It’s one of those a-ha moments destined to go into the business-origin story hall of fame.

One weekend, Mark Bunting went to Home Depot with a long to-do list of items: get a red wine stain out of the limestone flooring; touch up the finish on an antique chair, etc. He was greeted by a sales associate named Frank, who was so helpful and whose service level was so exceptional, Bunting felt as if he had just spent the last hour and 15 minutes with his own personal Bob Villa (PBS-This Old House). Elated by the outstanding experience Bunting stopped by the manager’s desk to share how pleased he was and pass along his “praise” for the employee. Unfortunately, the man at the desk interrupted  him and said hurriedly: “Yeah, Yeah Frank’s great. I’m not the manager, but I’ll pass along the message – have a nice day.”

Dejected, Bunting realized that there’s no real mechanism in place to document the great work (via customer feedback) of our frontline employees. There’s no digital version of a customer comment card and no  easy way to connect with Frank the next time he needed help—which could serve as a benefit not just to the customer and employee, but to the business itself. At this point, most people would have simply moved on. But Bunting isn’t most people.

A serial entrepreneur and veteran marketing executive, Bunting has spent his career at the intersection of technology, media and marketing, having founded businesses including the Computer House Company and SkyTV, and serving as a Global CMO / Chief of Strategy for large-cap technology firms like McAfee, Apollo Education and Rackspace. For Bunting, the encounter became the genesis for a new business venture—Grata, a groundbreaking app that is the first to connect frontline employees, customers and employers in a LinkedIn-like closed-loop ecosystem.

“We started on the concept before COVID-19, but it’s even more important now,” said Bunting, “With so much retail business migrating online, and low-touch/no-touch redefining ‘service’ – employers can’t afford to take in-person interactions for granted.”

Bunting chose the name Grata as a nod to the word gratitude (Italian: “grateful), hoping the app will create a sort of gratitude loop, where every small act of recognition will produce ripple effect. When you take a second to acknowledge and praise someone for their great efforts, Bunting explains, you feel good, as well, and the impact on the employee (and employer) is huge.

This is how it works. In the same way customers rate their Uber drivers when exiting the car, Grata users can do the same for all 80 million service sector hourly employees—a $3.42 billion addressable market—everyone from retail clerks and auto-shop mechanics to baristas and dog groomers, to name a few. Like most social platforms, Grata is free for employees and customers. Employees can create profiles, and customers can easily connect with them—think LinkedIn for hourly workers, where, just like their office-worker counterparts, customer service employees build a professional network.  

The benefits of the app extend beyond employees and customers to businesses themselves. In keeping similar social media apps, Grata earns revenue by selling data to companies that would otherwise have little insight into some of their most valuable employees. For 99 cents per employee per month, businesses have access to a B2B SaaS offering that can help them acknowledge and reward their top-performers.

“Companies of all sizes are desperate for performance data and a tool to enhance customer experience and loyalty,” Bunting said. “Now, we have a frictionless way to record their great work, say ‘thank you’ and acknowledge their exceptional efforts.”

Bunting also sees it as a cost-saving solution. Most customer service/retail employees leave their jobs not because of compensation, but because they feel underappreciated. When workers quit, employers must spend significant amounts to hire and train new employees. Grata will allow employers to use the app as a recruiting tool to identify the top performers in their respective industries. This will allow the best employees to stand out, unlock the value of their great work and democratize opportunity for those least recognized (yet most deserving).

With retail and hospitality rapidly transforming in an era of COVID-19 (and a general shift to online shopping), Bunting views Grata as a must-have tool, a replacement for the Net Promoter Score (NPS), a management tool used to calculate customer loyalty.

“It’s now about Net PEOPLE Score,” he said. “The rules have changed, and the people make the difference. Employees deserve the recognition and reward; employers desperately need the data and customer-experience uplift and customers want to connect again and again with those great people who give us our best service experience. There is never any downside to saying thank you.