Benchmark Snapshot: Tracking the impacts of COVID-19 on CX

By Ted Smith, Senior Director, Market Intelligence

Published May 13, 2020
Last modified June 29, 2020

With the corona virus outbreak, customer experience teams across the globe are having to rapidly adapt amid ticket spikes, customer cancellations, market volatility and increased uncertainty. Each week, the world is changing, and business simply isn’t business as usual. Most teams responding to customers have transitioned to a work from home environment, putting additional strain on their ability to respond to customers effectively. For many of us, that means learning and adjusting as we go.

Our Benchmark team is tracking the impact of the global health crisis on 23,000 companies that power their support operations using Zendesk, so we are able to offer insights and resources to help you support your customers during these unprecedented times.

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UPDATED: 18 June, 2020

Key Takeaways

  1. Customer service requests are down from a record high in mid-May
  2. All regions are seeing decreases as countries loosen restrictions
  3. Requests to companies in hard-hit sectors are falling or holding steady
  4. Messaging continues its rapid ascent
  5. Self-service use is outpacing ticket growth for some industries
  6. Agile companies are seeing success with messaging, help centres
  7. Helpful resources

Customer service requests are down from a record high in mid-May

Could support teams finally be getting some relief? As economies around the world have cautiously begun to reopen, companies in some of the hardest-hit sectors have seen support requests plateau and even fall. On average, global weekly tickets are down nearly 5 per cent since their peak in mid-May, but it’s too early to tell if this is a longer-term trend. Average weekly tickets actually rose in early June, before another slight drop again last week.

And though tickets are falling, support teams can’t relax just yet. Request volumes still remain well above pre-crisis levels. Average global support requests were up 19 per cent last week, compared to the same time last year.


All regions are seeing decreases as countries loosen restrictions

As many countries enter a new phase in their pandemic response, they have gradually begun to ease restrictions for many businesses and customers. At the same time, customer support requests for many countries have also slowed. This past week, average weekly tickets fell across all regions, particularly in the Asia Pacific region where they came close to pre-crisis levels.

Requests were down in most major markets, with some seeing numbers stabilising at new (higher) rates. In the UK, support tickets actually dipped below pre-crisis levels ahead of plans to reopen retail parks and shopping centres. And in Canada, they’ve remained virtually unchanged for the past three weeks, settling at about 20 per cent above where they were in 2019.

But in some instances, tickets continue a steady march upwards. In Mexico, where rising coronavirus cases are probably well above reported totals, support requests have yet to peak — currently up 57 per cent compared to late February. Tickets are also up in France, where case numbers are trending in the opposite direction. Only days prior, the country entered the lower risk “Green Zone”, prompting an acceleration in the easing of restrictions by President Emmanuel Macron.


Requests to companies in hard-hit sectors are falling or holding steady

Sectors which have been particularly impacted by the pandemic (think grocery delivery, remote work and learning platforms, retail, ecommerce and gaming) have seen a levelling in the number of requests coming in to their support teams.

This doesn’t mean that it’s business as usual; tickets are still up an average of 48 per cent for the sectors above, which saw the highest increases since late February. But it appears that the initial wave of urgent requests from cancellations, delays and new users may have finally peaked.

Among top impacted sectors, grocery delivery currently has the highest increase in tickets since the crisis began, at 85 per cent, followed by gaming (43 per cent), remote work and learning platforms (40 per cent), and ecommerce (37 per cent). At the other end of the spectrum, ride sharing companies have seen customer requests drop nearly 45 per cent, though numbers are starting to rebound. And airlines, which saw an initial spike as customers cancelled plans and initiated refunds, have seen requests drop 29 per cent during the same period.


Messaging continues its rapid ascent

Ticket surges may finally be slowing, but the use of messaging channels, such as WhatsApp, only continues to accelerate, perhaps signalling a longer term shift in customer behaviour.

Globally, WhatsApp use has increased 148 per cent since late February — the highest of any channel for contacting customer service — and this holds true across all regions, even North America, where traditionally it has a smaller footprint. The Facebook-owned messaging service recently launched in-app payments, which could further boost its popularity among customers and small businesses, but it’s currently only available in Brazil.

Texting (up 26 per cent globally) and direct messaging over Facebook and Twitter (up 21 per cent) have also seen wider use.


Self-service use is outpacing ticket growth for some industries

As higher-than-normal ticket levels continue to overwhelm support teams, help centres are stepping in for some key industries. For remote work and learning platforms, help centre views (up 200 per cent) grew five times faster than customer support requests during this period. Other industries that saw help centre usage outpace the growth in tickets include logistics (up 110 per cent, compared to a 16 per cent increase in tickets), fitness (up 90 per cent, compared to a 2 per cent drop in tickets), and food delivery (up 40 per cent, compared to a 17 per cent increase in tickets).

Industries that have not been as successful in leveraging their help centres during the crisis include grocery delivery, retail and ecommerce.


Agile companies are seeing success

Increased waiting and resolution times often mean grumpier customers, and for some industries this is definitely still true. Travel companies have seen a 150 per cent increase in resolution time over email and webform since late February, leading to a 4 per cent decrease in customer satisfaction (CSAT). Over live channels, the gaming industry has seen resolution time increase 80 per cent, while CSAT is down 4.5 per cent.

But amidst all this uncertainty, some businesses have actually prevented their resolution times from rising, even as service requests continue to arrive in record numbers. So what’s their secret? According to Benchmark data, these agile companies are solving tickets more efficiently than anyone else by rolling out new channels or quickly scaling existing ones to align with customer needs.

Roughly 3,600 companies in our dataset have maintained stable resolution times during this crisis, and they are rapidly adding messaging and live channels to better support their customers. Adoption of messaging in this group jumped 24 per cent since the crisis started, with phone and chat adoption (up 9 per cent) also on the rise.

These companies are also empowering customers to find the answers themselves by expanding help centre articles or directing customers to helpful resources via AI-powered tools. Among this group, 60 per cent have added to their help centres since late February, and 1 in 5 have dedicated more agent resources to producing new content. Similarly, half of those using Answer Bot have ramped up their use by solving 10 per cent or more requests via AI.


Helpful resources

Recent events have created new challenges for companies and their customer experience teams, making it harder to keep up with what matters the most to their business—their customers and their teams.

To take some of the pain and pressure away and help your team continue to work effectively during these widespread service disruptions, we’ve compiled a list of resources, including our Remote Support Bundle, which enables distributed teams to stay connected while providing their customers with the support they need. For example, it comes with a Collaboration add-on, which enables support agents to communicate seamlessly with other teams over channels such as Slack, all without leaving Zendesk.

"We are focused on helping people around the world adapt to remote work with free resources—and we're also directly supporting organisations working on coronavirus research, response or mitigation with free upgrades," said Ali Rayl, VP of Customer Experience at Slack. "Now more than ever, it's important that we continue working with partners like Zendesk on integrations that can help keep operations running smoothly."

Get access to the Remote Support Bundle and other helpful resources below:

Solutions, bundles and programmes: