COVID-19 has changed so many parts of our daily lives, but perhaps one of the most prominent shifts we have seen is related to human-to-human interactions. A large part of the workforce has been required to adapt to distributed working conditions, nearly all education that has been able to continue now takes place online, and Zoom has become the window to the outside world in order to catch up with family and friends. But personal and professional social interactions aren’t just changing for now – there will be long-term shifts in how we interact with those around us. 

In order to better understand how human interactions and reliance on technology have already changed and will continue to evolve as a result of COVID-19, during the last week of April 2020 Cogito surveyed 1,000 consumers aged 21+ and here is what we learned:

 

Social interactions will be more distant, even when face-to-face.

Human behavior was forced to change, laws mandating people to stay at home and avoid large gatherings were implemented. But even after restrictions are lifted, people don’t expect things to go back to how they once were. According to our findings, 68 percent of respondents think that in-person interactions will change in the long-term as a result of COVID-19 and social distancing. Further, 43 percent of consumers will no longer shake hands once social distancing is over and 53 percent will limit exposure to big groups.

This behavior shift will also impact how consumers interact with brick and mortar businesses, as 30 percent of respondents will order more products and services online, and 23 percent of consumers said that they will work at home more if possible in the long-term. Companies will need to navigate a new reality where both employee and customer communications are done digitally and remotely.

 

There is an increasing reliance on technology.

People have turned to technology to support many aspects of their remote lives. Whether it’s communication, entertainment, or work, people are relying more on technology now to accomplish their daily tasks. Specifically, 35 percent of consumers now rely more heavily on technology for communications, while  67 percent of consumers now rely more heavily on technology for communications, entertainment or remote work. This acceleration of adoption and reliance has created a large opportunity for companies to deploy technologies that can not only facilitate the connection but also provide guidance on how to improve interactions. At the end of the day, humans want to better connect with other humans, even if it’s from afar.

 

People are expressing more empathy and emotion when they interact.

With the rapid growth in technology adoption and people using the phone more than before (24 percent of consumers to be exact), communication through voice alone has drastically increased. But, two-dimensional video and voice calls make it hard to portray the same level of emotion or connection as an in-person handshake or hug. As a result, 23 percent of consumers say they are trying to be more empathetic when they speak to people right now. But on the other end of the spectrum, the added stress of the pandemic and isolation has caused 16 percent of consumers to be tenser when they speak to others over the phone. In both cases, humans have become hyper-aware of their emotions and how their feelings are coming across to others. As we settle into a more remote life, it will be vital for humans to improve their soft skills and emotional intelligence in order to maintain deep connections with others.

 

Consumers are listening, brands need to speak to them.

There are a handful of industries taking the brunt of this pandemic – and the customer service industry is one of them. Customer service representatives are on the frontlines, talking to customers and serving as the face of their companies. While this is typically a stressful job, right now the mental and emotional toll can be even higher, as this situation has become a baseline for everyone, but representatives carry the burdens of others on top of that. During any time, but especially now, businesses must be there to support their representatives, because the truth is, consumers have already noticed a change in call centers. In fact, 36 percent of consumers have had to call a company for support and have noticed a difference in the service they receive. Specifically, of that 36 percent that had to call a company for customer service, 47 percent said that the agent was more empathetic, while 33 percent said that the agent sounded more stressed – in this case, the consumers are right.

These changes are backed by data captured and measured with Cogito’s own AI platform. From February 4th to April 10th, 2020, Cogito’s behavioral science team analyzed approximately four million contact center calls within enterprises that have deployed Cogito to determine the pandemic’s effect on frontline customer engagement. Our data found that after March 11, the percentage of customer service agents handling customer service calls from home grew from 12 percent to 100 percent. Since then, the Cogito prompts delivered to representatives advising them to display more energy rose by 34 percent, and those advising them to display more empathy rose by 7 percent.

 

COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the way people interact with their friends, families, co-workers and the companies they do business with. As society navigates what it means to live in a pandemic world, highlighted by a remote socially distant lifestyle, it will be vital for consumers and businesses to build and maintain emotional connections. Human aware technology will play an ever-increasing role in ensuring we can have the best interactions possible no matter where we are.

Steve Kraus
Steve Kraus

Steve brings over twenty years of experience in marketing, selling, and delivering customer engagement solutions to the world’s most customer-centric organizations. Prior to joining Cogito, Steve led product marketing for Pegasystems CRM suite of applications, growing the suite from a niche player into a recognized leader for marketing, sales, and service applications. Steve led go-to-market activities for Verint (formerly KANA Software), serving as the General Manager for Verint’s customer experience management applications, and led product marketing and strategy for Chordiant Software’s CRM applications. Earlier in his career, Steve managed consulting teams within Ernst &Young. He has a B.A. in Economics and Accounting from The College of The Holy Cross.