A service designer’s view on how the pandemic is changing services

Helen Keller once said in her book Optimism, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” Never have those words rang truer.

As every nation suffers the effects of Covid-19, we see the emergence of everyday heroes helping us to overcome: healthcare workers treating a never-ending stream of patients with compassion and skill. Strangers helping neighbors they’ve never met. And individuals becoming innovators, from making homemade masks to finding new ways to use their skills to benefit others.

Yet while much of life as we know it has been put on pause, life itself — and the sustaining of it —must go on. And, as we adapt to working from home, schooling at home, and maintaining our social distance, businesses have also had to adapt to survive. And those that are doing it well are not only pivoting for today but setting new standards of service that are addressing more consumer needs and expectations for the future.


How services are changing

50% of the US economy is made up of services, businesses that provide intangible value beyond a physical product. Even service businesses defined as “essential” are needing to change the way they operate. The healthcare field (outside of hospitals) for example, has adapted “telehealth” patient visits and created apps and chatbots to support triaging sick patients. Grocery store mandates are requiring new hygiene protocols and in-store experience logistics such as redesigning how customers wait in line and package their goods to ensure their service delivers.


Adaptability enforces creativity, and creativity is adaptability.

Pearl Zhu


Forced change leads to opportunity and innovation

We know that there is an increase in access constraints due to quarantine and that physical and mental health is something we need to protect. Constraints force our services to be more relevant to consumer needs of today.


Front stage backstage

We can see an interesting connection between the supply chain, inventory management, and the front end, as Ocado and B&Q have put in place a virtual line, so they can manage the number of people buying online and make sure they aren’t out of inventory by the time you reach the checkout. In addition to these changes, we’re also seeing a surge in labor demand with a trend in frontline service roles moving into the back of the house delivery roles per Amazon hiring another 75,000 people who lost their frontline service jobs to work in warehouses.

It’s never been more important for the front stage to be in sync with the backstage of service. Has the increase in user spend exposed the willingness for additional service tiers? Will Amazon provide a tier beyond prime? Will grocery stores roll out more delivery services or offer personal shoppers?


No contact, please

Restaurants are designing new “no contact drop-off” options. For now, it’s helping limit the possible spread of the virus, but in the future, it will be a valuable adaptation for every delivery service. Think of people who require take-out when they’re sick. This service change is not only smart and convenient, but it’s also a responsible move for the army of delivery people who can’t afford to get sick and be out of work.

Grubhub, Postmates, Instacart and more are letting customers dictate where orders can be dropped off to avoid physical contact
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Taking the party online

How can virtual art and entertainment services change to offer remote experiences? There is a great opportunity for new business models to be created. Remote viewership has the potential to reach thousands of people. We’re seeing various entrepreneurial solutions arise, from online festivals offering live stream concerts to Cirque du Soleil showing 60-minute specials with options to donate or subscribe. We should begin to see an evolution of service offerings, the creation of additional revenue streams, and growth of remote viewership. Taking the party online will mean people that previously were unable to attend due to accessibility reasons will now have an opportunity to be a part of the party.


Until you understand your customers – deeply and genuinely – you cannot truly serve them.

Rasheed Ogunlaru


Going local first

We’re starting to see an increase in societal interconnectedness. Partnerships global and local are a great way to reach bigger visions. Large retailers like H&M fashion retailers are opening their supply chain to smaller brands. Additionally, Amazon provides its distribution services at cost to the Canadian government. This partnership aims to help manage the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies purchased by the government across Canada. Good partnerships have the potential to enable a service to reach more people.

Taobao Live keeps China produce flowing from farm to table
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Going remote to survive

When the coronavirus hit China, forced remote work meant a disruption in rural farming’s supply chain. This made it extremely difficult for farmers to continue selling their goods since produce is often handled and seen by consumers before being purchased. To help promote the farm-fresh produce industry Alibaba uses live streaming to boost farmer’s income. So far over 10,000 farmers are live streaming from their fields, resulting in 18,000 tons of agricultural produce being sold remotely. This new service partnership opens up a whole new dimension of how large organizations can support the future exchange of good services of all kinds, even fresh produce.

We want to share our learnings and offerings at a time when evolution and innovation are vital to a company’s survival.


Here is some of what we think might help:

  • Use service design to ensure that digital channels serve edge cases that previously might have been covered through phone or face-to-face services.
  • User needs and expectations were already changing before our pandemic, most of us already expected to be able to complete most tasks (like banking) online and be able to self-serve. There has never been a better time to use service design to improve your online, self-service solutions.
  • To hold your service to a high standard, look at Lou Downe’s book on Good Services which offers a well-worded list of Service Design principles that will help keep services challenged to be the best they can be.
  • If you want to learn more about emerging digital habits, check out The Seven Habits of the Digital Revolution.
  • Now isn’t the time to stop designing your services. Create from Home can help if you need tips and tricks for how to thrive remotely as a business.
Bethany Brown
Service Design Director, frog San Francisco
Bethany Brown
Bethany Brown
Service Design Director, frog San Francisco

Bethany leads service design at frog and has experience working across a multitude of industries. She ensures no interaction or touchpoint is left to chance, but rather is designed at both the micro and macro levels. Her ability to lead multiple groups to design each part of an end-to-end experience is what sets her apart; she provides expertise on both the overall strategic approach and the detailed delivery.

Recently, Bethany hosted a panel titled “How Service Design Enables Success Across Industries,” featuring leaders from Airbnb, Walgreens and a healthcare startup, highlighting the transformative impact of service design across sectors. This initiative, along with her insights in the “State of Service Design” report, underscores her commitment to advancing the field and sharing knowledge on global platforms.

IllustrationIsabella Chen
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