Surveys in the Time of Pandemic

I’ve been posting weekly videos on LinkedIn with advice on what CX professionals can do during this unsettling time.

During Week 2 of the pandemic, I received a survey request that I felt was ill-conceived. The email –entitled “We’d love to hear your thoughts!” – had your standard “based on your current level of happiness with [vendor], how likely are you to recommend [vendor] to a friend or a colleague?”

There was no “we realize this is a difficult time but hope you can give us a few minutes of your time,” or any other acknowledgement that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. To me, it screamed “sure, people are dying, but we really need to capture our metrics, so please stop what you’re doing and fill out our survey.”

So in my weekly video, I recommended that we put our transactional surveys on hold. Well, that’s what I meant, though I guess I actually said to stop all surveys. Dave Carruthers (CEO and Founder of Voxpopme) challenged that advice. He argued that it is more important than ever for us to listen to our customers and develop empathy. This launched a good debate among a number of commentators, which you can view here.

While I did say “stop all surveys,” my main point was that we need to stop while we reconsider what we’re doing. But Dave was right in contending that “stop all surveys” could lead organizations to take this as direction to stop listening. Well, mostly right.

I strongly agree that now is the time for listening and empathy. But most transactional surveys aren’t about that. In fact, when I gave the vendor above a 3 on the 11-point scale, their next page asked, “What is the one thing that we could do to improve your experience with [company]?” and then, “What are your favorite aspects of [platform]?”

Not exactly empathy-building questions.

So based on our discussion, I reached out to some of my CX thought-leader friends to get their perceptions of what we should be doing. These are all people whose opinions I trust, so I was excited to hear what they had to say. I asked them to respond to three questions:

Should CX practitioners quit sending tracking surveys during this time of pandemic?

If not stop outright, then what changes might be needed?

What brand(s) are reacting appropriately to the pandemic in terms of collecting customer feedback?

 

Their responses are below (lightly edited only for grammar and spelling, as they reacted very quickly, which I appreciate!). I’ll start with Dave’s response, then share the rest in the order in which they came in:

Dave Carruthers

CEO and Founder of Voxpopme

Thanks for inviting me to share my thoughts.

I believe now is a really critical time for companies to truly understand their customers and how they are feeling. Those that truly listen will come out on top. I do not believe that companies should stop surveys outright, but there do need to be changes made to the surveys used to collect feedback – simplify and make questions less about operational measurement and more about connecting with the human insights to enable you to come out of this stronger.

This crisis will have created major shifts in consumer behaviors and sentiment toward your brand. Some of those behaviors may have changed forever. The best brands are investing in understanding that change. Removing silos between market research teams and customer experience teams is a key part of this. We’ve seen a lot of success with clients using video, both within traditional CX surveys and for more deep dive research. Giving customers the opportunity to just tell you how they feel and what they expect from you right now in a completely unstructured way empowers the customer and makes them feel more deeply connected to your brand. One of the biggest things brands can be doing right now is to know their voice matters. Imagine getting a video back from the CEO thanking you for your feedback and wishing your family the best during this time.

A great example I’ve seen of a company getting it right vs. wrong was the difference between Delta and United and how they communicated what was happening to their frequent fliers for 2020 and 2021, take a look.

Colin Shaw

CEO & Founder, Beyond Philosophy

I hope you and your family are OK during these difficult times. This post is a good idea. Here are my thoughts:

  • Yes, surveys should continue. But they need to be reviewed to make sure they are appropriate and sensitive to the current situation. For example, don’t ask ‘what do you think of our opening hours of the store?’ if all the stores are shut!
  • I also think that the danger with just stopping this is that could be interpreted as the company doesn’t care.
  • One of the reasons surveys should be asked is they can identify new areas where the customer is having problems in their journey.
  • Regarding the action that you take from the survey, you need to empower the front-line team to do ‘what is right’ rather than sticking to policies developed in the old world. This is a new world, and how people are treated and how they feel will be remembered for some time to come.
  • Be honest with the customer about what you can fix and how quickly it will be done. People will understand. To stop setting unrealistic expectations on replies, etc. is critical.
  • It’s times like this that it would be great if companies were measuring customer emotions. Very few are. For those that are, they can then build responses to help customers more.

I hope this helps! Stay safe!

Shep Hyken

CEO, Shepard Presentations, LLC

Hi Jim – This is a great question. Here are my answers:

  1. Should CX practitioners quit sending tracking surveys during this pandemic? Surveys handled the right way are appropriate. That is true in good times or bad. During the pandemic, the right setup that thanks the customer and emphasizes that the company is trying to adjust to the current-day way of business will “humanize” the ask. That informs the customer that the company is aware of the sensitive nature of asking for feedback in unique and trying times. The company must realize, however, that the feedback may not be as relevant as what we might refer to as “business-as-usual.”
  2. If not stopping outright, then what changes might be needed? Keep the surveys short. As mentioned in my answer to the first question, have the right setup, one that thanks the customer for their business, lets the customer know these are different times, and even wishes them good health and safety. Humanize the request as much as possible.

Always be amazing!

Jeanne Bliss

President, CustomerBLISS

Thanks for asking. Here is my guidance below. Let me know what you think! Hope you are well, my friend!

Jeanne

Shift from Validating to Understanding:

Surveys sometimes can act as a validation of points we’ve predetermined to be important that we want customers’ rating of our performance on. Now, those predetermined items are likely not completely relevant. The world has shifted, and so have your customers’ priorities and goals. The companies that will rise out of this the quickest, both financially and in earning customers’ memories that your company cares, will find ways to learn and understand their customers’ pain points, their priorities, and where you can add value. You want to earn the right to be a part of their memory of people who helped them during this time.

Listen with Humanity

Ask customers if groups of them (non-competing, if that is an issue) will come together virtually in groups to talk about what they need, and their priorities and goals. We are finding these sessions to be very powerful and human. They will also help you to identify areas that you can contribute to, both specific to your product and service offerings, and in new ways outside of your existing offerings. Beyond these groups, you might want to also consider segmenting your customers by value segments, vertical and size.

Smash the Rules on Who Listens

Give people across your organization a seat at this new listening table. Bring in the front line, the middle, and your senior folks, so that you collectively hear the voice, the emotions, and the needs.

Require Leaders to Listen and Be on Video

We are breaking barriers with leaders in their living rooms talking with their teams. Do that with your customers, too. This is the time to REQUIRE every senior leader, and through the middle of your organization, to have both individual conversations with customers, and participate in group conversations. This will change forever more their understanding of your customers and will build bonds as people see them not only for their role in your business, but for who they are as people.

Focus on Goals

This diligent listening will unearth the near-term goals that your customers have. Recalibrate and focus on the few that you can have the greatest impact on, supporting them in their achievement of them. Resist the urge to let every silo build their own list. Find a few things and bring everyone together to focus on these for substantive solutions that customers will say really helped them.

Market Hope

Remember to tell customers what you heard. Change the language of leaders to all be able to articulate these goals now, then market hope back to both your customers and employees as you progress.

This approach to listening shifts culture in the best of times. Now, not only will it put you in a position to be remembered as a company that truly assisted during this moment, but it can be a springboard for putting this good behavior into how you operate going forward. This works!

Bob Azman, CCXP, MBA

Founder and CEO, Innovative CX Solutions

Thanks Jim – good topic. I’m going to take a more personal view of this situation than a clinical approach to how to maintain your CX program in times of crisis.

I’ve found the evolution of how CX professionals and organizations are dealing with this pandemic rather fascinating. Initially it was reactionary in nature – we had to make quick decisions and were thrust into various unfamiliar circumstances: work from home; shelter in place; conferences cancelled; virtual networking events; etc. Organizations inundated us with what they were going to do to address the pandemic. And it seemed like everyone I’ve ever dealt with was sending me a note about how it was impacting their organization and my products and services with that organization. We then seemed to evolve into the navigation phase – we started seeing lots of posts, blogs, and webinars about how CX professionals can navigate through the crisis. What to do about their program, surveys, initiatives, etc. My reaction was, frankly, “too soon.” I agreed with your post about suspending surveying. I found that organizations and employees are dealing with both personal and professional situations. For individuals: loss of employment; loved ones isolated, ill or dying; caring for children at home. And professionally: significant decreases in revenue; programs stopped; new job requirements; etc. There were priorities, and they weren’t surveys. Who has time to complete them and who has time to analyze them?

Perhaps now we’ve begun to settle into our new routines as they are becoming more familiar to us. I guess it’s what we are calling “the new normal” – and it’s not all bad. Despite the shelter-in-place orders, there is a sense of stability, and as I said, routine beginning to evolve. Who knows? Maybe we are rapidly moving through the seven stages of grief? We’re still fighting the war right now – we may be starting to win some battles, but we need to keep our eye on the ball. The time will come to restart surveys, data collection, etc. But not right now. They seem so trivial against the backdrop of this pandemic.

Lastly, maybe we should start with what our customers are telling us? I’d like to know what is happening with the surveys that are going out – are response rates dropping? Are the scores moving more in one direction or the other than previous trends had indicated? Is the customer telling us through the lack of response to stop surveying? Isn’t that the whole point of CX? Are we alienating customers by surveying them? I can only imagine them saying, “Are these people nuts? I’m trying to keep my company afloat and they want to know how THEY’RE doing?” Let’s shift these resources to staying connected with our customers through other means – donations, check-ins, support, etc.

OK – climbing off my soapbox. I told you this might be more personal than clinical. Thanks for asking about this important topic. Stay safe and healthy!

Bob

Adrian Brady-Cesana

Founder and Chief Experience Officer, CXChronicles

I hope that all is well with you, and these last few weeks you and the family have been safe and healthy! Please see my responses below.

  1. Should CX practitioners quit sending tracking surveys during this pandemic? Not in all cases. Some companies still have plenty of reasons to continue to keep their customer pulse or drumbeat moving forward. There’s a plethora of examples in the “essential services” industries that can massively benefit from being in a position to continue to operate. Plus, customers are far more focused on customer and employee experience details right now, as we wade through these COVID-19 waters.
  2. If not stopping outright, then what changes might be needed? Be smart about what surveys you are continuing to blast your customer or employee base with. Be thoughtful, make changes or updates to how you ask questions, and take time to connect with a handful of customers or employees offline beforehand to vet and test sensitive areas.
  3. What brand(s) are reacting appropriately to the pandemic in terms of collecting customer feedback? Airbnb has been crushing it with their customer communications throughout the COVID-19 experience (sounds like a bad roller coaster, btw) — simple, helpful, empathetic, here-for-you type of messages. Also, Etsy has been sending some incredibly helpful and thoughtful customer communications and surveys in recent weeks.

Hope this helps – let me know if there are any questions!

-Adrian

David Solana

Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer, OPINATOR

Hi Jim,

I hope you and your close ones are well. Please find below my responses to your questions.

  1. Should CX practitioners quit sending tracking surveys during this pandemic? Businesses should definitely stop bombarding their customers with irrelevant and impersonalized surveys now… and ever! But in a situation like this, where customer interactions have become overwhelmingly digital, generating and managing digital experiences is more important than ever, so businesses should listen to their customers smartly, surveying them “lightly,” measuring their digital experiences in a more natural, human way, seamlessly integrated in their transactional processes.
  2. If not stopping outright, then what changes might be needed? Businesses have an opportunity to test the quality of their digital interactions and the digital universality of their services, from sales to customer care. There are, for instance, some customer segments that might usually be more inclined to use physical, rather than digital, channels. This is the time to test that digital processes are fine-tuned for these audiences. In order to gain that knowledge, businesses need to be able to listen to their customers very dynamically, depending on what customers are doing at every moment (event-driven surveys), and where exactly the digital interactions are taking place (context-dependent surveys).
  3. What brand(s) are reacting appropriately to the pandemic in terms of collecting customer feedback? BBVA is a great example of a bank that is listening to their customers in a very personalized, context-dependent, and event-driven way, which enables them to adapt very quickly to new circumstances like the current one, and identify very precisely new points of customer effort. CEPSA is using surveys during the pandemic to gather employee feedback and suggestions about their Management Committee’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to participate in your initiative. All the best,

David

 

In addition, Bruce Temkin and Lynn Hunsaker provided links to their posts on this same topic.

My Take

Companies should stop their existing surveys until they can reframe them to acknowledge that now is not a normal time. This could be as simple as updating the invitation and shortening the survey to be only the questions that are specifically needed at this time. I realize that this will throw off your ongoing reporting, but so what? This is not the time for tracking metrics, but instead for listening to customers and learning how you can help.

Questions need to be focused on what information needs to be gathered now, which will vary by brand. For example, location-based companies should add questions about whether your customers feel safe. I also agree with Colin that, while it’s always important to ask about emotions, that’s particularly true now. Hopefully, brands will discover that they learn more by asking about emotions than they do using an artificial construct like an 11-point scale.

You have a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show your customers that you are responsive and that you care. Be sure to make the most of that opportunity.

Jim

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