News editors will tell you that audiences always hone in on the gruesome stuff, despite all the complaints about violence and gore in the media. That’s why newspapers have so much gloom on the front page – they’re only giving readers what they want.
The same dynamic is at play in service review apps where hotels, shops and restaurants are rated. People tend to be more enthusiastic about giving bad reviews, in the way that film and theatre critics do their best work when panning some poor soul’s life and works. When both customer and service provider can review each other, as happens with eBay and AirBnB, there tends to be more mutual respect. But, by creating the chance to kill a stranger in a few key strokes, the online review page has exposed something terrible in the human condition.
As a result, many people who face the customers in retail, catering and hospitality live in fear of their jobs. Many are only one complaint away from getting the sack, according to a retailer I interviewed recently. Often it’s through no fault of their own, other than being in the wrong place when a feisty customer needed to unload their anger.
It was this injustice that Leanne Harvey sought to redress with her application Staff Spotlight. Harvey invested her own funds in creating a system to reverse this negativity and promote social cohesion. She aims to achieve this by encouraging us to praise our fellow humans… rather than bury them in a sea of negative reviews.
Staff Spotlight recognises those who give good service. Though Harvey said the app was inspired by a bad customer experience, her rationale was to tackle the problem by creating a way to reward good service. The logic is that hotels, coffee chains and other service providers like to get feedback, while customers can earn points for bothering to offer their constructive critiques. “Many people don’t realise how uplifting a bit of praise can be,” says Harvey.
In a similar vein, Fuss Free Phones (FFP) aims to make a positive impact by raising understanding in another disenfranchised section of society. It sets out to simplify communications for those bamboozled by the complexity of the communications age. For many, phones are way too smart for their own good, interrupting with unwanted auto-corrections, offering a myriad of options and seeming to have a mind of their own.
Older people love to be contacted, but can be intimated by unsolicited texts and phone calls from marketing companies. The design ethos behind FFP is to give the clients a simple handset, as well as a number of services that shield them from some of the dangers of being both vulnerable and online.
Not only does the handset have huge buttons for making calls, there are various services the subscribers can call on where they get assistance with the more complicated tasks. For example, they can easily use FFP’s concierge service for advice or help in an emergency as well as getting someone to manage their phonebook for them. They can even dictate texts without ever having to squint into a screen and struggle with the autocorrect.
“Our clients like dealing with a company that understands older people,” says FFP founder Simon Rockman. While the social impact of the service is clear for those with the phone, it’s often even better for those around them.
The vast majority of people with dementia are cared for by people themselves in their 70s and older. So FFP are not just about making the tech easier for the people being cared for, but their supporters and carers as well. Many older parents feel they can’t call their adult offspring because of their ‘busy lives’. But they are comfortable enough to call a ‘telephonist’ and dictate a text asking the son or daughter – or grandson or granddaughter – to call them.
“The telephonists bridge the intergenerational gap for everyone,” says Rockman.
Finally, Nick Davies’s creation Neighbourly aims to be the ‘social network for social good’ by bringing all sections of the community together and creating a communications bridge between the disconnected. By persuading big names like M&S, Starbucks and Heineken it’s also capable of funding quite ambitious projects.
One of the most innovative aspects of this organisation is its aim to make ‘profit for purpose’. It helps charities and good causes for nothing, but takes an annual subscription from its corporate clients. This, argues founder Nick Davies, is the most efficient method for channeling money to good causes and 100% of any company money pledged can go to the project of their choice. Often there is a will for corporate social responsibility but they need help finding the way.
All these apps empower their users, helping them to complete complex tasks while making them feel easy. The hallmark of true genius is making those around you feel clever.