How Touchless Customer Feedback is Evolving

Ron Swanson smashing cell phone with a hammer

Touchless customer feedback isn't new. We've all experienced our fair share of day old email surveys and yelling magical incantations to an interactive voice response system on the telephone. While these systems do provide some value, the COVID-19 pandemic is demonstrating that your customer feedback tools must evolve if they're going to serve you and your customers in a rapidly changing environment.

Let's discuss some of the existing tools, gaps in their ability to perform touchless feedback, and how the landscape is evolving.

# Why care about customer feedback?

Regardless of industry, providing top notch customer experience is your business.

94% of customers avoid businesses with negative reviews.

32% of customers will stop doing business with a brand after one bad experience.

When customers have a great experience, they are willing to pay up to a 16% price premium.

Your business survives and thrives by retaining customers and creating fans. The best way to do this is to talk to them, listen to their feedback, and take action on it.

# Touchless customer feedback? We already do that.

"Please stay on the line to complete a brief survey..."

Click. These are rarely, if ever, brief.

"Please press these smiley faces in our heavily trafficked airport bathroom..."

Yuck. When was this last cleaned?

"Please respond to our email survey regarding your visit from last tuesday..."

Hrm. I think it was OK but I don't really remember anymore.

"Text HELP to 83641..."

Where does this go? I don't want robocalls.

Businesses need to design a seamless customer experience for providing feedback. This may seem intuitive yet it is commonly overlooked. If you're going to ask for their help to improve your business, don't punish them for it. Make it quick, convenient, and timely.

# Do it and do it well.

A touchpoint showing Routegy NPS survey question

Quick, one-question surveys provide great insight into how a customer feels.

"The next time you need service, would you want the same person to help? Yes/No?"

"On a scale of one to ten, what’s the likelihood you would recommend Routegy to a friend or colleague?"

"Did you have a positive interaction with us today? Yes/No?"

These short surveys give you an overall sense of their experience and open the door to future communication where you can dive deeper with more thorough questions.

Convenient feedback should take no more than 30 seconds to complete. Response rates drop precipitously as survey fatigue sets in. Feedback tools must have context about the interaction so time is not wasted asking unnecessary questions.

"How was your experience at our South Lake Union location today?"

"Did you enjoy your room service in #2501?"

Timely, instantaneous feedback is actionable. Delayed, stale feedback is not. It's nearly impossible to remediate a negative customer experience well after it happened. Act quickly to maintain customer trust.

"We're sorry your experience earlier today didn't meet expectations. May we reach out to you and make this right?"

# Will existing tools help you accomplish your goals?

IVR/telephone feedback systems don't have much evolutionary potential and have remained relatively unchanged for years. Customers shouldn't have to call a service center and work through a touch-tone interface to reach a representative. If already on the premises, they should be able to provide feedback about their experience exactly where they're standing.

A sign with buttons on a airport bathroom wall asking about the experience

Mobile apps with in-app feedback are in a favorable spot but have barriers to entry with installation and account creation. This makes adoption difficult for high churn businesses like tourism and quick interactions like Grab & Go food pickup.

SMS feedback systems, with their 160 characters, are limited by the amount of information they can ask. Questions that require context about the customer, their interaction, or nuance are near impossible to perform. These systems don't capture the customer narrative well and are best left to highly structured questions with fixed responses.

Feedback terminals, commonly seen in airport bathrooms, are falling out of favor with physical buttons that must be pressed. These require constant cleaning and are likely to see a steady decline in usage as cleanliness becomes a driving factor. The worst customer feedback systems are the ones that customers don't use.

"Only 31% of men and 65% of women wash their hands after using the bathroom."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Director of Cleanliness

# How is the landscape evolving?

"Alexa, the room service tasted great."

Smart speaker adoption in industries like hospitality show ways to capture customer feedback immediately after interactions with concierge or room service staff.

A sign with touchless sensors asking about bathroom experience

Feedback terminals are evolving into gesture sensors and QR/NFC based systems. Waving your hand in front of a sensor or tapping your phone is a much more sanitary approach to gathering feedback in high traffic areas.

A touchpoint showing a restaurant comment card

Paper feedback, like restaurant comment cards, are going the way of the dodo. These are quickly evolving to QR/NFC table stands or integrations into your email receipts. Restaurants receive instantaneous feedback, giving them a chance to remediate a bad experience immediately and avoid negative Yelp reviews.

With sensors and QR/NFC based systems, customer feedback is being captured at the point of interaction, not minutes, hours, day later through an isolated email or text. Did you have a great experience with your bank teller? Tap your phone right here on the counter to let them know that your experience with Johnathan in the Bellevue branch was wonderful.

# Feedback across all areas of your business

While a scoring system like NPS helps you capture broad customer sentiment, businesses should look to capture localized feedback at common customer touchpoints. Immediate, actionable feedback for these will help you improve the experience for all future customers, not just the ones providing it.

A sign in a doorway asking for customer feedback with a QR code

Are the bathrooms dirty or out of hand soap?

Is the 4th floor too hot or cold?

Is the music on the patio too loud?

Is the cell service/WiFi poor in certain areas?

Don't think of these as issues for building management, maintenance, or IT. These are customer touchpoints with your business. Using a unified system to capture feedback across your business enables your customers to provide feedback whenever and wherever they are.

# How does Routegy solve touchless feedback?

Routegy makes it easy for people to interact with your business in a contactless, app-less way. Purchases, issues, requests, and feedback are made by interacting with QR codes, NFC tags, sensors, and smart speakers. Collected information and context are sent to the destination of your choice: notifications via SMS or Slack, integrations with your existing software, and anything in-between; no code required.

Rethinking interactions in a touchless world

A restaurant storefront with QR code posters fixed to the door

COVID-19 didn’t start the drive towards a more automated, touchless future, but it certainly hastened it. In the US, QR codes and NFC were often viewed as a nice-to-have or novelty. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to walk down a street full of businesses and not see QR codes on storefront windows offering core business interactions as new, contactless experiences.

It’s early-days, though, and solutions of varying sophistication are popping up all over the place. I thought I’d document some of the traditionally physical and person-to-person interactions we’ve observed getting the touchless treatment, and highlight some of the emerging hallmarks of good, contactless interaction design (Spoiler: general interaction design guidelines still apply).

Let’s get started.

# Check-ins and wait-lists

A tablet at a restaurant prompting customers to check in by entering a name and phone number

What’s the first thing you encounter when you walk into a hotel, restaurant, or office? It’s likely a check-in flow. Do you have a reservation? Who are you here to see? How many are in your party? These interactions often involve talking to a receptionist and using a pen on paper or a shared tablet.

This interaction can be relatively easy to automate. In fact, pre-COVID, tablets were appearing in all sorts of businesses, from restaurants to corporate offices, that allowed check-in without the need for human interaction. While the concept is sound, customers are now hesitant to touch a surface shared with countless others.

Now, these tablets are beginning to use QR codes that can be scanned by a kiosk, allowing people to sign in from their own device. Unfortunately, many solutions require an app and oftentimes an account or exchange of personal information to use them. We’ll get into why this is bad a bit later.

# Curbside pickup

Curbside pickup isn’t new, but it has certainly expanded during the pandemic. Put simply, a customer should be able to order and pay electronically, get notified when their order is available, and provide some notification for the order to be delivered to their vehicle.

Buckets with posts and signs in a retailer's parking lot instructing customers to call when they arrive

It’s now common to see reserved parking spaces and signage with instructions to call a number with the order ID and parking space or tap a button in an app to type the information in. As we wrote previously, these experiences require unnecessary overhead, burden customers by requesting redundant information, and tie up phone lines, resulting in lost orders and revenue.

Some solutions use geofencing to track when customers leave for the location and arrive, but this too has issues, as they require customers to have an app and allow access to fine-grained location information. Besides battery and privacy concerns, this can be confusing. Do customers open the app and let you know when they’re leaving? Do they have to keep the app open? Who else can access their location information? The goal is to make it easy for customers, not instill uncertainty and doubt.

A QR code on a fuel pump at a gas station offering a link to install an app for payment instead of using the keypad

We’re all familiar with handling physical menus (the condition of which can vary wildly, from pristine to yikes) and talking to servers throughout a meal, from ordering to asking for refills to paying the check. It’s easy to think of menus and service as specific to restaurants and retail, but the high-level concepts apply more broadly. Basically, any interaction that allows people to select options and pay for goods or services is being rethought. Think stadiums, theme parks, theaters, and so on.

Restaurants are now placing QR codes on tables that point to their webpages or install a 3rd party app to enable a virtual menu and ordering system. A restaurant webpage isn’t likely to be interactive or allow for selection, so human interaction is still required. Apps provide interactive menus and POS functionality, but require a download, account creation, and the overhead that comes along with it.

# Requests and issue reporting

Where do people go when they need something or want to report a facility issue? Before, even in large companies with ticketing systems, it was often easiest to just tap someone on the shoulder. This particular interaction was already pretty bad (imagine being the someone whose shoulder is constantly getting tapped), and now it comes with a health risk.

Besides requiring social distancing or using Slack/email/voice, the interaction is still problematic in terms of efficiency, just as it was pre-COVID. Ideally, people would make requests and report issues in a contextual way with their own devices without the need to navigate a ticketing system or go find someone to help. Need something or see something? Scan or tap this sign to let us know!

# Surveys and feedback

A sign in a doorway asking for customer feedback with a QR code

How do we know how we’re doing and how we can improve? One of the best ways is to simply ask. Customer and employee feedback is invaluable, and it’s typically gathered via paper forms, shared tablets, or other physical interactions (E.g. the Happy or Not kiosks you encounter at airport restrooms).

Contactless ways of gathering feedback via email and text already exist, of course, but those require personal information and also lack context, typically showing up when it’s convenient for us, not when it’s relevant to them. Ideally we would collect feedback in the moment, and do so in a safe way.

Some basic solutions have begun to show up, like QR codes that point to Google forms. While you may get the data you need, you’ll still need to figure out how to format and import that information into your workflow.

# So, what makes a good, touchless interaction?

A QR code and NFC tag are mounted to a wall, prompting visitors to interact via their phone to make requests

People are used to face-to-face interactions when they need something. Introducing technology into the equation is inevitably going to complicate things, especially at first. So what should we consider to minimize the impact, increase safety and comfort, and ease folks into this new world?

# Low friction

Requiring apps and accounts is a burden. Unless you’re confident that a large percentage of your customers already have your app installed (and actually like it vs. installing it begrudgingly), avoid requiring an app installation. Similarly, unless absolutely necessary, do not require account creation or sign-in. Oftentimes the information you need to serve and communicate with your customers can be achieved without the extra hurdles.

# Intuitive

Most people are not used to pulling out their phone to accomplish traditionally touch-heavy tasks, let alone using it to scan QR codes and tap NFC tags. Despite most modern devices supporting these functions natively, we must educate customers. Clear signage and instruction works wonders here. But the experience doesn’t end there, does it? We also need to be mindful to offer data entry that is accessible, easy to navigate on a phone, and that doesn’t collect unnecessary information we can collect contextually and automatically.

# Fast

Talking to someone typically has instant feedback and gratification. With a touchless experience, it’s difficult to know who or what is on the receiving end of the communication, so it’s important to set expectations and deliver on them. Is this going to contact staff inside? Do we expect that this might take a few minutes? Tell people up front and eliminate confusion.

# Long-Term design

It’s tempting to slap something together as a temporary stop-gap until a vaccine is discovered, but that’s doing a disservice to your customers and to your business. Many, if not all, of the interactions we’ve discussed have benefits that go beyond limiting the spread of the virus. Done right, touchless interactions deliver better experiences because they streamline interactions and enable staff to focus on more important things while respecting your customers’ time and privacy.

# Automated

Consider whether the interaction can be accomplished without any data input at all (E.g. requesting a bellhop or flight attendant, reporting a bathroom in need of attention, or marking a desk as occupied), and make the interaction as simple as possible. We’ll explore this topic in more detail in an upcoming article.

# Wrapping up

As you can see, there’s a lot of work to do, but these are problems that can and will be solved. It’s amazing to see the ingenuity and creativity on display. While there is much to refine, it’s clear that in just a short time we’ve already begun to adjust to this new, contactless world, and these experiences will only get better.

If you have some thoughts on how contactless, touchless interactions are evolving, I'd love to hear about them in our comments section for this post.