Covid-19: Why Feedback Is Critical in a Crisis

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

What hasn’t Covid-19 upended in life and business? Not much, but it has reinforced the truth of some of the things we knew before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

One is the importance of soliciting and listening to customer feedback. This may sound counterintuitive to some. “Customers are busy, overwhelmed even, by the chaos Covid-19 has brought to their lives and businesses,” these executives say. “Now is not the time to ask them to fill out a survey.”

To my mind, this is precisely the moment to ask customers how you can help—and how you can do better. Any invitation for feedback should certainly recognize this as a particularly challenging time. Be empathetic, and don’t harass anyone, but do send the surveys. 

Customers are actually quite likely to respond, as my Bain & Company colleagues Maureen Burns and Rob Markey, experts in customer experience and strategy, recently discussed on the latest episode of the Net Promoter System Podcast.

Noting that she has seen no drop in customer survey response rates, Maureen puts her finger on one reason why people want to share right now. “What used to be routine transactions are now suddenly super emotional. And so [customers] are wanting to give you feedback about how that went,” she says.

Beyond the scores customers give for their likelihood to recommend a company or product, verbatim responses offer them a chance to thank or recognize an employee. These comments are especially valuable. In the midst of this crisis, more customers are taking the time to say thank you. Don’t waste this. Share it. It’s great fuel to inspire employees.

“I’ve seen some verbatims that are striking just in terms of the emotion and the gratitude that customers have for employees right now,” Maureen says. “If you think about it, a lot of these employees have traditionally been treated pretty poorly by customers. And I think if this is a moment where we understand that those folks coming to work every day at banks, at grocery stores, are really essential, that’s a good thing, and those employees should hear directly from customers.”

Seek employee feedback too, Maureen advises. “It’s really hard for leaders to know what it feels like to be on the front line right now. And it’s only through hearing the voice of the employee, listening to what they’re saying, looking at the verbatims, that I think you can get a flavor for how the decisions that you’re making, many of which I think seem super logical and right in the moment, when they trickle down and hit the front line, may not seem as logical. That feedback is really critical.”

“It also gets you the ability to get on top of issues. Really understanding what those concerns are and getting ahead of them, I think, is more important than ever . . . And it is my hope that people do use this time to really think strategically about, ‘What do you want to be to your customers and your employees when this is all over? And how do you start to lay the foundation to be able to do that?’” 

As Rob notes, it’s crucial to think not only about this moment, but to lay the foundation for when we emerge. “At some point this is going to end,” he says. “And when it does, it’s going to be more important than ever that your organization have energetic, enthusiastic and creative employees, the kind of employees who are self-directing and self-correcting, because you will still have customers whose needs you must anticipate and meet and whose loyalty you must earn.”

Indeed, start planning now for upgrades and revisions to your feedback systems based on what you have learned through Covid-19. It is time to skinny down to the shortest possible survey. It is also time to ensure that any detractor is contacted by frontline leadership. That contact is an opportunity to apologize and to identify the root cause of the issues, not only finding the solution for that individual customer but also ensuring it doesn’t happen again with other customers. 

Are you combing through the verbatims or asking directly for ways to make the customer experience even better? (Remember the question I wrote about last year: Is there anything we could have done to make your experience more exceptional?) Test out the best ideas, but be sure to thank every customer for their valuable suggestions. 

Surveys should be reassessed in light of Covid-19, but they should be made better, not abandoned. 

Related Insights


As the COVID-19 virus spreads and the human cost rises, the sizeable economic impact of the pandemic is only starting to become apparent. But companies that provide reassurance and support to anxious customers and employees could minimize the damage to their businesses. 

Fred Reichheld is a Bain Fellow, an author/speaker on loyalty, and the creator of the Net Promoter System.


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