6 tips for building better customer relationships at scale in 2021

SurveyMonkey's CX leaders share trends and advice for providing support at scale


Christine Rimer

February 11, 2021

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It’s the new year, and for most companies, business looks very different than it did at the outset of 2020. With the pandemic and its economic impact, customers’ priorities have changed, and businesses have transformed as quickly as possible to meet them. Retention has become a top priority, with slashed budgets making acquisition an uphill battle. In fact, our recent CX research report revealed that over half of CX professionals have seen an increased focus on customer programs from the C-suite during the pandemic. 

With all eyes on customer experience today, CX and support professionals will face new challenges in 2021—from empowering customer service reps to do the right thing in the moment to supporting customers in a digital-first world.

I recently sat down with SurveyMonkey’s VP of Customer Operations Dan Henig and GetFeedback’s Global Product Growth & Innovation Evangelist Shonnah Hughes to discuss trends in customer experience and support in 2021, share real-life stories from our experience at SurveyMonkey, and dish out advice for how to provide great support at scale.

Based on our discussion, here are 6 tips for building better customer relationships at scale in 2021.

Tip #1: Listen with empathy

2020 was a difficult year for most of us. Plans were canceled, jobs were furloughed, and many families faced hardship and tragedy. We could all use a little empathy to see us through these challenging times.

When we come out on the other side of this crisis, customers will remember the businesses that responded with empathy, compassion, and understanding—those that really cared about how they were doing and took the time to check in. 

Shonnah Hughes notes that “putting the human first” is a critical component of all great customer experiences. Says Hughes, “Empathy facilitates trust, and it’s one of the surest paths to connecting with customers.” 

So what does empathy look like in the middle of a devastating pandemic? 

At SurveyMonkey, we understand that budgets are constrained in the best of times for our education and nonprofit customers. So after checking in with them during the pandemic, we offered support through discounts to these and other customers in hard-hit industries. Customer feedback also prompted us to update our refund policies to be more generous during these uncertain times.

Tip #2: Think holistically about the customer experience

A customer’s experience with one part of your business may shape her perception of your brand. A holistic CX leader understands this and considers the customer journey from end to end rather than focusing on a single segment of the journey or a partial view of touchpoints or channels. 

According to our CX research, companies with a CX leader who takes a holistic view not only consider their CX program to be extremely valuable since the onset of COVID-19, but they are also more likely to have seen financial growth.

At SurveyMonkey, we have a cross-functional feedback program that spans our customer journey. Transactional and relational feedback are gathered across support and marketing, for instance case-close CSAT and corporate website feedback. Digital feedback is collected across support, product, and marketing teams. Joined together, this feedback helps us get a holistic view of the customer experience so we can drive prioritized action to improve overall CX and measure business impact.


Tip #3: Deliver quality content through your online help center

Help centers are a great way to help customers find the answers to their questions—and potentially forestall a call to a customer service representative. In this way, a great help center can help your company deliver support at scale.

Says Dan Henig, “We want to provide our customers with the information they need, the moment they need it—via highly curated content in our help center or through a high-quality 1:1 interaction with one of our skilled customer engagement representatives.” 

At SurveyMonkey, our content strategy team creates and maintains in-product copy and help center articles. This help center content supports the vast majority of our users in the moment, in context, as they are engaging with the product.

Tip #4: Deliver a great digital experience—it matters now more than ever

Eighty percent of CX professionals say their company’s online interactions with customers have increased, often substantially during the pandemic. As a result, 75 percent are accelerating their new or in-progress digital transformation initiatives.

With more customers than ever interacting on digital channels, it’s critical that online support be effective. But how do you get that feedback at scale? Says Henig, “We use a “thumbs up/down” GetFeedback survey on all our help articles to gather feedback about content that is working well and articles that could use more attention.” 

The feedback gleaned from these surveys automatically triggers actions, including flagging trends by categories and outreach to different departments to drive change when warranted. In this way, in-context surveys help SurveyMonkey ensure that more customers are having a good experience with our products.

Tip #5: Follow up at scale

Part of good customer listening is acknowledging you’ve heard the feedback. 

Says Henig, “We use GetFeedback to send an automated email to all customers once a case is closed within Salesforce. Lower scores flag customer issues that our managers respond to.” Cumulative scores by category may indicate trends. These help us understand what broader product, process, or policy changes we might need to make.

A best practice is to respond to customers on the channel they use to contact you. Automation and machine learning systems can help with communication at scale. Service level agreements (SLAs) can also establish response times so that your customers know they’ll be heard and their feedback addressed.

Tip #6: Empower support reps to do the right thing in the moment

In our CX research report, survey respondents say that “people” are the most significant factor enabling companies to adapt quickly to changing customer needs. But ensuring a satisfactory experience at every customer touchpoint requires that all employees pitch in. 

Henig reminds his team that their training has equipped them to do the right thing in the moment. Says Henig, “We tell them to use their instincts to solve for customer needs; lean on your manager for help as need be.” Doing so, he points out, often results in support staff reassessing billing decisions, granting access to critical features, and getting new users into the right paid plans. Most importantly, though, staff empowerment helps ensure customer satisfaction.

Interested in learning more?

In times of uncertainty, successful organizations prioritize customer feedback and use it to improve experiences and build relationships. View more resources for CX professionals to get the most from your customer feedback program.

2020 CX research report: Why CX teams will play a critical role in COVID-19 recovery

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