Zipcast Episode 21: COVID-19 Insights for Business with CEO John Lauer

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Zipwhip recently commissioned a survey of 1,000 people across three states that have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Today, we comb through the results of the report with Zipwhip CEO, John Lauer. How are consumer behaviors changing as a result of the pandemic? How can businesses adjust, according to our new reality? Host Scott Heimes, chief marketing officer at Zipwhip, and John Lauer explore these questions and more.


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Podcast transcript:

Scott Heimes: Welcome to The Zipcast where we talk about the latest trends in texting for business, customer communication strategies and technology. I’m your host, Scott Heimes, Chief Marketing Officer at Zipwhip, and thanks for tuning in.

Scott Heimes: Just like you, we’re all trying to make sense of what we’re experiencing during the coronavirus crisis. To help carve out some new perspective Zipwhip surveyed over 1,000 people to determine how their communication behaviors were changing during this difficult time. We invited in John Lauer, CEO and co-founder of Zipwhip for his reaction to the survey results. Even in a time of crisis. It’s important for businesses to pay attention to consumer trends. We hope you find this helpful.

Scott Heimes: Welcome back to the Zipcast, John.

John Lauer: Hi, it’s good to be back, Scott.

Scott Heimes: So, brought you on the show today to help us interpret some results from a recent survey we did about the coronavirus crisis. Very interesting stuff. Before we dive in, these are some pretty interesting times. How are you doing? How’s things at Zipwhip?

John Lauer: I mean, I think they’re as best they can be during a time like this. This is definitely unprecedented. Everybody’s working from home. I know everybody’s got cabin fever. I do of course, can’t wait to get back in the office, but hey, I think we’re all coping.

Scott Heimes: Yeah, it has been pretty amazing. Our ability to adapt and to be resilient through this time and I know a lot of businesses are feeling the same way. I’m also feeling really proud of our nonprofit program. We’re providing free business texting to nonprofits and government agencies, helping people during the crisis. We’ve really been helping some of these folks connect with consumers in need and actually helping the distribution of their aid or services. That feels pretty good.

John Lauer: It does. I agree with you. It’s been pretty awesome actually to see the response when we announced that free program.

Scott Heimes: Alright, so let’s talk about this report that we just produced. We run surveys all the time. Looking to get a sense of how businesses and consumers are communicating. We recently had you on the show to talk about our 2020 State of Texting report, but for this one we wanted to find out how the coronavirus was affecting consumer and business communication. Specifically related to texting.

Scott Heimes: So we surveyed a little over a thousand people across three of the states that got hit the hardest, New York, Washington and California. These three states are currently under shelter-in-place orders and they’ve got essential and non-essential business classifications and so huge amount of impact in terms of communication between businesses and their customers. So John, did you get a chance to take a look at this report? What was your initial reaction?

John Lauer: I did and it was fascinating. I mean, I would say some of it was like, “Yep, duh, no surprise there.” And then other stuff was pretty intriguing and in a way I don’t think either you or I could have predicted how valuable texting would have become during a crisis like this.

Scott Heimes: I’ve collected a few of the more interesting findings. Here’s one that consumers are spending a lot more time on their mobile devices every day, hours more. 56% of people said they’re using their mobile devices more when 46% are spending additional four or more hours every day on their phone. What do you think of this?

John Lauer: I mean, in a way it’s one of those where I’m not surprised, but I think initially I was surprised. But you think about it, and you’re like, “No, even in my personal daily life being stuck at home like everybody else, my phone is attached to me.” Just even the amount of news, I think we’re all consuming and I’m reading it on the phone incessantly. I’m on my computer too over Wi-Fi, but my phone is like, it’s right there.

Scott Heimes: Yeah, and that’s exactly what consumers are doing with their phones is they’re educating themselves in part around the coronavirus. In the time of COVID-19, the majority of survey respondents said that they prefer to consume news and receive alerts on their phones–55% of people. Compared with the computer, which was 21%; TV, which was 20%; or even print media, which was 2%. That’s pretty interesting.

John Lauer: Well, the 2% so low, it’s almost nonexistent. Which to me doesn’t surprise me. I think we all started canceling our newspaper subscriptions years ago and our magazine subscriptions have dwindled and it’s just not the way we get our media. But even TV you think might’ve been higher, but, again the phone and the amount of texting. Even the amount that I’m interacting with my family now over a group text, way higher during COVID-19 than prior.

Scott Heimes: Yeah. And we ask questions about texting, their texting behavior. We learned that texting remains a vital tool for communication during the crisis between businesses and their consumers. Three out of four people are texting family and friends more often. It sounds like you’re one of them.

John Lauer: Yep.

Scott Heimes: And 38% of people are getting more news and alerts through their texts than they were before the crisis started. 62% of people are responding more quickly to incoming texts so it all lines up really.

John Lauer: It totally lines up. Even, again, I look at my personal life, my hair appointment got canceled because of COVID, which okay, it makes sense. Although, boy do I need a haircut, and the kid’s dentist appointments got canceled. That all came in over text. The school updates have just been incessant and a lot of those come in over texts now, although I think they need more Zipwhip in their lives at the school system.

Scott Heimes: I tend to agree with you. Here’s another great finding: 48% of people said they prefer to receive alerts and notices from businesses via text versus email, which was 45% or phone calls, which was 7%. Wow, what’s that say?

John Lauer: I love that stat and I would have to agree with it. I mean when you think about your email inbox, there’s a lot of low priority stuff, but if it’s stuff like your kid’s dentist appointment, it’s a pretty high priority thing in your life to know to not lug the kids into the car, drive down there and only to find out when you get to the front door it’s closed. So this is why I think consumers are saying this is that this stuff is important to them and so they should be getting the notice in the medium they consider important information, which is texting.

Scott Heimes: Yeah. You know, I get the sense that businesses of all types are really adapting to the COVID-19 scenario in a lot of really interesting ways. I think this is going to lead to a lot of innovation for businesses and how they communicate with customers and a lot of people are going to find ways to use this internally as well. In fact, 72% of businesses responding to the survey said they’re using texting to communicate with employees and staff during the crisis. We’re seeing this in our customer base as well.

Scott Heimes: In fact, we just did a webinar a week or so ago and highlighted one of our customers, is a big manufacturer in Iowa who’s using our solution to communicate with all of their hundreds of employees, many of which don’t have desktop computers or laptops. Rather, they just have phones. And so this company uses Zipwhip to do all of their updates around the coronavirus crisis, all of their messaging and communication back and forth between their customers. And I see this as a growing trend. Lots of businesses will choose to use texting to communicate with their employees.

John Lauer: Yeah, I totally agree. And I’m seeing other use cases as well. There’s a major wireless carrier who’s now using Zipwhip internally to talk to all of their retail stores and all the employees at the retail stores. This is just like as of last week. And then, another story about a trucking company who’s using it to do all the updates to all of the truck drivers out there because of COVID-19 and all the changes that have happened.

Scott Heimes: Yep. I mean we’re seeing all kinds of use cases in the medical services field about asking people to wait in their cars instead of the waiting room. The doctor’s office texts you when they’re ready to see the physician. People using texting to alert. Lots of large businesses are using texting to alert their customer base that there’s long waits on the phone or even chat. And so they are able to handle that high volume messaging that way.

Scott Heimes: And tons of innovation around businesses that are using texting now to change the way they offer their services, whether it’s restaurants using, using our solution to communicate to their customers that their order is ready to pick up or even take the order or gyms and fitness providers offering virtual classes via Zoom and using texting to do all the scheduling and communication around it. Even fitness challenges of the day delivered via text. Lots of therapists and others are using our solution as well to communicate with their customers back and forth. It’s exciting in some ways to see how innovative people are being about using texting.

John Lauer: Totally agree. I mean even if you’re doing home health care and you can’t show up because of the social distancing, you’re now still just texting them throughout the day just saying, “How’s it going? How’s it going?” You’re kind of checking in that way. Or we even have grocery stores that are doing social distancing now using texting where like your healthcare use case you’re describing, they’re asking you to join their wait list because they only want 35 people to be in the store at any one time. And so you text when you get to the parking lot and then they text you to come out of your car and come in the store. It’s incredible how valuable texting has become during COVID-19.

Scott Heimes: Yeah, it really is. Well John, as we wrap up today as a CEO, I’m sure you’ve seen your shares of ups and downs in business. Any parting words or advice you’d give to other leaders that are trying to navigate through this time?

John Lauer: I think obviously it’s way beyond texting, all the stuff that all these leaders are dealing with out there. But I think if we can help you in some small way, to sort of help your teams manage better or your customers manage better, we would love to do that. And I do in fact think there’s a lot of ways for us to help. Just through some of the use cases we’ve described. So hopefully we’ll see out there and good luck.

Scott Heimes: Yeah, I want our listeners to know that we continue to create resources for businesses to navigate through this time. As John just described, they’re all located at Go check it out. And John, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

John Lauer: Absolutely. Thanks Scott.

Scott Heimes: Thanks for joining us. Now if you’re like me, you enjoy nerding out on texting data and industry predictions. So go ahead and download our new 2020 State of Texting report. You can find this at And make sure you subscribe to the Zipcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, so you get the latest episodes. And feel free to text us with topics you’d like to hear about or other feedback for the show. Just send a text to (347) 772-3529. Until next time.

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