COVID-19 Digital Engagement Report 2020

COVID-19 shatters myths about companies and their digital transformation: Introducing the Twilio COVID-19 Digital Engagement Report

  • gweinstein
    Glenn Weinstein, Chief Customer Officer at Twilio
  • Jul 15, 2020

To better understand the effects of COVID-19 on businesses, Twilio surveyed more than 2,500 enterprise decision makers in the US, UK, Germany, Australia, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, and Singapore about how COVID-19 is impacting their digital engagement strategies.

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In the last 20 years, companies have transformed as they adapt to new customer engagement demands born out of the internet and growth of mobile.

The onset of COVID-19 and its impact on the entire world, though, led companies to shrink decade-long digital transformation roadmaps to just months—even weeks.

To better understand the effects of COVID-19 on businesses, Twilio surveyed more than 2,500 enterprise decision makers in the US, UK, Germany, Australia, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, and Singapore about how COVID-19 is impacting their digital engagement strategies.

The responses show that as companies reacted rapidly to ensure business continuity in the face of a global pandemic, three long-held myths about digital transformation were shattered:

  1. Digital transformation requires lengthy advance planning;

  2. Digital transformation takes a long time;

  3. Massive barriers to evolution prevent change from happening.

Social distancing has given rise to a sudden expansion in digital customer engagement: 92 percent of respondents said transforming the way they communicate via digital channels was critical to their COVID-19 response. We’ve identified seven ways businesses can leverage digital communications capabilities to adapt and build the new normal:

See examples of companies who are building the new normal of customer engagement post-COVID-19.

3 digital transformation myths that COVID-19 busts

Digital transformation can't happen unless it's planned.

Depending on company size, regulatory requirements, and the scope of change, digital transformation initiatives are typically mapped over the course of months or years. Without a well thought out plan spanning months or years, innovation can’t happen, right?

Not necessarily the case, as COVID-19 has shown.

While long term planning might be ideal, giving companies a chance to assess their current strategies, survey customers, and do their due diligence, COVID-19 pushed companies to toss out the multi-year roadmaps and get moving overnight.

And move they did. One of the unplanned changes spurred by the pandemic has been the adoption of an average of three new communications channels. The urgency and anxiety surrounding the global pandemic led to live chat topping the list of newly adopted channels, at 35 percent of respondents. One in three companies started using live chat and IVR channels for the first time as a result of COVID-19.

The trend of consumer preferences shifting toward two-way messaging has been long coming, as described in our2020 State of Customer Engagement report. The challenges many businesses are facing with remote workforces and immovable contact centers expose new opportunities for messaging-based support.

Digital transformation strategies take a while.

In addition to the stages of planning digital transformation, implementation and deployment can take months or years before they come into fruition.

That is, until COVID-19.

Our research found that 97 percent of enterprise decision makers said the pandemic sped up their company’s digital transformation, and 46 percent said COVID-19 drastically accelerated their digital communication transformation efforts.

On average, companies’ digital communications strategy advanced by an average of six years. Companies in Japan, Germany and Singapore say COVID-19 has accelerated their digital communications strategy by more than seven years.

Among the variety of companies surveyed, 78 percent of tech companies, 77 percent of energy companies and 74 percent of healthcare organizations say the pandemic sped up their digital transformation a great deal.

A key factor in that speedy progress is that budgets for digital transformation increased for 79 percent of respondents, in light of the pandemic, which brings us to our next myth...

There are major barriers that prevent companies from innovating in their digital communications strategies.

If you asked a group of company leaders what typically holds them back in terms of innovation, most would name plenty of hurdles: lack of budget, lack of executive buy-in, lack of strategic planning, just to name a few.

Yet faced with the unique challenges COVID-19 posed, businesses found ways to innovate despite those usually daunting barriers.

Nearly all (92 percent) of respondents said the coronavirus pandemic broke down one or more barriers to digital transformation, including getting executive approval or buy-in; reluctance to replace legacy software; or lack of time, skills, engineering support, a clear transformation strategy, or budget.

During this crisis and for the unknown risks ahead, the foundation of an effective business continuity plan is characterized by elasticity, flexibility, and scalability of your communications and customer engagement infrastructure. Digital communication strategies are now being rewritten.

The abrupt onset of COVID-19 exposed the vulnerability of businesses without an elastic and flexible communications infrastructure to adapt and scale rapidly. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, 95 percent of respondents expect their organization to find new ways of engaging customers and other stakeholders.

Read what crisis can mean for customer loyalty and engagement from analyst Paul Greenberg.

The necessity for remote work and services further validates the market for communication platforms as a service (CPaaS), which had been gaining momentum as a way to fully own the development and deployment of systems enhancements and avoid the limitations of an application vendor’s roadmap.

CPaaS means cloud-based hosting and management of application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate communications capabilities into business applications, rather than building a communications infrastructure from scratch. In practice, CPaaS can help companies target customer interactions based on their channels of choice, while reducing the complexity of managing multiple channels.

With CPaaS, digital transformation is characterized by the ability to adapt to use cases as they emerge, build what works for a company and its customers, and deliver omni-channel customer experiences.

For today, and when the world reopens, companies will continue to build out digital communication channels for the new normal—92 percent of respondents say it is likely that their organization will expand its digital communication channels as the world reopens.

See the report

Read the full report of the survey’s results.

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Glenn Weinstein, Chief Customer Officer at Twilio

Glenn is the Chief Customer Officer at Twilio. He co-founded Appirio, one of the world's leading Salesforce and cloud computing consultancies, serving as CTO and CIO. Previously, he served as VP of global customer support for two public enterprise software companies.