Cloud-based digital workplace services are in high demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What should vendors of these services do that balances the ability to do good while helping others against not wanting to seem crass or opportunistic?
Augie Ray wrote a blog post “Beware of Virtue Signaling or Outright Greed in Brand Communications About COVID-19” that addresses all types of businesses (not just high tech). He warns of the danger of expressing values without actually taking concrete actions. Many non-digital workplace businesses cannot offer something of value at this time and may be better served by not sending emails with common platitudes.
But vendors of cloud-based digital workplace services are different: they can certainly help enable remote workforces at this time. Digital workplace services currently include all sorts of productivity tools like cloud office, collaboration, unified communications and meeting management, communication, or anything to support remote work.
I recommend that digital workplace vendors elect to put their services in more hands temporarily at no cost. That could mean removing expiration of free trial periods until the crisis is over. Or offering current customers free upgrades to premium services for the duration. Make sure your infrastructure can actually handle a spike in usage or else you’re not doing the customers or your brand image any good.
Place the change of terms in the subject line of the email (“Acme extending free trials until the end of the COVID-19 crisis”) so the readers know “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM). This will help your email campaign differentiate from the slew of emails from companies talking about themselves and how nice they are being to their employees.
The corollary to this recommendation is to not put out a COVID19-specific message that your product can help without any accompanying change in pricing or packaging. This is too likely to come across as profiteering and could backfire. Once the crisis is past there may come a reckoning for any private enterprises that are seen as taking advantage of the situation. If you don’t want to or aren’t able to offer anything more due to the crisis it’s best to not put out any messaging at all.
This crisis is a time for digital workplace vendors to:
- Help sustain economic activity by keeping remote employees (and your own employees) productive
- Contribute to “flattening the curve” by making social distancing more tolerable
- Win loyalty (not revenue) from potential new customers by offering a good product in a time of need
- Gather telemetry and system usage feedback from this large group of users to help improve the product and its infrastructure. This is a rare opportunity to see how the system performs under higher loads and get a large amount of feedback on what features prospective customers want more or less of, or if they are getting confused and accessing certain help pages more often
- Build a long-term business. Once the crisis is over, if your product was indeed helpful, you can expect some proportion of those users to stay on or upgrade. This future bump in the revenue stream may more than make up for the cost of the free service earlier
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