November 17, 2020 By Al Jenkins 3 min read

The road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be uneven, at best. A number of industries and organizations have struggled, while others adapted more quickly. One thing was clear, Salesforce customers had a distinct advantage from the start; their critical customer data was already accessible in the cloud and flexible business processes were ready to handle the tectonic shift to 100% remote work. In fact, our research highlights that a majority of Salesforce customers confirmed that Salesforce enabled their businesses to pivot and adjust their priorities around digital this year.

In the early days of the pandemic, many organizations focused on returning to “normal”.   We now see leading businesses contemplating a much different future — one where remote working is commonplace, and the challenges of engaging customers and employees digitally is a top strategic priority. We now see these companies shifting and accelerating innovation to building smarter, safer, more resilient businesses — businesses powered by Salesforce.

Every year, IBM’s Salesforce unit embarks on a report we call The State of Salesforce. In 2019’s report, we learned about organizations that focused on the customer and employee experience earning “best company” labels. This year, the disruption of the pandemic highlighted gaps and accelerated expectations, almost overnight, as customers and employees around the world retreated to their homes.

As you might expect, our 2020 research notes an emerging divide in the market — one where organizations that were further along in their Salesforce transformation journey at the start of the year continue to pull ahead and build competitive advantages. On the other hand, those slower to adapt and invest in their digital reinventions, continue to lag behind.

Below I’ve highlighted the four keys that we see the best companies embracing in their effort to move forward, emerge more competitive after the COVID-19 crisis and move into the next stage of digital transformation:

Key 1: Focus on building trust with customers 

Key datapoint: Half of the companies surveyed have increased their focus on loyalty and trust, with the best companies +20% more likely to prioritize trust.

Trust has always been a cornerstone of long-term customer relationships. Many customers stopped doing business with organizations they did not trust to serve their evolving digital, physical, mental and emotional needs. Emerging regulations like GDPR highlight and customers’ desire for more security and control over how companies use their data. With a deep understanding of the system complexity needed to protect sensitive data companies are prioritizing IT alignment with the business around initiatives that balance value and security — bringing trustworthy experiences to market faster to increase customer loyalty, retention and growth.

Key 2: Use AI to prioritize human connection

Key datapoint: The best companies are two times more likely to use enterprise AI.

With people spending a majority of time at home with remote working and fewer social events, customers are seeking ways to stay connected through digital channels. Using AI, companies are able to prioritize customer outreach with intelligent lead scoring, predict safety risks for employees and customers with precision and accuracy, and deploy AI-assistants to accelerate customer response and aide human decision making. The majority of companies (65%) using AI-based automated processes in Salesforce, are seeing increased customer satisfaction.

Key 3: Ensure employee safety to build business resiliency

Key datapoint: Seven out of 10 organizations are prioritizing employee and customer well-being as a way to build trust that will lead to stability and growth.

While all business functions have seen increased pressure from customers and employees due to the shift to digital, the fields of commerce, customer service, and digital marketing bear a large portion of the increased weight. Organizations can both improve employee safety and build business resiliency through health and safety operations command centers using digital solutions such as Salesforce’s and IBM’s Digital Health Pass. Digital tools and processes provide businesses the foundation to proactively predict, impact and manage future operations and workforce disruptions. Our research highlights that employees’ whose organizations prioritize their well-being with critical supports can more effectively focus on customers and the stabilization, which improves the organization’s resilience.

Key 4: Build end-to-end processes with data and system integration

Key datapoint: Companies with a more mature Salesforce foundation at the beginning of the year, who also increased their Salesforce investments within the year further along in their business recovery (+47%).  

Those companies further along in their digital transformation when the COVID-19 pandemic struck were able to leverage their existing cloud solutions to rapidly shift and adapt their businesses, widening the gap between “digital haves” and “have-nots”. While digital-first is continuing as the future expectation, organizations are focused on integrating systems and redesigning entire end-to-end processes (not just as a single task with Salesforce).

The road forward will certainly involve further twists and detours, and each route needs to be tailored to the unique needs of every organization. But our research tries to give global Salesforce customers and partners a view of how some of the of the best, most innovative leaders are using Salesforce to build better businesses and a better world.

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