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

By Ted Smith, Senior Director, Market Intelligence

Published March 25, 2020
Last updated January 7, 2021

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 are working from home for the foreseeable future, 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. We’ll continue to offer insights and resources to help you support your customers during these unprecedented times.

  • Watch our 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: August 12, 2020

Key takeaways

  1. Higher volumes of customer requests may be here to stay
  2. Trends vary across regions, as countries manage first and second waves of the virus
  3. Ecommerce continues its steady rise, while hard-hit ride sharing companies see customers return
  4. WhatsApp growth still high, but channel preferences vary across sectors
  5. Help centers tame spiking tickets by empowering customers to find quick answers
  6. Agile companies are seeing success
  7. Helpful resources

Higher volumes of customer requests may be here to stay

Forget predictability in 2020, but here’s some good news: global service requests may finally be stabilizing after months of volatility.

The catch? At 16 percent above pre-pandemic levels, average ticket volume remains quite high. But after a steady march upwards for 11 weeks straight, the increased stability over the past month should be welcome news to support teams.


Trends vary across regions, as countries manage first and second waves of the virus

Though global average ticket volumes have leveled off, it’s a different story across regions:

North America

Coronavirus cases may be surging in the United States, but companies across North America are seeing tickets stabilize. Compared to late February (when the pandemic began to impact global service requests), average tickets are up 16 percent. But they haven't shifted up or down by more than 2 percent over the past six weeks.

Latin America

As Latin America struggles to contain its first wave of infections, customer requests have soared. In late July, they peaked once again at 42 percent above pre-pandemic levels. Companies in Paraguay (up 117 percent) and Brazil (up 53 percent) are seeing some of the biggest spikes.


A recent resurgence of cases in Western Europe comes as tickets spiked once again after steadily falling for the past month. Average tickets surged to 16 percent above pre-COVID levels, with companies in Spain seeing 35 percent more than in late February.


The virus may be surging again across many parts of the Asia-Pacific region, but customers haven’t leaned on support teams any more than normal. If anything, customers have been communicating less with companies. For much of April, May, and June, average tickets fell below the levels seen in late February. One notable exception? Australia, where the state of Victoria has seen a second wave of infections and restrictions. Average tickets in Australia are up 24 percent and have been steadily rising throughout the month of July.


Ecommerce continues its steady rise, while ride sharing companies see customers return

In recent weeks, many sectors have seen their incoming tickets fall. But ecommerce companies may have yet to reach the peak. Average tickets were up 40 percent this week, compared to rates seen before the pandemic. Despite a slow start (customer engagement actually dropped in the first few weeks), the rate of growth continues to inch forward, even as other sectors have higher growth rates overall.

Average tickets for online grocers are up 70 percent. But they’re down from a peak of 176 percent in mid-April. Why? Customers have moved past the initial flurry of questions around using the service for the first time.


With customers increasingly shifting their buying online, the sustained rise in ecommerce tickets makes sense. According to a recent McKinsey survey, more customers plan to continue buying online even after the crisis has ended. Teams should prepare for tickets to stay high for the weeks and months to come.

And though the pandemic has hit travel and gig economy companies particularly hard, ride sharing companies have started to see a renewed interest from customers. Tickets plummeted in mid-March as much of the world’s population went into lockdown. But they’ve since started to recover (currently down 34 percent, compared to a 62 percent deficit in late April).


WhatsApp growth still high, but channel preferences vary across sectors

Its growth may have slowed, but WhatsApp use is still up across regions, company sizes, and many sectors. Global growth in WhatsApp support conversations currently stands at 111 percent since February, followed by text/SMS (a distant second at 15 percent), social media (up 11 percent), and chat (up 10 percent).

Across companies of all sizes, WhatsApp usage has grown faster than any other channel. Usage is up 132 percent for SMBs, 122 percent for Enterprise, and 88 percent for Mid-Market. WhatsApp also leads in new growth across all regions.

Despite WhatsApp's sustained popularity, other messaging channels have seen a dip over the past month. Fewer customers are now communicating over Facebook Messenger and Twitter Direct Messages. Channel volume has fallen 32 percent since late February, despite an initial rise in May.

Some notable changes since the pandemic began:

  • Customers are increasingly using social media to connect with airlines. Social media usage jumped 105 percent, while phone and email tickets fell 48 and 36 percent, respectively.
  • Messaging is a new favorite among ecommerce customers: WhatsApp usage jumped 352 percent, while SMS/text is up 102 percent.
  • Ride sharing companies saw chat usage surge 78 percent, while all other channels posted negative growth.
  • Online grocers saw social media engagement spike 949 percent, while WhatsApp usage dropped 40 percent.
  • Financial services firms had 54 percent more tickets come in over WhatsApp and 31 percent more come in over chat. Meanwhile, engagement over Facebook Messenger and Twitter fell 74 percent, while phone tickets dropped 11 percent.
  • Remote work and learning platforms saw channel usage flip flop. As engagement rates have fallen, text has increased in popularity, while chat, WhatsApp, and other social messaging use has dropped.

    Help centers tame spiking tickets by empowering customers to find quick answers

    With higher-than-normal ticket averages seemingly here to stay, many companies are finding success with help centers.

    Fitness companies, for instance, have seen help center usage jump nearly 200 percent since February. This is compared to a mere 6 percent rise in tickets. Similarly, remote work and learning platforms saw a 149 percent rise in help center views. During the same period, tickets rose only 24 percent.

    Other sectors that are using their help centers to offset would-be tickets? On demand groceries, gaming, online health, and food delivery. Less successful sectors include ecommerce (where tickets are up 40 percent, compared to a 30 percent rise in help center views) and retail.


    Agile companies are seeing success

    Though they’ve been more forgiving during this crisis, increased wait times often means grumpier customers. And for some industries this is definitely holding true.

    Airlines have seen reply times jump 40 percent across all channels since late February, leading to a 6.5 percent decrease in customer satisfaction (CSAT). Retail customers are also waiting 40.4 percent longer for a reply, but are less likely to take it out on agents. CSAT for retail only dropped about 1 percent overall.

    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.


    But during these uncertain times, some businesses have actually prevented their resolution times from rising. And they're doing so 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. To do so, they are rapidly adding self-service and live channels to better support their customers. Adoption of help centers (Zendesk Guide) in this group jumped 14 percent since the crisis started. And phone and chat adoption (up 10 percent) is also on the rise.

    Those with live channels are now solving 32 percent more tickets by using them. They are also increasing staffing on phone and chat by more than 16 percent.

    Agile companies are also empowering customers to find the answers themselves. How? By expanding help center articles or directing customers to helpful resources using AI.

    Among this group 61 percent have added at least one new article since late February, and close to 1 in 5 have dedicated more agent resources to producing new content. AnswerBot use is also up, with 42 percent of companies now solving at least 10 percent more tickets.


    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. Zendesk will continue to track the impacts of COVID-19 on companies around the globe and will publish insights and resources on this page.

    "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."

    Check out some helpful resources below:

    Solutions and programs:

    COVID-19 articles and resources: