When I first heard the term 'proactive customer service', I had to do a double-take. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Doesn’t that go against everything we know customer service to be?
Most of us would agree that when we think of customer service, we think of its reactive qualities.
That’s been the norm, but has it been working?
According to Lee Resources, while 80% of companies say they deliver “superior” service, only 8% of customers think these same companies deliver superior service.
Apparently more traditional, 'reactive' customer service does not serve the customer well if there’s that much of a disconnect between customer and company.
Reactive customer service is not very cost-effective either. According to research conducted by Sabio and the Customer Contact Association, more than 25% of customer interactions handled by UK contact centres are either unnecessary or avoidable. The research also showed that the cost of supporting these interactions for a typical UK contact centre could amount to £6.75 million annually.
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In a time when people want more personalisation and are much more willing to switch companies if they aren’t getting what they want, wouldn’t it be in a company’s best interest to give customers what they want? After all, a company is supposed to be delivering on its brand promise in every interaction it has with the customer.
You need to know your customer’s needs to be able to be proactive
To stay competitive, brands have to exceed customer expectations. Survival depends on it. They know that customers have the power to go elsewhere. So to keep them, they have to give them the experiences they want.
Thus, customer experience is quickly becoming the key brand differentiator.
As the customer experience discipline grows, more companies realise that growth happens in the post-purchase phase.
The Temkin Group research has shown that “customer experience leaders have a more than 16% advantage over laggards in consumers’ willingness to buy more, their reluctance to switch and their likelihood to recommend”.
So, companies who want to reduce costs and grow need to think about redesigning their processes so they are able to deliver value through sound retention, loyalty and advocacy programs.
A company’s focus now is to improve customer lifetime value, as that is the key to driving growth.
Customers want their needs met, timely and effectively, while having a great personal experience. Too much to ask? These days, it’s a must.
Proactive customer service
Being proactive entails anticipating issues and resolving them before customers need help. It also means companies go out of their way to make a customer’s experience more enjoyable without being prompted by the customer.
According to Ericsson Consumer Lab, 83% of consumers would prefer a more proactive approach from their service provider.
It appears that Harris Interactive and inContact corroborate this view as according to their recent survey, 87% of US adults want to be contacted proactively by an organisation or company.
Frost and Sullivan also found that 87% of customers have a positive image of companies when they follow up with them.
Yet, being proactive doesn’t mean only initiating a call to ensure an issue has been resolved, it means you have to make it a habit to follow up regularly. It has to become a mindset where it’s engrained in the brand’s DNA.
It’s not surprising that proactive customer service has appeared on many top customer experience trend lists for 2017.
It’s because of this – if companies can deliver proactive service, they will help make a customer’s journey enjoyable. Happy customers drive loyalty and growth.
Enkata, in its 2015 research, found that preemptive service can reduce call volumes by 20-30%, and lower call centre operating costs by as much as 25%, increasing customer retention rates by three to five percent.
In addition, proactive customer service affords the opportunity to not only turn around unhappy customers, but also turn them into brand advocates who can help promote the organisation to others.
McKinsey says a word of mouth recommendation is the primary factor behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions. And, according to Deloitte, customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate.
So how do we do it? Flavio Martins says there are two types of proactive customer service:
- Preventative communication for proactive customer service - Enabling you to preempt and address a possible issue or question before it even happens.
- Nurturing communication for proactive customer service - Aimed at bringing the maximum value to the customer and strengthening your relationship with them.
To be able to deliver proactive customer service, there are two prerequisites.
1. Have a leadership team that champions the effort
Even though customer service teams and contact centres can put proactive measures in place, companies would only see temporary benefits. For proactive customer service to be effective and organisations realise its long-term benefits, it would have to become part of the vision and culture.
The CEO and the rest of the leadership team must champion proactive customer service throughout the organisation. It would also require ensuring that leadership down to the front lines understand why proactive customer service is necessary, what their specific role is in its adoption and how they impact its success.
Dr. Nicola Millard, head of customer insights and futures at BT Global Services, said it best in last month’s Mycustomer.com podcast:
“There needs to be a mindset shift around this which is not about cost and transaction. This is about investments and value. All of those things that need to be recognised in the boardroom…for that tree trickle down to happen in the contact centre goes to become a hub, the guardians of the customer experience and the hub of all the data that actually helps you to become a lot more proactive.”
Proactive customer service doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance to create a sound proactive customer experience initiative.
2. Know your customers so you can help them
Knowing customers’ pains, motivators, preferences, and needs is going to shape the type of proactive service you offer. The customer truly is in the driver seat. Once you know what they want, deliver on it.
However, you must do more than just observe their online behaviors and survey them. You have to speak with your customers to find out what they want.
As Adrian Swinscoe, customer experience expert and author of How to Wow, notes: “Listen to or ask your customers and your front line people what problems your customers have on a regular basis and then go fix them. As simple as that… by solving those problems, you're automatically going to make their experience better. You're going to become proactive.”
You need to know your customer’s needs to be able to be proactive.
There is proof that proactive customer service is taking off and becoming standard. According to research that the UK Customer Contact Forum (UKCCF) conducted this year, 75% of respondents said they are proactively contacting their customers.
As the research shows, brands are becoming more personalised and proactive with their customers. Proactive customer service is now a necessity, not a luxury. Brands must take on a proactive mindset to be able to differentiate, compete and grow.
About Sue Duris
Sue Duris is Director of Marketing and Customer Experience at M4 Communications, a California-based marketing and customer experience consultancy that helps tech companies in the US and EMEA create successful customer experiences. Her focus is in building voice of the customer, customer journey mapping, and loyalty and advocacy programs that drive growth.