Sorry to bring this up, but we have to talk about COVID — at least for a bit. The COVID pandemic has transformed our way of life in more ways than one. It’s made ghost towns of our cities, turned our home into our office, and qualified us to be elementary school teachers for our kids.
There’s another transformation that’s palpable yet subtle. We’re no longer willing to interact with surfaces.
Sure we knew how bacteria and viruses spread, but we sure didn’t think twice when touching that doorknob or shaking someone’s hand. Now look at us — doing all sorts of gymnastics to open doors with our elbows, waists and even our legs.
And what if we did touch a surface? Pre-COVID, we seldom washed our hands, and when we did, probably for a few seconds. Now? Using hand sanitizer is a daily habit, keeping us safe from germs — and our hands drier than the Sahara desert.
Because of COVID, we’re fundamentally rethinking our relationship with physical surfaces. We want to interact with physical objects, just without the actual physical interaction.
Here’s how that looks:
From eating in the restaurant to in-room dining, over the last few days at the @HiltonHotels in Shillim we haven’t missed the old paper menus at all. Just scan QR code and the menu pops up on the phone. This definitely is a +ive outcome of the pandemic I hope it stays this way. pic.twitter.com/ocQWnUMfMC— Shipra Baranwal (@ShipraAtALounge) August 3, 2020
Check out our unique, touchless menu experience for the Castaway Cantina, Harvest & Reel, and In-suite dining. Just scan the QR Code with your smartphone and select the desired menu. We want to be responsible by eliminating single-use menus as much as possible. Enjoy! ✨#Saftey pic.twitter.com/7rq4PmIXvd— EmbassyStAugustine (@ESStAugustine) August 3, 2020
So what does this have to do with feedback? We’re going from touch-based feedback capture to touchless feedback, and we’re going right now.
The Touchless Future is Now — But it was born years ago
You may have the impression that touchless technologies seemingly popped out of nowhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since the beginning of the 2000s there have been technologies that can detect gestures and voice. The question has not been about feasibility, but market demand.
This paper from 2013 presents a method of touchless interaction during surgical procedures. Researchers set up an infrared depth-sensing camera to capture surgeons’ hand gestures. This way, they were able to manipulate an image archive without having to touch the device, making it easy to keep a sterile environment.
In gaming, devices such as LeapMotion and Kinekt can capture hand and body movements and translate them into computer-readable commands, which create an immersive gaming experience. It also encourages movement, which is tied to healthier children.
This other paper, discusses the benefits of virtual reality devices such as the Oculus Rift in helping autistic children cope with the real world. By recreating real-life scenarios and training children on how to handle them, pediatricians can “rehearse” daily life with these children, equipping them with more robust tools for older age.
It was only a matter of time before we began the touchless transition. COVID accelerated that transition by x1000000. Touchless technologies and behaviours have been taken from the research lab and placed front and center of our day-to-day reality.
Customers demand Touchless feedback
Touchless feedback isn’t an idea in its infancy that will “really” happen 10 or 20 years from now — It’s happening right before our very own eyes.
Here at Ombea, we’ve analyzed our sales and marketing data to uncover specific ways the touchless feedback transformation is affecting feedback capture. Here’s what we found.
Nobody wants to talk to on-site staff
For medium and large-sized companies, customer and employee feedback is normally conducted by an external firm specializing in person-to-person feedback capture. The process consists of deploying on-site staff to approach consumers, and ask them if they can help companies improve their services. Others employ mystery shoppers to actually experience the shop, and give their own feedback later.
Pre-COVID, our customers who tried such solutions had received high survey completion rates, but a low number of overall responses. Moreover, these responses were recorded after the customer had reflected on their experience, distorting how they truly felt right as they were living their experience.
With COVID lockdowns, response rates have plummeted. For safety reasons, consumers that need to make purchases physically are hyper-focused on getting through their to-do list and go back home later — meaning no time to talk to on-site survey personnel.
With decreasing response rates are also increased overall costs. Even if you wanted to deploy field staff, they must be equipped with PPE to ensure not just their safety but the safety of those being interviewed. These extra expenses are being passed from research firms to customers, pushing these same customers to seek out more cost-effective and high-response-rate feedback solutions.
If customers were hesitant to talk to on-site staff before the pandemic, they will outright ignore them now — for health reasons. Organizations of all types still need to capture feedback, but they’re looking for higher response rates and more reasonable prices.
Pen and paper surveys are being ignored
A historically popular way for organizations to gather feedback is through a suggestions box somewhere close to the point of interaction with the customer.
Already pre-COVID, many inquiries centered on how we can help with declining survey response rates for paper-based surveys. With Covid, this trend has accelerated. A way to increase paper survey responses was to include a pen or pencil nearby, giving consumers no excuse to not fill out the survey.
With the pandemic, they have a legitimate health reason to not touch the writing instrument everyone else has touched. Paper surveys are not only boring and take time, they’re unsanitary as well.
Based on our incoming inquiries, organizations are also looking at more environmentally friendly ways of capturing feedback. Whether they are filled or not, paper surveys end up in a landfill if they’re not recycled, driving demand for digital solutions.
People want to use their own devices
Inquiries regarding enabling respondents to use their own devices have exploded since the start of the pandemic. One of the few surfaces that people are still willing to touch is their own mobile and desktop devices, which feeds demand for web and mobile feedback capture.
Electronic surveys are easy to distribute through SMS, email or QR codes. What’s more, electronic feedback allows organizations to ask for feedback during key moments where respondents will be most willing to fill out a survey.
Recently, we received a few inquiries regarding the possibility of surveying customers while they were waiting in line. These days, it’s common to see stickers on the floor asking people to keep their distance while lining up. The individuals making these enquiries wanted to leverage this “wasted” time to ask consumers for their feedback.
Lining up is not the most fun of activities, and one would almost certainly be using their phone to kill boredom. Placing easily scannable QR codes right next to keep social distancing messages would trigger people to use their phone and answer a quick survey, increasing overall response rates.
Another use case driving inquiries is immediate post-purchase follow-up. As shoppers slowly return to physical retail shops, retention is key. Specifically, organizations need to understand what brings shoppers in, and what steps can be taken to keep them coming.
With shoppers’ inboxes clogged with special offers and promotions, it is important that shoppers are triggered to give their feedback as immediately as possible. The more time passes between a consumer and their completed transaction, the less likely they are to leave feedback.
To avoid the trash bin purgatory, our own customers have gotten around this problem by using our electronic surveying tools. Many businesses offer a type of membership program, where customers willingly give their contact information such as email and telephone number. As a member identifies themselves at the cash register, this triggers an automated routine where the customer receives an SMS asking “how was your shopping experience today?”
Touchless feedback is not only about using technology to decrease risks of infection, but also about when to ask consumers for their feedback.
Hardware is going touchless
There are situations where the only practical way to gather feedback is through physical means. Electronic survey technologies are effective, but are predicated on respondents having a means of interacting with SMS or email, and have a reasonable level of comfort using technology.
How are organizations adapting to having to capture feedback on-site amidst the challenges of the COVID pandemic? How are they addressing respondents’ reticence to touching surfaces or interacting with individuals?
One of our customers is a UK-based health center. Because of government regulations, they are required to gather patient feedback on-site despite the ongoing challenge to do so. They’ve made use of our touchless smiley-based ExpressPods. Instead of one having to touch the smiley button, one only has to hover their hand over the desired option. Not only are they gathering the required levels of feedback, they’re also capturing feedback from patients who may have difficulties using smartphones or any other type of technology.
Another customer, a London-based railway company, is ongoing a modernization project and they need to capture traveler sentiments regarding this process. Similar to the health center, they’ve placed a touchless ExpressPod in key locations at train stations, asking questions such as “How do you like the new LCD screens?” This way, they’re capturing real-time usable feedback while avoiding ending up as trash in travelers’ inboxes.
Other existing customers had seen success with our normal hardware in the past, but are anticipating a touchless future. Thus, they’re making the transition to touchless smiley pods. It is unlikely that people will go back to being comfortable touching common surfaces. As the retail sector reawakens from the COVID crisis, many requests we’ve received focus on catering to the new, more hygienic post-COVID consumer.
Employee feedback is going remote
We’ve also seen how companies are looking to change the way they capture and respond to employee feedback. As the workforce is pushed to work remotely, in-office surveys or quarterly feedback forms are no longer feasible.
The majority of inquiries we’re getting are regarding ways to monitor employee wellbeing remotely. Organizations are looking to establish a numerical baseline for company-wide mental health status, and then from that information develop HR policies focusing on improving or maintaining mental health.
Web widgets are an efficient way of capturing this feedback. A small message appears at a corner of the worker’s computer with a simple question such as “how are you?” The worker just clicks a smiley face, the message disappears, and they can get back to work uninterrupted. With current customers, web widgets garner more responses than other survey methods. Web widgets are also praised by employees, as they feel they’re being heard without being interrupted from their work.
Here at Ombea, we have our Online module of web widgets. There’s also the possibility of following up particular responses with an open-ended question. For example, if an employee clicks on a very sad face, the following question is “Could you tell us why?” followed by a blank space where the employee can elaborate. This feature has helped HR managers pinpoint specific areas of improvement, helping them carry their workforces through the pandemic.
After analyzing our sales and marketing data, we do not only see the immediate changes brought about by COVID, but also those to come. What insights can be gleaned from this data?
Touchless doesn’t mean contactless. Just because people don’t want to touch surfaces with their hands, doesn’t mean they won’t do so with other body parts. Similar to how people are opening doors with their elbows, waists and feet, could it also be the case for capturing feedback?
Here’s a bit of inspiration to help you think about capturing feedback with feet:
Touchless feedback is here and now. Your customers and employees don’t have the patience to fill out paper surveys or talk to your field researchers. Plus, they actually have a legitimate reason to demand things be done differently — COVID19.
Of course, it’s not always feasible to make immediate changes — especially if you have more than one way of capturing feedback. Understand that the longer you take to make the transition to touchless feedback, response harder it will be to maintain response rates.
Respondents want an integrated feedback experience. Respondents are busy. They came to your organization to get something they needed — whether a good, service or a paycheck. Understand that you are just an item in the endless to-do list that is life. Respondents don’t have the time to sit down and think hard about their experience later on, To capture feedback, do it in a way that integrates with them crossing off items off their to-do list. Think of the way we discussed surveying customers as they wait in line, or as they make a purchase on the cash register. What other ways can you integrate feedback into your respondents’ routines?