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Re-Imagining the Perfect Customer Experience amid Covid-19

Given the developments of the Covid-19 pandemic over the last two months, customer behavior has changed forever.  Every corner of life and business has changed, from the way we interact to how we make decisions.

Brands and businesses have had to evolve and innovate to stay alive. While it may not seem intuitive, now is the time to turn the widespread effects of the coronavirus into future opportunities by re-framing what your customers are looking for.  

When you think of a branding and design agency, what comes to mind? Perhaps a group of aloof designers telling a company exactly what they should do? Meetings filled with corporate-speak such as ‘synergy’? 

Doodle Brands, founded by Chris Elkin and Nhu Vo Elkin in late 2017, is likely not what you picture. The team’s brightly-lit District 1 office is covered in post-it notes displaying ideas and reminders, images of successful brand partnerships, and - hence the name - doodles.

“Chris led the founding of a branding agency about 12 years ago and then sold this, while I worked on the client-side, and we both wanted to get out of the corporate world,” Nhu says. “We traveled for three months around South America, and we were thinking of the name and sketching and writing down ideas, and that’s where Doodle came from.” 

 This highlights the company’s focus on visuals, as informed by a school of thought known as Design Thinking.

Doodle co-founders Chris Elkin and Nhu Vo Elkin.

“While in a previous business I got exposed to a methodology called Design Thinking, which some people call human-centered design,” Chris shares. “I was kind of blown away by how it really helps you be super curious and focused on really trying to find pain points in a customer’s experience. Sometimes we’re very fond as human beings to jump to solutions, but we don’t spend enough time framing the problems first - what is the real, most relevant problem we’re trying to solve here?”

In the midst of the recent crisis, Doodle Brands has been approached by clients to solve problems urgently. “My reply would be, ‘Let’s take the first step - look again before we jump to the solution. Let’s look at all possible details surrounding the brand challenge.’ This is an approach you can use to empathise and really walk in the shoes of your customer, making your customer the compass before moving forward with any creative solutions to their pain-points,” he adds. 

In their collective experience, Nhu and Chris have found that companies are often good at realizing there is a problem with their brand, but many are less skilled at determining what exactly the issue is. Borrowing from Nhu’s time in the airline industry, they call this “a great landing, but at the wrong airport.”

A major shortcoming at many businesses, for example, is a failure to interact often enough with their actual customers. “We frequently walk into our client’s offices and ask them when they last talked to customers,” Chris says. “And with the exception of the salespeople, it’ll be three months or even six months.”

This is where Design Thinking comes in, and is more relevant now than ever. It focuses on three points: everyone at a given company needs to be curious about who their customers are and what their problems are; better collaboration across teams and departments; and getting people from diverse teams as close as possible to the customer.

“We like to say we would break it all down and build it all up again, by looking at the smallest and most important details. Let the crisis reign, then reign the crisis,” Chris explains.

The design thinking which Doodle puts forth pushes brands to empathize with their customers, to determine what customer delight looks like, and figure out what is stopping that delight from occurring. 

 “We gravitate towards an Einstein quote of, ‘If I had one hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes framing the problem first, and five minutes solving it.’ So it backs up the adage of a well-framed problem is already half-solved,” Chris says.

Nhu provides an example of a tourism company that hired Doodle and pursued a philosophy perfectly in line with Design Thinking. 

“Tourism/hospitality is in the hot seat right now,” she says. “Design Thinking frees up space for much-needed innovation and creativity right now, while also preparing to bounce back and ride through this ‘turbulence’ to ‘cruise clear skies’ later on when this is all behind us. We pulled everybody into one room to innovate together. The beauty of this method is that it allows everyone to offer input and share and create ideas, even wild ones.  Another benefit of the method is we put the customers’ problems at the heart of our discussions, and we’re talking about the problems of today and tomorrow, not one or two months ago.”’ 

Doodle also runs Design Thinking workshops for companies across Asia, from Japan and Singapore to Thailand and Australia, as well as, of course, Vietnam. These are now being done remotely. 

“We’re doing a lot of this Design Thinking training and facilitating online,” Chris explains. “A lot of what we’re doing is re-gearing how we get client teams, who are all feeling very remote right now, online and better at framing and solving problems together. We use virtual conference calls, screen sharing and virtual whiteboards to execute design thinking remotely.  People aren’t as emotionally remote as they think they are, and with some simple tech know-how, the right methods and tools, people are often surprised how effective they can be when collaborating while physically remote.” 

“Recently, we’ve also been selected to partner with RMIT to run a series of Design Thinking workshops for them on topics such as ‘How to work well together remotely’ and ‘Problem Solving using Design Thinking,” Chris continues.

Nhu adds that the eagerness to embrace Design Thinking depends on the type of company they are working with. Some in traditional sectors such as banking want to know in concrete terms what will happen at the conclusion of a workshop or campaign, while others are excited by uncertainty. “However, at the end of our workshops, they all feel empowered because it’s a creation from their own ideas,” she says. “Different cultures have different comfort levels, but this is meant to bring out all of the ideas and show the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ultimately, brands need to recognize that while the current pandemic is deadly serious, there is light at the end of the tunnel. “There are opportunities for doing things differently and changing how we serve customers,” Chris says. 

“With this downtime, think about how to make other parts of their business stronger, so once this passes they’ll be in a strong position.The customers haven’t gone away, they’re still there, they’re just having to evolve how they live and work. So I would end by saying that it’s time to innovate. Now or never.” 



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21 Nguyen Trung Ngan St.

Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, HCMC