How to transition from reactive to proactive customer service

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Getting to a place where the majority of your customers never have to contact you for support queries is the Holy Grail of customer service and something achieved by very few customer-facing brands.

But, as detailed in the first two articles in this series, embracing proactive customer service is one way of getting there. If you have already developed your strategy to do this (as described in the previous article), what happens now?

Well, as with most worthwhile endeavours (which could eliminate 20-30% of your costs), making the shift to proactive customer service is not easy and requires a major step change in both culture and process.

The dos and don’ts of making the culture shift towards proactive service

Treating this as a strategy that has to be ‘implemented’ within the rest of the business is a mistake. Proactive service requires a fundamental change in the way customer service is viewed in your business. A Harvard Review article by Bryan Walker and Sarah A. Soule suggests that if a true culture shift is to be successful, your people must feel a desire, and even responsibility, for the change.

The new ethos should be framed within the organisation’s reason for being. “A good organisational purpose calls for the pursuit of greatness in service of others,” say Walker and Soule. “It asks employees to be driven by more than personal gain. It gives meaning to work, conjures individual emotion, and incites collective action.” With that in mind, here are some dos and don’ts to think about when making the shift:

Don’t just tell people why the change is happening. Make them feel it. Appeal to their emotions and inspire real change that stems from a desire to serve the greater good. i.e. this company exists to help our customers (and a good way to help them is to stop making them contact us unnecessarily).

Do extend the new culture beyond the customer service team. As brand and product consultant, James Field says: “Customers will sense a shift in the level of service offered if different departments are/are not on board with the delivery of the new strategy.” This really has to come from the top, so  get the board involved in communicating the message.

Do think about appointing ‘customer journey managers’. Service designer and customer experience consultant Amy Scott suggests: “These managers, who may have previously been product managers, would now look after specific lifecycle stages or journeys such as on-boarding, payments, retention, support, etc. They would sit across different business functions and continually monitor the proactive service strategy and suggest refinements and improvements.”

Instead of continually declaring the culture change they want to see, leaders need to spotlight example of actions they hope to see more of within the culture.

Do make a splash. Experienced customer service guru Richard Stollery suggests, “an inspirational launch event which is well planned, including detailed follow-up initiatives to ensure the new way of working is embedded. And don’t forget to communicate to all levels of staff exactly how this new way of working will benefit them.” Plus, research has shown that there is great power in symbols, so think about creating a logo to signify the change - and don’t be afraid of a bit of merchandising to further ingrain the message.

Do celebrate quick wins. Walker and Soule say: “Demonstrating efficacy is one way that movements bring in people who are sympathetic but not yet mobilised to join.” Instead of continually declaring the culture change they want to see, leaders need to “spotlight example of actions they hope to see more of within the culture.” For example, highlighting the development of a new automated text for customers reaching a credit limit, and stating how that has helped the business.

Do start small and remain agile. This will again help secure that crucial buy-in from all levels. Start with specific customer interactions you know will benefit from proactivity and be sure to measure the difference before and after. These results will be powerful tools in persuading personnel that this new strategy is the way to go. What’s more, starting small will give you the agility needed to tweak and adapt quickly to ensure success.

The dos and don’ts of aligning processes with proactive service

Once you’ve got your people on board, practical change will happen almost without you having to think about it, as everyone will be invested in getting processes where they need to be. The key is to make sure the business is open to change and that resources (if not budget) are made available. Here are a few things to consider to make the transition as smooth as possible:

Do be proactive about mistakes. The temptation is to ignore mistakes and hope no customers notice. However, it’s time to look at this as an opportunity to strengthen relationships with customers. Nothing is more annoying than spotting a company’s mistake and then having to take the trouble to contact them to get it rectified. Customers can feel (quite rightly) that they are doing the organisation’s work for them. Imagine then, the customer being proactively contacted about the mistake, with details of the solution already in place or ready to go, as well as a future discount or partial or full refund. It’s precisely experiences like this that build loyalty and trust.

Don’t ignore social media. Research by New York University and Conversocial found that more than 37% of all tweets are customer service related. It’s essential to monitor what is being said about your company online, as it gives you the opportunity to rectify customer problems in a public forum. These days this job is made much easier with social media listening software that will alert you when your company is mentioned. It gives you the chance to engage with customers in a way they might not expect, again strengthening loyalty.

57% of inbound calls to a contact centre are thanks to customers being unable to find the information they need on the company’s website.

Do think about using SMS or automated voice messages. These can be used to either broadcast a message to all customers (e.g. to warn of a service outage) or to send personalised messages to individual customers, perhaps reminding them of action they need to take or of changes to their account.

Do use tracking technology on your website. Corporate Executive Board research suggests that 57% of inbound calls to a contact centre are thanks to customers being unable to find the information they need on the company’s website. Software plus behavioural analysis can now allow you to push helpful prompts or a web chat to customers who appear to be struggling. Customers would much prefer an intervention at this stage rather than having to call to have their query answered.

Don’t forget about self-service. Being proactive about self-service should be part of your strategy. At every stage of the customer journey think about how they might be able to help themselves rather than contacting you. For example, are the FAQs on your website fit for purpose? Can routine transactions, such as making a payment, be done without involving an agent?

Do keep an eye on emerging technologies. Chatbots are now available that can proactively prompt a web chat. While they currently have some limitations in terms of matching human intelligence, there is definitely potential here. Guy Chiswick, managing director of Webloyalty Northern Europe, explains: “Chatbots, powered by AI and natural language can provide proactive customer service, sales support and make buying suggestions at a greater level of detail than ever before.”

Do think outside the box. Have you thought about using video as part of your proactive strategy? Some examples of this include tutorials on how to clean/maintain a product, or how to take a meter reading, or a video explaining the different elements of a bill to show how it is calculated. Could a video showing how something works improve sales conversions on retail websites? Or how could customer photos be incorporated into service? For example, sending a photo of a defective product, or a meter reading, or of a product they are trying to locate.

There are so many aspects to consider when transitioning from reactive to proactive customer service - if you are finding it easy, you’re doing it wrong. However, once the transition is made and proactive service is part of your organisation’s DNA, you might just find customer service is easier than it’s ever been before.

About Claudia Thorpe

Claudia Thorpe

Claudia is a writer and expert in the customer service field, having previously held positions as editorial director for Call Centre Focus and director of SpeakEasy Communications.

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