Dear AA Member,
I had planned to write to you today with an uplifting message of hope and optimism, of seizing opportunities through adversity, and of uniting around a common goal. I had planned on filling a page with synonyms for optimistic, using words such as ‘sanguine’ (I looked it up), ‘cheerful’, ‘hopeful’, and ‘positive’.
I wondered, though, if this is the right time to be official and business-like, and I realised that a more heartfelt approach to communicating with you would be better.
So I decided, instead, to tell you a short story of how the AA has dealt with the coronavirus crisis the past few weeks. For me these efforts embody the qualities I had initially wanted to write about.
In the first few days of the outbreak we realised that we couldn’t operate on a ‘business as usual’ basis and that we had to think quickly about how we were going to continue providing services to our members and corporate clients. To be fair, we scrambled a bit in the beginning; I think many companies weren’t fully aware of what was coming.
When things started out we did what we thought was best at all our offices and outlets. We hired a nurse to evaluate and monitor staff, we issued hand sanitiser to everyone, we encouraged small meetings, or no meetings at all, and we discouraged people from coming to our premises.
When it became apparent that this was going to be a lockdown, we had some serious thinking to do. We assembled our executive team and managers and began plotting a course ahead. We surveyed all our staff to ensure they could work from home, and we installed software on everyone’s computer to enable seamless video meetings.
We arranged for laptops for our call centre staff, we bought (a lot) of extra dongles to enable them and other staff to connect to the Internet and our systems, we bought telephone headsets people can use at home, and we arranged for extra people to be on standby to assist. We also embarked on an extensive campaign to inform all our staff about coronavirus and the measures they need to take to stay safe.
We also immediately submitted a request to be certified as an Emergency Service Provider – a certification we obtained – to ensure continuity of our patrol and towing fleet. Inbetween we continued with our work, we attended to call outs, we helped people when they needed us, we discussed new products we want to introduce to the market, we planned how to move forward.
Now, with everyone working from home, we have a system in place. It’s not perfect, it never will be. But, importantly, we are able to carry on giving our customers what they pay for: help when they need it. Our patrol vehicles, towing fleet, and accredited partners and service providers are still on the road, and they take every precaution necessary to keep themselves, and you, safe when they are interacting with you.
The behind-the-scenes context of all of this are the people who work for the AA. They are unselfish, dedicated and innovative. They work hard, and they genuinely believe in giving of their best, every day. There is no need to speak of optimism and hope with these people, they are already optimistic and hopeful.
Like many millions of our countrymen and women there is a progressive culture among our staff: they believe in making things work, and they wake up every morning believing they make a difference. And they do. This is what I wanted to tell you: yes, we are in a difficult situation, yes, there is a crisis, but, working together, we can all make a difference.
I want to assure you that the AA is forging ahead with a number of projects including our continued roll-out of AA Armed Response – our app-based personal security solution, repositioning and redesigning our digital platform, and improving our mobile app (which is available for free from all mobile stores).
We have temporarily shifted our offices to our homes but we haven’t shifted our focus from helping you when you need us. You are in good hands, as you always have been, only now they are (more) regularly washed for 20 to 40 seconds, sanitised, and, where necessary, operating from our living rooms.
I wanted to tell you all of this because it is worth remembering that while we are faced with a bad situation, there are always those out there who are willing to do whatever it takes to keep you moving forward. We are those people.
On a final note. I want to use this opportunity to thank our country’s healthcare workers who are all working tirelessly to help our compatriots who are in need. You are all heroes, and it’s for this reason we’ve decided to assist you with free battery checks and jump starts if you happen to be stranded going to work, or leaving for home after a long shift tending to the sick.
Yours from the kitchen table,
Automobile Association of South Africa