s health and how they can get the best care. On a case-by-case basis, the Freshworks team has also been working with organizations to customize the bots’ behavior, in order to help them automate patient management workflows and provide self-service capabilities during this difficult period.
Also consider this encouraging example in New York, where there are over 240,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide, over 13,000 deaths, and millions of untested citizens. Tyme Global Technologies, a provider of remote services to hotels in New York, has pivoted its business focus from hospitality to healthcare in response to the New York State Department of Health’s call for help scheduling COVID-19 testing appointments. In collaboration with a key partner, T2 Tech Group, it went about re-employing, training and fully deploying more than 100 staff members within 48 hours to begin conducting thousands of outbound calls to numbers in the New York State Department of Health’s database of citizens seeking appointments for testing.
After verifying the identity of the call receiver, Tyme Global’s staff aligns the appointment times, books them into the New York State system and confirms the appointment over the phone. Tyme Global’s team have made 105,000 calls (an average of 7,000 per day), and estimate that they have confirmed upwards of 24,000 appointments thus far.
Staying healthy is the most essential current challenge, of course, but staying in business under unprecedented circumstances has to run a close second. Fortunately, Nextiva, a privately owned business communications company in Scottsdale, Arizona, has been coming to the rescue of smaller companies that lack prior experience with distributing a workforce and making other urgently required adaptations. As soon as it became clear to CEO Tomas Gorny, a seasoned entrepreneur and business leader with multiple market successes under his belt, that “our customers need help not only with communications” (Nextiva’s core offering, in other words) “but with the nuts and bolts of running their businesses in an unusual time,” Nextiva moved quickly to share its knowledge and resources with the small and medium-sized businesses that form much of its customer base
With Nextiva itself having completed the arduous process of switching its more than 1,000 employees to a distributed-workforce model, Gorny and team got busy sharing learning and insight via LinkedIn Ask Me Anything sessions and other channels, both on the specifics of how to make such a transition and on broader economic questions.
Furthermore, Nextiva’s developers expedited the completion and release of a collaboration tool, Cospace, that had been on a slower development track, pushing it to its customers immediately for use during these work-from-home times and offering it for free for three months. (Cospace facilitates collaboration with multiple users via chat, video, screen share, or call, aiding in ongoing organization during this challenging time by keeping chat history and all shared files and links available in one central location.)
Minuteman Press, a printing and businesses services company with locations in 46 of the 50 United States, has likewise been about the success and viability of the thousands of smaller companies that use Minuteman’s services. They’ve created what they call “Bounce Back USA,” a free marketing support for businesses in the communities Minuteman’s offices serve across the country. Bounce Back USA providing these local businesses with a free place to market their businesses directly to customers in their area who are looking for local companies to support.
Food insecurity is a major concern during this crisis, and my next two examples are of companies with deep expertise in food service that have jumped in to fill the void: If there is one thing that Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island knows, it’s food; the hotel has been granted five stars by Forbes specifically for dining (and five for lodging and five for its spa, making it one of only 17 properties in the entire world with 15 Forbes-granted stars total). When OHM Collection/Ocean House President Daniel Hostettler learned that many local students who had been relying on school meals for nutrition were now in trouble, he and his team made the decision to load up the Ocean House food truck (a beloved fixture of beachside life during the resort’s busy summer season) with sandwiches, soup, fruit and more and drive it daily to the skating rink in downtown Westerly, a central location that allows easy access for all.
Although the effort started out solely with foodstuffs donated by the hotel, when Ocean House’s vendors and local merchants heard about the effort, “things went wild—in a good way,” says Hostettler. “Our local vendors started chipping in, as did local grocers. In addition, many of our hotel guests have been donating money to pay for more food to keep the effort going.”
Bon Appétit Management Company is the renowned company that manages the onsite cafés for many marquee organizations–from Google, Facebook and Oracle in tech to some of the most respected public and private universities in the U.S., including the University of Chicago. There, Bon Appétit is providing muscle and management to a remarkable community outreach program that the university (where classes currently are being conducted by remote) has embarked on to support its South Side neighborhood.
The effort is providing at least 225,000 meals over the course of 10 weeks: from 3,000 to 5,000 meals per day, including breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, prepared by Bon Appétit in the university’s on-campus dining facilities, which are then distributed in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Likewise, albeit on a smaller scale, in Lexington, KY the Bon Appétit team is feeding chef-designed lunches and dinners to 50 homeless men whom Transylvania University has currently volunteered to house in its practice gym.
One final example from an essential industry that not only keeps us healthy during normal time but has the deep expertise and resources needed in this moment of crisis. SSC Services for Education provides janitorial and other services for universities across the country. When COVID-19 disruptions reached the schools, SSC was prepared with large-scale disinfecting equipment that was already regionally located for rapid deployment to areas of concerns/ Work undertaken while classes have been out of session have included using electrostatic technology to coat all surfaces in a room with a disinfectant that’s rated to destroy the virus that causes COVID-19. In one case, where there was a suspected case of COVID-19 on a college campus, SSC teams disinfected the two buildings the student had been in: over 200,000 square feet were disinfected using electrostatic sprayers in under 8 hours.
Micah Solomon is a customer service and customer experience consultant, keynote speaker, trainer, and bestselling author. He also works as a content creator and ghostwriter and as a customer service expert witness.