Insights From Our Live Two-Part Digital Event: Two Faces of COVID: Criminals & Customers

On August 6th, Next Caller invited a group of leading fraud and customer experience experts to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on organizations across industries. Over the course of the two-part  live discussion, the panel discussed emerging trends during COVID, how some of today’s biggest brands are reacting to the wildly new circumstances, and how we can all better prepare for the future. 

Now, we’d like to go deeper. During the conversation, we polled our attendees–professionals in fraud and customer experience positions at over 60 regional and national brands–to characterize their impressions of their own organization’s experience during and reaction to the pandemic. Many of these businesses have been impacted first-hand by the meteoric surges in COVID-related call volumes and fraud activity that the discussion was centered around. In the report below, we break down the collective response to a variety of fraud and customer experience related questions. 

Companies Across the Board Are Seeing Spikes in Call Volume & Fraud

When asked, “Has your organization experienced an increase in calls from customers as a result of COVID-19?,” 67% of our respondents said “Very much so.” This is in line with Next Caller’s series of COVID-19 fraud reports that track the massive spikes in call volumes in the wake of COVID-19 as customers take to the phone with urgent needs and concerns. 

Also inline with our findings is the fact that 43% of respondents said that their organization has seen an increase in fraud activity since the start of COVID-19. The increased call volumes that these organizations report have been providing cover for criminals who use the chaos to stress test the system. Interestingly, over 40% of the fraud schemes use issues related to COVID. 

Brands Are Taking a Proactive Stance to Fight Fraud

61% of our respondents say that their organization has increased security to protect customer information as a result of COVID-realted fraud. Unfortunately, while 64% say that their organization is aware of and prepared to deal with sustained fraud attacks related to COVID, only one in four respondents say that they are “ahead of the curve” when it comes to dealing with the increase in nefarious activity. Surprising, five months into the pandemic, a whopping 43% are still trying to identify vulnerabilities, with 25%not knowing if their organization was prepared at all. 

Thankfully, 75% of respondents report that their organization has made at least some internal changes to address new fraud vulnerabilities, including the risks associated with working from home — something that has 44% of Americans feeling more vulnerable to fraud

As agents have been transitioned from the contact center to the couch overnight, the pressure on them to keep customers safe while ensuring a positive experience has been ratcheted up incalculably. 

Encouragingly, it appears that brands are aware of the challenges facing agents and are taking measures to empower them to do their jobs. This includes 83% of respondents who say that their brand has focused on clear communication about changing policies and procedures and 58% who say that they have increased job training and professional support for agents. While this is good news for agents, the next section will explore the impact to customers which has been equally hard-hitting. 

Covid-19 Leaves Little Room For Error

Our recent COVID-19 & the Customer Experience Report found that a staggering 80% of consumers say that the way a brand responds to their needs specific to the COVID-19 crisis will impact their likelihood of doing business with them in the future. Additionally, that report found that nearly half of consumers (49%) say that they would stop doing a business with a brand after only two or three poor customer service interactions. 

COVID’s transformative impact on nearly every facet of life has altered the customer experience. Consumers have higher expectations and decreasing patience for brands that can’t meet them. When asked if they believe that their organization is aware of and prepared to deal with the changing dynamics for how customers are interacting with your brand, 50% of respondents replied “Yes, but we are still trying to assess our vulnerabilities”. Only one in four say that their organization is “ahead of the curve and it’s working.”

Yet there are many examples of how brands have met the moment for customers by providing remarkable experiences for their customers (tune into the webinar to hear about them in detail). These accomplishments will pay dividends towards long-term loyalty far after COVID-19 is gone, and we encourage your brand to prioritize ways in which you can deliver when customers need it most. 

Balancing the Need for High-Tech & High-Touch

With massive surges in call volumes across millions of customers, at times contact centers have been forced to operate a maximum capacity. Many are deploying AI and Machine Learning systems that offer data-driven insights to help brands stay proactive and predictive, while simultaneously delivering a personalized customer experience. In fact, 75% of our attendee respondents say that they are using data to respond or adapt to changing customer behavior.

And while these technologies can certainly be useful when harnessed the right way, organizations are also witnessing certain technologies–that had been integral parts of their CX roadmap pre-COVID–prove insufficient in the face of the crisis that demands empathy in a way that is difficult to deliver through automation. 67% of respondents said that COVID has changed their plans for customer experience, including abandoning plans to automate parts of the customer experience that now require more human interaction. Not surprisingly, this aligns with recent Next Caller research that found that 54% of Americans say they are less willing to engage with technology like chatbots and automated systems than they were pre-crisis.

In certain cases, brands can leverage technology like AI & ML to quickly provide relevant information to callers without forcing them to wait on hold or wait for a live agent. The highest percentage of respondents (43%) anticipated that customer experience was the most important long-term challenge stemming from COVID. As such, organizations should feel an urgency to design an experience that proactively offers high-tech and high-touch interactions, as opposed to avoiding human-to-human connections whenever possible. 

While it’s good to see that brands across industries are conscious of the challenges both past, present, and future, we are far from in the clear. Next Caller recently found that 80% of Americans worry that they may face future COVID-19-related health or financial loss, even if they have not already. Contact centers will surely see subsequent surges of callers looking for help, as well as fraudsters looking for a way in. With the ever-changing nature of the crisis and the extent to which it may impact an individual at any given time, each phone call holds more importance than ever before. As our ‘Two Face of Covid’ discussion reinforced, the brands that take the necessary measures to shore up vulnerabilities and prepare to meet or exceed customer expectations will ensure stability long after the pandemic is gone.