Back in June of last year, which feels like it happened something like six decades ago, we started to emerge from the bald, overwhelming panic of early-stage pandemic into something that vaguely resembled a functioning strategy. I wrote about it then, wondering where we were. Now, as we clear the one-year mark from the world health organization’s proclamation of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, what have we learned? Where are we? What comes next?

Even between now and June, much has changed. In spite of June’s promise of some eased restrictions, case counts remained stubbornly high, and with new strains emerging from the UK, South Africa, and other areas of the world crashing against unwise holiday gatherings, things have been rough. There’s been a natural ebb and flow, though, and, at least here in the US, numbers are trending in the right direction.

These milestones converging offer us an opportunity to refocus on what we’ve learned, and how to adapt those learnings to service.

Technology has been fundamentally recalibrated

I, a nerd, have been using internet-enabled systems for years, drawn to the appeal of not having to speak to an actual human being whenever possible. It appears as though my cohorts across disciplines have caught up with me, moving all sorts of once-interpersonal activities online. With that increase in consumption and literacy of new processes, the ability to manage commerce digitally not only expanded over the last year, but it’s gained features and complexity.

Online appointment booking is a gateway to zero-touch scheduling, which could lead to completely remote services. One thing is for certain—there’s no getting the toothpaste back in the tube with a lot of these technologies. The break lines of technology advancement were severed by COVID-19, and we’re barreling forward at a much faster speed than we were at this time last year. It’s up to businesses to capitalize on that, evaluate what is needed to compete in the changing service market, and make the right upgrades to your technology portfolio that will permit you to meet your customer’s expectations.

Customer centricity is the price of admission

To that end, and enhanced by technology, customers don’t just expect speed and accuracy, they expect consideration of their wants, needs, and safety. I think about our conversation with Peloton a few months ago, and how they set expectations by asking to do things like take off their shoes before stepping into a person’s home, and how, even since August, those expectations have continually evolved.

Because of that, it’s key that service businesses build contingencies into how they manage customers, understand customer expectations and requirements before they arrive at the job site, and incorporate those into their planning and scheduling, logistics, and so on. This extends far beyond COVID-related needs to Service-level agreements, but COVID certainly has influenced the expectations, and how they are delivered, and in a world where masks and other types of PPE are set to be a consideration in perpetuity, it’s important not to stumble as we get back to work.

Continuity planning

I’ve always been writing about continuity through an ever-shifting set of lenses, but this year, it’s taken on an even greater importance. It’s the first time in decades that global businesses have been confronted by a universal disruption.

I hate to break it to you all, but it’s not going to be the last time. Just ask the people who lived through the second world war and The Great Depression what multi-year global disruptions of industry looks like. Smart businesses have continuity managers on-staff, but technology helps here too. When confronted with uncertainties, you can either panic, shed resources, or you can consult simulations and plans. It’s impossible to know the nature of our next disruption, but long-term survival of business interests depend on an understanding that the only constant is change.

Don’t believe me? Ask Blockbuster.

Tom Paquin
Author

Contributor, Future of Field Service