Expect the best, prepare for the worst and capitalise on what comes. While it’s easy for small businesses to become focused on keeping day-to-day activities running as smoothly as possible, it’s important to have processes and systems in place to ensure your business can continue operating in an emergency.
Over the past year, many Australian business have had to contend with the sudden and evolving impact of COVID-19 on their suppliers, staff, customers and creditors, or even natural disasters such as bushfires and floods or infrastructure outages that can have wide-ranging effects, not only on your business, but the operating environment around you.
Businesses can increase their preparedness to respond to disasters by ensuring critical IT systems are based in the cloud, keeping data securely backed-up, secure and readily accessible. Communicating with stakeholders is also key, so pre-preparing contingency communications that can be quickly updated or modified is essential.
Ideally you want to pre-prepare communications that cover likely scenarios that could affect your business. For example, if you’re a manufacturing facility then you might want to pre-prepare communications to cover an on-site health hazard or fire while an online retailer might focus their contingency communications on website outages. By preparing structured, pre-approved communications in advance your business will be able to respond quickly to developing situations.
This is important, as you want to avoid creating an information vacuum. When stakeholders don’t receive information about the situation in a timely manner, they generally assume the worst. By keeping your stakeholders informed, you’ll appear on top of the situation and a source of truth.
Businesses can utilise cloud-based technology platforms to send their business-critical messages in real-time at scale and across multiple delivery channels. Many of these communications platforms enable both one-way and two-way communications, allowing businesses to gain feedback and insights from stakeholders in the field in real-time.
For business-critical communications, the channel you use to contact stakeholders is an important consideration. While email is useful for non-immediate but essential information, it shouldn’t be the sole channel used in a crisis. Email typically experiences delays in open-rates because people are not conditioned to use email for immediate activity. In a crisis, this could delay time-sensitive information being read and place people at risk particularly during evacuations.
Interactive mobile web-apps delivered via SMS, Messenger and WhatsApp are far more likely to be promptly read and acted upon because those channels are primarily used for personal messaging. Interactive messages also provide alerts when a new message arrives – whereas overwhelmingly email users have new email alerts turned off.
Analysis of more than 120 million communications interactions sent through the Whispir platform during COVID-19 showed multi-channel messages with in-build escalations delivered response and engagement rates of over 90 per cent within 20 minutes, and more than 98 per cent within two hours. This was significantly higher than email alone which had a first-time response rate of less than two per cent over a 24-hour period.
For organisations with teams spread over multiple geographic zones, our research shows that messages using a combination of voice, SMS and mobile web apps at the same time, to deliver interactive content and escalate action are far more effective in prompting action compared to email or internal collaboration tools alone (which have very limited action reporting capability).
While being prepared for a crisis is important from a business reputation perspective, how you respond during a crisis can help build competitive advantage. And the good news is you won’t need to implement or pay for a new platform just for crisis communications. Many of these technology platforms can be used to solve for a range of business communications, including internal coordination and customer engagement.
Ben Erskine, Head of Content, communications workflow platform Whispir