Why More Companies Are Flipping Their Customer Service from Reactive to Proactive
By Fara Haron
Picture this all-too-frequent scenario: a customer just ordered something urgent from a retailer’s website and received an order confirmation email, but no information about when it will be coming or how to find out. The customer goes to the website and digs around to see if they can find information about their order. But they’ve checked out as a guest and can’t log in to view their order. Now what?
Already frustrated, they pick up the phone to call customer service to ask about their order. They hear an automated recording saying there is a ten-minute wait, and there’s no call-back option. By the time the customer finally reaches a customer service representative, they’re feeling defeated. If this company had a proactive customer service approach in place, it could have eliminated a frustrated customer—and even a call to customer service—to begin with.
Anticipating customer needs and addressing them proactively before they ask for help can be achieved through new technologies. This includes offering callbacks, deploying real-time order updates, and predicting next best actions with the help of artificial intelligence.
It can also happen by creating a new mind-set, adopting new processes, and knowing your customers’ needs well enough that you can anticipate a problem before they call. Proactive customer service is an effective strategy for businesses—and especially for their contact centers. Here are some ways it can help:
- Bring in New Customers: Reach and influence potential buyers earlier.
- Build Customer Loyalty: Proactive service can boost customer retention rates by 3 to 5 percent.
- Create Brand Advocates: Seventy-three percent of customers contacted proactively had a good experience and said it led to a positive change in their perception of the business.
- Protect Reputation: Resolve issues before they go viral or become a full-blown crisis.
- Reduce Incoming Support Volumes: Decrease contact volumes by 20 to 30 percent, which allows businesses to use representatives for work in other areas.
The good news is that proactive customer service is on the minds of many businesses, but the jump from decision-making to implementation can be a big one. Here are actionable steps for companies committed to proactive customer service:
Adopt Proactive Technology
There are a lot of customer service buzzwords floating around—robotic process automation (RPA), chatbots, augmented reality (AR)—but in the hype of these new technologies, their original purpose can get lost: to strengthen your customer service department and make it more proactive.
RPA is expected to fully automate back-end and repetitive customer-facing activities while increasingly applying AI capabilities. Automation makes it easier to issue things like real-time notifications for order updates, flight changes, and more, as well as providing the option for an automatic callback. But many companies seem unsure about how to implement some of these technologies.
In fact, according to a recent Arvato survey:
- There’s slow adoption of new technology: businesses aren’t considering using virtual assistants (58.4 percent), chatbots (64.7 percent), and video chat (54.6 percent).
- Consumers notice different types of technology, but without a clear winner. Notably, 52.3 percent say the phone is the most reliable way to solve a problem, only 11.1 percent say online chat, and just 2.8 percent prefer social media.
- Luckily there’s a high adoption of callbacks and real-time order updates, with 56 percent of businesses planning to implement automatic callbacks and 72 percent of businesses planning to start using real-time order updates.
Automation makes sense for call centers because technology supports representatives to do their work more efficiently, mostly while dealing with customers. Processes can be handled more quickly and with 100 percent accuracy. This reduces the need for unnecessary repeat contact, freeing representatives to focus on more strategic and complex work. Automation becomes a win-win for both businesses and customers.
Consolidate Data into One Accessible CRM System
Back in the day, customers had one route to a customer service representative: the phone. Today companies can expect to support many communication channels—the phone, yes, but also virtual assistants, social media, and even video chat. To keep track of all these channels and work toward the goal of being more proactive, it’s important to have a single view of customers. By taking this approach and consolidating data into one CRM system, customer information can be presented in a unified, meaningful way. It will also help reimagine the flow of data across the organization and how information sources can change. Lastly it will identify areas for improvement and optimization.
With one, cohesive CRM system, you have all customer data at your fingertips. This can tell you valuable information, such as which channel a certain customer typically uses to contact your organization. Representatives can keep this in mind the next time they proactively contact that customer.
Companies should also combine their CRM system with analytics and automation tools to analyze both current and historical data and generate sophisticated insights based on customer behavior and buying patterns. While especially useful for retail customer service, it also allows representatives to predict the next best action and anticipate demands. This can resolve issues proactively before they escalate further. It also provides an opportunity for representatives to effectively upsell.
Transform Customer Engagement through Social Media
Social media is the first choice for contacting businesses for Generation Y, while voice and email interactions continue to decrease. Today’s customers also expect brands to be where they are, on the channel of their choice, and in a manner they expect. This means that responding promptly to customers on social media is essential for businesses to remain proactive.
While negative issues can become known through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, businesses should look at these platforms as an opportunity to maintain control and confront problems head-on. Letting customers know you’re fixing a problem in real time is always better coming directly from you instead of having the customer conclude that the product or service doesn’t deliver.
You should regard social media as a tool to reach many more people with a proactive message compared to a one-on-one channel. On public channels such as Twitter and Instagram, customers know that a wider audience can view their messages; therefore, they are more open to receiving proactive messages from brands.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when using social media for customer engagement:
- Don’t Reach Out Only When There’s a Problem: No relationship is sustainable when you only communicate when something is wrong.
- Be Human: Bring context, relevance, and personalization to your message.
- Be Fast and Flexible: Customer service representatives must be able to tap into current events affecting their industry while also responding to customers in a timely manner.
- Analyze Consumer Behavior for Insights: Read reviews and monitor what people say about your brand. This includes proactively addressing frequently asked questions your contact center receives.
- Capture Relevant Conversations: Optimize your search profiles and make sure to look beyond issues with @mentions of your brand. You can’t risk losing engagement with your customer because the @ symbol wasn’t used.
Let’s imagine that you’ve adopted all these proactive strategies. The customer mentioned at the beginning of this article looking for their order status never would have had to reach out to customer service to begin with. If the customer did reach out, they would have had an option to choose a call-back, or they would have reached out through social media and gotten a quick response. And when they got through, the representative already would have had the knowledge and data on this customer at their fingertips from using a cohesive CRM system.
When done right, proactive customer service can make customers feel like you understand them and help turn them into loyal supporters or even promoters of your brand.
Fara Haron is the CEO of Global BPS at Arvato and is a member of the Arvato CRM board. She has been with Arvato since 2009 and has led a rapidly growing team of CRM professionals while leveraging her international experience to support Arvato’s global CRM business.