May 18 2020 08:04 AM

During times of crisis, communication is critical to assure people you are concerned with their wellbeing and remain available to help and offer support


For several years now we have been reading about the importance of embarking on a digital transformation journey and the value of speed and clarity when communicating with customers for a better customer experience. Many organizations took on the challenge of changing their business models to adopt both new ways of working and new technologies to embrace an evolving communication landscape. Conversely, we all know organizations that thought they had time to make the journey from their traditional communication strategies and systems to a more modern digital infrastructure — until they didn’t.

If we’ve learned anything through the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that life is unpredictable. Not only the threat of a relatively unknown disease, but natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes can occur with little warning, yet quickly change the shape of our world. We can’t control these things, but we can use them to learn how to prepare to manage our lives and our businesses to keep moving forward.

During times of crisis, communication is critical to assure your colleagues and employees, suppliers and most significantly, your customers, that you are concerned with their wellbeing and remain available to help and support them. In a situation where “social distancing” is advisable and perhaps crucial, communication is especially important, as is having the right communication systems in place that make it possible to respond quickly to customers with necessary information, in a personalized way.

I believe a long-term impact for companies in the aftermath of COVID-19 will be the recognition of the need to not only be able to conduct business remotely, but also ensure that a resilient communications strategy and accompanying customer communication management (CCM) systems are in place to be able to adapt to any unforeseen situations. As companies plan, here are four key words that I think we have learned need to be on the whiteboard to guide the strategy:

• Speed. Waiting for IT or other service providers to modify your content and communications housed in legacy customer communication management (CCM) system will impair your ability to respond to customers, as well as disrupt your own supply chain. Your new plan should empower the content authors, regulators, marketers, servicing teams or product managers responsible for communications to get the right personalized messaging into communications to the customer. There are several things you can do to accelerate your response. Readying the core communications needed to address the different types of scenarios communication teams may face and have that ready in already prepared communications and templates is key. Of course, these most likely will need to be tailored to accommodate the specific situation.

Legacy customer communications systems that require IT programming to create and modify content, data sources and targeting rules can create the biggest barrier to being responsive, so it’s critical to ensure you empower your business users to directly modify that content, ideally through an accessible cloud-based interface. In addition, shared content objects that make it easy to update a group of communications at once — say for a change of contact information or operating hours within minutes instead of the usual grueling and costly process of editing one communication template at a time. Establishing this type of intelligent content management capability will dramatically reduce the time required to get relevant messages out to customers, simplify change management and ensure consistency and compliance across your messaging.

• Agility. In the case of a crisis as we have recently discovered, organizations need to plan for the unexpected. You need to enable your teams, processes and systems for remote business. In one recent case I heard of, a UK auto insurer couldn’t send the paperwork to a newly licensed driver because no one was available in the office to print their materials and the materials weren’t available electronically. Your customers may also not have access to traditional communication channels. As with the pandemic, customers may be compelled to stay at home, away from their places of business. Having multiple ways to reach your customer base is critically important, especially for time-sensitive news or when displacements happen.

Even if your organization already offers a level of multichannel capabilities, they are often developed independently of each other by different parts of the business charged with delivering a particular type of customer communication. This increases the complexity of coordinating across teams who might today have varying levels of remote access to systems and differing ability to execute. As you plan for greater agility in your communication strategy, seek out the appropriate tools necessary to ensure unified management of your customer communications across all channels with centralized content management to streamline authoring processes.

• Sentiment. During times of crisis emotions run high and individuals are naturally apprehensive and can be especially sensitive. Having the ability to control the sentiment and other key aspects of your communication like reading levels ensures that your communications are phrased clearly yet appropriately for every recipient, and that they invoke a positive emotional response. Re-using existing, effective content when possible improves efficiency and consistency. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) applications now makes it possible to automatically identify the sentiment and reading level of your content to streamline work for your content authors and ensure consistency across the customer journey.

• Cloud. Finally, as noted above, depending on the specific situation, operating a remote business may become essential. Normal access to communication networks and even your internal servers and digital archives may be disrupted when disaster hits. Consider adopting a cloud-based or SaaS service for your CCM activities, including your content authoring to reduce risk. This ensures that you and your staff will be able to access your communications libraries and reach out to customers with ease whenever needed.

The best advice may be the oldest: Plan for the best but prepare for the worst. There are always going to be situations and scenarios that come up that we can’t predict, or we won’t have a pre-written communication ready for. However, as we enter into what is likely to be a new normal at least for a while, laying the groundwork now for a stronger customer-centric communications strategy that is faster, more agile, more empathetic — and can be managed from anywhere — will ensure you have the processes and tools in place for your business to enable two-way communication with customers in good times and in times of crisis.

Patrick Kehoe is Executive Vice President of Product Management for Messagepoint, Inc. Kehoe has more than 25 years of experience delivering business solutions for document processing, customer communications and content management. For more information on Messagepoint, visit
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