Facebook is reporting that messaging use is up by 50%-70%. This Pandemic isn't changing how we behave, it has been an accelerant to trends that were already there. Before this crisis hit us, we were already seeing a big move to messaging. In my own house I was seeing one daughter spending her time in Roblox with her friends where they use the group voice chat function all day. The other daughter is on Snapchat messaging all day, but interestingly she goes to Instagram for group video calls ("it's more stable Dad").
In the evenings and weekends, we are all jumping on Zoom group video calls for everything from virtual beers to virtual darts. Our developers at Webio are on Google Meet, and they have found that just having a Meet window open all day among the development team, gives them the sense of "just being able to ask a question, like you would in the office". There will be an acceleration in the adoption of these communications services, and it will be a mix and match of services used based on the job to be done at the time.
Behind all these use cases is the feeling of being there with, and for others. The little beep on the phone that shows you that someone you care about is thinking of you too. Of course, messaging is also serving a very practical function now.
Receiving alerts about product availability, about delivery time frames, or about local services have become psychologically important. When it is a food delivery, it could be important that it's going to be today and not next Friday. If you are ordering from your pharmacy, it will be important that medicines are prepared in advance, that someone knows where and when to collect them, and that the entire exchange is safe and timely. Messaging gives us an environment where we can manage these interactions. At base though, having experienced co-ordinated communications and actions during a pandemic, why when this is all over would you go to the service locations that make you wait again?
Now governments and the health sector have embraced WhatsApp where they might not have before. While it is relatively well publicised that WhatsApp has been a place where misinformation was being spread, after an initial delay, agencies decided that it was also the place where the official information had to be made present. The Irish Health Service Executive (HSE), and the UK's NHS have all launched Covid-19 Symptom Checkers and "what you should do" guidelines. The Asthma Society has also taken a step into messaging with its' Beating Breathlessness' messaging service on WhatsApp.
Getting people to self-serve and triage symptoms over WhatsApp or Web Chatbot is a good starting point. Being able to show live availability of appointments or products (medicines) is another step. Backing these interactions up with live customer care or expert advisers really helps interactions complete correctly when automation can't handle it. Many health services have already made the jump to being able to quickly facilitate one-to-one video appointments. This makes sense as waiting rooms are an infection vector and the more people doctors see the more social distancing needs to be implemented, the more personal protection gear they need, and the fewer total patients they can see in any one time period. Indeed, GP Surgeries in the NHS have been advised to go "Digital First".
In these times, uncertainty around events and waiting times are going to create elevated levels. The ability to keep people up to date with alerts and information of all kinds is one way to help mitigate these anxieties. Managing an entire process in your Messenger gives you the entire history of your interaction. Having experienced these benefits of "Digital First" in a pandemic situation I would not be surprised to just see these approaches to service provision become more normalised when everything returns to normal.
Post pandemic there will be a new digital first, and it will involve even more online services, more eCommerce and more communications. Conversational technologies will be a key capability in this new landscape.