When a global health crisis forces small businesses around the country to reduce their services or close up shop for a few months, what do they do? They adapt.
From hairdressers and construction sites to social enterprises and church groups; sectors, which may not have traditionally turned to tech, are now embracing it in ways they wouldn’t have imagined three months ago.
They have used communication platforms with messaging tools such as SMS to keep their doors open (albeit virtually), which has helped to minimise disruption, communicate essential information and keep operations running during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Which sectors had some outstanding efforts?
The marketing industry’s digital pivot has been particularly telling. Many would assume ads would be the first to go in COVID-19 budget cuts, and although some traditional channels may have been de-prioritised, the need to keep customers engaged has remained essential.
Despite a lack of foot traffic, it’s clear that small businesses, retailers, and not-for-profits value the need to maintain a presence in the market and inform customers that they’re available and open.
We’ve seen a surge in dentists, physios, hairdressers and salons notifying customers of restrictions, inviting patrons to book appointments again and complete symptom check-ins as lockdowns ease.
Schools returning to a ‘new normal’ are also finding new ways to contact parents and stay in touch with students – wherever they happen to be.
The construction industry has also seen some particularly interesting use cases, with builders and developers increasingly opting for mobile-first tools like a ‘text for access’ SMS workflow to ensure safety on the worksite.
This allows workers to request contactless access to a site by texting a dedicated number via their mobiles. They receive automated approvals and their business can record and timestamp every person’s whereabouts.
This allows them to monitor how many people are on-site at any one time, and quickly implement contact tracing should a positive COVID-19 case be reported.
And perhaps the most incredible transformation has occurred in community groups. Churches, social groups and local not-for-profits who traditionally haven’t used digital platforms at scale have been benefiting from tech-based communications with their members during lockdown.
In NSW, the Bellingen Shire local community set up a Neighbourhood Care Network to share resources and link the remote community together during a crisis like COVID or the bushfires.
Which solutions flourished?
Where other older communication methods have failed, SMS has proven effective in helping volunteers and coordinators react rapidly, with text message broadcasts prompting an average 29% response rate in comparison to email’s 4.8%.
In one particular case, SMS garnered a 14% response rate in just under one minute for a request for food and clothing for the homeless.
As well as helping businesses through this crisis, digital communication tools are also triggering a powerful shift in how brands will engage with their members going forward, with some platforms proving more relevant than others.
We’re seeing an understandable surge in requests for SMS, not only because of its high cut-through but also because of app fatigue.
Asking the community to download the Government’s COVIDSafe app is one thing, but individual businesses asking their customers to download another app just to get special deals or appointment reminders is another.
Text messaging is ubiquitous. Everyone is familiar with it, and it works in cutting through and getting people to act.
In fact, business SMS messaging traffic is predicted to reach 3.5 trillion messages this year, up from 3.2 trillion in 2019 – despite COVID-19 restrictions.
Of course, we are still in the midst of this crisis, and it’s difficult to predict how the next few months will play out.
But seeing this transitional period as an opportunity to improve customer engagement and streamline communication with staff and audiences will help businesses come out the other side in a stronger position.