Please remember the heroes of the coronavirus crisis

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By Christopher Elliott

The visible heroes of the coronavirus crisis are the doctors, nurses, and paramedics. They are working long hours at great risk of exposure. (Thank you!!) But there are also hundreds of thousands of unsung heroes offering coronavirus help. They’re employed at grocery stores, pharmacies, travel agencies, insurance companies — and Williamsburg Landing.

That’s where you’ll find Patrick Day and his food services team. When the coronavirus crisis started, he desperately needed help preparing and delivering meals to the residents of Williamsburg Landing — a retirement community in colonial Williamsburg, Va.

He turned to his colleagues at the nearby College of William and Mary for help. Sodexo, a food services company, manages both facilities.

Heroes helping feed a retirement community during the coronavirus crisis

“Within three hours they sent me the names of six cooks, two servers, and two bakers who were willing to help,” says Day, the general manager at Williamsburg Landing. “We reached out to them and they started the next day.”

The 350 retirement community residents, many of whom were in isolation to protect them from exposure to the coronavirus, were beyond grateful. Maria Yeatts, who grew up in Germany just after World War II, said the delivery reminded her of the postwar care packages her family received.

“Thank you,” she said in an email to Day. “We really did not expect much, considering the circumstances.”

In these difficult times, companies and their employees are going the extra mile. They’re adapting to the situation and making the most of this challenging pandemic. One thing is certain: Their customers will never forget their efforts.

Many companies are stepping up during this pandemic

Williamsburg Landing is in good company when it comes to offering coronavirus help. All across America, companies and their employees are rising to the occasion. These heroes are offering above-and-beyond service during a time of national crisis.

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Extending services to the community. Textbook companies like Cengage are giving college students free access to all their eTextbooks and digital learning platforms for the remainder of the spring semester. Rosetta Stone is offering three months of free language learning to all elementary, middle and high school students worldwide. And Concur’s TripIt Pro is free for six months to help travelers deal with all the recent airline cancellations and closures.

Being a good corporate citizen

Many companies are being good corporate citizens during this difficult time. At the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, some members have suspended billing for 30 days. Others have reaffirmed their charitable and philanthropic commitments during the crisis. “Another member committed $1 million to food banks across the U.S. to help those most impacted by the coronavirus,” says Stephanie Polis, a spokeswoman for the association.

Above-and-beyond customer service

In the hard-hit travel industry, there are so many heroes, it’s impossible to keep track of all the stories. Betsy Goldberg, a spokeswoman for Virtuoso, tells of one standout: A family in the Dominican Republic was stuck in the country after many commercial flights were canceled. “They called their advisor, who immediately checked every possibility to get them out – different airports in the country, splitting the family up, flights going anywhere in the U.S. even if it wasn’t to their hometown,” she says. “Nothing was available until the advisor contacted a private jet company, which arrived to pick the family up a mere seven hours after the hotel notified the family of the shutdown.” The travel agent even got them a credit for the rest of their interrupted stay.

Heroes going the extra mile to during the coronavirus pandemic

Employees are working quickly and selflessly to help others. Here’s a story from destination wedding specialist Tim Klopfenstein. His clients, like thousands of other travelers, had their Caribbean cruise canceled during the early days of the coronavirus crisis, before the current travel restrictions.

Klopfenstein, who works for Travel Leaders in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, staged a lightning-fast vacation rescue. Within an hour, he helped them detour to Mexico. He even assisted one member with a last-minute passport.

“Tim was able to support travelers who were previously not clients of our agency in their time of need,” says the agency’s owner, Duane Jasper.

The crisis is bringing out the best in everyone. But it’s also an opportunity. Where do you think the guy without the passport will go the next time he wants to book a cruise?

My money’s on his local Travel Leaders agency. (Related: The coronavirus closed the ski resort, so where is my refund?)

How much does offering help during the coronavirus crisis cost?

The heroic efforts to help customers during the coronavirus crisis are often costly. For example, OurBus, a regional transportation company that specializes in intercity and charter bus trips, made an extraordinary decision when the outbreak started. It would not change its no-questions-asked refund policy. Customers could receive all their money back up to 24 hours before the departure and full credit up to 30 minutes before the trip.

“This policy is not typical for the travel industry, but it is a core of what we offer,” says Anthony Giordano, head of marketing at OurBus. “It’s also not an easy decision to continue issuing refunds to credit cards when daily revenue is much less than before.”

That decision has cost OurBus half a million dollars in reservations and counting.

“As a startup, we had to take this tough decision and wanted to do what is right,” says Giordano. “The senior leadership team made it by considering who OurBus is as a company and our unique value proposition to care about passengers every step of the journey. To deliver on that, we all agreed we wanted to keep the policy in place.”

Companies forced to adapt to the coronavirus crisis

When schools started shutting down in the wake of the outbreak, some businesses were forced to adapt to the coronavirus crisis.  Take the Canon Copy Center at Babson College, which was called to duty in a way that it never expected. Millions of students needed course materials — and fast.

“The staff quickly printed more than 77,000 pages of educational packets for grades ranging from pre-K to 12,” says Peter Kowalczuk, president of Canon Solutions America. “In the midst of a difficult time, it is amazing to see how our team is able to come together to support those in our communities that are in need.

These heroics are repeating themselves in many other industries. Companies like AT&T are waiving internet data overage for customers and offering low-income households special prices to stay connected.
Ford is offering six months of payment relief for eligible new-car customers who finance their purchases through credit. Ford will pay for three months and customers can defer for up to three more for a total of six months.

“Our dealers are willing to lend a hand by doing whatever it takes to help our customers in this time of need,” says Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford North America.
Are they heroes of the pandemic — or just taking advantage of a bad situation?

Self-serving heroes?

Of course, some of these heroics look a little self-serving. A company that makes it easier to consume its product is hardly engaged in a selfless act. But some are trying to make the most of a bad situation while offering help during the coronavirus crisis.

Consider the decision made by MGM National Harbor after temporarily closing its doors. Last week, the resort donated 22 pallets of food to community partners such as Nourish Now. That’s the equivalent of 45,000 meals

“There is no greater time than now to exercise the meaning of community,” Melonie Johnson, president of MGM National Harbor.

Also, wasting food is bad.

A less corporate spin comes from the Dessert Ladies, which produces bar events for corporate clients in the New York area.

“Given recent cancellations by their clients of corporate events, weddings, and large gatherings due to COVID-19 concerns, the ladies had a massive inventory of over 1,000 treats that they had no idea what to do with,” said Rafe Gomez, their publicist.

They decided to donate them to the V.A. Medical Center in Lyons, N.J., one of the largest V.A. hospitals in the state. That’s a lot of happy veterans.

People will remember this

At a difficult time like this, motives aren’t that important. Instead, it’s that the heroes of this crisis are doing the right thing. They’re trying harder to help customers. They’re changing the way they do business. (If you need to reach a business during this time don’t forget about our company contacts database.)

And they’re not wasting any opportunities to help. (Here’s what you need to know about health and travel.)

This is a great time to put their dedication to the test. Take that promised stimulus check and see how far it gets you with AT&T, Ford or Rosetta Stone. Or with one of those delicious chocolate-covered pretzels that the Dessert Ladies make. Chocolate makes everything better — even a recession.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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