News today is that Virgin America changed its reservation system over the weekend, and it has been a mess. What Virgin calls "a few bumps" has been described by customers as four-hour wait times to talk to an agent, website outages, kiosk outages, and an inability for customers to book or change flights.
Even though deployment problems like this can usually be avoided, they still happen as companies cut corners and try to rush things (I'm just as guilty as everyone else). Engineers are undoubtably working like crazy behind the scenes to fix the problems, and legions of marketers are trying to communicate with customers about the problems and put the best possible spin on it.
But what about the customer feedback program? Here's my recommendation for how to handle a customer survey process during a meltdown:
- Don't stop surveying your customers. It's tempting because "we already know they're angry," but the customer feedback is a valuable tactical tool to find "hot spots" of customer problems, and determine when the crisis is truly over for a return to normalcy. Later, this data can be used to quanitfy the customer impact of the problems, which will help in planning for future disruptions.
- Don't pretend nothing is wrong. At a minimum, acknowledge the problems on the customer survey with a statement like, "Despite the service problems we are currently experiencing, we still appreciate your honest feedback as we try to return to normal." If appropriate, consider adding questions to quantify the impact of the disruption, and get feedback about where customers are seeing problems. This will help track prioritize the return to service.
- Do give your customer-facing employees some wiggle room on customer satisfaction scores. They will be catching a lot of heat for problems outside their control, so this is not the time to hold them to strict metrics. Consider excluding the crisis period from their metrics entirely, and instead use the feedback as a learning opportunity to discuss how to better handle difficult customers.
- Do track the drop in customer satisfaction at the company level. Quantifying the degree of impact and the speed of recovery will help demonstrate the cost--in lost business and loyalty--from a major disruption.