The spread of COVID-19 has changed almost every facet of consumer life over the past few months. With store closures, supply shortages, delivery delays, and evolving safety procedures, customers have countless questions for all kinds of businesses — and they're going online to find the answers at an unprecedented rate.
Since February, website visits from consumers seeking information about businesses have increased by an average of 65%, and by as much as 376% in some industries, according to a new Zendesk report. In some cases, the volume of traffic to self-service sources like help centers and site FAQs actually outpaced growth in customer support requests during this period.
But make no mistake, growth in customer support requests has been staggering. In addition to the exponential increase in answer-seeking on businesses' websites, companies in some industries have seen customer service requests spike as staggeringly high as133% since late February — presenting a costly challenge to companies, since the average cost of a support call is $4.90.
While the exact volume of new customer queries varies greatly between different kinds of businesses, few industries have been spared from customers' increasing need for information in this crisis. According to research from Zendesk, support requests since late February have grown considerably:
133% increase for grocers
85% increase for remote work and learning companies
33% increase for food delivery
And "[businesses] of all types are experiencing surging ticket volumes," says the Zendesk report, "with a 24 percent increase in the average weekly requests handled by global support teams this week compared to last year."
Companies are already feeling the fallout. The increase in support requests has led to a rise in reported hold times (34% and climbing) and call escalations (68%), hampering customer service and creating an expensive problem. This leaves many businesses asking the question: How can we process this volume of requests and deliver answers more efficiently while in the midst of mass financial insecurity?
Customers — with their growing turn to search — just might be giving brands the answer via their online actions.
Frustrated with long call wait times, consumers are turning to brands' websites and customer support channels, like search, FAQs, and live chat, for answers.
So, what does this tell us? If customers are showing their willingness to turn to online self-service offerings, it makes sense for companies to further invest in these tools. For example, elevated site search functionality can help businesses deal with the deluge of requests they're facing right now — leading to a more positive and effortless customer experience and increased brand trust — while also lowering support costs.
Support centers are astronomically expensive, even with a far more manageable volume of requests. In 2017, IBM reported that — in a pre-COVID world — businesses spend an estimated $1.3 trillion+ on 265 billion customer service calls each year, which gives us that industry-agnostic average cost of $4.90 per call. Reducing the number of calls customers have to make lowers these costs, all while helping to deliver better, more immediate customer service,
So, what should you be doing?
First and foremost, companies should be immediately investing in ways to expand their ability to answer customer questions online through exceptional site search that will surface targeted answers to customers' questions.
Site search that is agile and responsive to customer queries and low-lift for your team to manage is mission critical right now (and always, honestly). Call centers often see similar questions coming in, and during a crisis like COVID, the questions are even more alike. This is where your website can do the heavy lifting.
First, it can substantially lower your costs, something on the mind of every CEO and business owner. Next, it allows your customers to get the information they need quickly, without the burden of wait times or jumping through hoops. Finally, and with the right partner, you can glean insights in real-time on the types of queries coming in to help guide your overall communications and customer service strategies.
Having the right site search management that allows you to capture new and changing customer questions, and quickly provide official answers, routes this new volume of answers-seeking web traffic to the information they need and away from customer support — a win for your customers and a win for your customer service costs.
With a more powerful, intuitive website experience that understands consumer intent, you can answer more questions online, thereby avoiding customer service calls, reducing wait times, and lowering support costs. That's great for your brand not only in this time of crisis, but at every point in the future.