We’ve become used to seeing people in masks, learning to identify people in masks, and of course (in thankfully the vast majority of cases) wearing masks ourselves. All designed, of course, to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
Disposable medical masks, hand-sewn masks, cone-style masks, high-fashion masks, neck gaitors, bandanas, N95, KN95 and other respirators. All have formed a new kind of survival, sometimes mixed with the sartorial, routine amid the pandemic.
Although the various options offer varying level of effectiveness, they all do some good while allowing us to go about our lives and still communicate, right?
But what if you are hearing impaired? What if you depend on your ability to lip-read to understand what is being communicated?
And talking of human communication, what does the covering of that most basic, joyous and welcoming of human expressions, the smile, do to spontaneity, warmth and effectiveness of human engagement?
Those were dual questions – one personal, one professional – asked by Sally Alington, Founder and CEO of UK travel retail staffing and training specialist Ethos Farm. “As someone with a father who is profoundly deaf, I have seen how the past twelve months have impacted those with a hearing impairment,” Sally notes. “My father lost a huge amount of his independence since the COVID-19 pandemic as he simply cannot understand communications with someone wearing a cloth or disposable mask. This has made essential shopping and opportunities to engage with other people near impossible.”
In fact, Sally posed some more questions. How does someone – staff member or customer – in an airport wearing glasses cope with steamed-up lenses caused by mask-wearing? And what if you like to wear lipstick? It’s a bit futile wearing that gorgeous Tom Ford Lip Colour Matte ‘Flame’ No. 16 or the rich and passionate Givenchy Le Rouge Deep Velvet Lipstick ‘Rouge Grainé’ No. 37 if no-one can see it and your by-then smudged mask has spread lipstick all over your face.
Sally’s answer to all these dilemmas was MyClearMask, which enables the wearer to smile and communicate pretty much as normal. She reckons that MyClearMask can benefit any sector with frontline customer service employees. “Retail, hospitality, front of house reception services, schools and universities would all be very different experiences if we could see people’s faces, share smiles and follow words as people are speaking,” she adds. And so would any office environment, I reckon; any hospital; any transport location.
We covered the launch of MyClearMask recently on our website. But what moved me to write this Blog was one of Sally’s recent LinkedIn posts, which featured the endorsement of Welsh Paralympian athlete Olivia ‘Livvy’ Breen, who competes mainly in T38 sprint and F38 long jump events.
Olivia was born with a meningitis-type illness, which resulted in cerebral palsy, a hearing impairment and learning difficulties. She has battled all those foes with immense persistence, courage, and ultimately life-affirming success. And then COVID came along. A different form of challenge.
Here’s what she told Sky Sports about the travails of trying to understand people wearing masks. “It is really hard. I lip-read a lot and I watch people’s mouths. So when people have masks on, I can’t lip-read and they have it right over their nose. So when I say to people, ‘I’m deaf’ and show them my hearing aids, I have to say to them, ‘Please can you stand back and take off your mask’ because it’s impossible.”
As you can see below, Olivia has embraced MyClearMask and perhaps all of the business sectors I referred to earlier should consider such an approach (as many airlines such as Qatar Airways have).
In travel retail and aviation we toss around the term ‘customer engagement’ like confetti at a wedding. I highlight the word deliberately because the semantics are important. In our sector, customer engagement is all about inspiring travellers to enter, to browse, to sample, to interact and of course to purchase. All of that is fundamental to another bandied-around term, the experience.
All that is very hard to achieve if the potential customer can only see the eyes of, say, a Brand Ambassador or Beauty Advisor. What if that same staff member can be seen wearing Estée Lauder Pure Colour Envy Matte Lipstick No.333, dubbed ‘Persuasive’. She will be a lot more persuasive if she can be distinguished wearing it; if her smile of greeting is seen; and if her words are fully understood by all, hearing-impaired or otherwise.
Sally makes another critical point “Let’s consider international communications with those who do not share our native language,” she says.
For all these reasons, MyClearMask strikes me as an eminently practical and simple, yet ultimately compelling way to help engagement at a time when it is needed more than at any point in our industry’s history. Olivier’s story and that of Sally’s dad, makes such a conclusion irresistible. All clear, in fact.
Footnote: I welcome your comment on this Blog via the feedback platform below or on my LinkedIn page.