Kristen França

Making Home Services Feel Safe During a Pandemic

If being a creative agency for the past 20 years has taught us anything, it is that often, in order to survive, you need to be quick to adapt and pivot. That sentiment has felt more true than ever as we helped our clients navigate this past year, and now that we are a year out, we have been reflecting on some lessons that we learned in the process.

When the state of Oregon announced that we would be going into lockdown, there was a lot of uncertainty about what that would mean for ourselves, our clients, and society in general. We were relieved, to say the least, when our client Wolcott Services (a Portland Metro-based HVAC, electrical, and plumbing company) was classified as an essential business during those early days. The exact definition of an essential business varies from city to city, state to state. To put it simply, an essential business is one that provides products or services that people rely on every day or that may be deemed necessary. Some examples are pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, and home service professionals (aka Wolcott). Now that people were home more than ever, they needed their plumbing, electrical, and HVAC to be working.

However, Wolcott’s business also relied on going into people’s homes in a time when no one was supposed to have contact with anyone outside their immediate household. So, how would we let customers know that Wolcott was indeed essential? Was there a way to create trust in a time where customers didn’t want strangers in their homes? How could we avoid unqualified DIYers, who could end up damaging their systems even more because they want to avoid seeing people? And how could we support our client and help them adapt while we ourselves were being forced to do the same?

We used open, honest communication across our messaging to Wolcott's customers to convey that "we are here to help."

Our strategy for letting Portlanders know that it was safe to welcome Wolcott into their homes during a time of uncertainty was to use open, honest communication and clear, human messaging — and lots of them. But overall, the larger goal was to connect with customers on a real, human level and create a sense of trust within the community. This was uncharted territory for Wolcott, as well, and we tried to make that very clear. We thought this was the best way to spread the message to the largest audience that 1) Wolcott was still open and active, 2) they were following every safety measure out there, and 3) their number-one priority was to maintain their quality of work while also keeping Wolcott customers and staff healthy. 

Our most important tools to help push out the messaging digitally were Facebook, blog posts, and our newsletter. We tried to reach the community non-digitally, too, by utilizing postcards and creating radio ads. We adopted strategic language that conveyed a human connection between Wolcott and its customers, and support in challenging times, while remaining optimistic — and true to the Wolcott voice. We spoke a lot about Wolcott’s safety precautions and all of the steps they were taking to keep everyone healthy, like cleaning pens between customers, wearing masks/full protective gear, maintaining a six-foot distance from customers (or going completely contact-free if desired), washing hands often, staying home when sick, and avoiding crowds outside of work.

Another technique that we used was running specials for frontline workers. Frontline workers, especially hospital staff, have been the warriors who’ve worked so hard to save lives and keep our community safe, so we felt that it was the least we could do to show Wolcott’s appreciation for their efforts.

Along the way, we discovered that the best way to adapt in times like these was to be on the same page with Wolcott, be patient, and take it day by day. Our once-a-month calls turned into more frequent emails and updates. With rules and restrictions constantly changing to keep up with the new medical research and findings, we had to be quick on our feet and willing to pivot to stay afloat. We also had to accept a few hard facts: The general public was extremely wary of anything that could spread the virus and frequent messaging was likely to take some time to really help customers feel comfortable welcoming Wolcott into their homes again.

As we learned that air flow and filtration were key to minimizing COVID’s transmission, we recognized that Wolcott’s HVAC services had tremendous value. We really pushed the indoor air quality services that Wolcott provided and started promotions targeting businesses, to ensure that their office spaces had the cleanest, safest air possible.

As a result of all of this, Wolcott has been able to maintain most of the customers they had while actually increasing business in some areas. It has been heartwarming to watch as Wolcott’s relationship with its customers has evolved from transactional to something much deeper and more personal. Customer reviews about how courteous the Wolcott staff has been in respecting all of the COVID-19 guidelines are clear indications that the trust we have been seeking has been established. And it has been wonderful to observe people getting the help they need.

Wolcott's glowing customer reviews show how the hard work of the staff to follow COVID-19 guidelines has paid off.  

Looking back,  one of the biggest takeaways from this past year has been that communication is key to connecting with both your client and their customers on a human level. At Drawn, we believe that trust leads to longtime loyalty, and this past year has been a lesson in rebuilding trust in uncertain times. Ensuring peace of mind, quality work, and dedication to client and customer wellbeing feel like lessons that can be used moving forward, too. Most importantly, though, we learned how Wolcott’s customers responded to the company’s transparent, authentic, and human way of relating and clear efforts to make people feel safe: They embraced them. We look forward to helping Wolcott and all of our clients maintain that same level of human connection in the future.