Of all of our customers, home services providers are some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. These companies provide home improvement services like flooring installation, windows and window coverings, and debris removal. All of these services require in-home visits for consultations and performing services, and many are considered non-essential businesses under shelter-in-place orders. This means that orders in many localities prohibit them from performing all non-emergency services that require in-person interactions. In addition, most consumers are pulling back on home improvement projects either for financial reasons or to protect their health. As a result, some have seen their business grind nearly to a halt.
Despite these challenges, we found in our discussion with our home services customers that they are finding innovative ways to protect the health and livelihood of their employees and the future of their businesses.
Taking In-Person Businesses Into the Virtual World
The home services customers we spoke with are focusing much of their work on adapting to municipalities closing with shelter-in-place orders. “Nearly 70% of our operations are in closed areas, which is altering our marketing, and not being able to do in-home installations is really hurting our business,” said one customer. In areas that are not closed, they are being very sensitive to employees who may not want to conduct in-home appointments and customers who may not want it either. This means turning what has been a mostly in-person sales and installation process into a digital experience.
They are looking at accomplishing this in a couple of innovative ways. The first is doing consultations via video conferencing. In order to steer customers in this direction, they are all working on implementing online messaging that advertises virtual consultations.
“A lot of our marketing effort is being spent trying to very quickly adjust to this,” said Sean Nelsen, director of marketing at 3 Day Blinds.
One customer is even working on how they can walk customers through installations over video chat. This means turning what was once a mostly in-person process to one that is fully digital while still retaining the human-to-human relationship that makes customers comfortable with making this kind of purchase.
Another has launched an online “room visualizer” that allows customers to take pictures of their home and select different products to see what they would actually look like in their home. This can help people shop and make decisions now so they are more likely to make purchases when restrictions are lifted.
This new digital approach will likely make its way into their regular business models, opening them up to a new set of consumers who are more comfortable doing most of their shopping online.
Some are Still Seeing Normal Seasonal Business Increases
If you look at our call volume data for the home services industry, it looks like there has been little impact. In fact, the before and after call volume change is so small, that it appears as 0% on our chart.
However, about half of our home services customers have seen significant increases in call volume (debris removal, pest control) while the other half have seen decreases (home decor and organization, home improvement). Some of these businesses, like debris removal in particular, require little to no direct contact with customers. Spring is also typically their busy season and people cooped up at home are likely doing a bit of spring cleaning. One pest control company said it has seen an increase in cancellations, but it is also now offering home sanitization services and getting many calls for that.
In addition, some can be considered essential services like plumbing, debris removal, and pest control, so their businesses may be impacted less by local closure ordinances.
Preparing to Pivot After the Crisis Subsides
Like many businesses, our home services customers are preparing to adapt their business models to an economy that will likely take some time to recover from a near-full shutdown. “Blinds are frankly the least important thing to everyone right now and we have to understand this; even if we have a cure in two weeks this will still affect our business because there will be much less disposable income after this is over,” said Nelsen.
Without a set end date, it is difficult to tell what the impact will be and what changes will be made to ramp business back up. They have agents reaching out to people who already had appointments scheduled and are taking a highly personalized approach to each and every call. They are also working to capture demand from the commercial side of their businesses and keeping in close contact with contractors to make sure they have what they need when their business returns.
Most of the customers we spoke with are also looking at what spending they can pull back on now (like paid search) to reinvest in the future while doing their best to protect their employees. Some are continuing to pay employees, even if they can’t work from home.
These companies, which in some ways can be seen as more “traditional” businesses, are taking notes from the tech industry in being more agile and responsive to change. “It’s amazing what we’re doing now that we never would have considered three weeks ago,” said one marketer. “ We’re moving so fluidly…instead of wanting it proven and perfect, ‘Maybe it’ll work’ is good enough! We’ll try anything and that is exciting.”
On the Invoca side, we are also working with our customers to add COVID Signals to their Invoca platforms so they can help their call center agents adjust their scripts to customer concerns. We are also making adjustments to their plans to make sure they can keep operating during this time of crisis. “You’re so helpful — Invoca is already doing its job,” said one marketer.
And we’re here to help you, too. If you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch with us. Our primary concern is making sure we do everything we can to help you weather this storm.
We wish you, your families, employees, and businesses the best during these difficult times. Stay safe and healthy.