Series on Empathy: A story of customer empathy, kindness and caring

What is the effect when an organization makes the effort to step out of the realm of ordinary customer service and goes the extra mile to make their customer feel extra special. Read on to understand how empathy is an important part of customer service…

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On the 1st May my grandma Pauline Golding, celebrated her 100th birthday. Getting to 100 years old is an experience that many of us are unlikely to have. As a UK citizen, you are entitled to receive recognition of your ‘achievement’ from the reigning Monarch. A birthday card from Elizabeth II does not just arrive in the post – the potential recipient is contacted by the Department for Work and Pensions roughly two months before the birthday to start the process. The receipt of a card from the Queen was to be the centre-piece of a birthday celebration to be held on Pauline’s birthday itself. The party was to be top-secret – although I suspect Pauline knew that something might happen.

Unfortunately, due to school and work constraints, we could not get down to London from Chester for the party on Pauline’s actual birthday. I was therefore told what the plan would be. Family and friends had been invited to the sheltered accommodation where Pauline lives. An official was to deliver the card from the Queen, whilst the Mayor of Barnet would also join the celebrations. Everything was planned to perfection. When we visited Pauline for a more private family party a few days before, Pauline was visibly moved by the attention she received. I am told she was equally grateful on her birthday. Surrounded by people who care for her, she quite rightly became Queen for the day in her own right.


I am sure you are finding this all very interesting, but what has this got to do with Mc Donalds and the subject of Customer Experience? Having set the scene, let me get to point. Now she has reached 100, Pauline is not able to get out and about by herself. About three years ago, things got too much for her to be confident enough to use public transport. When she was more mobile, one of her favorite haunts was Brent Cross Shopping Centre in North London. For years, Pauline could be seen entering Brent Cross, and at some point would always end up in Mc Donalds. With her regular order of a coffee and an apple pie, Pauline became a little bit of a fixture.

I remember her talking about her trips to McDonalds. Pauline would comment on how friendly and kind the staff were towards her. On her birthday, they would always put a balloon on the table where she sat. A lovely touch, and perhaps a true sign of caring, empathetic employees. Pauline last visited McDonalds at Brent Cross at some point during her 98th year – they have not heard from or seen her since.

During the birthday party on the 1st May, whilst the celebrations were in full swing, four guests arrived unexpectedly. Pauline’s reaction was of complete amazement – she almost fell off her chair. The four guests were members of staff from Mc Donalds at Brent Cross. They had brought with them flowers, a card, and more importantly – a coffee and an apple pie!! The Mc Donalds manager, Yvonne, had found Pauline – she and her team had not forgotten her, and were determined to show that they were still thinking of her. How they found where she lives is a mystery – but the effect their actions had were immense. It is quite an amazing act of kindness – and an act that meant a huge amount to Pauline.

In a world where we find it so easy to see the negatives in behavior, it is a fantastic feeling to share such a simple story of unadulterated kindness. These four employees of a multinational corporation are not paid to do what they did. They were not asked to do what they did. They did it because the genuinely care about their customers. I am not sure if I am biased, but it leaves me with a very warm feeling.

I think others could learn from their actions. What they did was instinctive – they did what they felt was the right thing to do because they cared enough to do it. If you are looking for an example of genuine empathy, you would do well to find a better one than this.

My grandma will remember a lot of things about her birthday celebrations, but the one thing that will almost certainly leave her with a big smile on her face is the memory of the four lovely ladies from Mc Donalds and their coffee and apple pies!