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Since I started penning my thoughts on this topic 2 weeks ago, more than 50% of the content has become irrelevant. COVID-19 has brought a new meaning to the word ‘disruption’, which is now an overused buzz word.

Thinking about all the people who are impacted by this situation – those whose livelihoods are affected and those who have lost loved ones, it is difficult not to become overwhelmingly emotional. With the extraordinary circumstances, a myriad of new needs has arisen, with some being more pertinent and evident than others. How can organisations identify and understand these evolving needs, and meet them speedily?

Some of these needs are more apparent than others, and several nimble corporations have quickly leveraged on their resources and capabilities to address them. For example, Dyson designed the “CoVent”, a ventilator that “can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume”, and James Dyson committed to “donate 5,000 units to the international effort to tackle the pandemic”.

The theory of “jobs-to-be-done” (JTBD) by the late Clayton M. Christensen, who also wrote about the theory of disruption, is anchored on the idea of what a customer hopes to accomplish by “hiring” (buying) a product / service. This theory quickly gained widespread popularity, because of the way that it gets to the driving force behind customer behaviour.

Today, many of us find ourselves with new or evolved jobs-to-be-done. One glaring job-to-be-done for everyone confined to their homes globally, is HUMAN CONNECTION. It is no surprise then that the likes of Zoom, Houseparty and Lomotif, have risen to the top of app store charts. Images of birthday e-celebrations and family meals on Zoom are splattered on social media feeds; Lomotif, a leading music video editor for social media platforms, saw a huge surge in downloads and usage, as social media activity exploded in past weeks.

Long before the COVID-19 outbreak, students in China would often leave their phones on livestream and study with their friends virtually, instead of meeting in a café. In the West, though several apps also attempted to gain traction with livestream functions, they were much less successful. It would be interesting to observe if the JTBD for human connection will cause a breakthrough in this area, outside of China.

This morning as I was preparing to start another WFH day, I day-dreamed about an app which simulates the office environment, and where we can see each other, much like a perpetual livestream. I can ‘virtually knock’ on a colleague’s door (which is personalised) and a video would be triggered if the colleague in the room lets me in. If another team member sees us 2 talking, they can also knock to join in the conversation, much like a pantry chat. There can also be additional features such as ‘invisible discussions’, ‘do not disturb’, ‘come join us’ with alerts to team mates, ‘brainstorm rooms’ with alerts, etc. We could also ‘date’ each other out to lunch, which of course, would be a virtual one.

What does all this mean in the area of customer experience? Some changes in customers’ JTBD may be transient; some will be more permanent. It is more critical now than ever to stay close to customers, and to understand their needs – because those who can understand and serve the evolved jobs-to-be-done will be the ones would will be ‘‘hired’’ now and for a long while more to come. Over the next months and years, we will inevitably see the birth, evolution, and unfortunate demise of products / services, which will become case studies for many years to come.

Joan Yong
Joan Yong is a seasoned customer experience professional and co-author of the foundational customer experience book, “From Oblivious to Obsessed: Eight Obsessions Every Organisation Must Embrace To Build Customer Loyalty In Asia”. She has a demonstrated track record in management consulting, market research, and experience design across industries, including retail, F&B, financial, public sector, attractions, and travel. Her personal motto is to make the world a better place, one experience at a time.


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