Group of young business people with headset working and giving support to customers in a call center office.
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When isn’t Voice of the Customer (VoC) important? It certainly didn’t take a pandemic for brands to figure out VoC is critical. The current pandemic, however, has forced CX practitioners to evaluate and adjust programs, better tap into VoC through the voice of the employee, access engagement communities and enhance external communications, according to Faith Adams, senior analyst at Forrester.

She said that in a blog post in March. We’re almost in October, and CX professionals are still trying to apply these and other lessons as the pandemic and effect on customer behavior and sentiments still remain very much in play.

“It’s time to be creative,” said John A. Goodman, vice chairman of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting. “Alexandra Petri pointed out in the Saturday Washington Post that Newton discovered gravity during the plague in 1687.”

Pivoting VoC with VoC Input

Claudiu Coltea, senior vice president and chief customer experience officer at Travelers Insurance, said when COVID-19 hit, his teams were faced with the same challenge as other large organizations as it relates to their VoC programs: Do we need to do something different and if so, what do we need to change? “To answer that question, we approached it in the same customer-centric way we always do — we utilized VoC to guide us on what to do with VoC,” Coltea said.

Travelers appended three questions to their current VoC programs. One asked about satisfaction levels regarding its coronavirus-related actions. Another asked customers an open-ended question to tell Travelers what they wanted to know during COVID. Then, there was a follow-up that depended on the responses to the open-ended question.

So what information were the able to glean from all of this?

Related Article: 7 Voice of the Customer Metrics You Shouldn't Ignore

Lessons Learned: Engage, Responding Beyond Listening

Engage, More Than Ever

Customers wanted to share feedback about their experience with Travelers, and response rates were some of the highest teams had ever seen. “This was important,” Coltea said, “because some initial hypotheses were that customers may not want to be bothered during COVID, but the opposite was true.”

Acknowledge Emotions and Speak Human

Acknowledging emotions, concerns and hopes was important to Travelers customers, as well as helping calm fears and responding appropriately with an empathetic touch.

Don’t Ignore COVID

Customers did not want Travelers to ignore COVID-19. “In fact,” Coltea added, “they wanted us to talk about it, help educate and offer help in any way we could.”

Respond and Don’t Just Listen

Customers wanted to see the company take action and do as best as it could to help them in this time of crisis.

Actionable VoC: Increase Communications, Transparency

Travelers CX professionals used VoC to shape how they responded. They started by increasing communications across all channels (web, email, social, etc.). “The content of these communications clearly outlined what we were doing as a company both for our customers and in support of our community, while also including educational resources related to COVID,” Coltea said. “This resulted in awareness of our efforts increasing from 27% to 74% over the course of just one month.”

Each communication resulted in a one-point increase in the team’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), which was far more than expected, according to Coltea. This directly correlated to maintaining a human touch through regular communication. Over time, the overall NPS jumped 15 points because of the team’s approach with VoC.   

Coltea said the team also increased transparency. “We have been regularly sharing what we are planning on doing to help customers and what we are doing as an organization to respond to COVID more broadly,” he said.

The organization added resources because they wanted to ensure their Customer Advocacy group was able to quickly respond 24/7, and it adjusted resources accordingly. “Any time a customer had a COVID-focused message,” Coltea said, “we flagged it so that we could immediately respond, which is exactly what customers wanted and expected from us.”

Further, customers wanted action, and Travelers CX teams shared that feedback with senior leaders across the organization. It resulted in significant discounts and financial support of $5 million to COVID-19 relief efforts to assist families and communities across North America, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. “These definitive actions are what customers wanted to see from us during these uncertain times,” Coltea said.

Related Article: What You Should Know About Voice of the Customer Survey Questions

Ability to Pivot

Travelers' response is one example of how CX teams have made pivots using VoC during this pandemic. When a crisis emerges, a company’s ability to pivot its operations and develop an informed response is crucial, according to Fabrice Martin, chief product officer of Clarabridge, a provider of CX software solutions. “The COVID-19 pandemic underlined just how important it was for our customers to comprehensively analyze their customer interactions, get insights quickly and understand the crisis at hand,” Martin said. “Clarabridge launched an initiative to understand consumer reactions across key industries such as hospitality, healthcare, finance and retail.”

Their CX teams used data from digital communities, calls, chats and surveys and then analyzed three of the most prevalent topics during the crisis — the virus (COVID mentions), prevention protocols and policies and COVID testing — in order to determine the ways in which different data sources work together to inform an effective and comprehensive response amidst an evolving situation.

The research led to two findings:

  • Social media leads while surveys lag: Social media data predicted the questions that would later flood companies' contact centers. This observation supported the hypothesis that data from social media and digital communities is a leading indicator of the most important customer issues regardless of topic. Topics that were important during the crisis, which began in March, did not prominently appear in survey results until June. “Because of the reflective nature of surveys,” Martin said, “companies should not rely on survey results to gauge customers’ immediate responses to an event or wait until an issue appears in survey results to begin addressing it.”
  • An argument for omnichannel analysis. In the early days of the pandemic, surveys failed to act as a reliable indicator of consumer perspectives, and companies would have been hard-pressed to continue using survey-based metrics such as Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) or NPS as the basis for executive incentives or agent performance evaluation, according to Martin. Meanwhile, social media volume was not impacted by call center closures and remained a critical element of effective customer analytics programs. “While the volume of inquiries about a topic expressed via interaction channels and surveys increased as the months progressed and call centers reopened,” he added, “the volume of inquiries originating from each source varied greatly from one another even as time went on, showing that the need to look at different sources holds true even after a crisis occurs.”

Goodman said he wouldn’t entirely rule out surveys. Consumers are less in a hurry, he said, with nowhere to go.

“They are more willing to try self-service options,” he said. “They are more willing to listen to full IVR menu, within reason. Consumers are more willing to fill out surveys, especially if given incentive such as how previous input was used.”