The current global pandemic is forcing companies to rethink how they communicate with clients and employees, and to come up with new ways to relay breaking news to key constituents. Some of these changes may be temporary, lasting as long as public health experts recommend social distancing, but we suspect the majority will remain in place either as a best practice for communications generally, or as a fallback method for crisis communications going forward.
Why mobile messaging during a crisis?
In most cases, organizations have messaging channels in place already, for employees as well as for customers and prospects. And unlike email, mobile messaging is ‘always on’ and much more likely to be seen/read by your audience. (Recent research from Sinch found mobile messaging is 35x more effective than email; for more about that study, visit this link.) Yet it’s not just about a message reaching its target—as important as that is during a crisis. Mobile messaging also offers AI-fueled intelligence, a feature that’s critical for organizations needing to inform diverse audiences about a complex, fast-changing situation. Whether deploying chatbots that answer specific questions your audience may have, or using personalization to relay the most relevant messaging to each individual in your audience, AI can help ensure a tsunami of information is correctly throttled and targeted to the people who need it most.
Video also opens new ways of interacting and serving
In addition to mobile messaging, companies are leveraging video to keep their customer base engaged and up-to-date with breaking information. During the coronavirus pandemic, video has become a critical way to get messages out quickly. And many in-person meetings, services and events are being replaced by on-demand or live video—from livestreaming conferences to telemedicine, virtual offices and remote learning.
Organizations managing the crisis with SMS/messaging and video
How are organizations—from global enterprise companies to government bodies and even smaller organizations—using messaging and video? Here’s a rundown of some examples we’ve noticed recently:
Public health communications
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently launched a WhatsApp chatbot to disseminate information about COVID19. The chatbot shares current infection rates as well as answers to questions about the coronavirus. At this time, country-specific WhatsApp chatbots are also under development. The advantage of using chatbots in this way is related to information throttling. Consumers have a wide range of questions about the situation unfolding before them—from what symptoms to look for and how to treat the coronavirus at home, to business impacts and public testing locations. Using a chatbot, consumers can choose which subject areas they are most interested in and create their own ‘paths’ for information-gathering.
Virtual healthcare formats
Eligible health visits are moving to a telemedicine model to reduce in-person interactions. Using secure APIs and software development kits (SDKs), providers can use video calling to continue to care for patients (and bill for services) while also protecting patients, providers and staff from infection. In addition to live video calls, providers can also record and send short videos to their patient population, conveying news about the coronavirus and steps to safeguard health.
Where local laws allow it, some public health organizations are monitoring individuals diagnosed with the coronavirus to keep local residents aware of emerging outbreaks. In Israel, for example, neighbors of any resident diagnosed with the coronavirus are alerted by text message and asked to shelter in place.1 Other surveillance programs getting off the ground are voluntary in nature, asking residents to self-report in order to give people in their region more granular information about where coronavirus cases are located.
Virtual workforce tools
Most global companies have been forced to send at least a portion of their workforce home to work--and the rapid shift from office to telework has pushed many to adopt new tools and ways of working. Voice and video conferencing technologies are easy-to-deploy for remote workers (though companies must be vigilant that the tools they choose use encryption to prevent misuse, a big concern for rapidly dispersed workforces). Video-conferencing, once used by a small portion of the workforce, has now gone mainstream. Sales calls, university classes, job interviews, and even exercise classes are now all easily done via video conferencing. It begs the question whether organizations will fully revert back to in-person meetings, particularly those requiring travel.
SMS/text messaging is an excellent way to push out breaking information in real-time. Local and national governments are increasingly using messaging to alert the public to local outbreaks, public resources, and live press conferences. Keep in mind that these messages can include photos, videos and even online assessments—formats that may help deliver complex information in a more digestible way.
Sinch research shows consumers were already open to doing more with providers and healthcare businesses (e.g. pharmacies) via messaging—from receiving notifications about upcoming appointments, rescheduling appointments and refilling prescriptions. The current public health crisis is accelerating adoption of these types of services. For example, many hospitals are cancelling elective surgeries and other non-urgent appointments to free up facilities for critical patients. Pushing out mass appointment cancellations via messaging (and getting immediate confirmation from consumers that they have received the message), frees up medical offices from making time-consuming phone calls. For those organizations making the transition to mobile communications, note that Sinch research shows consumers prefer the default messaging app on their mobile phone over other messaging apps (e.g. WhatsApp) or dedicated healthcare apps. 47% prefer TXT/SMS, versus 31% preferring dedicated healthcare apps and 22% preferring messaging apps.
Real-time travel updates
The current crisis is wreaking havoc on the travel industry, where flights are cancelled at a moment’s notice and customers are rescheduling planned travel en masse. Messaging offers airlines a fast, labor-efficient way to reschedule flights and relay critical travel updates. When a flight is cancelled, for example, an airline sends a mobile notification, “Flight 6548 to Paris has been cancelled. The first-available flight to Paris (CDG) from your location leaves tomorrow at 10am. Can we reserve a seat for you?” The traveler responds “Yes,” and the exchange is completed. (Research from Sinch shows most consumers find travel notifications useful—67% reported these as “very useful,” and another 27% found them “somewhat useful.”)
Spotlighting good works
Many companies are finding ways to support frontline workers most at risk for COVID-19. Fashion brands are changing over production lines to create masks, chemical manufacturers are producing hand sanitizer, and dozens of global brands like JetBlue, Starbucks, Hertz and Four Seasons are donating goods and services to healthcare workers. Brands can highlight these good works with short, on-the-ground videos shared through social media and messaging apps. Take special care, however, that videos focus on why it’s critical to support frontline workers (and how others can do so) rather than cheerleading the brand’s efforts.
The Red Cross has long relied on SMS communications and app-based messaging to activate its community of blood donors. During the current crisis, those communications are more important than ever. The Red Cross is experiencing severe shortages because many blood drives at workplaces and schools have been cancelled. It is using its pre-existing mobile messaging network to raise awareness about blood donation locations and to send urgent appeals for donations to people with rare blood types.
Relaying difficult news
Some communications are better delivered via video than simple text. Text messages can be easy to misinterpret, but videos convey not only words, but tone, warmth and posture—making them much more appropriate for communicating sensitive news. Companies are using short video-based communications to stay in touch with employees during the pandemic and convey sensitive information, such as news about short-term closings as well as new safety procedures in place to protect employees.
Many companies are instituting new policies and procedures to keep their delivery drivers safe, which requires careful communication to customers. For example, in the United States, pizza giant Domino’s has instituted “contactless delivery” (and in a sign of that company’s optimism about the future, it is hiring 10,000 workers to meet predicted demand). The new system requires customers to pay online (no cash payments allowed) and ensures deliveries are made following ‘social distancing’ guidelines. Tips can also be made electronically, an important feature at a time when people want to acknowledge (and reward) the dangerous job of delivery drivers.
Choose a multi-channel approach
For companies rapidly deploying new messaging or video formats, , the key is to find consumers where and how they prefer to interact. While some consumers will want to receive texts via their default phone app, others are much more accustomed to using dedicated messaging platforms like WhatsApp (and services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have the added advantage of including rich messaging formats, which isn’t yet available from some phone carriers). If you need ideas of how messaging is used by different generations and countries, or ideas about which types of messaging consumers welcome from businesses, review the Mobile Consumer Engagement 2020 report here.