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Effective communication to your supply chain in a crisis

Andrew Fry, VP of Whispir Asia

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts supply chains and operating environments globally, organisations desperately need effective stakeholder communications that are rapidly deployed and easily updated.

Continually changing conditions are seeing several countries move towards variations of quarantine zones or lockdowns and panic buying is widespread. This puts additional pressure on all aspects of the supply chain – from raw material delivery to manufacturing through to warehousing and product distribution.

While some companies are implementing successful continuity plans that can deal with evolving conditions this pandemic is creating, many are struggling. Companies are relying on one-way group emails or SMS alone can quickly lead to a critical lack of coordination, given the diverse stakeholder groups and rapidly changing circumstances.

Effective real-time communications processes need to be agile. Your company needs to send the right messages to the right people at the right time via the most suitable channels as conditions change. It also needs to do this at scale, while receiving feedback so responses can evolve as new insights emerge. Technology platforms are key to automating these business-critical communications, enabling real-time, two-way interactions with staff, customers and suppliers in different geographies and across multiple channels.

To handle the additional stress on your supply chain, follow these guidelines based on Whispir’s 20-year crisis communications experience with emergency providers, government departments and companies across several sectors.

Makes sure your plan is fit for purpose

Ensure the needs of all stakeholders are mapped and that processes allow two-way communications – enabling senior leadership team members to promptly make informed decisions while keeping staff aware of evolving situations and processes.  Information on any crisis should reach your customers and suppliers directly from you, not the media. Part of any crisis communication plan needs to include processes to inform these vital stakeholders, and how to effectively update them throughout the incident. Be sure to be the first to communicate to stakeholders.

Have a single source of truth

A ‘single source of truth’ ensures internal and external stakeholders know where to go to access the latest information. Ensure appropriate company spokespeople are kept up to date with evolving conditions to ensure media, staff, customers, regulators, key supplier groups and the public are informed with a clear, consistent message. For external sources use an official government or health authority website to source basic information to ensure consistency. Remember you don’t have to create a lot of the information – you just need to disseminate it and coordinate your actions with it.

Use the channels your stakeholders use 

Engage with stakeholders in the communications channels they use most, such as SMS, WhatsApp, video, voice and email. This ensures critical communications are not missed. For urgent communications, SMS accelerates notification speed with the average text message accessed within seconds. Automated voice calls with pre-recorded or text-to-speech instructions generate an even faster response and can be triggered automatically from many communications platforms as certain criteria are met. The goal is to gain attention and encourage engagement with the stakeholder, rather than simply delivering your message content to a device and hoping it is consumed.

Use templates

Eighty per cent of time spent managing communications is used figuring out what to say. By preparing communication templates in advance, organisations can respond quickly and reduce the risk of poor communications. The quicker your response, the less time for speculation to circulate.

Make it interactive

It’s not enough to just send messages. Your communications to stakeholders need to be actionable and two-way to allow for feedback. This provides visibility on who is really engaged and captures insights from people on the ground, improving analysis and decision making.  Communications software can trigger event-based communications – if A happens, send B – so that the appropriate stakeholders are contacted when criteria are met.

Keep employees informed

Employees are often a conduit to keeping communications flowing between stakeholders and into the supply chain. It’s essential to ensure employees are informed with regular internal and organisation updates to prevent the circulation of incorrect information and potentially negative statements. The benefits of engaging the edge of the organisation often lead to valuable new insights that can be quickly actioned to avoid future complications.

Update early and often

Be proactive with sharing news, even when the whole picture isn’t clear. It is better to over-communicate than to allow silence and rumours to fill the void. Start with summary statements that make it clear what is initially known and provide updated action plans and new developments as early and as often as possible.

If there’s a communication vacuum people tend to assume things are worse than they probably are. At a minimum, organisations should issue regular communications about changes to business operations, workplace access protocols and self-isolation directives

Ensure data is secure and leaves an audit trail

As organisations and governments restrict movements people throughout supply chains are being asked by their employers and managed buildings to provide sensitive personal information. As security of this information is crucial, you need to ensure you are using secure and encrypted communications channels. This will also ensure compliance with statutory obligations for management of privacy data, which may be aggregated over time.

Organisations need to ensure all supply chain interactions are recorded for auditing purposes. As the pandemic evolves over the coming weeks and months, organisations may be asked to provide reports on interactions for contact traceability – and often these reports will be demanded quickly.

If your business needs quick and effective communications, Whispir has created a list of templates to help you interact with staff, suppliers and business partners in real-time, at scale with full audit trails. These are ‘drag and drop’, do not require an IT manager to build or integrate, and can be implemented in less than a day. These and more information on crisis communications best practice can be accessed here.

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