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Customer engagement during COVID-19: What businesses got right and wrong

Leanne Russell,
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In May 2020 Pega worked with research and consulting firm Savanta to survey 1,200 financial services, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, communications and public sector organizations from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia to find out how they felt their organization handled the coronavirus pandemic. The results shined a light on operational gaps, customer engagement success, digital capabilities, and adaptability.

What went wrong: Inaction has cost brands

More than a third of businesses surveyed say they have lost customers or their brand was damaged due to bad communications.

  • 36% lost customers because of inappropriate marketing emails and offers or other external communications that might have resulted in the brand being perceived negatively.
  • 35% of firms were afraid of saying the wrong thing to customers, so decided to say nothing at all.

In hindsight, 54% say they should have done more to help customers.

“These statistics were very telling,” says Jeff Nicholson, global head of CRM at Pega. “The ability to personalize customer service during these times has become of the utmost importance. This is both in terms of making sure you get it right, but now more than ever, making sure you don’t get it wrong. Businesses that are able to innovate and adapt their customer engagement strategies to crisis situations, like COVID-19, are the ones that will excel. Many are transitioning from static FAQ webpages, first-iteration chatbots, and manual email processes to more true, intelligent virtual assistants that are able to better understand each individual’s context within their service journey and provide faster, highly personalized service.”

What went right: Digital-first brands are thriving

  • Businesses who were further along in their digital transformations thought they were in a strong position to respond to COVID-19 (87%) and better prepared to respond to a similar crisis in the future (73%).
  • More than one third of the respondents (39%) thought that significant changes are still needed for their businesses to survive and thrive in a post-crisis world, and a majority plan on increasing investment, scope, speed, or priority of digital transformation.

Don Schuerman, Pega’s chief technology officer, agrees. “The efforts that businesses have already made toward digital transformation goals definitely impacted what they’ve been able to do. The state of the world we’re in right now demands that we move really fast and respond to immediate challenges and opportunities that exist. Businesses that have already begun to organize systems and logic around what their customers need and what the customer is trying to achieve are far ahead of businesses still focused solely on channels and processes. They don’t design experiences from the channels or the data silos inward, as this just creates more disconnection. Instead, they design experiences from the center-out, with the customer outcome as the real focus. And digital-enabled businesses that have experienced some level of successes already are doubling-down on Agile and digital-first systems – so we’re seeing the pace of DX accelerating.”

Lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis are changing business operations

  • 74% say lessons learned will permanently alter their business operations going forward.

Even businesses with contingency plans in place did not anticipate the operational challenges they are facing but are learning from experience the best ways to adapt to new and changing needs. Work will continue to be increasingly more distributed inside and outside of business, across people, partners, networks, systems, and applications. And the modifications that business are making to their systems and processes now will become the basis for operations in the near future. The good news is, business that are applying these lessons learned will emerge from this crisis stronger, faster, and more empathetic to customers.

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Challenge: Customer Service Industry: Cross-Industry Product Area: Customer Service Product Area: Customer Decision Hub

About the Author

Leanne Russell, managing editor of Pega’s blog, helps high-tech leaders share their knowledge, experience, and success stories.

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