Zendesk Exec: M&E Companies Can Survive and Thrive Despite COVID-19 Challenges

The media and entertainment industry has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, just like every other type of business – in its specific case, with shuttered film and TV productions. Like many other industries, it has also shifted almost completely to a work-from-home model.

However, “there are things you can do to actually better position yourselves to support your customers and thrive in this environment – at least, well initially, survive, but then ultimately thrive,” according to Joe Jorczak, head of media and entertainment go-to-market strategy at customer service software firm Zendesk.

“Obviously it’s been just incredibly turbulent times [with] lots of different changes taking place,” he said May 19, during the webinar “How COVID is Changing Customer Experience in the Entertainment Space.”

Zendesk continues to regularly study COVID-19-related data, “trying to understand what are the macroeconomic and macroenvironmental trends, and how does it impact” the way companies are going to respond to figure out when it’s safe to attempt returning their businesses to more normalized activities, he said.

Different places across the globe have been starting to reopen their economies, but it’s being done in different ways in different places, he noted.

“What we’re advising our clients is… you have to be flexible,” he said, adding: “It’s going to be really challenging over the next six months. Nobody has that crystal ball to know when will a vaccine become available [and] when will these things start to stabilize. And, if anything, we’re looking at… from an entertainment perspective, which of these changes are going to become structural?”

Movie theater chains are trying to figure out when it will be safe to open again and what they will need to do if there is a spike in virus infections after they open, he noted.

Live events promoters and venue operators, meanwhile, are trying to figure out when they can hold festivals and concerts again, he said, adding: “It’s going to be a different kind of environment” when they start again.

Although “there’s pent-up energy” to open everything up again, “there is also a lot of anxiousness about what’s going to happen,” he said, cautioning companies: “When issues arise, you really need to be empathetic and [have] the ability to react quickly. The companies that are doing that now, we think, are going to be best-positioned to survive through this kind of rocky stage over the next six to 12 months.”

Additional Challenges

In addition, “we’re seeing a lot of the friction that was already simmering” between the Hollywood studios and theatrical distributors over release windows, with the most recent example being the feud between AMC Theatres and Universal during the pandemic, he said. AMC recently said it would no longer show Universal films after the studio indicated that it planned to continue releasing future movies direct to on-demand for the home, just like it did with the recent animated “Trolls World Tour” during the pandemic.

Not helping any is that there is “such a sea of misinformation out there,” according to Neil Cunningham, customer success executive at Zendesk, who advised companies not to fall into an “anecdotal black hole.” He added: “Now more than ever, data is king. Trying to rely on empirical analysis as a means to avoid misinformation and anecdotal response to your business will certainly help you weather the storm, regardless of how long it lasts. [And] hopefully, it will help you edge out competitors that aren’t really doing the same thing.”

Focusing an organization’s investment on artificial intelligence (AI), “machine learning, machine actors acting as agents – those are all really wise investments right now because they’re just so scalable,” Cunningham also said.

Jorczak predicted that “we’re going to see the volume of inquiries increasing even more, especially as people go back to work” and return to more of their normal activities. “They’re going to need help” and it’s important that companies listen to their customers and employees better and “learn from all of those interactions,” while figuring out how to simplify things and automate more tasks to “drive better efficiencies inside the organization,” he said, adding: “I think that’s where you’re going to see a lot of opportunities to grow. COVID, for all of its challenges and tragedies, I think it will accelerate some of the changes that were already happening in our market and in entertainment companies across the board. There will be some winners and losers. Hopefully, companies will start to realize they can adapt, they can change, and they have a positive outlook on what can they do differently. And I think those companies that can think about that and not be paralyzed are the ones that are really going to come out the other end of this or through this with a much better outlook.”

Other Trends

Zendesk has become deeply “embedded in the media and entertainment market” since it started in 2007 and has “grown tremendously” during that time, Jorczak also said during the webinar, noting the company now has 17 offices around the globe, about 4,000 employees and 157,000 customers across all industry segments, including ABC, NBC, Lionsgate, Roku and videogame maker Take-Two Interactive.

The company does an annual benchmark report in which it looks at all the data coming through the Zendesk platform, he pointed out. “We’re seeing a huge spike in terms of people using WhatsApp and chat and social messaging channels,” he noted, adding: “Self-service is also increasing dramatically.”

The significant amount of time that people have been spending at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to “massive increases in terms of gaming, but also things like fitness,” he said. Customer service requests in the entertainment segment are up 63% since the start of the crisis, while gaming is up 66% and remote work and learning are up 85%, he pointed out. Companies in the entertainment space are also leaning more on analytics and AI than ever before, he noted, pointing out resolutions using Zendesk’s Answer Bot are up 84%.