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PH1's Research Initiative to Improve the CX of Organisations Impacted by COVID-19

We all should have been better prepared for the coronavirus, and we should have seen the tsunami growing earlier.

The first death was reported on January 11, 2020 and by January 20 the first confirmed cases in Japan and the United States were reported. The World Health Organization declared it a “public health emergency of international concern” on January 30, 2020 — yet few of us made plans or took it seriously.

The first case of community transmission here in Vancouver was on March 5, 2020 and this was the day when our team finally began giving this emergency the attention it deserved. One of the initiatives we launched was research to better understand how organisations have —or have not— been adapting to meet the needs of their customers.

Free resources:

This initiative is led by PH1 Research:, a Vancouver-based customer experience & service design consultancy.

Phase 1: Survey about the human-centred needs & impact

The following is only a summary of the survey findings, but we have published a detailed breakdown of the data and insights here for anyone to use or reference.

Between March 9 and April 1 the survey collected 315 responses from 17 countries.

Key indicators

Overall the responses represent a snapshot of when many organisations were first beginning to respond to COVID-19 — in many cases before the public state of emergency was fully recognized. In particular, the low perception of the economic shock and need for lay-offs illustrates how industries were not ready for how large of an impact COVID-19 would have.

  • Sentiment about the scale of the COVID-19 emergency: 6% severe; 26% serious; 37% moderate; 23% minor; 8% not an emergency
  • Impact on employee experience: #1 reduced sense of safety; #2 reduced productivity; #3 “none”
  • Words to describe how customers feel about COVID-19: #1 cautious about choices; #2 waiting until resolved; #3 staying home
  • Biggest change to customer behaviour: #1 reduced in-person visits; #2 increased questions; #3 reduced sales
  • Economic impact on your organisation so far: 2.38/5 (15% high; 26% medium; 58% low)
  • Expected economic impact on org by the end of 2020: 3.19/5 (35% high; 37% medium; 27% low)
  • Likelihood of org needing to lay-off staff by the end of 2020: 2.08/5 (16% high; 15% medium; 70% low)

Customer Experience in the face of a public health crisis: Recommended tools & approaches

The responses show that in a public health emergency delivering a strong customer experience depends on a commitment to a great employee experience. Because of the uncharted territory in moments of crisis the employees are often left reacting on-the-spot and become the single most important face of the brand.

Top themes based on open-ended responses:

  1. Transparency
  2. Customer action plan
  3. Nimbleness
  4. Prioritizing safety
  5. Less reactive
  6. Flexibility with work schedules/ location
  7. Employee action plan
  8. Invest in flexible systems
  9. Well-known Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP)
  10. Demonstrable leadership

Analysis by country

Sentiment and outlook about 2020 for org and lay-offs

Canadians expected COVID-19 to have a more serious and severe impact than the US and Europe, who considered it a moderate and minor emergency.

Only a handful of orgs experienced a high economic impact from COVID-19 in the first 3 weeks, with most Europeans indicating a low economic impact.

Americans were especially confident that the overall impact at the end of the year would be low. Canadians were bracing for a higher impact.

Respondents from Europe and the US did not expect their firms to need to lay-off staff by the end of the year.

Survey Outcomes: Challenges & Opportunities

  1. Because this was collected in the midst of the World Health Organisation’s announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of economies locking down, data should be considered a snapshot of the pre-emergency response and not of the actual impact.
  2. The Coronavirus appears to have taken many organisations by surprise, both in terms of being taken seriously and in terms of unprepared leadership. Many orgs lacked disaster recovery plans and an adaptable CX and EX.
  3. Getting data from the organisations most directly-impacted — Retail Trade, Tourism & hospitality, Construction, Manufacturing, Wholesale trade — is difficult and likely a result of the severity of the impact. Engaging them is essential to prepare for further public health emergencies.
  4. Canadians, Americans, and Europeans reacted very differently. Regionalised, systemic factors change the perceived threat level, customer needs, and strategic priorities. This must be a key consideration when planning for a 2nd wave of COVID-19 and future public health emergencies.
  5. Some industries — technology most notably — view themselves as protected from the impact of this crisis. While their CX and EX models have more built-in flexibility they will likely face the trickle-down economic impact in Q2 as the P&L’s of their customers cease.
  6. While this study was intended to analyze the customer experience of public and private sector organisations, responses indicate that these two are symbiotic. Responses indicate that success in crisis is a direct result of employees operating within a system and environment that promotes their ability to react and proactively plan for change.

Read the full analysis of the survey here:

Looking Onwards — What has COVID-19 changed?

As the impact of COVID-19 is only now starting to become known, the scope of this initiative must grow to provide more clarity on how industries are adapting. Some of those industries need to overcome major disruptions or face even wider-reaching economic loss and lay-offs:

  • Tourism & Hospitality: Already millions of jobs lost and much more in economic impact to local businesses and taxation. Expected to be one of the last to recover due to travel restrictions.
  • Higher education: Likely no in-person classes until 2021 and expected decline in registrations due to financial situation and international students being unable (or concerned) to travel.
  • Retail & Packaged goods: SMB’s with storefronts have been decimated and the coronavirus will accelerate the transition of restaurants into commissary kitchens for home delivery, and of small shops moving to platforms like Shopify/Amazon, or else failing.
  • Commercial real estate: With many storefronts shuttering and many offices trimming expenses however possible, commercial real estate will face vacancies as more and more businesses transition to online and remote.
  • Government: The loss of the taxation revenues at all levels of government will undoubtedly lead to the need for austerity measures in 2021 or 2022. This along with the greater need for safety will change how the public looks at transit, community centres/activities, and public services.
  • Charity & Foundations: It’s hard to ask for donations when your individual and corporate donors are struggling. It also creates struggles to understand how to effectively engage with them in a time when nothing seems more pressing than the public health emergency.

Because of these reasons our team is expanding our initiative in hopes that we can bridge important conversations and lessons.

Phase 2: Impact Assessment & Lessons from the Frontlines

In April and May our team will be surveying and interviewing individuals who are leading initiatives and programs related to COVID-19 recovery at various organisations. Our focus will be on the lessons learned from the perspective of the customer/community experience and the employee experience. We want to find ways to help organisations better prepare for the recovery, a potential 2nd wave of COVID-19, and future public health emergencies.

This will lead to the creation of case studies and the creation of an archive of lessons to help organisations in moments of crisis and to plan a human-centred recovery.

If you would like to be interviewed or would like to refer someone that you think we should speak with, contact us at

>> Phase 2: Findings from survey about lessons mid-crisis, including a potential 2nd wave

We will be presenting the findings from Phase 2 at this event, including case studies:

JUN 17
How Organisations Become Adaptive & Resilient in a Time of Crisis

Phase 3: Educational Series & Preparing for a Potential 2nd Wave of COVID-19

All of the insights collected in Phase 1 and Phase 2 will inform an educational series. These events will focus on supporting industries facing major disruptions through shared learnings and expert speakers. The currently announced webinars are:

We’re also working on building a knowledge-base to be hosted at where anyone can look up and ask questions specific to a situation or industry.




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Arpy Dragffy

Arpy Dragffy

Customer Experience & Service Design | Head of Strategy of

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