Customer Experience

Adjusting your CX program to deal with COVID-19

Given the spread of Coronavirus and the downturn in the economy, every organization needs to rethink how it operates. As Experience Management (XM) professionals, you can play an important role in helping your company weather the storm. How? By enhancing the capability to continuously learn how people are thinking and feeling, propagate insights into the hands of people who can take action, and rapidly adapt in this dynamic environment. That’s what XM is all about.

To support your organization in navigating these changing times, you will need to adjust your XM efforts. Luckily, this won’t require abandoning the XM competencies you’ve been building. Instead, you’ll need to reprioritize your efforts to align with the changing needs of the organization. Hopefully this post provides you some guidance.

Five Principles For Making Changes To Your XM Program

As you think about making changes to your XM efforts (including Customer Experience, Employee Experience, Product Experience, and Brand Experience), here are some principles to keep in mind:

  1. Show humanity. If you're asking for feedback, make sure that people understand that you're doing it for their benefit, so you don't seem out of touch with the situation. People are worrying about a lot of things these days, and so they likely have less patience for self-absorbed companies. Make sure your communications are designed in such a way that the customers and employees recognize that you care about them and that you aren't just continuing with business as usual.
  2. Take a hiatus on metrics. I've found that large-scale disruptions like this have an impact on how people are feeling and the sentiment they share. Rather than pushing customers and employees to answer questions to feed your historical metrics and then trying to explain the variances, cut them out for at least the next quarter. This way all of your energy can be focused on reacting to the current environment.
  3. Ask less, listen more. Since the situation is fluid, your normal barrage of questions may not capture the right information. Most voice of the customer systems are built to track well-defined, ongoing operations. But that's not the case right now. So think about analyzing existing communications (especially in your contact centers), and asking fewer, more open-ended questions like how are you doing? and how can we help? Also, this is a perfect time to add a voice of the employee component to your efforts, so you stay abreast of what your front-line employees are seeing.
  4. Build up your immediate response skill. In this environment, you need to be more prepared than ever to make changes quickly based on what you learn. This is what we call the "Immediate Response" skill within the "RESPOND" XM competency (one of the six XM competencies). While this is always a core skill for XM programs, it's probably the most important one to build out in the near-term.
  5. Accelerate your feedback cycles. The ideal pace of feedback is defined by an organization's capacity to act on what it finds. As you build up your capacity to make short-term changes, you'll want to increase the pace of feedback so that you can test those changes and prioritize new ones. Think about adding more always-on feedback mechanisms to your digital properties as well as adding some more targeted pulse surveys with your customers, employees, and partners.

Answering CX Questions From Clients

Our Customer Success organization, which supports a large volume of companies around the world, shared a number of questions that they’re hearing from our CX clients. While this is not the complete list of questions that CX leaders may have, hopefully it’s a valuable start at helping you think about the changes that you need to make. So here are my answers to the first batch of questions:

How do we understand the impact of COVID-19 on my longitudinal data? Should we isolate the results?

Assume that there will be an abnormality in the data for at least the next quarter, so I’d definitely isolate these results. In many cases you might want to stop tracking that data and focus your efforts on insights that help the organization understand and respond to the moment.

Should we change our current survey or distribution?

Most likely yes and yes. Think about shifting your insights away from tracking the existing business and focusing more on gathering actionable insights about the current situation. That may mean targeting a different group of customers and asking a different set of questions. Rather than continuing with a bunch of scaled questions that you use just for the sake of reporting, consider fewer questions about important and emerging areas, and use more open-ended questions to understand what people are truly feeling. Also, make sure to look for insights from existing interactions in the contact center and tap into the observations of employees. I’d even recommend a weekly review of the questions you use to make sure you’re asking as little as possible and are focusing on the insights that the organization really needs.

How do we handle changes to COVID-19 relative to metrics, reporting, and compensation?

Those things will likely need to change. I’d tighten up on the metrics you report on, focusing on only those that are critical right now. You may need to introduce some new items that are becoming critical. Your reporting should focus on this tighter set of metrics, and you should probably increase the cadence of reporting. As for compensation, I’d recommend an executive decision to disconnect compensation from metrics for at least the next quarter, unless you can introduce a metric relative to the current environment. That way you’re not pushed to collect data just for the sake of fueling compensation cycles.

How should we think about transactional vs relational programs moving forward due to COVID-19?

You need to keep transactional programs, and even increase the focus on closing the loop. There’s nothing more precious in these times than an existing customer. As for relational programs, I may alter the approach and go to more of a pulse mode, asking a smaller set of targeted questions to a more targeted set of customers on a regular basis. I would focus more on what would make someone repurchase in this moment, than what the long-term data says is the largest drivers of loyalty.

Should we stop surveying my customers all together?

In these times of change, the last thing you want to do is to lose a connection with your customers. You need to be listening and responding even more than you have in the past. That can take on many forms beyond just surveying, especially tapping into your existing customer contacts and learning from the observations of employees. But when it comes to surveying, you should trim what you ask to what’s truly important in this moment. Assume that customers will have less patience for providing feedback if they don’t see how it will benefit them.

Should we disregard or throw scores out for a set period of time?

I would make the assumption that any trending data will be thrown out for at least the next quarter. Not all of the data will end up being abnormal, but I don’t think you should be spending any time trying to figure out how to trend and reconcile the data during this period, when there are many more important areas of insight to focus on.

Does it make sense for us to change compensation models for agents now? Forever? For only a period of time?

I would rethink all comp models that are tied to specific CX metrics. Compensation should reinforce the behaviors that you want to see. I can see an argument for keeping the model in place if you want to maintain consistency in the face of all of this change. Otherwise, think about what changes you’re asking people to make and see if there is a different comp model that supports some of those new behaviors.

Are most companies delaying their relationship surveys for the next few months due to COVID-19?

I haven’t checked across companies, but I’d recommend going with more of a pulse model than a traditional relationship study right now. Ask questions that help you adjust what you’re doing in the near term. Most relationship studies cover a lot of topics that are important for long-term tracking and analysis, and are designed around how the organization has traditionally operates. I think you need to focus less on what drives promoters in the long-term, and more on what changes you need to make to keep customers happy in the near-term.

Should we delay any survey launches for the time being?

Not necessarily. Understanding and responding to customers’ changing needs is even more critical in this environment. If a new survey helps an organization to adapt to the current environment, then go ahead. If it’s more focused on metrics than insights, then now’s not the right time to launch it. But don’t think of any survey in isolation. The goal is to drive actionable insights across the organization, so companies need to think about their portfolio of activities and channels, to make sure that launching a new survey doesn’t pull them away from more important activities.

What should my company consider doing right now related to relational NPS?

Your insights work needs to focus on understanding and responding to people’s needs right now. Many relational studies are more focused on longer-term analysis. If you have a short NPS study, and have strong closed-loop mechanisms for learning and responding, then it makes sense to continue it. If your program is more focused on tracking the metric and longer-term analysis, then I’d shift my focus on to other areas of insights.

A big airline has turned off their surveys ... should we do that as well?

A good rule of thumb is to only ask customers about things for which you plan to take action. So I’d stop any surveys if you can no longer take action on them. For instance, many airlines are operating in a crisis mode – where they need to focus all of their efforts on operational issues. If that’s the case, why bother asking customers for feedback if you aren’t going to do much with what they say.

We’re in the healthcare industry, should we wind down other surveys & only focus on what's critical?

Yes. But this is true for every company and every industry. In this environment, you need to focus even more than ever on what’s critical. As I mentioned with the airline industry, sometimes organizations are faced with critical operational situations that require a different approach. Healthcare organizations are definitely facing some capacity shortages, so it makes sense to rethink what type of customer feedback they need to support their current priorities – such as triaging customers’ needs and forecasting their near-term demands.

Should we change our survey to ask COVID-19 specific questions?

No. As with any question, only ask about COVID-19 if it helps you understand and respond to your customers’ needs. While asking about the virus may seem timely, people will get tired of questions that seem more trendy than caring.

How do you manage executive and company-wide compensation tied to CX metrics?

You need to communicate actively and clearly. I’ve actually written a blog post about how executives should communicate in this environment, which outlines four strategies: 1) Don’t be shy with bad news, 2) Choose certainty over uncertainty, 3) Always share exact next steps, and 4) Stay empathetic.

How much COVID-19 communication is appropriate?

As much as is required. People will get flooded with information, which can cause a couple of problems. First of all, your communications may get lost in the chaos. Secondly, all of that information may actually heighten people’s concerns about what changes you are making. I suggest being very succinct with your communications, and simplifying the actions you take so that they can be easily understood by your target customers. You may have some great ideas, but if they are hard for people to understand then they will likely be problematic. Simplify, simplify, simplify!


Free Customer Confidence Pulse from Qualtrics

Bruce Temkin // Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute

Bruce Temkin leads the Qualtrics XM Institute and is widely viewed as an experience management (XM) visionary. He has helped executives across many of the world’s leading brands dramatically improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. Given his work in establishing the discipline of CX, Bruce is often referred to as the “Godfather of Customer Experience.” He co-founded and was the initial chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association. Prior to joining Qualtrics, Bruce ran Temkin Group, a renowned research and advisory firm, and was a VP at Forrester Research, where he led many parts of the research organization, including CX, eBusiness, financial services, and B2B. He was the most-read analyst at Forrester for 13 consecutive quarters.

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