Random Acts of Kindness
27 April 2015
Pret A Manger released its financial results last week. Whilst they were decent, the press quickly focused on something more unusual: Pret’s policy (by no means new) of encouraging its employees to give away free coffee to customers. Coverage was vast and within a few hours newspapers were sending undercover reporters to Pret shops to see if they could blag a coffee. There seemed to be something in the story for everyone.
The free coffees are actually Pret's response to loyalty cards. These cards are mechanistic and what they really offer is a chance for companies to study and influence customer buying behaviour.
Pret prides itself on being straightforward and simple. We make a point of not upselling. You won’t hear "Kale crisps with that?". We charge a national price and we stick to it. We avoid discounting. I believe this is reassuring to Pret customers and Pret teams.
A couple of years ago, Pret decided to channel the cash we could have spent running loyalty card programmes into a fund for each shop to spend on rewarding its customers. It was as simple as that. We didn't tell our team members whom they should favour. We let them decide. They could welcome a new customer, cheer up somebody having a bad day or recognise a regular. They could use it to solve a problem. Like everything in Pret, it's just about lots of individual human relationships, day after day after day.
Pret employees tell me that the freedom to give a free coffee is immensely empowering. It injects a random act of kindness into the day. It gives delight and hurts not.
To which, you may ask "why have you revealed the secret? It was more fun when we didn't know." The answer is that I was responding truthfully to a question I had been asked many times before. All credit to the journalist who recognised the story's appeal and led with it.
For me, however, the true stars are Pret's 7,500 team members. When put to the test by an army of different reporters they didn’t have a script, they responded with warmth and good humour as they do every day. Above all, they were authentic, surely the most important attribute for any brand today.