The impact of COVID-19 on Customer Contact 1 year later

In Q2 of 2020, the impact of Covid-19 on customer contact in Belgium was investigated through a survey, conducted by Möbius, in cooperation with Customer Contact, the Belgian customer contact association of customer services and contact centers.

One year later, we conducted new research to verify if the changes in customer behavior were permanent and if the covid-19 measures still had an impact on contact volumes and handling time, and if so, which solutions had been put in place.

Suzanne Schöningh mobius
Suzanne Schöningh

Survey: Covid-19 impact on Customer Contact

The survey took place in May 2021 and was completed by 44 customer services and contact centers in Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels from many different sectors (Utilities, Service & maintenance, Social services, Retail, Telecommunications & Media…) Thus, representing a considerable amount / hundreds of contact center employees and millions of interactions on a yearly basis.

In short, the research shows that changes in customer behavior have become permanent, and, even with increased volumes, customer satisfaction has gone up. Organizations have reacted to these changes by reinforcing existing solutions (for example FAQ’s) as well as exploring and approving new digital solutions.

Customers are showing lasting changes in behavior and are more satisfied than before the pandemic

3 out of 4 organizations has noticed an increase in inbound interactions, across all channels

Across sectors an increase of inbound interactions was noted, especially in Retail, Telco & Media, and Service & maintenance. These volume changes are mainly triggered by the Covid-19 measures. For example due to closed stores, customers that typically would ask their question in the store now contacted the company by phone. Government communication and the confusion related to it, also contributed to this increase. Once stores reopened but shopping alone was reinforced, many customers contacted companies to check if they really were not allowed to bring another person to the store. Questions arose on corona-related matters, as well as on service, technical help, and several steps in the customer journey (order, delivery, payment) for which some of the questions would normally have been addressed in a physical interaction.

Volumes of customer interactions increased across all channels. Chat, self-service, and messaging are only used more, never less.

Lasting changes in customer behavior are reported by 9 out of 10

Not only are volumes increasing, interactions are also becoming more complex and diverse. Customers engage more, further bumping up the average interaction duration.

6 out of 10 organizations is dealing with longer handling times. This is especially the case for phone interactions, but this is also noticeable for chat, e-mail and webform.

Additionally, organizations notice a shift in channels customers use as well as changing peak times.

Covid-pandemic has largely positively impacted customer satisfaction

With every step from descriptive to prescriptive analytics45% of the organizations report that the likeliness that customers would recommend the organization (Net Promotor Score) has increased. 36% also claims general Customer Satisfaction has improved. new possibilities arise to improve inventory efficiency. New opportunities become visible. And supply chain people get more control over inventories without spending lots of time.

Organizations implemented solutions to deal with changed customer behavior and are embracing digital solutions

2 out of 3 organizations took measures to deal with increased handling times

Most of the organizations tried to find solutions to deal with the increased handling time, they directed customers to the FAQ and website. They informed customers that waiting times were higher and/or offered the opportunity to be called back.

To deal with Covid-related questions, organizations mostly changed FAQ’s, built in extra staffing and extra flexibility, and urged customers to read the FAQ’s or use digital channels.

Some companies have used digital solutions (chatbots, AI, RPA) to deal with Covid-questions, and all of them are planning to keep them in place. Also outsourcing of peak volumes has worked well for some organizations and will stay in place.

Impact on customer contact employees varies

As for the customer contact employee, opinions are more divided: besides many reporting an overall positive impact, a significant number also claims that absenteeism has increased, and Employee Satisfaction has decreased.

As was clarified in the webinar, within one customer contact team some employees are thriving in the new way of working while others are struggling more.

Preparing for the future way of working

Organizations still agree with the 3 trends that were identified last year:

  • Digital is the new normal
  • Tele-work is here to stay
  • Employee Experience is key

Many have implemented changes to accommodate to those or are taking steps towards them.

Hans Cleemput from Customer Contact summarized the findings for Radio 2 in ‘De Inspecteur’.

For any questions, feel free to contact Suzanne Schöningh or Jan Bellaert.