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COVID-19 pandemic reshapes the way businesses communicate By Douglas van Wyk, Regional Manager at Infobip Africa

Aside from being a human tragedy that has already affected the lives of hundreds of thousands around the globe, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is also shaking up business and consumer behaviour on a never seen before scale.

At the time of writing, the COVID-19 outbreak had already claimed lives and forced most countries to introduce lockdowns or restrictions on movement, work and interpersonal contact between people.

These measures have had a profound effect on companies and how they operate, ushering in an almost global shift towards remote working, while also drastically reshaping the way organisations communicate and engage with their customers.

For companies that were geared towards operating with staff that are now working from home, the impact has been mainly internal and generally minimal, allowing these enterprises to continue with business as usual, to a large extent. However, despite this, the transition has not been easy, and we have already seen a slowdown in many sectors, leading to some companies going out of business.

The biggest impact has been felt by industries that are centred on providing face-to-face services, such as travel, hospitality and retail, and whose brick and mortar operations cannot be taken online or run via a remote workforce.

To an extent, the impact has also been felt by the financial services and insurance sectors, where companies typically operate large call centres and have had to put strategies in place to ensure that customer engagement and communication can be managed by employees working from home.

Paradigm shift
For those enterprises that have successfully moved their customer-facing staff to remote locations, it raises the question of whether they need to maintain brick and mortar premises. The COVID-19 crisis is proving that in most cases they don’t, and this is likely to lead to a permanent paradigm shift in the way businesses operate.

This shift has also seen a change in how companies’ salesforces, across all industry sectors, are engaging with clients, with sales teams having to rely on teleconferencing technology, as face-to-face meetings are no longer possible for the time being.

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On the flip side, while most organisations are struggling to adjust to this new reality, businesses in the communications space, such as solutions and platform providers, have seen a spike in demand for their services and products. This is as many companies are redefining how they communicate and engage with their customer base.

While some companies have already been looking at technologies such as chat apps and chatbots before the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, the change in how they operate is forcing them to step up the urgency to implement a multichannel communication approach.

Proactive communication
Businesses can no longer rely just on voice, email or a live chat environment to support their customers, especially as they continuously need to communicate changes in how they do business or provide services during this time of transition. They have to be proactive in their communication and adopt push strategies for which these channels are not sufficient.

The answer is to turn to traditional channels such as SMS or Over-the-Top (OTT) chat apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger – technologies that have been around for years and fit well into a push strategy. More than just being used for transactional and promotional purposes, they can be leveraged for critical messaging, which is informative and time sensitive.

Similarly, for companies that have had to scale down and start operating their call centres remotely, chatbot technology can be key to handling large volumes of queries. This is especially crucial at a time when people are living in fear and uncertainty and are hungry for accurate and trustworthy information.

The Coronavirus pandemic will likely forever change the way businesses operate. It has, therefore, never been more crucial for enterprises to adopt an effective strategy that allows them to communicate directly with their customers, over channels that are effective and immediate.

Douglas van Wyk, the Author

09 September 2020

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