McDonalds and the 100 year old woman – a story of customer empathy, kindness & caring


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This is Pauline Golding, pictured with her three great-grandchildren, Ciara, Caitie and Jack. On the 1st May my grandma celebrated her 100th birthday. To think that Pauline was born before the 1st World War started (just) is quite astonishing. To comprehend the experiences she has witnessed over the last 100 years is unfathomable. It is a quite amazing achievement to reach a century of birthdays, and I am sure you will join me in wishing her many happy returns.

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 centrepiece 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.

The picture at the head of this post was taken a few days before – 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.

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I am sure you are finding this all very interesting, but what has this got to do with McDonalds 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 favourite 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 McDonalds. 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 McDonalds at Brent Cross. They had brought with them flowers, a card, and more importantly –  a coffee and an apple pie!! The McDonalds 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 behaviour, 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.

Sadly I do not have a photo of the four ladies, nor do I know all of their names, but I would like to think that McDonalds will read this blog post and give them the recognition they very readily deserve. I also 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 McDonalds and their coffee and apple pies!

Update – 12th May 2014

On the day this blog was posted, the McDonalds Communications Director was kind enough to get in touch with me – today she sent me a picture of Uma, Avril, Rubia and Yvonne with Pauline. Here is an excerpt from the accompanying email:

In your blog you ask how the team knew about Pauline’s Birthday … it was a complete coincidence. As she had been such a regular visitor to the restaurant, practically everyone in the store from the franchisee to the restaurant team, knew her birthday.  They also knew where she lived, so they decided to take a chance and visit on the day of her birthday to surprise her with some flowers, a card, and her favourite treat – an apple pie and a cup of tea.  It was only when they arrived, that they realised a party was happening, and that they had arrived just as she was about to cut the cake: great timing!

And yes we will also be doing some internal promotion and thanks for these ladies – via a number of our internal channels, as this absolutely embodies something we call the Vital Ingredients – our everyday behaviours and actions that help differentiate the experience for our customers and our people. 

Hope that helps – and thanks again for writing about this.  We see so many great acts of kindness from our people, customer service that is over and above their day to day roles within the restaurants, so it is lovely to see some of them recognised

I intend to write a follow up post on ‘Vital Ingredients’ at some point in the near future – so keep reading the blog if you are interested!!

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13 thoughts on “McDonalds and the 100 year old woman – a story of customer empathy, kindness & caring

  1. An Amazing story and well done to the McDonalds team that shows real empathy and care – not just a fast food place and happy 100 years old to your grandma

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  2. Customer service fluctuates so wildly throughout our society and is probably is most noticeable to our senior citizens. The generation that appreciates this more than anyone. This shows more than anything that McDonald’s is made up of individuals. Individuals that care. What more could an organization ask for? Bravo McDonalds! This should be an example for everyone to follow.

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  3. Ian – your bias is not in action here – this is a great example of people being human. Caring for another person is a natural state, so much in life can ‘get in the way’ of that and most of us do not operate in our natural state – it’s great to see an organisation that has got out of the way and in the process allowed it’s people – to be – people! Thanks for sharing.

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