It's hard to be prepared for moments like the one we are facing right now. Fear about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus is abundant, and the actions of individuals and businesses in response to that fear have ranged from nonchalant and dismissive, to all-out panic — which has led to the spread of disinformation. Acting quickly, thoughtfully, and in a well-informed manner has never been more important.
Here's the reality about how people process moments like these — despite our best efforts, humans are generally not the best at multitasking. That's not an insult, it's just science. Even when we think we're multitasking, what we're actually doing is switching very quickly between tasks while still using linear processing for each one. It's something of an evolutionary win for us over other species. It's why today's machine learning is trying to emulate the neural network that forms the human brain. Turns out we're really very powerful processing machines.
That is, we are until there is a crisis.
In the book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why, author Amanda Ripley interviews survivors of a variety of disasters, including car crashes, train wrecks, airplane crashes, and even people who survived 9/11. What becomes clear through their stories is our remarkable ability to survive, and how survival often comes down to how we process information in the moment. In times of stress, our brain systematically reduces input from some senses in order to give maximum resources to the senses exclusively needed to survive.
This prioritization is mirrored in our everyday lives. When one thing feels vital to us, other things are quickly forgotten, ignored, and overlooked. We focus tightly on a solution to a problem, and only information that supports that effort gets processed.
Today we find ourselves at a crossroads. This is likely one of the most defining moments in a generation as a global pandemic has almost our entire planet focused on a single topic. We are still all living our lives. But many are distracted with that voice in our heads reminding us to take precautions, ask questions, seek answers before doing things that were once a normal part of our lives. Like booking a flight, or a hotel room. Like going to a store to try on clothes. Like dining in a restaurant.
It is paramount right now that people be able to get accurate answers to their questions about the coronavirus, and every part of our personal and collective lives being affected by it. There are questions about our immediate health and wellbeing, of course, but as the days pass, the question sphere expands to encompass so many other parts of our lives. Does the grocery store have what I need? Will I lose my job? Are we going into a recession? How long will we have to do social distancing? When will there be a vaccine? What kind of job relief is available to people who are out of work because of COVID-19?
This crisis, like so many others, brings up many questions about the crisis itself and about the broader state of security and functionality for our own lives and futures.
Part of that questioning includes the businesses in our communities and online. Given the obvious and immediate changes we've seen with businesses closing for an extended period of time, now is the critical moment for you to help people understand what your business is doing.
So now it's on you. Is your brand ready to respond?
Numerous companies have detailed the efforts they are taking to protect their customers and their staff during this time. Some are going so far as to close their retail outlets for weeks in the future. Sending out press releases may be part of communicating this plan, but making sure customers are actually getting these messages is just — if not more — important.
Right now, you cannot overshare information on your plans and preparations in dealing with this crisis and what the public needs to know about it — but you can easily under-communicate, thus risking a permanent fracture in your customers' trust in your business. Clearly, this is a time for accurate information, not marketing pitches. That said, all those marketing channels can be put to use sharing relevant information.
If you don't deliver detailed, timely, and relevant answers to customer questions, you'll be underserving your customers at a moment when, frankly, they have enough stress in their lives. Communicating basic business details such as changes in your hours of operation, or closures, or changes to delivery policies positions your company to be at least *one*thing that works in a world that currently feels chaotic and devoid of clear answers.
Re-evaluating where development resources should be applied isn't an easy task. And advocating for a new project to take precedent over established plans is risky, both to a company and the individual suggesting it. However, you do not want to be the company that's seen as remaining disconnected from the realities your customers are feeling, so bear that in mind as you consider where to spend for the biggest overall positive impact during this time.
Addressing the "how" around deploying the right answers for your website visitors is a complex project, though. This is where we come in. The No Wrong Answers website is your starting point for free access to the machine-learning-based Answers platform we've built.
Wrong answers are costly for businesses every day, but moments like this remind us that they can have a real tangible impact on people's lives. Whether you opt to use our system, or move in your own direction, it's imperative you focus on communicating all of the most useful information to your customers in places they will actually see it. Now is the time for accurate answers everywhere.