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Outreach programmes failing two-thirds of customers

Study highlights that proactive customer service can cause more harm than good

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New research reveals both the pros and cons of a proactive customer support strategy - with poorly executed approaches doing considerable damage to the customer experience. 

6th May 2022
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Despite the ability for proactive outreach programmes to help build customer confidence in a brand and reduce customer effort, the results of a new survey have shown that a poor proactive customer service strategy can do more harm than good.

Gartner's recent customer service channels survey has revealed that a staggering two-thirds of customers still end up having to contact customer service after receiving proactive outreach from a brand. 

In an attempt to better understand the relationship between customers and customer service channels, Gartner surveyed over 4,800 consumers. Despite its shortcomings, the findings revealed that proactive service done well can create a better customer experience for both B2C and B2B customers. 

Proactive service also impacted customer effort scores, with those surveyed who had received a proactive service, reporting better scores than those who had not. 

These statistics support claims made by many high-profile customer experience professionals, who see being proactive in their customer service provision as a vital tool in improving a company’s CX.

In his article on proactive customer engagement, Michael Hinshaw commented that: “Done right, proactive customer engagement makes it easy for customers to engage with your brand, and it improves customer experience in the process.”

Perhaps the key takeaway from Hinshaw’s statement is the phrase “done right”, as although the survey highlighted some of the positives that proactive services can bring about, some of the other findings were far more damning. 

The survey revealed that even when customers received proactive outreach, it rarely resulted in no further action being required or the customer being able to resolve the issue themselves, with 66% of B2C and 82% of B2B customers still having to contact the company. 

Even when customers received proactive outreach, it rarely resulted in no further action being required

Gartner advised that the follow-up contact often necessitated the use of costly assisted channels, due to customers requiring additional information or confirmation.

On reflecting on the findings of the survey, Gartner also made suggestions on ways in which companies can improve their proactive strategy results:

  • Providing a clear, authentic message that encourages confidence: 10% of BC2 customers and 24% of B2B customers followed up with the company simply to confirm the outreach wasn’t a scam.
  • Prioritise proactive outreach for urgent issues: Customers who received outreach about issues they saw as urgent, reported better customer effort scores compared to customers who discovered the issue on their own.
  • Prepare for additional contacts after proactive outreach: The data shows that an increase in customer calls following proactive outreach is likely, so it is vital that companies put steps in place to deal with this. These steps could include timing messages to coincide with low call volume periods, and introducing specific interactive voice responses for proactive outreach callers. 

Senior research director at Gartner, Eric Keller, also acknowledges the benefits of proactive outreach services, but tempers this praise in discussing the drawbacks of poorly executed services:

“Proactive outreach that raises unanswered questions, erodes the benefits for customers, and leads to additional costs for the company. To avoid this, customer service and support leaders must centre their proactive approach around building customers’ confidence in the company’s ability to serve them effectively.”

Examples of positive proactive service in action include car manufacturers using in-vehicle diagnostic data to alert their customers when a car needs servicing or a part replacing, and companies such as AT&T sending personalised videos to customers breaking down aspects of an upcoming bill, to help erase high volume 'bill shock' calls into their contact centre.

However, as Dr. Nicola Millard has previously outlined in an article for MyCustomer, good and relevant data is critical to successfully delivering this type of communication, with anything but leading to proactive service in danger of appearing "creepy" to customers. 

It is clear that proactive service can be valuable in building customer confidence in the brand and reducing customer effort; however, it also has the potential to damage the company’s customer service reputation, if they do not have adequate resources and services in place to support the outreach programme.

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