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The changing need for engagement

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There should be no argument over the idea that information has been the number one need during the pandemic. 

Whether it’s a consumer who had to know of closures and changing hours or an employee who had to learn how to efficiently do the job remotely, the most appropriate communications have been those that told people what they had to know. 

That hasn’t changed since the start of COVID-19, and it isn’t likely to change before what we all hope to be the swift end to it. 

However, brands can – and often times should – extend the outreach to engagement. Many have been understandably reticent, fearing that their communications would be ill-timed and/or tone deaf.   

Others, in sectors including travel, healthcare, financial services, and cloud communications, among others, are engaging in transactional and engagement activity. 

Sinch has powered communications sent by air and travel companies as they make sure their customers are safely returned home and their future booking inquiries settled. 

There have been enormous communications challenges for global healthcare organizations as they reprioritize and reallocate resources in real-time. But some are succeeding. For instance, a national healthcare system sent over 100 million messages in March, providing personalized customer care enabled by Sinch. 

Financial institutions have needed to communicate on a personal level with customers who are affected by new government rulings across the world, whether this be mortgage payment pauses or new ways to claim and apply for loans. Mobile communications have gone way past authentication (one-time passwords) and balance and fraud updates into real-time customer engagement alerts. 

And cloud communications companies have essentially kept us all working by providing us with secure and rapid logins for remote video meetings or other online cloud services. 

So what should you do? 

Now that we are well into the global impact of COVID-19, to understand the shifted and shifting consumer mindset, it’s useful to look at current research. 

Google has found that in the last month, consumers are intensifying behaviors, especially digital ones, many of which they intend to continue even after the coronavirus crisis resolves​.  

Consumers are starting to adopt new behaviors as well, such as ​shopping new websites for basics, changing primary grocery stores, adopting curbside restaurant and store pickup, and using video conferences for professional and personal reasons for the first time. 

There are several additional categories where Google says that consumers are increasing their participation, such as entertainment streaming, Esports, and online fitness. 

This has caused many businesses to pivot rapidly, at least for the relative short term. And it has opened new ways and channels for them to engage. 

An example of a necessary turn from information to engagement is the health club that has had to close its physical location due to regional mandates. Of course, details about the closure are helpful to the client, but there are all sorts of opportunities for the business to move to online classes that can be promoted through a personalized video, push through an app, SMS or MMS. The club can take it even further with personalized messaging and campaigns like fitness challenges to drive loyalty. 

And grocers are doing their part to help people stay well-stocked at home during these times – consistently filling shelves, assisting the vulnerable, etc. – while their businesses are morphing at least in the pandemic to a delivery-focused model. Transactional communications remain critical – confirmation of an order, for instance. To ensure security of their drivers’ and clients’ private information, they can deploy Number Masking for delivery. 

But there is an additional opportunity for the grocers to engage on a personal level, taking into account user preferences, ordering frequency and loyalty club standing. If the shopper feels their future needs are kept in mind, they will be more likely to continue shopping with their favorite store. 

Months into the pandemic, real-time information remains essential for internal audiences. However, with the continued need to extend collaboration and to motivate, employers are wise to engage as well as inform.   

Here’s an example: 

Seeking to strengthen the link between employees in France, myElefant (a Sinch company) is using rich SMS to power a bi-weekly campaign to keep spirits up. Participants have taken part in an interactive quiz and learned about their colleagues in a “fast and curious interview”. 

Lighthearted questions include what a colleague first does when he gets up in the morning, favorite streaming service, and snack of choice while staying at home. Building connections forges social bonds as remote work brings global employees closer.  

There’s no doubt that businesses and brands must wisely choose how and when to engage, remembering to aim for the right tone, engagement and channel. 

Edelman’s recent global research yielded these lessons: 

Show up and do your part 

Brands have a vital role to play. Now is not the time to disappear, but to show up and use all your resources and creativity to make a difference.   

Don’t act alone 

There is strength in collaboration. To truly help people during this crisis requires a joining of forces with others. 

Solve, don’t sell 

Brands should focus all efforts on finding appropriate and meaningful solutions to the problems people are facing today. 

Communicate with emotion, compassion and facts 

People are reassured by positive brand actions and commitments. Communicate with empathy to help both inform and calm. 

This leaves us where? 

It’s advisable to remember that information isn’t replaced by engagement – it’s complemented by it. 

Also, if your communications are transactional only, your customer could leave for a perceived better deal. 

Finally, we are living in unprecedented times. Today’s playbook is today’s playbook. Ideally, yours is sound, but it’s not going to serve you indefinitely. Visit and revisit it often. Take into account the current state of the world and the consumer’s feelings about it. And consider all of the available channels to communicate in the best ways possible, informationally and with engagement as the goal.