The past year threw us plenty of curveballs and made many of us rethink our approach to business and personal life. If there’s something positive that emerged out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that companies really started to put employees front and center. Yes, many companies have invested talk, time, and money into culture over the years, but that didn’t always mean companies made employees’ needs, wants, and well-being a number one priority.


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 digital engagement of customers and employees is a strategic priority. These companies are accelerating innovation to build smarter, safer, more resilient businesses – businesses that put the employee experience (EX) above all else.

IBM’s ninth annual The State of Salesforce Report 2020-2021, a special COVID-19 edition conducted in partnership with Oxford Economics, showed an emerging divide in the market. One where organizations, further along in their Salesforce transformation journey at the start of the pandemic, 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.

The State of Salesforce surveyed more than 2,000 Salesforce customers and found farsighted businesses invested in digital transformation. These farsighted businesses also placed significant attention on employee experience, better positioning their businesses to not only work through the pandemic, but thrive and expand. Of those surveyed, 57% said Salesforce made it easier to make the necessary pivots in 2020. This includes IBM.

“We successfully shifted 98% of our entire global workforce to work from home in just two days,” said Kelly Jessop, Salesforce leader for IBM Global Business Services (GBS) North America. “This gave IBM, like many other companies in similar situations, a confidence boost across our entire organization.”

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Connected employees build trust and loyalty

More than half of the companies surveyed have increased their focus on building loyalty and trust. Trust has always been a cornerstone of long-term customer relationships. During the pandemic, many customers stopped doing business with organizations they did not trust to serve their evolving digital, physical, mental, and emotional needs. The same can be said for how organizations treated and handled employee issues during COVID-19. Those companies that focused on the personal well-being and safety of their workforce brought trustworthy experiences to market faster, increasing employee and customer loyalty, retention, and growth.

“We’ve had two decades to think about “Customer 360″ and the pandemic has shown businesses around the world it’s not just about the customer; rather employees should be the starting point of engagement,” said Matt Francis, partner at IBM, Global chief technology officer, Salesforce. “If you invest in ‘Employee 360,’ that connection can last forever. It’s a skill set we need to start teaching business leaders: How we connect emotionally through technology and awareness about what the other person is going through.”

The best companies are two times more likely to use AI with Salesforce.

AI prioritizes human connection

Using Salesforce with thoughtfully designed business processes and artificial intelligence (AI) enables organizations to connect more deeply with their employees, building trust and, most importantly, a more resilient business.

With more people working remotely and holding fewer physical meetings and events, employees and customers have sought ways to stay connected through digital channels. Using AI, companies can make employee’s jobs easier – removing inefficiencies in their day-to-day processes and allowing them to spend more quality time serving customers.

AI also helps companies 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 aid human decision-making. The majority of companies (65%) using AI-based automated processes in Salesforce are seeing increased customer and employee satisfaction.

“Companies have base data, but infusing AI and analytics into that data makes more intelligent interactions,” Francis said. “The more contact I can have with a chatbot or sales service center, the more efficient and impactful it can be. It’s not about replacing, but rather enhancing the experience.”

Focusing on employee well-being leads to workforce resilience and growth

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 Disruption Recovery Insights. Digital tools and processes provide businesses the foundation to proactively predict, impact, and manage future operations and workforce disruptions.

“It’s not just being resilient now, but in the future,” Jessop said. “How do we see the next disruption coming and watch the right key indicators? There’s also a cultural element we’re all learning. How do we keep the organization connected? The tools help do that, but we want to engage our employees in a way that feels authentic when we’re not in-person.”

Seven out of 10 organizations prioritize employee and customer well-being to build trust.

While 2020 challenged everyone in myriad ways, digital transformation and technologies like Salesforce and AI helped bridge gaps, created real human connection and rapidly propelled many of us into this new normal that continues to evolve.

“IBM couldn’t have been nearly as successful throughout the pandemic,” Jessop said, “if we didn’t have an established digital architecture and a focus on our employees.”

Download IBM’s The State of Salesforce report 2020-2021

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