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Let’s Get Digital: COVID-19 Reveals How Brands Can Improve CX Across Channels


Presented By: Sitel

By Kelli Harrison, VP, Account Management - Retail, Sitel Group

Surviving COVID-19 meant a major increase in online shopping. It’s how many consumers safely went grocery shopping, treated themselves with new devices and even ordered needed medication to their front doors. But this surge in online purchases also meant an increase of over one million customer service calls for Sitel Group. From missing packages to incorrect orders to delayed shipments, the pandemic put a wrench in how the supply chain operates and thus impacted the overall customer experience (CX) for millions of consumers.

Even with all the frustrations that made life in lockdown disruptive, consumers took brands’ efforts in stride. In fact, Sitel Group’s COVID-19: the CX Impact study revealed that the number of consumers that would stop doing business with a company due to poor CX during the pandemic dropped 30% since March (43% during the pandemic in May vs. 73% pre-pandemic in March). Taking brand loyalty a step further, just one in 10 consumers admitted to leaving a negative review for a brand during the pandemic. Compared to the 42% of consumers who admitted to leaving a negative review for a brand pre-COVID, it’s clear that customers have become much more understanding of their experiences during this chaotic time.

Customers’ level of sympathy for CX issues is great news for brands, as they’ve struggled to keep operations moving; but what does it mean for CX expectations as we continue to move into the “new normal” in the coming months? The actions brands take now to revamp their support processes will have a long-term impact on consumer perception in the future.

Investing in Improving Customer Experience 

Improving CX requires brands to invest in new offerings, while continuing to maintain their reliable channels. For brands looking to implement new strategies to improve CX, they should put a renewed focus on the value of balancing self-service options with channels that provide the human touch.

Self-service driven by tech

For many customers, waiting on the phone for a representative is simply not an option. This became even more true during the pandemic with longer wait times and strapped support staff. According to the report, more than a third (35%) of consumers would rather find the solution themselves online than reach out to customer service during the pandemic (up 7% since early March). The demand for self-service is understandably higher with digital-first generations like Gen Z and millennials (43% each).

In addition to searching websites and FAQs for answers, self-service has expanded to digital company representatives (live or automated) that provide responses in real-time. One in seven consumers (14%) feel a digital company representative (e.g., chatbot, IVR, etc.) would best understand their request and assist them properly during COVID-19 (up 6% since early March), proving that tech innovation is key to CX delivery through a crisis.

Traditional support channels remain important

While a quarter of consumers (24%) prefer to use online chat to get answers, traditional channels like email (34%) and voice (24%) remained equally important. Sometimes, customer queries are too complex to manage on their own, or even with a digital assistant, and this is where the human touch comes into play.

In fact, over half (59%) of consumers say they would rather reach out to a customer service representative when experiencing difficulty with a product or service during the pandemic than use self-service. This means there are sizable groups of consumers on both sides of the fence between self-service and traditional support channels, such as voice. Therefore, it’s critical that brands do all they can to support both customer preferences, optimizing traditional channels while also delivering enhanced self-service options.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given a whole new meaning to customer loyalty. However, while consumers may be giving brands a break for the time being, brands shouldn’t expect this to become the norm. As we move into the fall with a hectic holiday season quickly approaching, consumers’ CX demands will undoubtedly grow. For brands, this means maintaining their current support options while investing in new channels to provide seamless experiences and rebuild customer loyalty.

Kelli Harrison is VP, Account Management – Retail, at Sitel Group a business process outsourcing solutions provider. She joined Sitel Group in February 2000 and previously served in operations, customer experience, and project management roles, where she led functional responsibility for business execution and process improvement. Kelli has over 25 years of experience in BPO.

She holds a degree from the University of Minnesota, is PMO certified and holds business certification in communications and business development. Currently, Kelli lives in Tampa, Florida after spending 4 years with Sitel Group in Europe.

Sitel - Kelli Harrison