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

By Ted Smith, Senior Director, Market Intelligence

Published May 13, 2020
Last modified May 20, 2020

With the coronavirus 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, and we’ll continue to offer insights and resources to help your support your customers during these unprecedented times.

  • Watch our recent LinkedIn Live event to learn more about the trends we're seeing and how businesses can respond with quick decisions on how to adjust their support channels.

UPDATED: May 13, 2020

Key takeaways

  1. Customer requests are up across the board
  2. Ticket spikes tend to follow increases in outbreak numbers or major government announcements
  3. Companies in “pandemic-critical” sectors and those hardest hit by the crisis are most impacted
  4. Customers increasingly turn to WhatsApp, chat, and online help centers during crisis
  5. AI empowers companies to tame spiking tickets
  6. Despite longer wait times, customers aren’t taking the crisis out on agents
  7. Agile companies are seeing success
  8. Helpful resources

Customer requests are up across the board

Companies of all types are experiencing surging ticket volumes as the virus impacts business operations worldwide. Customer service requests are currently at the highest levels we’ve seen since the crisis began, with a 24 percent increase in the average weekly requests handled by global support teams this week compared to last year.


Ticket spikes tend to follow increases in outbreak numbers or major government announcements

We’ve found that these surges in customer requests track closely with the rapid global spread of COVID-19, as customers react to news of rising outbreak numbers or government measures in response to the virus.


Tickets are up across all regions, including APAC, where companies experienced a dip below normal levels from late March to mid-April. This shift comes as Singapore prepares to extend its government-imposed circuit breaker measures amid skyrocketing coronavirus cases. In North America, support requests continue their steady rise, driven by record highs in the US as some states begin to end shelter-in-place measures. Across EMEA, tickets remain high but stable, with the exception of France and Italy who have both announced plans to ease country-wide restrictions. And tickets have spiked once again in Latin America, where countries like Brazil have seen rising death tolls.


Companies in “pandemic-critical” sectors and those hardest hit by the crisis are most impacted

On-demand grocery businesses have seen the highest increases in support requests, with weekly tickets up 133 percent since late February. Other newly critical sectors for the house-bound customer have also seen spikes, with support requests up 85 percent for remote conferencing platforms and 66 percent for gaming companies during the same time period.

At the other end of the spectrum, shelter-in-place orders have hit ridesharing, airlines, and the hospitality industry especially hard as customers heed government warnings and stay indoors. Ridesharing companies, for instance, saw weekly tickets plummet 60 percent through early May.


Customers increasingly turn to WhatsApp, chat, and online help centers during crisis

With phone lines swamped and wait times on the rise, customers are flocking to alternative channels for support. Since late February, support tickets coming in over WhatsApp spiked more than 100 percent, while chat (34 percent) and text messaging (30 percent) also saw significant gains. For large companies in particular, WhatsApp has become a popular choice; they’ve seen tickets increase 166 percent over that channel alone through early May.

And many are looking to avoid wait times entirely. More and more customers are looking at a company’s own website for answers. Visits to self-service resources like online help centers or FAQ pages have risen almost 65 percent since late February, with the biggest jumps for remote work and learning (376 percent), gaming (110 percent), and fitness (101 percent) companies. In many cases, the increase in visits to a company’s online help center actually outpaced its growth in support tickets, which means that these resources are helping to deflect requests and reduce the strain on support teams.


AI empowers companies to tame spiking tickets

Similarly, technology and automation also play a critical role in taking the pressure off agents by linking customers with information already available on a company’s website. More and more firms are using Zendesk’s Answer Bot to deflect customer tickets. In fact, overall requests handled by Answer Bot jumped a whopping 95 percent from late February to early May.

Sectors experiencing the biggest changes in ticket volume, including gaming, remote work and learning, and e-commerce companies are now solving significantly more requests with AI, which reduces the burden on agents and allows customers to find what they need, as soon as they need it. Answer Bot, for instance, now solves 404 percent more tickets for remote conferencing companies than it did in late February.


Despite longer wait times, customers aren’t taking the crisis out on agents

Even as wait times have risen for most B2C companies, global customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) have remained largely stable (actually increasing slightly overall since late February). Even for hard-hit airlines, customer satisfaction has only fallen 3 percent, indicating that customers may be more forgiving in a time of crisis.


Ride sharing companies are the one exception to this rule. As ridership has dropped, so has customer satisfaction—down 8 percent during the same time period.

Agile companies are seeing success

Amid all of 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, companies that are solving tickets more efficiently than anyone else have rolled out new channels or quickly scaled 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 bringing on new channels to better support their customers. Adoption of messaging in this group jumped 23 percent since the crisis started, with phone and chat adoption (up 14 and 13 percent, respectively) also on the rise.

These companies are also solving more tickets by focusing their resources where they need them most. More than a third of companies in this group have shifted existing agents to messaging channels like WhatsApp, text, and social media. Many are also deflecting tickets before they happen by ramping up the self-service options like chat bots and online help centers. Among this group, 58 percent of companies that use Answer Bot have seen a 10 percent or more increase in ticket resolutions, while nearly 60 percent have added or updated content on their websites.

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 team.

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 organizations 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 programs: