Research reveals strong shift towards proactive service

27th Mar 2017

When we asked a customer services practitioner to define their biggest contact centre challenge for 2017, the answer came back loud and clear: she said, “Solving a customer problem before they realise they have one.”

That has to be the ultimate goal in terms of outreach, surely. But how far off from this kind of frictionless service and top-flight CX are we in the UK?

The good news is the sector is making significant progress – as we’ve just found out as a result of an extensive market analysis exercise we’ve carried out in partnership with the UK Contact Centre Forum.

The result – the 2017 UKCCF Proactive Customer Service survey – which clearly shows, for example, how brands are getting far more personal. It also shows that personal contact is still happening by phone.

We’ve also found that contact centres are getting a lot better in terms of mapping the customer journey – a finding running contrary to what some negative reports about customer contact would suggest.

Our results also reveals that proactive service is starting to play a more and more important role within forward-looking CX brand strategies, with potential benefits for both sides of the equation here.

Let’s remember the market context. Back in 2012, just three out of ten companies asked by Gartner expected to compete for business primarily on the basis of great customer experience. When they went back and asked the same question four years later, that number had risen to nine.

Clearly CX plays a highly significant role in our plans to achieve greater market share. But how is that translating to operations on a day-by-day basis? The research secured responses from 150 practitioners that provide some important insights in to that topic.

The mechanics of modern customer outreach

Our research had two facets. In the first we explored what communication channels are being used out there, the extent to which brands are mapping out and personalising their customer journeys, and how many interactions it takes to resolve issues. In the second we looked at moves to proactive service.

The survey user base was broad with responses coming back from providers of accountancy services to building management systems, cruise holidays and more, while in in the public sector answers were recorded from adult social care, environmental and neighbourhood services, as well as council tax and housing.

Marking the milestones along the customer journey

Asked whether these groups report and track customer journeys, the majority, 56%, report that they do now actively map the customer journey, while a further 20% said that this was a ‘work in progress’. Only 24% said that they did not map it, data that suggests the benefits of better journey mapping need to be better communicated.

A key question the research probed was whether agents had access to previous conversations with customers about the same issue – and if so, over which channels? This still seems to be a common challenge, judging from comments. Nonetheless, the answer received was a positive one: nearly 56% of our sample said they can give a team member 'immediate access to previous conversations with customers about the same issue and across all channels’.

Proactive service is starting to play a more and more important role within forward-looking CX brand strategies.

This shows a high percentage of organisations have deployed integrated information and contact routing systems. A further 18% said that they were working on developing these capabilities, another positive.

But how personalised are these communications? Here, we were thinking about incentives such as special offers, preferential upgrade prices, loyalty bonuses as ways to enhance the customer experience, etc. That Gartner statistic tells us that brands are highly aware of how key personalised approaches are, so we asked if organisations were able to deliver personalised communications to improve customer experiences, by technology or other means.

The answer is yes – it’s genuinely taking place. A high 69% confirmed they do offer personalisation, and a further 21% say that they could offer limited forms of it.

Proactive is starting to build

When it came to proactive outreach, the 2017 UKCCF Proactive Customer Service survey shows organisations definitively do, with 75% saying they do proactive outreach to their customers. As one respondent said, when discussing their proactive service challenges, “A must for us is a proactive dialler.” Meanwhile, a large majority – 87% – think that proactive service will save on inbound contacts to their organisations, potentially equating to millions of pounds saved each year for large customer contact operations.

How is that proactive work being carried out? One respondent said when discussing their challenges on this front, “We would not have the capacity to be proactive without automation – e.g. email and text reminders for the renewal of services, for example.”

87% think that proactive service will save on inbound contacts to their organisations, potentially equating to millions of pounds saved each year.

Even in 2017, the phone still remains the main outreach mechanism, easily still the most popular choice for anything proactive by 60%, followed by email (26%), post/letter (7.5%) and SMS (6%). In non-proactive outreach, phone scores even higher, at 75%, and email 18%.

We also considered two emerging proactive service channels – SMS and Automated Voice. Over half of respondents (51%) use SMS, while 72% said they thought the use of text for proactive contact to be either ‘Effective’ or ‘Very Effective’. And of those who had used SMS as a proactive service method, 30% said that response rates are getting either ‘Better’ or ‘A Lot Better’. Intriguingly, the results show that 53% of people that don't currently use SMS thought that, if they did, it would be Effective or Very Effective.

The 2017 UKCCF Proactive Customer Service survey also highlights the growing role of SMS, in particular with those yet to embrace proactive, showing a strong preference (37% compared with 31% for phone and 17% for email). Meanwhile, a very high 71% believe SMS technology would mean less in-bound calls for their teams, while greater use of SMS plus social media would mean staff could manage more interactions.

Finally 19% say that they have used Automated Voice, with 58% reporting it to be ‘Effective’ in achieving what they wanted, while 75% say that response rates after its introduction are getting ‘Better’ or ‘About the Same’. Interestingly, one responded noted that a proactive service challenge was specifically in linking systems to IVR in order “to deliver information that is personalised to that moment of the customer journey”.

The road to omnichannel is opening up

All in all, the the 2017 UKCCF Proactive Customer Service survey shows that brands and organisations are doing some real heavy CX lifting by mapping out the customer journey, as well as doing work empowering the contact centre with better support systems to improve customer experiences.

In parallel, personalised outreach is becoming increasingly standard. The survey also demonstrates the benefits proactive brings and progress made in this area, plus a willingness by practitioners to embrace new channels to make omnichannel a more realistic proposition.

And finally, it looks like newer technologies like SMS, voice and social media are making inroads, emerging as a steadily more reliable means of allowing contact centre managers and the brands that employ them to juggle queries more easily and cost effectively.

John Duffy is Enterprise Sales Consultant at customer contact tech services specialist VoiceSage.

Download the full 2017 UKCCF Proactive Customer Service survey report here.

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