Physical or Digital? How to communicate effectively during COVID‑19

Computershare Communication Services
Thought Leadership Series

Physical or Digital? Lessons learned about effective communications during COVID‑19

Putting your Business Continuity Plan into action shouldn't stop you from engaging with your customers and giving them the communications experience they want.

The COVID‑19 pandemic has driven the whole world to evoke a simultaneous business continuity plan (BCP) across every sector. But it's also had a significant impact on essential communications.

Customers' normal patterns of life have come to a halt. Simple activities like a trip to the grocery store or dining out with friends are now difficult, risky, or even prohibited. Overnight, demand patterns have shifted. Overall online penetration in China increased by 15–20 percent. In Italy, e-commerce sales for consumer products rose by 81 percent in a single week, creating significant supply-chain bottlenecks. Customers need digital, at-home, and low-touch options.

McKinsey

Move to digital

In a recent report, McKinsey found that, during COVID‑19, consumers vaulted five years in their digital adoption in the space of eight weeks, with many consumers using digital channels for the first time during the pandemic.

Within the Computershare business and our clients’ businesses, we have seen a shift to digital communications and online channels for shareholder meetings, welcome packs, account opening and many other essential communications.

What’s driving the update in digital channels?

A few key factors are at work:

 

1. Social distancing measures changing consumer behavior

Consumers have been reluctant and/or unable to enter bricks-and-mortar businesses, including branches and shopfronts, meaning that they have been forced to embrace digital communication channels that they may otherwise have avoided.

This trend has been particularly strong amongst older demographics and certain geographical areas, depending on the severity of COVID‑19 impacts to the individuals in those areas. For example, senior consumers who would not usually engage with their bank or supermarket through online channels have found it necessary to conduct these transactions online, and therefore also receive the associated communications (e.g. welcome packs or invoices) digitally.

2. Social distancing in the workplace

Here at Computershare, we found that in order to provide appropriate social distancing and employee safety it was essential in some cases to reduce the number of physical printed materials being issued and work with our clients to produce digital communications.

3. Remote working

With businesses mandating as many employees to work from home as possible, collaboration with digital tools is becoming the new norm. You only need to look at the numbers: In December 2019, Zoom had 10 million daily meeting participants. This rose to more than 300 million by April 2020 – just four months later. Meanwhile, Microsoft reported more than 40 million daily active Skype users in April, up 70% from March. In a survey by Asana, nearly two-thirds (62%) of full-time knowledge workers in Australia said they have increased their use of collaboration tools since working from home.

4. Protecting mailroom staff

Our clients found that having options for digital mailroom services allowed them to protect their staff who would normally be on-site managing incoming and outgoing mail.

 

Bucking the trend

With the uptake in digital channels continuing to replace physical notifications, everything points towards a post-COVID world moving rapidly away from physical communications.

But it's not that simple.

We found that client communications continued in their chosen channels with little change in most instances. In some countries, where the impact of COVID‑19 was severe, clients moved to digital communications for necessity. While in other countries where COVID‑19 was less severe, clients sent more physical communications to keep their customers informed about services.

The diversity of consumers means that, although shifting to digital is commonly perceived as the obvious path forward, there are still many consumers who prefer multi-channel options when it comes to certain communications.

Physical mail still has a vital role to play

The COVID‑19 era has taught us there are still situations when the good old 'snail mail' is required. In fact, we advise businesses to keep physical print options available, not only to provide customers with choice, but also out of necessity.

Take voting, for example. In March 2020, we assisted the local government in a major European city to conduct postal voting because local COVID‑19 restrictions prevented them from conducting physical polling in their municipality.

The same applies for businesses receiving communications from customers. Some customers still prefer to submit physical documents, either due to lack of comfort or knowledge around digital, or because they don't have access to technology to complete and submit an online application and attach documentation.

But how do you post documents to customers or receive incoming mail from customers in a situation where remote working is in place? This is a problem faced by many of our clients – one with no clear end in sight. In a survey of US companies, over 50 percent of respondents didn't expect all employees to return to the office until after Q1 2021.

Bridging the divide

This challenge has led to a rise in hybrid services that bridge the divide between digital and traditional mail, helping fill the void of staff in physical locations and keep businesses running smoothly.

One such service is Hybrid Mail, which allows employees to send outbound mail jobs to our print queue where our machines print, envelope and send on their behalf. This allows businesses to continue to print ad-hoc customer communications, such as application forms and confirmation letters, in situations where staff don't have ready access to printers or office facilities.

On the incoming side, Digital Mailroom allows physical mail to be scanned by our systems and securely emailed a nominated recipient. This keeps your mailroom functioning without physical interaction by staff.

These hybrid solutions allow companies to easily adhere to social distancing regulations, action workflows and respond to customers seamlessly while operating in a post-COVID world.

There's a place for digital and physical communications in BCP

The bottom line is to be agile. To continue engaging customers in a rapidly changing environment, it's not a case of choosing between digital and physical communication; you need fluid movement between both forms. We cannot deny that the world is rapidly moving to a digital-only landscape, but there are still regulatory requirements, customer experience considerations and unpredictable situations that require businesses to remain flexible in how we deliver a communications experience that customers desire.

Over to you

If you would like advice on adopting digital communications in your business or improving your existing communications to deliver a better customer experience, Computershare's commsx consulting team is ready to help.

 

Asia and Oceania
Matt Parkinson
Matt.Parkinson@computershare.com.au
+61 412 178 065

Canada
Andrew MacDonald
Andrew.MacDonald@computershare.com
+1 647 270 7975

United States
Matt Conaty
Matthew.Conaty@computershare.com
+1 708 549 7857

UK and Europe
Lucinda Trotman
Lucinda.Trotman@computershare.co.uk
+44 370 702 0003

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