The role of communications in the “next normal”
Rahm Emanuel, the advisor to then President Barack Obama, once said you should never let a serious crisis go to waste. As businesses navigate their way through life after the pandemic, the essence of that statement should serve as a reminder for leaders to look for opportunities to be better despite adversities; to explore and evolve so that they can set businesses on the right trajectory for recovery and growth.
What opportunities has COVID-19 presented?
In healthcare alone, the pandemic has mobilised hospitals to use artificial technology (AI). In Singapore, the National University Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital have implemented a clinical chat assistant app to share and gather timely clinical information on COVID-19 such as workflows and operational directives.
In China, rural live streaming has become the new norm for farmers who couldn’t sell their produce because of lockdown protocols. Through e-commerce sites JD.com and Taobao, farmers could set up online stores and create their own content, forging a new way of business that will likely remain in place long after the pandemic is over.
From an organisational perspective, the coronavirus crisis has forced businesses to rethink their strategies across all facets, and communications is no different. Companies have had to pivot their approach as they deal with economic uncertainties while managing employee wellbeing. Effective communications have seen companies through the worst of the crisis, but how can communicators now support businesses bridge to the “next normal”, when the future remains uncertain?
1. Review the response plan
Protocols for responding to and managing crises are in place for most organisations, but the scale with which COVID-19 impacted businesses and their employees across the world was impossible to anticipate and plan for.
Current frameworks might be helpful but could fall short if they are not designed to respond to a health pandemic. To start, businesses could differentiate their response plan between crisis brought about by traditional business issues (such as product recalls, cybersecurity issues, employee misconduct or natural disasters) and a crisis due to a pandemic. Prepare with scenario drills and a plan of action to match the situation at hand.
2. Reassess the customer journey
Self-isolation rules and shop closures have given rise to new customer habits. Internet activity rose as people started shopping and streaming more heavily online, taking online courses, and organising Zoom calls.
Customer journey maps were clear prior to the pandemic. But the habits people have taken up as shutdowns were enforced will likely remain in place after lockdown. These maps need to be re-drawn, with communications adapted alongside it to reflect the customer needs, motivations and other insights that each stage in the journey presents.
3. Revitalise the customer experience
The pandemic has put a strain on all industries, especially in healthcare, where resources became stretched and restrictive measures to curb the virus resulted in the deprioritisation of primary care. However, the restrictions gave rise to something that was already gaining traction for the past few years – telehealth.
Telehealth will be more relevant than ever post-pandemic as healthcare professionals, institutions and patients realise its benefits. Providers need to review their communications strategies to maintain a high level of patient satisfaction even if the care was delivered virtually. Establishing rapport, listening and communicating with empathy apply both in in-person encounters and virtual ones. Telehealth is a prime example of how the healthcare industry leveraged technology to adapt and enhance customer experience. Other industries should follow suit.
4. Reshape employee engagement
As companies have been forced to review their digital infrastructure, they too have had to think about employee wellbeing, engagement and productivity in the context of remote working. Communicating simply and frequently during crisis became critical to ensuring everyone felt connected and were engaged.
With remote working still likely in place, businesses need to be extremely sensitive to the new realities in the workplace. Communication tools and tactics need to demonstrate sensitivity to what is happening amongst employees. The principles of good employee engagement remain the same: listening and responding to the needs of your people.
5. Recalibrate the approach to community building
The lockdowns gave way to new methods of connecting: families bonded through board games, friends who have not had contact for so long reunited over Zoom calls and even in pop culture, musicians spawned a new cultural activity on Instagram through the Verzuz music battle. For businesses, the rules also gave rise to increased team bonding activities to stay connected.
Communities are built around a shared purpose. Businesses can think of ways to engage their communities by providing value at this turbulent time. Create a platform where information on COVID-19 flows or possibly, gather stakeholders to discuss your industry’s outlook with a goal to provide a forum for asking questions and sharing insights.
Ampy Corpus is an Associate Director at Spurwing. She counsels clients on their communications strategies including business storytelling, brand planning, engagement plans and roll-out, thought leadership and internal communications.
Spurwing Communications would love to help as you prepare for the “next normal” and explore the different ways you can better communicate as an organisation. Reach out to the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.