We are anticipating bigger impact of digitisation across India due to the pandemic, says Zendesk COO Tom Keise

The coronavirus pandemic has redefined how businesses operate. Companies have been pivoting their business models to survive the economic downturn, which is expected to be worse than the Great Recession of 2008. 

The Customer Relationship Management (CRM) industry has also been witnessing the consequences of the changes brought about in businesses by the coronavirus-led lockdown. Ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, customer expectations have undergone massive changes and have evolved over the last couple of months.

Leading software development company Zendesk, which provides a suite of SaaS tools to help desk ticketing issue, tracking, and providing customer service support, recently revealed some rather unprecedented changes.

San Francisco-headquartered Zendesk serves more than 1,50,000 customers across hundreds of industries. It recorded a significant spike in the use of chat (up to 46 percent), web and mobile app messaging (up by 32 percent), and social media (increased by 24 percent), suggesting that customers are increasingly turning to faster and more convenient channels to resolve issues amid the crisis

In a recent conversation with YourStory, Tom Keiser, Chief Operating Officer, Zendesk, spoke about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the CRM industry.

Tom Keiser

Tom Keiser, COO at Zendesk


Edited excerpts from the interview: 

YourStory (YS): How has the CX changed since the pandemic? 

Tom Keiser (TK): COVID-19 has transformed the way businesses and customers interact. This means there has been a great pressure on the support teams across sectors. With wait times on the rise, customers are turning to channels beyond traditional phone and email in the hope of finding quick answers. 

Our data has shown that the fluctuations in the customer experience (CX) space track closely with increase in outbreak numbers or major government announcements. According to our 2020 Customer Experience Trends report, since the last week of February, people are flocking to more immediate channels for support.

The report shows WhatsApp usage has jumped 101 percent, followed by live chat and texting. At the same time, customers are increasingly willing to find answers by themselves. Visits to online help centres rose 65 percent, presenting real opportunities for companies to resolve customer questions before they become tickets. 

Going ahead, it remains to be seen whether these changes are merely a response to the pressures created by a global crisis, or a sea change for customer support. 

YS: How does the CRM market look right now? 

TK: The CRM market looks incredibly complex. As the dust starts to settle on this new reality, brands are trying to find a balance between values from a pre-COVID era and the trends leading up to a post-COVID era.

In every corner of the world, companies are working to adapt their businesses to a new normal, while staying true to their original vision. At the same time, customers are facing unprecedented disruption to their daily routines and their expectations from brands are changing. As a result, it is and will continue to be a time for brands to remain agile and in-sync with fast-changing, complex customer needs and expectations.

YS: How is Zendesk managing to stay relevant and ahead of its competitors? 

TK: The pandemic has made us reassess 2020 plans. It has shown us that agility in every aspect of the business is crucial to emerging from this crisis successfully – for us and for our customers. At Zendesk, we are stripping away all the layers and boiling down to things that truly deliver faster time to value with the greatest impact. 

YS: How is Zendesk evolving with the changing consumer behaviour since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns?

TK: As we began to realise the scope and scale of COVID-19, we moved quickly to give our customers the tools that would help them during the present crisis. We developed and launched our Remote Support Bundle to help organisations work remotely. It has our collaboration add-on, explore analytics, training credits, and workforce management tracking provided by our partner, Tymeshift. We are currently offering the Remote Support Bundle for free for six months. 

Additionally, for startups specifically addressing COVID-19 responses, we are providing free software and the accessibility of experts to provide hands-on support with onboarding and implementation of Zendesk solutions.

We are also assessing and accelerating investments where we think it makes sense and are ready to move those investments over to other areas, as the need arises. This is a defining moment for us.

YS: What are the hacks for customer success? 

TK: This pandemic has showed how important it is to be human-centric. Our experience has taught us that the best hack for customer success is to listen to your customers.

Customers want empathy from brands. Humanising customer insights with data and qualitative feedback while putting a face to customers, is key to that. 

Similarly, brands need solutions that are easy to implement, scale, and roll-out to a remote workforce. Even though our products are built to facilitate self-service, we have found that it works wonders to personify self-service. Sending an email, keeping in touch, and making sure that things are conversational during the trial phase is very important.

YS: How does the future look for businesses post COVID-19?

TK: The pandemic has affected global markets differently. While there may be limited visibility into the future from where we stand currently, one thing is for sure – there will be a ‘New Normal’. The way we live, work, and interact with each other and businesses will fundamentally change.

While there is no ‘perfect post-coronavirus management strategy’, a successful one will rely on data and insights and be rooted in empathy, a focus on customers, and time to value.

 YS: How is India positioned as a customer base for Zendesk? 

TK: India is a dynamic market and our fourth largest market in the APAC region. Since we launched in 2016, we have seen a strong appetite for our products in India, given it’s a highly service-driven market, coupled with the government’s digital focus. 

Indian companies are increasingly shifting from traditional ways of doing business to more modern platforms and processes. This momentum for digital transformation, seen across all industries and functions, have been further accelerated due to the pandemic impacting consumers, employees, and citizens in new and far-reaching ways. The opportunities from the enterprise and SMB space have gone hand-in-hand with our global strategy. 


We are anticipating a bigger impact of digitisation across India. 

YS: Can you provide statistics on how the CRM industry will look like post COVID-19?

TK: We can use data to know about the effects of the pandemic on various industries, functions, and services. We collated data from over 23,000 companies globally to better understand how they have been impacted by the pandemic, and the changing trends in the CX space as a result of service teams having to adapt rapidly.

The pandemic has understandably caused a marked fluctuation in ticket volumes with spikes in customer cancellations, market volatility, and increased uncertainty. Our data revealed that on-demand grocery businesses have seen the highest increase in support requests, with weekly tickets up 133 percent since late February. 

Remote conferencing platforms and gaming companies have also seen spikes, with support requests up 85 percent and 66 percent, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum, sectors such as ride-sharing, real-estate, and the travel industry have witnessed plummeting ticket volumes.

Companies are also turning to Artificial Intelligence and automation to help agents by directing customers to information already available on a company’s website. With more firms using Zendesk’s answer bot to deflect customer tickets, 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 ecommerce companies, are now solving significantly more requests with AI, thereby reducing the burden on agents. 

While ticket volumes are soaring, it is interesting to note that CSAT numbers have remained relatively stable across sectors. This could be an indication that companies are adapting to the needs of their customers with the right tools and systems in place, or perhaps that customers may be more forgiving in times of crisis, or maybe a little bit of both.

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