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On the heels of massive digital disruption and now, a year into the global pandemic, only 50 percent of business leaders say they are well prepared to support customer engagement priorities moving forward, and 82 percent say the challenges of managing customer engagement will only increase in 2021. What’s more, only 54 percent of leaders consider their organizations well prepared to enable a remote workforce to effectively serve customers.

These are just a few of the key findings of new global research conducted by . The conclusions are based on a survey of more than 2,000 global business leaders across 12 countries on key priorities, trends and challenges associated with customer engagement, COVID-19 pandemic impacts, perceived organizational preparedness, and future plans.

The research quantifies and illuminates a widening Engagement Capacity Gap brought about by new workforce dynamics, ever-expanding customer engagement channels, and exponentially more consumer interactions – all which must be managed with limited budget and resources.

“Our new research reveals that organizations have experienced the perfect storm of digital disruption converging with pandemic-related impacts,” says Verint CMO, Celia Fleischaker. “At the start of 2020, companies were already struggling to handle the increasing complexity of customer engagement. COVID served to further impact companies’ preparedness levels and derail planned investments, putting them in a more vulnerable state or leaving them even further behind. It’s urgent for organizations to close this Engagement Capacity Gap as it threatens top business initiatives such as acquiring new customers and evolving customer engagement strategies to drive revenue growth, which survey respondents named their number one business priority.”

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents were forced to put off hiring in 2020 due to COVID-19 and related economic considerations, and only 51 percent say they intend to increase staffing in 2021. Thirty percent reduced or eliminated planned investments in 2020 designated for new systems/technologies associated with workforce management, customer communities and speech/text analytics.

Respondents expressed a wide range of key concerns; 94 percent cited “understanding and acting on rapidly changing customer behaviors,” while 88 percent said “managing the growth in volume of customer interactions” were the two most pressing issues. Other top concerns voiced by respondents were having a unified view of customer engagement and overcoming data silos (79%); using customer feedback to improve experiences (78%); and building enduring customer relationships (77%).

When it comes to the customer engagement technologies organizations considered most critical in 2020, 85 percent agreed that cloud-based solutions helped in managing shifts in channel usage and interaction volumes to a moderate or high degree. Moving forward, 88 percent of respondents say they expect to invest to a high or moderate degree in cloud-based customer engagement and experience solutions to close the Engagement Capacity Gap. Leaders expect to invest most in customer engagement solutions, such as workforce management, and chatbots or intelligent virtual assistants, as well as those to support compliance.

Eighty-six percent of respondents had a moderate to high investment in analytics prior to the COVID outbreak, but only 38 percent found those analytics useful to help manage shifts in channel usage and interaction volume. An overwhelming 90 percent cited difficulty in unifying data across silos as a deterrent to driving analytical insights.

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