Practitioners reveal the problems and possibilities of proactive service

19th Sep 2017

I’d like to share some fascinating insights from a recent seminar attended by frontline contact centre practitioners that shed some light on what is going on at many brands when it comes to proactive service.

The event featured senior UK customer contact practitioners from a number of sectors including manufacturing, newspaper publishing, IT services and financial services consultancy.

The discussion – which we set up in partnership with the UK Contact Centre Forum Forum – reveals that practitioners know they need to get more proactive, but that knowledge isn’t enough for them to deal with the obstacles they perceive in the way to connecting in a better, more prompt fashion with users.

The majority of participants say they are good at being proactive in the area of marketing, but the all-important service side of the customer relationship is proving to be more of a challenge.

In response, they are looking for ways to manage the issues of securing better engagement from users – moving the proactive debate from marketing to service.

They are also getting a lot more open to adding in new tech like AI and new channels like social media to help. But that openness doesn’t mean they view the task as easy. Far from it.

“We know we need to do this, but in the context of the business as it is now, it’s hard to prioritise it,” commented one banking IT leader, for example, while for a publishing leader’s contact centre manager. “We can see where we’d need to do it – the channels people like to communicate with us on, which is often text, and if we could do it there we’d get results. Doing it is the hard part.”

Nonetheless, work has started, as brands from all sorts of sectors know that proactive could be key to deepening the relationship brands have with their markets.

“It’s not contact we need to improve with our customers,” said another banking IT professional. “It’s making them engage with us. We don’t know how much of what we are saying gets heard out there, and that is problematic.”

Proactive – yes, but not at any price

But that also doesn’t mean organisations are willing to get there by any means. It has to be a pragmatic, evolutionary process, we were told.

Ultimately, proactive has to be cost-effective if it's going to occur in the near future, according to practitioners.

“For compliance reasons, we need to send out a lot of information, in our case to around 800 businesses,” said a financial services professional. “We can do that by paper or email, but to move to a more real-time way of doing this I’d need another 60 contact centre staff that I can’t afford. Technology would have to be the way to do this.”

That technology has also to be able to link together all the elements in the customer journey chain, quickly and easily. Is there a technology for proactive that would work across all industries? It’s an important question, and not one that is that easy to answer. Many businesses need to follow what their market demographics prefer, said some participants.

Is there a technology for proactive that would work across all industries? It’s an important question, and not one that is that easy to answer.

“90% of our world is on paper, and that doesn’t look like changing”, as one attendee ruefully observed.

So any proactive technology implemented has to be ecumenical when it comes to channels.

“We’re good on email,” noted one manufacturing sector attendee. “We rely on it and have got some great triggers set up to handle all sorts of events. But we know we’re not good on social – we’re very behind on social media, let alone WhatsApp. That’s a potential blind spot for us, as we know there is more and more customer activity happening there, and we need the same kind of triggers for that too.”

Proactive versus self-service

For example, debate still remains on what the difference between offering proactive versus self-service means in the cold light of day. Practitioners acknowledge that offering online solutions and offering FAQs can help some active users, but they are less clear on when that shades into preventing problems before they occur (the definition of ‘proactive’ offered by Forrester Research).

Other practitioners believe that the ideal place for proactive is to manage exceptions.

“We run a pretty good service, at a high level,” offered one education sector IT support representative. “What would be nice to have is to see what we’re missing. Users tell us quickly enough about what’s broken and needs fixing, but if we knew a bit more about what their niggles were on a less critical level, then we could start thinking about what we could do to clear up some of those issues for them too.”

The discussions we saw around service seems to underline the importance of keeping things simple. “If it’s simple, people will use it,” pointed out one participant. “The more we can make it easy to work with us as brands, the greater our success rate – it’s as simple as that!”

Proactive might have to wait

One technology that is arousing interest around proactive is chatbots. There is serious debate about when the right time might be to introduce an AI/chatbot element into the service mix, with some confident that chatbots could handle routine service queries, while others see them as being limited, and a better function for them would be as to replace IVR.

“It’s going to be a while before this replaces any serious element of the contact centre workforce, but it does have a role to play,” was the conclusion of a newspaper publishing manager on this debate.

The main conclusion from the roundtable was that practitioners stressed they know the promise of proactive and are laying the groundwork to get there – but it’s still very much a work in progress.

As one financial services expert said, perhaps there is a major change that needs to happen before we can get there: “We need to start seeing the customer not as a set of channels that we try and link together, but the other way round – as a unified whole that can decide to talk to us, or not, in the way they want.

“Until we can get that cracked, proactive might have to wait.”

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