Service Design in the Age of COVID-19

Service Design In The Age of COVID-19

For many of my clients, adapting to a changing market is a necessary step to stay competitive. Customer's preferences change, trends shift, style evolves, business pressures are always fluid. The companies that build a culture that accepts change, and sets vision as ever-changing, aspirational, can stay ahead of the game.

But what happens when commodity models built on low margins and consistent structure have to change overnight? How does a mom-and-pop pizza shop change in an instant during a state-wide restaurant ban? How do business models that work on human-to-human interaction survive when the only engagement model for decades has to change without any notice?

Imagine what it takes to build a small business from scratch, the time, dedication, effort, and resources are unbelievable. Anyone who has ever built a business can testify of the energy and sacrifice needed to find success.  I've not-so-secretly been excited for a locally owned gourmet donut shop to finish construction and open in my town. Six plus months later, still no donuts. It's not because they don't want to open, it just takes that much time to build something from nothing and work enough of the kinks out to get a system running.

12 hours. It is hard to fathom, but that is what I estimate in the amount of time America's small businesses have to hit the restart button, trash years of business system fine-tuning, and figure out how to survive the next 4-6 months in a lockdown society. In 12 hours, everything has to change, how to provide value without contact, keep staff and customers out of risk, and simply survive. It is absolutely an unfair ask, unreasonable, and for many small businesses simply unattainable. I started this week preparing for social distancing, homeschooling my son, and watch helplessly as main street America gasps its last breaths. I, like many, am scared out of my mind, not so much for my own family's health but scared that the world for my son post COVID-19 will look nothing like it is now. Then, on Sunday, my wife's wheel bearing failed in her car.

Down the street is a small family-owned automotive mechanic, they are great, friendly, trustworthy, and honest. We absolutely did not want to get the car fixed, but a lousy bearing can fail and turn dangerous fast, not something I wanted to put off. So we set an appointment having no real expectations.

My wife received a phone call the day before the repair was scheduled, Genene from the mechanic shop walked us through their new procedure:

  • Everything is remote, we communicate to the mechanic the concerns and questions via phone and text only.
  • We show up to a shop that looks for all purposes closed and drop the keys off in a box.
  • They wait for us to leave, then take the car into the garage, where mechanics wearing protective clothing, masks, and gloves repair the vehicle.
  • The status of the repair is over the phone and via email. A few hours later, we receive a phone call update, confirmation the repair is completed, and a window of time when we can pick up the car.
  • Anything and everything the mechanic's touch is then cleaned and disinfected with hospital-grade antiseptic.
  • The keys are placed back in the box for a 20-minute window for us to pick the car back up. If we miss the window, they store the keys back inside and set up a new pickup time.
  • Once we are home, they email us the invoice and call to review any notes from the mechanic and take payment over the phone.

The car is fixed, works excellent, we never interacted with a single staff in person, it was seamless. It felt like they had worked for months to perfect the service, meet guidelines, and maintain a close connection with their customers despite the obvious limitations, we felt safe the entire time. They figured it all out in less than 12 hours. No government guidelines, no playbook, no 101 online instructions for running a small business in a pandemic, just small business ingenuity.

I honestly don’t know what the world is going to look like when the dust from all of this settles. A little small mechanic shop called Kensington Autoworks has given me a little hope that small businesses throughout this country can find similar ways to survive.

I would love to hear other success stories. Reach us on twitter @madpow - Let's share some of the secret sauce to getting through this difficult time.

Contributed by
Jonathan Podolsky
Job Title
SVP Program Development