Evolution of Home Services in Age of COVID 19

by Brad Russell | Apr. 2, 2020

Home services providers of all types have rapidly adapted to COVID 19 limitations and challenges in a variety of ways. These adaptations have short-term, mid-term, and long-term implications for how companies and consumers will think about and plan for delivery of services in the future.

In the short term, service providers have adopted a variety of strategies to keep employees and consumers safe, served, and informed:

  • Some, such as Comcast Xfinity Home, have suspended new installations as “non-essential” services. Conversely, others including telcos, ISPs, and some home security providers have declared their services “essential.” A hybrid approach limits service calls to “critical installs and repairs.” In the absence of a federal mandate that defines essential services, state and local government officials are looking to Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Association (CISA) Guidelines on Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce to inform their executive orders. In these guidelines, telecommunications and residential/commercial security services are considered essential services.
  • Service providers that continue local service calls are typically taking the following steps:
    (1) pre-visit calls to assess that no one in the home is sick, symptomatic in the past four days, or at risk of being exposed; likewise service employees are restricted from work by the same criteria (2) technician preparations using hand sanitizer, disinfectant gloves and shoe covers, though some are following older CDC guidelines to not wear gloves or masks; (3) in-home procedures include social distancing, minimizing contact with surfaces in the home, and wiping down contact areas; (4) post-visit disinfecting of trucks and equipment with ongoing staff education on proper hygiene and social distancing.

    In a survey fielded in mid-March after the COVID 19 crisis began, Parks Associates found that 70% of consumer households were social distancing and 30% were strictly quarantining and seeing no other people outside the household.
  • Self-service options: For consumers showing symptoms or uncomfortable with in-person appointments, some service providers are encouraging the use of digital and self-service purchase, support, and installation options, where these are available. Forward-thinking companies who already have these resources in place are best positioned for less disruption of their business.
  • Clear, serious, and transparent communication with customers, dealers, employees and other audiences is critical to company response. Communicate things the company is doing to keep employees and customers safe. Communicate why “what you do” is essential and important so you’re not blamed for taking advantage of the crisis. Promote the good you are doing for healthcare workers or first responders and other community outreach programs. Update website, social media, and Google My Business profiles. Also, contact customers as an expression of care, inform you are working on their behalf, and use the opportunity to update customer data.

In the mid-term, service providers can develop and implement more direct-to-consumer, digitally-enabled services.

  • Manufacturers traditionally dependent on dealers can develop or expand direct-to-consumer sales, shipping, and self-installation services.
  • Onboarding tutorials can be embedded in hardware or apps with expanded online resources and asynchronous support channels. Particular attention will be required to provide separate consumer-facing and dealer-facing user experiences.
  • Do-it-with-me or do-it-together tools such as real-time chat, phone, and video support enable service provides to coach consumers through self-installation as they are doing it.
  • Subscription services may consider some form of payment deferrals, incentives, or financing to aid in maintaining customer relationships stressed by the economic downturn.
  • Service providers may consider introducing adjacent product offerings, such as independent living monitoring services, PERS, or monitoring of air and water quality.

In the long-term, service providers will need to reflect on how some of the short-term and mid-term strategies need to be integrated into more evolutionary changes in the way they do business. They also will want to monitor consumer sentiment around contact with people outside the home, consumer purchasing behavior, growth in self-installation and direct to consumer channels, and lingering health concerns until an adequate vaccine is developed and implemented.

Parks Associates is tracking the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on home services and consumer behavior and preferences.

  • Results from Parks Associates’ March 2020 survey are forthcoming in COVID-19: Impact on Consumer Behavior and Spending.
  • Results from Parks Associates May 2020 survey will investigate more deeply consumer experience and changing needs for home services and electronics. 

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