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The Role of a Secure Channel in an Omnichannel Strategy 1024 404 Bob Janacek

The Role of a Secure Channel in an Omnichannel Strategy

In previous blogs we’ve touched upon how using an omnichannel strategy is a great way to provide a better experience for your customers. We’ve also discussed that an integrated, secure email channel is missing in most omnichannel experiences. However, we’ve yet to really dive into the demands for omnichannel, the benefits for successfully implementing the strategy, and provide a real-life example of how a secure channel in your omnichannel strategy can not only elevate customer experience, but also make things easier for your organization. It’s only appropriate then to take a step back for a few minutes to discuss these topics – let’s get started!

We’ve all heard it before – putting all customer interactions in one place allows you to provide an excellent experience and it makes your job easier. But do you know the data that backs this up?

The case for using an omnichannel strategy

According to one report, those companies with a strong omnichannel strategy retain up to 89% of their customers. Those who don’t? They only retain about 1/3 of their customers. This fact alone is enough to explain the increased emphasis on omnichannel and customer experience. In fact, Gartner’s 2019 Customer Experience Management Survey states that in 2017 only 1/3 of companies claimed to compete on and value customer experience as part of their strategy. But in 2021, it’s expected that 4/5 of companies will put customer experience first.

But what if you’re in a regulated industry – do these statistics still apply to you?

While these statistics are weighted on retail or ecommerce perspectives, providing an excellent (and secure) omnichannel customer experience for those in regulated industries is equally important. In fact, DataMotion recently conducted a survey to hear what IT and Financial Services Executives have to say about their own company and their customer communications. Almost half complained about inefficient workflows involving fax and postal mail. They also expressed complaints over limited ways to interact with their customers while maintaining regulatory compliance and the multiple user IDs needed to access their legacy methods of secure document exchange or email encryption. Unsurprisingly, this survey also revealed a desire to see all interactions with their customers in a unified interface.

That survey was conducted about a year ago and, as you can imagine, the push for an omnichannel strategy and seamless interactions in regulated industries has only grown since then. If not just because of social distancing and the coronavirus halting face to face business and pushing for all interactions to take place digitally, but also because of the generational shift and increasing influence of Millennials and Generation Z.

Millennials are some of the first people to grow up with technology as a large aspect of their life. And even more so than Millennials, Generation Z was practically born with a smartphone in their hand. As you can imagine, growing up with technology has greatly influenced how they expect to do business. These generations don’t just want businesses to be “digital-first,” they prefer to do business with vendors whose digital experience is polished and slick. And if they have a problem with a transaction, a question about their bank statement, or something else, they expect to be able to easily exchange messages and supporting documents digitally in their customer app to get their questions answered. If their problem resolution experience is difficult, time consuming, or requires too many steps, consumers from these generations especially will not hesitate to take their business elsewhere.

How you can meet these demands… while staying compliant

So, tying this all back to omnichannel, how can we meet these demands for a frictionless, digital-first customer experience without sacrificing security and compliance for those in regulated industries? We need to make the customer app or portal part of this omnichannel strategy and allow simplified and secure exchanges of sensitive information between your customers and internal customer service agents.

This experience needs to be native in the app. Your customers shouldn’t have to receive a secure email from their bank, then be taken outside of your app to some other portal to access it. Why is this? Because your employees, and especially your customers, do not want to deal with any extra logins or portals – they should be able to send, receive and review messages and documents, even those containing sensitive data, in a seamless and natural way.

How can we accomplish this? By using APIs to integrate a messaging center behind the login of an organization’s application, customer portal, or mobile app, we can allow all of these interactions to occur in one place. With DataMotion’s Secure Message Center, you can natively integrate the system that your customer care agents use with the portal and mobile app that your customers use – allowing simple, secure and compliant exchange. Your agents and customers can then easily initiate, retrieve and review sensitive exchanges from within the interface they’re already using.

A real-life example of an omnichannel strategy in a regulated industry

Instead of diving into the details of how a secure message center can fit into your omnichannel strategy, what it is, and how it works, it would be better to provide you with a real-life example.

Below is an actual graph of an integrated message center in use by a large wealth management firm with over 2 million customers. They actively use our secure message center peaking at about 100 API calls per second. On the left-hand side of this graph, you can see that they reach about 750 new messages or documents per hour. These are messages that are exchanged between the organization from their internal support systems and customers that are logged in to their customer app.

Line chart showing messages and documents exchanged per hour for a large wealth management firm. Described under the heading A Real Life Example of an Omnichannel Strategy in a Regulated Industry
Line chart showing omnichannel messages center access per hour for a large wealth management firm. Described under the heading A Real Life Example of an Omnichannel Strategy in a Regulated Industry

Over time, individual customer repositories or message folders continue to grow with exchanged messages and documents. This turns a customer’s message center into a personalized knowledge base of their relationship with the organization. In fact, on the right-hand side of the graph, you can see message center access peak at 14,000 per hour. So, for these 750 message exchanges per hour, customers are referring to prior exchanges over 18 times to 1 over sending a new message. They’re often able to find the answer they need in a prior exchange before asking a new question.

There are also some other benefits of implementing this secure message and document exchange as part of an omnichannel strategy which cannot be seen in the above graph. First, this organization’s customers are using the message center twice as much as they were the year before. Despite this increase in usage, the number of support requests that the organization now receives from their 2+ million customers has dropped by 30%. Not only that, but since the beginning of the year, the average size of messages has tripled, indicating that more documents are being attached and exchanged digitally.

So, as the usage of this private message channel grows, the repository of prior exchanges grows, and the customer’s relationship with the organization grows as well. This is because their customers rely on and trust this channel to get answers to their questions – it becomes a familiar touchpoint to them. Not only does Secure Message Center allow this organization to provide a superior customer experience, but this knowledge base aspect has also allowed them to increase the retention of their customers as well.

In summary...

There was quite a bit of information crammed into one blog post, so I’ll summarize the key points in just a few bullet points:

  • Implementing an omnichannel strategy is important not only for improving your customers’ experience, but also helping you to retain customers in the long run
  • Customers are demanding efficient, secure, and frictionless experiences with the organizations that they do business with, including those in regulated industries
  • Not only can secure exchange in your customer app or portal help you provide a superior customer experience, but it can also allow you to make your agents’ job easier, create a personalized knowledge base of information for your customers, and improve customer retention

Are you interested in adding a secure channel to your omnichannel strategy?

Learn more about our secure message center to get started today!

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Implementing an Omnichannel Customer Experience in Regulated Industries 1024 404 Bob Janacek

Implementing an Omnichannel Customer Experience in Regulated Industries

An omnichannel strategy is not one size fits all – yet, most articles you find online about how using the strategy can improve customer experience focus on the topic in a retail or ecommerce setting. That’s why we sat down with DataMotion CEO, Bob Janacek to discuss how an omnichannel strategy can be used in regulated industries such as healthcare or financial services where the exchange of sensitive data occurs. Continue reading to find out how an omnichannel strategy helps businesses in these industries improve customer retention, satisfaction and provide a better customer experience – particularly, if they integrate a secure email channel as part of their strategy.

Hi Bob, it’s nice to sit down and talk with you again. The last time we spoke, we touched upon how customer service can be enhanced by integrating a secure message and document exchange channel as part of an omnichannel strategy. This time, we’re going to expand more on this topic to focus on omnichannel in regulated industries such as financial services and healthcare. So, for anyone who may not be aware, can you briefly describe what an omnichannel strategy is and the benefits to having a strong one?

Bob Janacek: Omnichannel is an evolution of a multichannel strategy. Like multichannel, an omnichannel strategy provides customer service over a variety of channels, including mobile and desktop portals and apps, chat, email, social media, fax and voice. But unlike multichannel, which uses different systems and databases to provide this range of services, omnichannel centralizes data from all channels in a customer record, providing a seamless experience for customers and contact center agents as customers move among channels.

As you mentioned, this links back to providing a superior customer experience – a topic which we’ve discussed quite a bit. For those who are trying to improve their customer experience with an omnichannel strategy, or even those that currently use one – what are some of the top challenges they may face?

There’s no doubt that the promise of omnichannel is compelling. But in practice, successfully implementing and receiving the benefits of omnichannel is challenging. Take, for example, email. Surveys show that about 30% of customers want to use email as their preferred support channel. But by nature, email is outside of the customer portal and mobile app, and may even be external to the contact center system. Companies in regulated industries, such as wealth management, financial services, insurance and healthcare have additional challenges since email isn’t a secure way to exchange sensitive data. So, they turn to encrypted email systems to supplement their customer service workflows. But those systems add another portal and login to the customer experience and are frequently cited by customers as an area of frustration when exchanging messages and documents with their vendors. Especially in these times of remote work and social distancing, organizations have to make doing business remotely with their customers as secure and seamless as possible.

Let’s focus on this a little bit specifically. You mentioned that email is one of the most frequently asked for channels, but it tends to be left out of the omnichannel experience. Not to mention, it has some limitations such as integrations into a customer portal as well as security. What are some ways organizations can leverage the benefits of email within an omnichannel strategy?

To achieve a seamless omnichannel experience, an email or message center experience must be integrated seamlessly behind the login of customer-facing portals and apps. By default, it should be secure to protect any type of data exchange. Integrating into the customer experience, and that of customer service agents, requires APIs for secure exchange and repositories that allow prior message and document exchanges to be viewed. These APIs should support single sign on and provide a secure, seamless experience to users.

Organizations that have integrated message centers in their customer portal or app have seen rapid customer adoption and escalating usage. We’ve seen examples where customers refer to prior message and document exchanges over ten (10) times more frequently than sending new messages, resulting in a 30% reduction in support requests.  It’s as if this channel, which is secure, personalized and efficient, increases the customer’s understanding of their relationship with the organization.

So, you started to mention that the integration of a secure message and document repository decreases support requests and creates almost a knowledge base effect – can you elaborate some more on this?

That’s right. As a customer’s message and document repository grows, we see them referring to that repository substantially more than creating new messages. The repository becomes, in effect, a growing personalized knowledge base of their relationship with the organization. As time goes by, this repository gets bigger and grows in value to the customer, serving as a reference point for issues, document exchanges and transactions, answering questions on related or duplicate topics, and increasing their bond and loyalty to the organization.

So, in summary, you talked a lot about this missing secure email channel. This channel, although frequently demanded by customers, is often left out of the experience – causing organizations to miss out on the opportunity to unify and streamline their customer’s experience using an omnichannel strategy. Not only that, but they’re missing a vital opportunity to save time and money for their support teams. Why do you think so many organizations seem to be passing up on this opportunity despite these benefits?

For most technologies, the option is buy versus build. Since it’s not common to find secure email vendors that offer APIs, buy often meant having a co-branded email encryption portal with a separate login and user experience, all drawbacks of legacy multichannel solutions. When looking to build a secure message center, the significant scope and complexity of the project quickly comes into focus.

Fortunately, organizations are finding out about commercial off the shelf solutions, such as DataMotion Secure Message Center, that provide a secure, scalable, API-driven solution that can be rapidly integrated into their existing contact center and customer-facing portals and mobile apps. So hopefully the days of disconnected email and document exchange will soon be behind us, and customers and organizations will be able to effortlessly conduct business and transactions digitally and remotely in a secure manner.

Well Bob, as always it was nice to speak with you. I hope you and your family are continuing to do well. I look forward to speaking with you again for our next interview.

Enrich your customer experience with a secure channel in your omnichannel strategy

Watch Bob’s fireside chat during CCW at Home 2020 to learn more

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Meet Steven Strauss – the Guy Who Wants to Make Your Experience with Us Even Better 1024 404 Steven Strauss

Meet Steven Strauss – the Guy Who Wants to Make Your Experience with Us Even Better

We talk a lot about how you can provide a great customer experience to your customers, but we’ve rarely stepped back to discuss what we’re doing to provide you, our customers, with the best experience possible. One of the ways we’re doing this, is by continuing to build our DataMotion Team. We’d like to introduce you to Steven Strauss, our new Director of Operations here at DataMotion. We spent a little bit of time getting to know Steven, his background, his goals and aspirations for the company, as well as some fun facts about him. Continue reading to meet the new guy at DataMotion and to learn about some of his plans to make your customer experience with us even better!

Hi, Steven. It’s nice to e-meet you and to learn a little bit more about what you do and who you are. So, for everyone reading this interview, can you please introduce yourself, your name, title, where you’re from and tell everyone a little bit about you.

Steven Strauss: My name is Steven Strauss and I am currently the Director of Operations at DataMotion. I’m from Bridgewater, New Jersey. I’ve been in New Jersey most of my life – and I’ve been in the IT world for a little more than 20 years, in some way, shape, or form. I started out as a Developer and moved my way up to Development Management into full Management roles. So, overall, I’ve been doing Management for about 8 to 10 years so far.

Steven Strauss in Disney

Okay, thank you Steven. So, can you tell me a little bit about why you’re excited to join the DataMotion Team?

Steven Strauss: Well, there’s a couple different reasons. Number one, when I talked with DataMotion, I started looking into the company. First and foremost, it seems like a great environment to work in. My team is top notch, I mean, very, very close knit. We’re always trying to work together to do everything that’s needed for each other, for the company and for our customers. After learning about the company itself, I did a little bit more research and found that this position was right up my alley. I feel it will give me the opportunity to fully utilize the base of knowledge I have built up over the last 20 years.

That all sounds really good and really exciting! Can you let the readers know about some of your goals for DataMotion?

Steven Strauss: Well, there’s a bunch of different goals. The nice thing is that DataMotion is very organized, and communication is good.  But there are places where our tools can be streamlined to make communication even more effective. So, I want to try and see if I can coordinate everything into a simpler set of tools that will make us even more efficient and able to serve our customers in a more timely manner. For example, instead of using a range of applications from third-party tools and multiple vendors, we would use more add-ons or plugins with our existing systems. By removing some of these older or redundant applications it would allow us to have less to maintain and save time.

Currently, we’re very Windows and Microsoft oriented. So, we’re going to make sure that the relationship becomes even stronger. Expect to see more from us in this area. Right now, we’re leveraging the Azure architecture. The next thing we’re going to leverage for that is the database side of things – and to move our thinking to the next level. This will give us a much higher vertical horizon compared to before.

What would you expect the impact on customers to be from your initiative? What’s going to be in it for them, how is this going to make their experience with us better?

Steven Strauss: All of this is being done with the intent of providing customers the levels of service that they expect – to give them the best experience. That’s number one. Number two, by doing this, we can reallocate resources much more properly. This will then benefit our clients because the workload from my team can then be better utilized to meet specific client needs much quicker than they are now. In summary, by streamlining our internal communication, we will be able to quickly and efficiently communicate with our customers – much like how we help our customers streamline their customer service functions and secure communication methods to provide a better experience.

So, it sounds like you have a lot of good goals going forward. So now following this, let’s move on to a few fun questions. What would you say are some of your favorite hobbies or activities outside of work?

Steven Strauss: At heart, I’m a big nerd. So, a couple of the different things I love are sci-fi shows and anything Star Wars oriented. On top of that, one of my biggest hobbies lately, and has been for a while, is playing Dungeons & Dragons with a group of my friends. I used to be very passé if people didn’t want to play it, but now I’m part of the supergroup because I play a lot. The nice thing about it is that it gets me out of my skin for a while and it keeps me thinking a lot.

So that begs the question, do you win all the time?

Steven Strauss: That’s the greatest thing about the game – there are no technical winners or losers. Instead of Monopoly, where you’re in it to win for yourself, it’s normally a team effort with a couple of people cooperatively playing. And I think it helps in my professional career. I’ll think – “okay, instead of just me getting ahead and what I can get out of it, what do myself and my team get out of it?” So now, my management style is instead of me being a manager, I like to be a leader for the team where we all work together and we all get the benefits. And the other idea behind it is that it encourages out-of-the box thinking because it’s completely open-ended gameplay.

That sounds really cool and really fun. I’ll have to look into it more later today.

Steven Strauss: Yeah, the other hobby I do, especially with the Coronavirus, is I started my own blog. I write about my love for Dungeons & Dragons as well as some personal and business things that have happened to me over the years in order to help other people. There are also some technical things in there because one other big hobby I do to keep myself up to date with different technical things is I learned a whole new programming language because I felt like it. So, what I do is I try to pass that on to everybody through my blog.

That’s really cool and really impressive too. So, my next question is one that most people kind of dread, but can you tell me a fun fact about you that no one else at DataMotion would know?

Steven in Animal Kingdom

Steven Strauss: A fun fact – I don’t know if everyone knows, but I’m a huge Disney nerd. Me, my family, and even down to our dogs, all have something to do with Disney. Before the Coronavirus, we would go down at least once, if not twice a year, to Disney World. We’ve also been out to experience the Hawaii Disney Resort and love to wear their stuff. It’s kind of funny because when Disney bought Star Wars and all of Lucasfilm, it was great because all of my shirts are mostly like that anyways. So, now I’m even more Disney.

So, is there anything else that you would want to share that I haven’t asked you about yet – business or personal?

Steven Strauss: Business-wise, I always say that my leadership skills are inspired by Steve Carrell’s character from The Office. I don’t try to be like him, but his leadership style is what I try to emulate because although he may be dim witted, everyone in that office will do something for him, not just because they need to, but because they want to. That’s what I tell my team. Especially in our line of work where our hours are technically 9 to 5, but there’s always an issue that can come up in the middle of the night, or it could be something over the weekend, or we need to push something out – I prefer to ask my team and have them really want to get the job done. That’s what the idea behind the Steve Carrell leadership style is.

One of the things I always say with my team on the first day is a very simple joke – “what do you do with a three-legged elephant?” and the answer is “you walk them and you complain to the rhino.” It’s such a silly joke, but the thing is that you do the same thing you would with a four-legged elephant, if you didn’t like what you’re doing, no matter what, you always go ahead and complain to the rhino. So, I say, “If you guys need me to be, I can be the Rhino. I’m open door if you have a problem with someone, just talk to me about it. Or if you have a problem with something, come talk to me, we’ll figure it out.

Key Takeaways:

  • Steven plans on making your customer experience with us even better by streamlining internal communications to make our responses to you even more efficient
  • Steven loves playing Dungeons & Dragons and carries the team-based aspect of the game as well as out of the box thinking to his role as a leader
  • Steven is a big Disney nerd and used to visit Walt Disney World two times a year before the Coronavirus hit
  • Steven credits Steve Carrell’s character in The Office for inspiring his leadership style

Did Steven inspire you to improve your customer's experience?

Contact us to learn more about how your business can make this happen

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Improving Wealth Management Client Satisfaction with a Seamless and Secure Experience 1024 404 Bob Janacek

Improving Wealth Management Client Satisfaction with a Seamless and Secure Experience

On August 26 and 27, 2020 we are proud to be a part of Customer Contact Week (CCW) at Home. Leading up to the event, we sat down with DataMotion CEO, Bob Janacek to talk a little bit about DataMotion’s involvement in the event and the impact a great customer experience can have on client satisfaction and retention. We will also dive a little bit deeper into the customer experience discussion to focus specifically on why providing a seamless and secure experience is especially important for businesses operating in the wealth management sector. Our questions are in bold.

Hi Bob, I hope you are doing well. Last time we spoke, we talked about the impacts of COVID-19 on businesses and organizations. This time, I would like to spend some time discussing the event we are sponsoring at the end of the month, CCW at Home. Can you tell us a little bit about the event and why you are excited for DataMotion to be a sponsor?

Bob Janacek: Thanks Sarah. Our entire team is super excited to be a part of CCW at Home. It’s the right show at the right time, and we’re right in the middle of it! There are several factors that are all converging on the customer service industry. Consumers have more information readily available to them and as a result, more choice. And they are choosing to do business with vendors that give them a superior digital, often mobile-first, experience. Another factor is social distancing due to the ongoing pandemic. It is becoming engrained in consumer behavior, challenging organizations to up their game when it comes to doing business in seamless, digital ways.

It sounds like this event is heavily focused on customer experience and engagement, something that is very important to us at DataMotion. For everyone reading this, can you briefly explain the importance of customer experience?

Bob Janacek: There have been a few surveys done recently on the importance of customer experience as a competitive differentiator. One by a leading analyst firm shows that by next year, 80% of organizations will compete on customer experience, up from only 35% three years ago. We ran a survey last summer, centered around customer satisfaction with data exchange options offered by organizations. That survey uncovered a lot of room for improvement, with many organizations still requiring their customers to use multiple portals and logins to exchange sensitive messages and documents. And even worse, some still require fax and postal mail as part of their business process. Fortunately, there are easy, secure methods to modernize this experience.  Those organizations that do so become more efficient, increase customer satisfaction and position themselves for success.

You’re completely right, regardless of what kind of product or service that is being dealt with, the easier it is for customers to exchange messages or get help when they need it, the happier they are and the better off the company is. Now let’s focus in on a specific industry a little bit more, wealth management. Why should companies in this industry care about the experience they offer their clients?

Bob Janacek: Wealth management firms compete aggressively to attract and retain clients. The nature of their business is high touch and customers expect superior service. Providing simple, seamless ways for their clients to digitally interact with them and get business done is one sure way to increase customer satisfaction.

Can you give a few examples of ways these companies can improve their client’s experience while at the same time protecting their sensitive data?

Bob Janacek: One common method is to reduce the number of portals and logins that a client has to use to interact with the firm. For example, most firms offer their clients a customer portal and mobile app. But to exchange messages, they use a cobranded encrypted email system that uses a different portal and is typically not very mobile friendly. Some even use a third portal to exchange files.  Each of these systems requires a separate login, complicates the customer experience and provides a poor client experience. Fortunately, there are easy ways to eliminate these different systems and include their functionality behind the login of their client portal and app.

As an added benefit, integrating a message and document repository in the customer app has been shown to significantly reduce support requests. Over time, as more items are exchanged, the data in the repository grows in value, serving as a personalized knowledge base of the client’s interaction with the firm. It’s almost the same effect as a Slack or Microsoft Teams channel, but in this case, the topic of the channel is the client’s relationship and interactions with the firm.

I think you referenced a good point there, that improving the experience and streamlining client and advisor interactions can benefit not only the client, but also the advisors and the company as a whole, can you expand on this a bit more?

Bob Janacek: Besides benefits to the client, integrating secure message and document exchange into contact centers and customer service functions makes it easier to service customers. It centralizes data in the contact center solution by eliminating the need to use external systems like Outlook and an encrypted email system to exchange sensitive information. In addition, it adds a new privacy-compliant channel to an omnichannel strategy, connecting the contact center to the asset heavily invested in by organizations, their customer facing portal and mobile apps. This secure bi-directional channel allows organizations to dramatically improve customer satisfaction, reduce mailroom and fax expenses, and accelerate business processes. As a digital channel, it also feeds directly into automation strategies involving bots, natural language processing and machine learning.

That sounds very exciting, I have one final question for you. For the first 100 people who sign up for your fireside chat on enriching the customer experience with a private, secure communication channel in an omnichannel strategy, we are offering a free pizza. So, what is your favorite type of pizza topping and what is your least favorite type?

Bob Janacek: Well, I’m from New Jersey. And pizza is something we think we’re really good at. The crust is really important. And the sauce too. As far as toppings go, I usually go to either extreme. There’s nothing better than a simple cheese pizza that’s done right. But sometime I’m in the mood for a country pizza, which is blasphemy to many pizza lovers. The one from my favorite place at the Jersey shore has green peppers, onions, mushrooms, black olives, pepperoni and sausage. And a perfect crust. Not good for a diet but definitely good for the soul.

DataMotion CEO, Bob Janacek talks about his vision for enriching customer experience

August 27, 2020 | 1:30pm | The first 100 to register will receive a free pizza on us!

Securing Customer Data Amidst the Coronavirus Push for a Greater Digital Experience 600 237 Bob Janacek

Securing Customer Data Amidst the Coronavirus Push for a Greater Digital Experience

As we enter into our fifth month working from home during the Coronavirus Pandemic, we felt it was a good time to discuss the impact the virus has already had on some businesses and what lasting impacts it will likely have on businesses and organizations in the future. We sat down with DataMotion CEO, Bob Janacek to hear his thoughts on the topic. Our questions are in bold.

First things first, I hope you and your family have been staying safe and healthy during this time. Like many other organizations throughout the country, DataMotion has been working from home the past several months. Can you elaborate on how the Coronavirus impacted the way the company works and communicates with one another?

Bob Janacek: Fortunately, DataMotion has always been a cloud-first company, both in our product offering and also in the way that we run our business.  Our customers utilize our cloud-based APIs and software as a service from anywhere, so that hasn’t changed.  And as a company, our employees use cloud-based services to get their work done.  We’re heavily invested in Microsoft’s cloud stack, including Office 365, Teams and Dynamics 365.  Those work just as well for employees working from home as they do from the office.

It sounds like there was a relatively seamless switch for the company to remote communications. I can imagine that some companies, such as those that frequently have in-person interactions with customers and clients, had some trouble adjusting the way they communicate internally and externally. What kinds of challenges have these companies had to navigate?

Bob Janacek:  States have implemented various restrictions to increase social distancing and help combat the spread of the Coronavirus.  Among our customers, especially for those in financial services, insurance and healthcare, the most disruptive event is the reduction or elimination of face to face visits. So, business that used to get done in person, such as opening up an account or CD in a bank branch, or face to face interaction with an insurance agent, is difficult if not impossible. This makes it harder for customers to do business with these organizations, damaging their brand and reputation, and affecting their bottom line.

Can you give an example of a customer that DataMotion helped modernize and secure the way they do business in response to the Coronavirus?

Bob Janacek: We’ve helped a wide variety of enterprises during the pandemic, ranging from financial services firms in the wealth management, consumer loan and retail banking sectors to healthcare companies providing services for clinical trials, pharmaceutical benefits and care coordination. In each case, they turned to DataMotion to make it easier to do remote business with their customers. The most common use case is API integration of our DataMotion PaaS to add secure message and document exchange after the login of their customer portal or mobile app, and inside the CRM and contact center solutions their employees use to service their customers.

So, based off of this customer story and other stories that you can think of, what tips or best practices can you give for other companies who are still trying to find a way to do business in this challenging environment?

Bob Janacek: Living through a pandemic is understandably causing people to experience a great deal of stress, hardship and uncertainty. Organizations that are easy to do business with, especially in these challenging times, reduce customer stress, build their loyalty and position themselves to grow. There’s been a lot of talk about the things businesses need to do to adapt in the current and post-pandemic world. Having a high competency in doing business remotely is often at the top of this list. Many leading organizations are taking this opportunity to up their customer experience by offering simple, remote, digital ways for their customers to do business with them.

So far, we’ve talked mostly about how companies have reacted, or are currently reacting, to the shift to work from home that the Coronavirus has caused. Let’s look a little bit into the future now – what permanent changes do you foresee the coronavirus having on the way organizations work and communicate in the long term?

Bob Janacek: The need to remotely support and do business with customers is not going away. Younger generations of consumers expect a mobile-first relationship with their suppliers. We’ve seen the pandemic force companies out of their comfort zone and reimage their business processes for a digital future. This will serve them well in today’s environment and for years to come.

Is there anything organizations can do now to start preparing for these changes?

Bob Janacek: Organizations need to look at their existing workflows and processes and determine which ones can be modernized or at least be offered as a digital alternative. Legacy processes including courier, postal mail and fax are slow and expensive, and can typically be replaced or supplemented by digital equivalents. This is especially effective for organizations that already have a customer-facing app or portal. In this case, offering a richer digital experience accelerates business process, reduces costs, and increases customer retention and revenue recognition.

So, you talked a little bit about a push for greater digital experiences. In recent months, Telehealth visits have become the new norm – do you think this is something that will stick after the coronavirus has subsided?

Bob Janacek: Absolutely. Between driving, parking and waiting rooms, we’ve all spent hours to receive ten minutes of time with a doctor. Telemedicine brings convenience to routine care. It also makes it easier for care encounters to occur, allowing patients to receive care and be monitored more frequently, resulting in better outcomes.

With these visits happening virtually, it’s likely that there’s an increase in doctors and nurses needing to send medical records or other information to patients through some sort of online channel. Are there any issues to look out for in this situation?

Bob Janacek: Telehealth visits often generate clinical information that must be shared with the patient and the patient’s primary care provider. Since this data is covered under privacy regulations such as HIPAA, care must be taken to exchange this information in a secure manner. Physicians typically use an EMR system and prefer to receive this information electronically using Direct Secure Messaging.  This is a secure message exchange protocol built into EMR systems that’s designed to replace fax, saving time and money by importing clinical data in digital form. Patients will typically receive their results in a patient portal or through a HIPAA-compliant secure email system.

Do you have any other thoughts on any of the topics we discussed that you would like to share?

Bob Janacek: Yes, absolutely. We’re seeing a paradigm shift in consumer expectations, driven partly by the pandemic and social distancing, but also by the digital-first, smartphone-first generations of Millennials and Gen-Z’ers. Organizations that evolve to meet and exceed the expectations of their customers will grow and thrive, while those that stick to traditional legacy methods will rapidly fall behind. We’ve seen this disruption happen to eCommerce firms, and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t happen to every firm that services consumers. The expectations of customers are high, as is the need to provide a superior customer experience. For many organizations, supplementing traditional business processes with modern digital equivalents isn’t just a nice to have, it’s absolutely necessary for their growth and survival. Those organizations that have mastered doing business in a remote, digital way, while providing a superior customer experience, are well positioned to grow and thrive today and in the future. It’s a small expense that generates big returns.

As we finish up the interview, I have two more, fun questions to ask. First, are there any new activities or hobbies that you’ve picked up to keep yourself busy during quarantine? 

Bob Janacek: Funny you should ask. At the urging of my son, I’ve set up a three-hole disc golf course around my property.  It’s good to get outside and have a little family competition, but I’m getting beaten regularly because my son is home and has a lot of time to practice. I’m home too, but my time is usually spent on the computer working remotely.

My final question, what’s the number one thing you are looking forward to doing once all quarantine restrictions are lifted?

Bob Janacek: I’m looking forward to freedom.  The ability to go anywhere and visit anyone without restrictions. That would be amazing. It’s the simple things, sometime, that mean the most.

Looking to take the next step to provide a greater digital experience while securing customer data?

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How to Solve the Disconnect Between Compliance Regulations and Customer Experience 1000 395 Christian Grunkemeyer

How to Solve the Disconnect Between Compliance Regulations and Customer Experience

In the previous sections of this series, we discussed what customer experience is, why it’s important, and how you can achieve it. To recap, customer experience is a lifetime journey across all touchpoints and communication channels. The push towards providing this experience is influenced by the growing spending power of millennials who demand a unique, yet cost-effective experience. To meet these demands, businesses need to use customer data to provide an omnichannel experience and adapt and evolve to meet future requirements. But what happens when a business frequently deals with personally identifiable information (PII) and the customer experience strategy must be in compliance with industry regulations?

A disconnect between compliance and customer experience

Oftentimes, businesses put processes in place to meet regulatory demands – but don’t take the extra time to review the program from the user’s perspective. This may result in a user having difficulty sending and retrieving information, a compliance team wasting time jumping through hoops to review communications, or even worse, accidentally gaining access to information they shouldn’t see! What else? End users may be responsible for remembering to press a “secure” button or forced to remember which “keyword” to put in the subject before sending confidential information – this should automatically happen in most cases.

So, what should you look for when developing a compliant and user-friendly method of sharing confidential information with your customers and business partners?

Before implementing any electronic communications program, we recommend businesses ask these questions:

  • How will the program impact the users (employees)?
  • What kind of compliance risks may it result in?
  • What impact does it have on their customers?

All three of these are key for successful implementation of the program. If the program works great for employees, is easy for the compliance department to review, but the business fails to make it easy for the customer – then this dramatically impacts the customer experience.

Using a Secure Message Center to solve the disconnect

One solution to this disconnect is a secure message center within a self-service website, customer portal, or mobile app. If implemented correctly, it can provide value to both the business and the customers. Based on feedback from our customers, they want to add more channels to their support process to give customers access across multiple devices and empower their agents to more easily communicate with customers.

While introducing these extra channels is great for increasing customer communications, it often makes it harder to ensure security and compliance. This is where an integrated secure message center comes in handy. By using a secure message center, you can add web-mail, file exchange, and web-form services natively to member service portals and mobile apps. Enable your business to provide an integrated communication channel between agents and your customers – effectively adding another channel in an omnichannel strategy – a compliance channel.

Want to read more? Click a link below to jump to the other segments of this blog series:

Part 1: What Does “Customer Experience” Really Mean?

Part 2: Why is Customer Experience Important – And How Can You Achieve It?

BOOST YOUR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE WITH A SECURE MESSAGE CENTER

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Seeking to Increase Customer Retention? You Need Seamless Communication 640 252 Thomas Donhauser

Seeking to Increase Customer Retention? You Need Seamless Communication

In last month’s blog, I talked about how companies are looking to improve their digital strategy and better engage with their consumers.  Much of this was centered around the idea of incorporating a digital strategy when it comes to how your company communicates and interacts with your “customer.”  At the same time, improving that digital strategy also needs to look at how you work with and communicate with your partners and other various stakeholders.

As an example, DataMotion works with a variety of companies that provide patient hub services.  As a first step, these companies wanted to incorporate a secure channel for email communication with their customers.  The ability to integrate secure communication into their CRM system, whether it was Salesforce or another CRM solution, was critical as it allowed their employees to simplify their process and ensure that all communication was kept in one place, making them more efficient and customers happier.

Why the need for a great customer experience?

This is important for a variety of reasons.  Consumers today are time stressed just like we all are – they do not want to repeat or re-enter information that has already been shared.  Providing consumers with this seamless and personalized level of service is critical to an exceptional customer experience.

At the same time, consumers have also become accustomed to instant or “near instant” gratification, often referred to as the Amazon effect.  Today’s consumers expect a high level of customer service and want the ability to get their questions answered immediately and be able to access other information easily when necessary.  According to a recent study by Salesforce, 82% of consumers would switch providers as a result of a bad experience. Thus, if you are not providing a high level of service, someone else will and ultimately your customer will find another provider that makes their life easier.  Bottom line – a great customer experience = better customer retention.

Even companies that have not traditionally interacted with consumers directly, such as pharmaceutical manufacturers, are beginning to develop and foster direct consumer relationships.  Because of this, these businesses must rethink their customer support strategies and how they wish to engage with their consumers as well.

The below chart is just one example of what today’s consumers are looking for from a pharmaceutical company:

Bar chart showing what consumers say it's important for pharmaceutical companies to do for customer retention and experience

*Source: “State of the Connected Customer”, Salesforce Research, June 2019

Seamless communication is a requirement

Seamless communication is critical to great customer experience. Business partners and stakeholders must work together to make it a reality.  For patient hub services, this might mean that instead of providers faxing over clinical care notes or other clinical data that would come from the EHR, this information might now be integrated into the workflow by using Direct or some other connection to the EHR.

A great customer experience is not the only benefit of this kind of seamless communication. The ability to bring clinical data into the workstream in a more automated manner will not only improve the experience but will lower costs and lessens the potential for manual data entry errors.

Bottom line is, take care of your customers and the experience they have with you and watch your customer retention rise while lowering costs.

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Why is Customer Experience Important – And How Can You Achieve It? 1000 395 Christian Grunkemeyer

Why is Customer Experience Important – And How Can You Achieve It?

In the first part of this blog series we discussed what customer experience means. To recap, customer experience is a lifetime journey across all touchpoints and communication channels. If your organization can provide excellent customer experience and meet your customer’s expectations, then you will see greater customer retention and growth for years to come.

Millennial Growth and Expectations

So, why do we talk so much about customer experience and why is it important for your company to provide a great experience? To answer that question simply – it’s about evolving technology and constantly changing customer expectations – especially from millennials.

Every year, millennials spending power continues to grow. In fact, the millennial generation recently overtook the baby boomers as the largest adult population group in the United States making them the future of your company’s growth. This begs the question – what do millennials want?

According to Lexington Law, they want a unique, cost-effective experience with great customer service. That seems like a no-brainer – don’t we all want that? In addition, Lexington Law also states that three quarters of millennials will switch to another brand if they have a negative experience and 67% believe it is their responsibility to share feedback to a brand about their experience. However, if you’re able to provide them with a positive experience, then 60% will remain loyal to your brand and they will be more likely to share that positive experience.

So, what does that mean for your company? If you can provide an excellent customer experience, then this group is much more likely to share that positive experience AND remain loyal to your brand much more than previous generations.

Finally, according to a report by Microsoft, 63% of millennials begin their customer service interactions online. Making it essential for companies to have an easy, online method for customers to get help when they need it.

Utilizing Customer Data to Meet Demands

In order to deliver a positive experience, we believe it’s important for companies to provide their customers with a seamless, digital experience across various platforms and channels. In fact, NICE inContact reported that 93% of surveyed consumers want a seamless omnichannel experience, but a shocking 73% gave companies a poor rating on their ability to seamlessly switch between channels. This means that many companies are struggling to meet the demands of their customers – leading to unhappy customers and a negative impact on their bottom line.

So, how can you meet these demands and provide a positive experience? Start with the channels you provide to your customers. Many companies offer several ways for customers to contact them and have exchanges. How well do these channels really work together? Is it easy to switch from one to another – not just for the customer but for your employees too?

Finally, simply meeting today’s demands for a seamless digital experience is not enough. As customer expectations change and evolve, so will your customers’ experience. Your company must have the ability and flexibility to adapt to future requirements to keep that experience great, and customer retention high.

We’ve discussed what customer experience is, why it’s important, and how you can begin to address your customers’ demands. But what if you work in an industry that’s heavily regulated? How can you meet these regulatory demands without sacrificing the customer experience? Stay tuned for the final part of this blog series to find out.

Want to read more? Click a link below to jump to the other segments of this blog series:

Part 1: What Does “Customer Experience” Really Mean?

Part 3: How to Solve the Disconnect Between Compliance Regulations and Customer Experience

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What Does “Customer Experience” Really Mean? 1000 395 Christian Grunkemeyer

What Does “Customer Experience” Really Mean?

We talk a lot about ensuring your customers and clients have a seamless and secure customer experience . Let’s take a step back for a minute and think about what the words “customer experience,” or CX, really mean.

According to Harvard Business Review, customer experience is defined as:

“the cumulative impact of your customer’s end-to-end journey with you, the multiple touchpoints over time which create a true competitive advantage to companies that get it right.” 

This implies that customer experience is not a short-term line-item metric or KPI, it’s much more complex. Instead, it’s a lifetime journey across all touchpoints and communication channels. At DataMotion, we strongly believe the ultimate measure of customer experience is a customer’s lifetime value and being able to keep that customer.

Your customer experience strategy should be a holistic one, not a one-off interaction or marketing campaign. It should truly marry customer expectations with the business objectives of the organization. Think about it, if your customers are not satisfied and they switch to a competitor, then your ability to meet business objectives and revenue goals will become that much harder. On the other hand, if your organization can meet your customer’s expectations with service improvements resulting in greater customer retention, then you could see significant, long-term growth for years to come.

There’s a difference between hearing and listening. You may collect customer data to hear about all of your customers’ needs and wants, but if you don’t actually listen to their desires and implement changes to meet their expectations, then what good is the data anyway? Your consumers want to feel understood as individuals with relevant offers and messaging. So, if you’re able to use your customer data to create more meaningful experiences for them, then you’ll be one step ahead of your competitors. If you’re not able to use this data, then you might just be left behind.

So, now you know what customer experience is, but do you know why we’re talking about it and why it has become such a hot topic in recent years? In a follow-up segment to this blog, we’ll talk about the trends impacting customer experience and how they might impact the future of your company’s growth.

Do you work in the financial services industry? Learn more about how customer experience trends are impacting your company by reading this whitepaper.

Want to read more? Click a link below to jump to the other segments of this blog series:

Part 2: Why is Customer Experience Important – And How Can You Achieve It?

Part 3: How to Solve the Disconnect Between Compliance Regulations and Customer Experience

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Saving Your Health, One Mask at a Time 1024 404 Peter Tippett

Saving Your Health, One Mask at a Time

The following is a blog written by Peter Tippett, MD, PhD. Tippett is Chairman of the DataMotion Board of Directors and currently serves as the CEO of careMESH. The blog was originally published on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/saving-your-health-one-mask-time-peter-tippett-md-phd/


We all hear the same things: wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay at home, stay 6 feet away from others. Viruses live on boxes and plastic and door knobs and…EVERYWHERE.

How does the average person decide what measures to follow unless they truly understand how these things work or have a clear set of “rules” they can abide by?

I am an Internal Medicine-certified, Emergency Room MD with a PhD in Biochemistry. I have also spent much of my professional life in the high-tech world helping people understand how risk, infection, and the growth of infection behaves.  So I thought it might be helpful to folks in my network to explain how personal protection from a virus like SARS-CoV-2 (the formal name of the virus that causes COVID-19) actually works, how any given measure individually lowers risk, how various countermeasures work together, and most importantly, to give you some simple guidelines for day-to-day living in this new COVID world.

Bottom Line On Masks & Gloves:

  • Wear a mask when you are in “exposure” zones (mainly places with other people).
  • Treat your home, car, and yard as safe places (no mask or gloves).
  • Be on high alert on what you are doing with your hands when you are in “danger zones.”  This is when you must not touch your face.
  • Consider wearing gloves (even winter gloves or work gloves can be helpful) but only for short periods of time and only when in “touch exposure” danger zones.
  • Remove your gloves (and mask) when you return to your safe place.
  • Wash your hands every single time you take off your gloves or mask, or move from a danger zone back to a safe zone.
  • When you are at home and after washing up, you can relax, scratch your nose, rub your eyes and floss your teeth…without worry.

Protections Work Together

All protections or countermeasures are only partially effective. For example, wearing the seat belt in your car reduces the likelihood of dying by about 50% compared with not wearing it.  You can think about that as horrible (“it will fail half the time!”), or as great (“it cuts the risk of dying in half!”). For everything we care about, in all aspects of life, we solve this “risk” problem by using countermeasures together to improve their collective effectiveness.  Independently, air bags reduce the risk of dying by about 30-40%. When added together with seatbelts, they are synergistic and reduce risk together by 65-70%. We add licensing, speed limits, anti-lock brakes, police enforcement and other things to achieve very good risk reduction (well into the upper 90s). We need to be even more careful when we drive in more dangerous situations, such as in a snow storm.  Protecting yourself (and society) from COVID works exactly the same way—you just can’t see the snow.

Getting Infected is Not “Black and White”

A tiny number of virus organisms placed in the back of a person’s throat one time is not likely to lead to the average person getting “sick” with COVID.  If we placed a tiny number of live viruses in the throats of 1,000 people, less than half would probably get sick. If we placed 1,000 or 1,000,000 viral organisms, the average person probably would get sick.  And if we placed a tiny number of organisms 10 or 100 times in a week, the average person would also likely get sick because of the multiple exposures. This is because even in your throat, your body has protective countermeasures such as mucus and cilia and your blood and other fluids likewise have generic immune and other protections.  They are just not as strong as we need them to be. Even as people get and recover from COVID or get a future vaccine, 100% of the population won’t be 100% protected, but collectively we will be safe.

Your nose reduces the risk of viral particles getting to your throat.  A mask reduces the risk of the viral particles getting to your nose, and social distancing reduces the risk of them getting to your mask. Together, these countermeasures work very well.  

If your nose reduces the risk by 80% (see Caveat 1), and a mask by another 80% and the six foot distance by 80% more, then collectively, the failure rate would be (0.2*0.2*0.2 = .008) = 0.8%. In other words, the collection of countermeasures would be (1 minus the failure rate) = over 99% effective in reducing your chances of getting sick. In this example, any two together would be 96% effective and any one alone would be 80% effective.

So based on this example calculation, if you are standing with your mouth closed and normally breathing close to a COVID carrier as they are speaking to you, you may have a 20% chance of getting sick from that exposure. Add a mask and that would go down to 4%, add distance and that goes to under 1%. Add repeated individual exposures from other people, and your risk gets worse.  Add more countermeasures and your safety improves. The power of each individual countermeasure is much less important than their collective power in protecting you.

So How Does a Mask Really Work?

It hasn’t been measured for COVID, but I suspect that almost any mask, no matter how poor, is more effective than a seat belt is in your car.  Masks that are FDA-cleared have been tested against a benchmark and have a rating. N95 masks have been shown to reduce 95% of passage of a certain size particle over a certain time period in specific laboratory conditions.

When I worked in a pre-COVID ER, I would change masks 6-12 times in a shift.  However well it works in the test lab, wearing the same mask (N95 or not) for a 12-hour ER shift is definitely not as strong as using a fresh one—let alone using the same mask for a week.  But it is far stronger than not wearing any mask at all. N95s have benefits over the simple dust masks typically used during construction work, for example, such as: (a) they are more comfortable to wear, (b) the air is more likely to go through the mask than around it, (c) exhaled air is less likely to fog your glasses, and (d) inhaled air is a bit less restricted.

These are similar characteristics to the beneficial properties of cloth masks.  So I am a big fan of cloth masks, even very simple ones. Any mask has 3 main protective properties:

  1. They make it hard to touch your nose and mouth, thus providing great protection for what is the biggest infection vector in most situations — hand-to-face transmission.
  2. They reduce the exposure of your nose and mouth to viruses in the ambient air (directly breathing in viral spray or viral fog).
  3. They reduce the chance that others will get infected from you when you are sick and don’t know it (and when you are sick and do know it!).

Great masks and poor masks can both stop water droplets.  Most coughs and sneezes are really composed of a fine spray of water droplets soaked with virus.  Stopping the droplets also stops the virus. Dry virus “dies” (see Caveat 2) very quickly so even though individual virus particles are extremely tiny and can enter in the air around a mask, or even go through the mask, they are less likely to infect you than a droplet teeming with viruses being kept “alive” by the droplet. The most likely way a dose of virus will get in your nose or mouth is:

  1. Via touch of your own hand (most likely by far)
  2. Via water droplet-laden virus (cough, sneeze or even breathing)
  3. Via free (or dry) virus “particles” (least worrisome)

The Nuance Behind Mask Testing

I’ve seen many articles that totally miss the mark on the benefits of masks.  Many say things like “good to keep your germs from hurting others, but not very good at protecting yourself” or “we tested 1,2,3 layers of different materials and found x% of particles the size of viruses go right through, therefore these are better than those”.

The testing that matters is way too difficult for anyone to actually do.  It would test 1,000 people who wear “certified masks” versus 1,000 who wear homemade masks of different types and see what percentage of each get infected and what percent get hospitalized or die.  Proving that virus-sized particles “go right through” old bandannas is mostly irrelevant if the most likely way you will get sick is by hand-face touching, where a bandanna might be 98% effective; or by virus-laden water droplets where the bandanna folded 4-times might be 90% effective; even though it is relatively poor at blocking dry, individual virus organisms, which is the least likely way you will get sick.

How and When You Are Likely to be Exposed

It is best to think of exposure scenarios.  Scoring them relative to each other helps to illustrate the relative risk. (numbers are for illustrative purposes only)

Chart illustrating relevant risk of being exposed to COVID-19 in different scenarios

Is a Hospital Mask Better Than Homemade?

In many respects, for home users, a mask made of cloth is comparable to a paper-based, certified medical mask.  The first reason they are comparable is because the protection math works well whether the mask is 70% effective or 90% effective.  In the example above, the total risk reduction would be somewhat better (99.6% vs 98.8%) between using a great mask and a good one when using it as part of a short list of countermeasures working together.  That example math did not include other countermeasures you are likely to also use like washing your hands, or wearing glasses or a shield, or sometimes wearing gloves, or avoiding exposure in the first place.  All of which would drive the total theoretical risk reduction well above 99% no matter which mask you wear.

First, countermeasures only work if you use them.  If you keep a cloth mask in your pocket or purse or hanging around your neck, then when you get near a danger zone you will be more likely to use it.  The N95 and similar masks don’t do well after being scrunched up in your pocket. Second, when you are back to your safe place, you can toss your cloth mask in the washing machine and use it again tomorrow.  Or better yet, buy or make a couple of masks so one mask is always clean.

Treat masks like underwear: use a fresh one every day (and whenever things happen that make you want to change).  

Cloth masks can be fitted, or folded, or worn as a bandanna.  Two layers are much better than one, and three are somewhat better than two.  Older cloth is likely to pass air better, making it easier to breath if you are wearing it tightly, which prevents air from escaping around the edges.  If you are going to have air escape around the edges, arrange your mask so air escapes below your chin. Air turning more corners on the way to your nose makes it tougher for contaminated air to reach your nose, which improves protection.

Consider the inside of your mask as clean, and the outside as contaminated.  When you remove it, you have just touched something contaminated so wash your hands, and then clean the mask as soon as it is practical.

Should I be Wearing Gloves, Too?

Wearing a mask uniformly reduces risk.  Unfortunately, the case for non-medical people wearing gloves is much less clear because it can be totally useless. They become contaminated just as your hands do.  Therefore, wearing gloves for long periods doesn’t help protect others. Both a contaminated glove or contaminated hand can pass a virus either way. If you handle money or touch a door that others will touch, you will both pick up the virus on your gloves and transfer it to the next object or person. If you touch your face wearing gloves, you will be just as likely to drive a virus to your eyes, nose or mouth as if you touched your face with an ungloved hand.  Wearing gloves might help you avoid touching your face, but masks are much better for this.

Gloves are best for temporary situations in which you expect “touch exposure”. Use them, allow them to be contaminated, and when you are away from the touch exposure zone, take them off, wash your hands and get on with life.  

So use them for short periods of time for a specific purpose. For example, I recommend wearing gloves (and a mask) when you go to a store. Put them on when leaving your car, feel free to open doors, touch things, move things, with abandon, however, never touch your face when you are wearing gloves.  Use them when paying, and when typing your pin or signing for your purchase.  When you leave the store remove them and if they are disposable, throw them away.  When you get to your car, open the door, clean your hands with your sanitizer or wipes, and go back to your safe zone.

My 90-something mother lives in an elder-care apartment complex.  There are others there who have COVID. Her apartment is her safe zone.  She wears a mask (just the sleeve from an old shirt) and winter gloves when she ventures into the hall and down the stairs to a common area to pick up her mail.  She can hang on to the railings, punch buttons, open doors and breathe freely as she does her work outside of her safe zone. When she gets back to the apartment, she removes the mask and gloves, puts the mask in the wash (she has the others available if she needs a clean dry one), washes her hands and gets comfortable in her safe zone.  By the way, the winter gloves will become un-contaminated over time as long as they are dry (see below), and they can be used again the next day since the inside is going to stay clean. If you really want to decontaminate them, they can be put in a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven for a half hour, or set out in the sun.

What About Grocery Bags?

You can go crazy worrying about the bags and store items and packages you bring into your safe zone.  In general, if they are dry, they are relatively safe. You can make them more safe by letting them sit for an hour or more.  Bright sunlight or dry air are both virus killers. Keep your hands away from your face while you are unpacking, and wash your hands after you have finished putting things away, then consider yourself safe. No one is going to succeed at perfect sterile procedures in the real world, so make a routine that makes sense.

Hand Washing & Sanitizers

Wash or sanitize your hands whenever you enter your safe zone every single time, and when you finish working on things that have a chance of being contaminated.  For example, if you are going to do the laundry, get everything loaded in the washing machine and then wash your hands.  Same for unpacking the mail, or groceries, or an Amazon package delivery. While you are working on anything that is potentially contaminated, and every time you are in an unsafe environment, pay attention to your hands.  When you are shopping or in other danger zones, it is not the time to scratch your nose or rub your eyes. And you should be wearing a mask anyway. Once you are back in your safe zone, wash up, and scratch your nose and rub your eyes all you want.  You are in your safe place.

Washing with soap is better than using a sanitizer or wipes, but obviously you need a sink and soap for washing.  Keep a pump or wipes in your car and at your home entrance to do a quick job on the way into your safe zones—mainly to keep your safe zone safe.

If you accidentally shake someone’s hand, or touch something worrisome, keep track of your hands, and keep them off of your face until you can wash or sanitize them.  In some situations, you might consider letting one hand become contaminated while trying to keep the other relatively clean. You might use the same hand to open doors, for example and the other to do less dirty work until you can wash or sanitize them both.

But in general if you are home or in another safe zone, quit worrying and don’t bother thinking about washing and face touching. No one can stay sterile for any extended length of time. Save those worries for shorter periods when you are in danger zones.

What about packages and mail delivered on the front porch?

SIDEBAR: Viruses are always dying.  Viruses only “grow” (replicate making more viruses) when they are in the inside of an infected person (or a bat) cell.  Everywhere else, they are dying. Depending on where they are and their local environment, they die quickly or they die slowly, but they constantly die.  This is the big difference between viruses and bacteria. If you put a million viruses in a drop of water, they will start dying immediately. And there will never be more individual virus particles than you started with.  Bacteria, on the other hand, can be in “standing water” with enough other environmental help to replicate and make a big, stinky, slimy mess. Just one or two bacteria double to 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024 eventually to millions of individual bacteria, in your soup, or milk, or pasta sauce, or whatever.  Viruses never do this. Outside of the infected person they start dying and keep dying. We can take advantage of this fact to help keep us safe.   

For those who think in exponential math, Viruses tend to die via a half-life.  Just like bacteria grow exponentially in the soup, viruses grow exponentially in populations of people.  Exponential growth is described with a “doubling time”.  Similarly, exponential death is described as a “half-life”. Radioactive material has a constant, unchangeable half-life.  The half-life for death of viruses, on the other hand, is a good property in the everyday world and is also easy to speed up, and easy to trust.  

The half-life of virus particles might be 10 seconds on a package on a dry warm day sitting in direct sunlight, or 15 minutes for the same package sitting in a cool humid environment like your basement.  So for the package on the porch in the sun, ten half-lives kills off 99.9% of those virus particles in under two minutes. The same package in your basement might need 2 1/2 hours to accomplish the same kill-off benefit. Sunlight (UV light), heat, dryness, soap, alcohol, bleach all rapidly kill viruses.

So even if the outside of the box of Cheerios was contaminated a few hours ago by a sick shopper touching it, by the time you get it home, 99.9% of it is probably already dead, and by the time you eat breakfast tomorrow, after the box sitting in your dry cupboard, another 99.9% of it is likely dead.  

Please don’t get sucked into breathless worry because the scientist who (correctly) shows that it is “possible” to find some live virus on cardboard after 2 days.  Although true, the risk is infinitesimal. That scientist can find the last two living viruses, but you need a much bigger dose to cause any harm and in most cases that all went away yesterday.

But I work in a Grocery Store (or Warehouse)

Please wear a mask! Wear glasses instead of contacts. Wear something over your shirt or blouse that you can take off in the garage or other staging area before entering your safe zone car or home. Wear gloves or not (your employer probably has a requirement). Either way, wash your hands when you take your mask off and when you take your gloves off. When you quit work, wash before you get to your car.  Take your outer layer off and gloves off before fully entering your car. Sanitize your hands on entering your car. Do it all over again in your garage or mudroom before getting inside your house. Put your clothes and mask in the wash and take a shower when you get home.

Key Takeaways

Social Distance—Stay six feet from people is a good thing. Ten feet is even better.

Safe Zone—For most folks, your house is a safe zone.

  • For you, and for family living with you, your yard is likely a safe zone.
  • When outside, and with no other people nearby, you are in a safe zone
  • For most people, your car should be a safe zone.

Masks—The easiest, most reliable precaution you can take when out of your safe zone

  • If you work with the public, you should absolutely be wearing a mask on the job.
  • If you are in a safe place, a mask has low value, because the risk is already low.
  • If you are going to put the same mask on and off, then treat the outside as contaminated and the inside as safe.
  • If you handle the outside of your mask, then consider your hands as contaminated, and wash them.
  • Don’t touch the inside of your mask with your hands or anything else dirty.
  • Put the cloth mask in the laundry at least daily. (or wash with warm water and soap).
  • Have at least two masks so one can be in the wash and the other clean when needed
  • Don’t bother boiling masks before you wear them. The detergent in your washing machine is easier, stronger, and more likely to succeed by far.

And above all—enjoy your safe zone with your family, friends, cat or dog.

Be Well,

Peter

Caveat 1:  I will use statistical examples and numbers to illustrate how this works.  The numbers I use are estimates only.  I am using them because the exact numbers in each case can be off by huge margins, and the resulting understanding, recommendations and behavior will not change even if a particular situation or study shows instances that are quite different from my examples.   

Caveat 2:  I know that viruses are not “alive” nor “dead” but I will use “dead” to mean that they are no longer capable of infecting anyone and “alive” to mean they still can.