Florida and three other states became the latest to partially reopen their economies on Monday, after weeks spent under safer at home orders brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those moves, and similar actions still to come in other states across the country, bring new challenges for home and commercial services companies.
Electricians, plumbers and HVAC technicians, as part of a list of essential businesses as defined by Homeland Security, have been working despite a slowdown in maintenance calls. Emergencies and repairs still draw rapid dispatch, and the responsiveness spawned the “Trades Show Up” hashtag on social media.
Some areas that have been aggressive about reopening, such as Georgia, where the state opened April 23 despite the infection rates and number of deaths being relatively high, epidemiologists have predicted a rebound. Other states, such as Michigan, are more divided on reopening.
The easing of lockdowns comes even as some countries report records for new cases. In New Jersey, one of the nation’s hardest-hit areas, state parks and golf courses reopened Saturday, with the Gov. Phil Murphy warning people not to be “knuckleheads.” Some parks had to turn guests away, once parking lots hit 50 percent of capacity.
Margie Roebuck and her husband, at Island Beach State Park, told the Associated Press, “Forty-six days in the house was enough.”
The reopening in New Jersey, and Roebuck’s comment, illustrate a sentiment felt across the country—and the challenge facing those in the trades. Among them:
Lockdown fatigue is setting in. The weather is warming, safer-at-home orders have been in place for more than a month in many places, and, especially in more rural areas, the virus might not have affected those in the close social circle of many. Between the fatigue and situational (and geographic) apathy, dedication to social distancing has waned among members of the public.
The economy is suffering. More than 20 percent of the U.S. labor force has filed for unemployment since mid-March, when lockdowns—and the virus—spread across the country. That includes 3.8 million new claims the week of April 25. Concern about employment could make cash flow an issue for many customers, even those in emergency situations, elevating the need for financing options or longer-term, same-as-cash offers.
OSHA complaints are up. The Washington Post requested and received, under the Freedom of Information Act, more than 3,000 worker complaints to OSHA filed from January through April. They included examples of workers being instructed on handwashing but office bathrooms lacking soap, and delivery drivers “being required to disinfect vehicles with personally bought products” but not being educated on the hazards of those chemicals. Part of the problem, the Post said, is a patchwork system of safety procedures. From the article: Despite requests from unions and members of Congress, OSHA has yet to issue a specific coronavirus standard for employers that would protect many “essential” workers, leaving employers to come up with their own ways of trying to meet health guidelines. The result has been a patchwork of precautions.
For those and other reasons, some economists predict the economic impact of the outbreak will be with us for a while.
“It’s going to take much longer to thaw the economy than it took to freeze it,” Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton, told the New York Times.
How do those in the trade reassure customers and employees that service calls can be safe? ServiceTitan offers these six suggestions for coping with, and thriving during, a staggered reopening of the states—whether it’s already happening in your area or not.
Keep customers in the loop. Make sure they know what you’re doing—and have done—throughout the lockdown, and that you’ll continue to make them safe. Upgrades in safety including masks, gloves and booties, sanitizing of trucks and creative responses such as portable handwashing stations should be included in social media and marketing messages.
Double down on a contactless experience. Technological innovation including e-signatures for approvals and confirmations, easy online payments and paperless transactions emphasize a company’s efforts to limit personal.
Make sure your technicians feel safe. Fears and concerns could have changed over time, depending on the circumstances. Give technicians another opportunity to discuss the situation, raise issues and brainstorm solutions. Confirm that they have the PPE they need.
Don’t move too quickly on ending remote work. Efficiencies learned during the pandemic could benefit your company, and to keep CSRs and other office staff safe it might be best to continue allowing them to work from home, even if your state’s rules say you don’t have to.
Work through external financing options with customers. With concerns about jobs and income rising, offering financing options through ServiceTitan preserves your company’s cash flow and gives clients options beyond cash for emergency work.
Look for opportunity servicing businesses as they reopen. Letting commercial clients know you’re working and available for repairs and service positions your company for those calls.
Reopening the American economy during an ongoing pandemic is tricky—for government, consumers, and those who work in home services.
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