Published by Eric Gregg - 04/22/20

Surveying Clients During COVID-19: 5 Considerations for NPS® Initiatives in Times of Uncertainty

We’re headed into our second month of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the business services landscape looks very different than it did a matter of weeks ago. Conferences have been canceled, entire teams have transitioned to remote work, and we are now grappling with unprecedented economic uncertainty.

Amidst all of this, there are 3 questions that I’ve been asked more than any other in the last month:

  1. “When do you think this will be over?”
  2. “What are you watching?” (Tiger King, of course)
  3. Should I be surveying my clients right now?

Here at ClearlyRated, our focus lies in helping business service providers (staffing and recruiting firms, accounting firms, law firms, RPOs, PEOs, and others) stay in touch with the client experience through Net Promoter® surveys. Anyone who has made a good-faith effort to measure their firm’s NPS® knows the value this approach has in the best of times.

Is now the right time to ask my clients for feedback?

This question is incredibly valid, and it deserves some extra attention given the current climate. As with most complex situations, I don’t have a simple answer that applies to every circumstance. But I have put together some considerations for you to weigh as you make that decision for your firm. 

Consideration #1: Client churn is likely to increaseeven as the economic news improves.

“Don’t waste a good recession” is a mindset many business owners and leaders adopt when facing times of economic hardship. Even if their current situation doesn’t require it, many of your clients will view this recession as an opportunity to push back on your fees, to question how critical you are to their firm, and to generally reevaluate their relationship with you. This mindset can be one of the greatest impediments to your firm’s financial recovery as this pandemic lifts. 

If you’ve weathered the first wave of client churn or contraction of work, the last thing you need to deal with is the preventable churn that’s driven by service-related dissatisfaction. For every 100 clients, the average firm will churn 20 or more of them in normal times, and that rate only rises in times of economic uncertainty. The costs to retain a firm are a fraction of those required to land a new account, but you can’t fix service-related issues you don’t know about. 

Investing in (and measuring) client experience today will help you avoid revenue loss tomorrow.

Consideration #2: Economic uncertainty leads to risk aversion, making social proof more important than ever.

A great deal of insightful research has been done on the impact of group size on B2B buying decisions. What the data shows is that larger numbers of people are involved in buying decisions than in the past, and as buying group size increases, so does risk aversion. Those trends are only further amplified in times of economic uncertainty. 

What this means is that it becomes your firm’s responsibility to balance out that risk aversion to make it easier for your clients to continue to say yes to your servicesor to give you the green light in the first place.

For many service firms, the most effective way they’ve found to mitigate that risk is to differentiate by providing better service. And that’s smart strategically, because ClearlyRated research shows buyers view the satisfaction of your existing clients as the most persuasive evidence of your quality. 

As your team starts to look at how to attract and land new accounts, accurate and recent proof from your existing clients will be crucial to their success. That proof can take many forms, but we see testimonials, awards for service, and online ratings and reviews as consistently persuasive methods for proving service excellence.

Consideration #3: You and your team deserve some good news to celebrate.

Let’s think about morale and the overall health of your internal team. If you’re still in business, that’s likely because your employees have put aside their own anxiety and fears during this crisis to continue serving your clients. It’s likely they have worked harder than ever to do so. 

When you determine that it’s the right time to engage with your clients and ask them for feedback, be sure that your survey initiative supports and celebrates positive feedback as well as helping you to identify at-risk accounts. 

The ClearlyRated program accomplishes this in a few ways: 

  • Firms who meet basic response rate and NPS requirements when surveying their clients through ClearlyRated are recognized as top service providers in their industry
  • Promoters (clients who respond to the NPS question with a 9 or 10) are invited to leave a testimonial based on their feedback. 
  • Promoters are also invited to recognize team members from the firms they’re evaluating who have gone above and beyond for themthese “Shout Outs” provide amazing fuel for morale and service focus. 
  • Client feedback is translated to online ratings and reviews, so your team can be proud of how their service efforts are fueling brand reputation. 

These are just a few ways to consider bringing a lens for “good news” to your client survey initiative. Let’s celebrate our service leaders within our organizations at a time when their service delivery has been truly heroic! 

Consideration #4: Are your clients facing a major crisis? Now might not be the right time to survey. 

In this unprecedented time, here’s the caveat that I want to give: Asking your clients for feedback to understand how you can improve your service is critical; but it will fall on deaf ears if your clients are fighting just to stay in business. If your clients are in industries such as retail or hospitality, industries that are currently in survival mode and struggling just to stay afloat, surveying right now could seem tone-deaf. 

That said, if you are servicing healthcare or logistics clients, it may be the perfect time to ask and reinforce your partnership. You know your client base better than anyonemake sure you take this consideration to heart as you plan your survey initiative.

Consideration #5: Start planning well ahead of your survey program launch date.

Surveying clients the right way requires a plan, and the process of planning for all the internal and external factors that are necessary to launch an effective survey won’t happen overnight. In an April survey of more than 250 business service firm leaders, more than 70 percent said that they expect the business outlook for their firm to be stronger in the next 6 months than it is now. Their assessment dovetails with many economists who cite improvement in Q3 and rapid expansion in Q4 of this year, bouncing off the lows of the current quarter.

Whether you plan to launch a client survey initiative in the coming months, or you plan to wait until the current uncertainty subsides, give yourself plenty of runway to develop your methodology, decide on your vendor, gather your client list, and field the survey. You’ll also want to be sure to spend enough time building a process for responding to and taking action on feedback as it comes inas this is the critical strategy for securing an ROI on any survey investment. 

Closing thoughts

The firms who were most successful at emerging from the last recession had a plan that included near-term “survival” of the downturn coupled with longer-term thinking about how to emerge stronger and more capable than before. Aligning your firm’s value proposition with the needs of your existing clients is critical to avoiding a misstep as peer firms accelerate later this year.

I can’t tell you if it is the right time to survey your clients, given the cloud of COVID-19 that hangs over our world and global economy. But I can tell you that if it isn’t the right time now, it will be soon.

If executed correctly, the feedback you receive from surveying your existing clients will:

  • Save you from losing key accounts; 
  • Reveal opportunities for expansion; 
  • Improve the morale of your internal staff; 
  • Provide you with compelling proof of your ability to differentiate on service quality;
  • Help you alleviate the natural concerns that will inevitably arise as your clients and prospects navigate this unprecedented uncertainty. 

These benefits are critical in the best of times, but especially now. 

ClearlyRated can help

For a limited time, ClearlyRated is offering a free survey to business service providers interested in gathering feedback from their clients in this time of uncertainty. If you are a staffing or recruiting firm, accounting firm, law firm, RPO, PEO, or other business service provider – please contact us to learn more.

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