How to Shift to a Successful Proactive Customer Service Strategy
It’s doubtful that there’s any business out there that does not provide some level of customer service. But it is fair to say that the quality of that service can vary greatly, and that when it is poor, customers are likely to vote with their feet and seek products and services elsewhere. So companies are always reviewing their service to find ways to improve.
Technology now plays a big part in how we provide customer service. IVR, live chat, and more are prime examples. It’s often not only about helping the customer, but about helping them to help themselves. We should not just be abdicating responsibility in this area to these new technologies and processes, but we should be looking at how to make the entire service better.
With many companies moving to remote working, technology does play a big part. How does a VoIP phone work in relation to customer service is an important question when it comes to taking calls, and you will find it makes things easier for you and your staff.
One recent development has seen many organizations look at adopting proactive customer service. What exactly is proactive customer service, though? What does it entail and how do we fit it in with our existing strategies without upsetting any balances we have achieved?
WHAT IS PROACTIVE CUSTOMER SERVICE?
Before we look at proactive service, it may help to look at the common current model; reactive customer service. As the name suggests, this is when our staff ‘react’ to queries or issues raised by our customers, and we seek to solve those problems as quickly as we can. Those queries could come via standard or voice over internet protocol calls to our contact center, via email, via live chat, etc.
Switching to a proactive approach involves flipping that ‘waiting for problems to arise’ philosophy on its head. What it essentially does is anticipate the most common issues and questions that arise in relation to particular products and services, and then seeks to provide answers and solutions for customers.
A proactive approach also includes notifying customers or users of any problem the organization becomes aware of. Examples of this could include a software company notifying you of a bug they have discovered in a program or a utility company advising you that there will be a disruption to the service they provide.
You may need to implement new services such as communication as a service to accommodate the new approaches you plan, but these are easy to install and are also cost-effective.
WHAT BENEFITS DOES A PROACTIVE APPROACH OFFER?
More and more organizations are stating that they want to improve the customer journey and experience, and that they want to personalize how people interact with their services. Yet a Gartner survey of more than 6,000 users reported that only 13% had received any type of proactive service.
We have to recognize that our customer bases are becoming not only more knowledgeable but also more inclined to leave a company or brand if the customer service does not meet their expectations. So, what benefits does a proactive service offer to you as a business?
1. Better retention rates
It makes sense; if your customers are having questions answered proactively, then they are more likely to remain loyal to your brand. Better retention rates can mean better revenue and more referrals, as well as positive reviews and recommendations (leading to new customers) and a higher NPS.
2. Decreased calls to your contact center
Busy companies can see high volumes of calls to any contact center, whether that is an inhouse service or an outsourced contact center. And many of those calls are likely to be minor queries or questions. By solving those minor issues through a proactive approach, you can decrease the level of calls, which in turn allows your agents to deal with bigger problems more quickly.
3. Productivity & efficiency
Proactivity means better communication at every level. With an increase in communication and a decrease in incoming queries, your teams can become more productive and efficient. They can not only deal better with complicated queries, but also spend more time collecting relevant data using form builder software, upselling and cross-selling, and identifying new potential services.
4. Customer is king
A big part of a proactive approach is that we are helping to empower customers. Two statistics to consider:
- 70% of customers expect a website to have some type of self-service provision.
- 40% of customers prefer to help themselves rather than having to deal with a human agent. Proactivity means that you are enabling them to access support in the way they want.
HOW DO YOU ADOPT A PROACTIVE APPROACH?
In all likelihood, you may already have some elements of a proactive approach incorporated into your customer service model. These could include things such as an FAQ section or allowing access to a knowledge base your organization has built. If so, then you already have a good foundation on which to expand your proactivity and improve customer experience.
If you want to build a proactive strategy, the first thing to do is to identify the proactive elements you may already be using. The next step is to look at competitors and organizations in your sector and see what they are doing in this area. Make a list of the approaches you feel you would like to include or that you need to include.
Once you have identified particular elements, you can then move to building a plan for your own organization’s proactive model. Just as an ecommerce business would consider an enterprise commerce template, so you too can build a template for your proactive approach.
To help build and implement that plan, there are several things you can do:
- Listen to your customers. It is they who will be using these services, so find out exactly what they would like to see. You can do this by sending a survey to existing customers via email or by posting on any social media channels.
- Investigate technology solutions. A big part of a proactive approach comes from new, and old, technology. Which solutions will fit your existing website, platforms, etc. Which works well with your business type? Things like chatbots and IVR can play a major role in your strategy.
- Be patient. As with any new system or process, things may not go smoothly at first. And that can apply to both customers and staff. Be patient and be adaptable. And also listen to both customer and staff feedback on any new things you try.
- Brainstorming. Management can often be removed from how things work on the front line. Hold workshops with your front line staff to see what they feel is needed, what will work, and what won’t. Listen to other staff, too. Even developers can contribute to better customer service.
- Customer feedback. Sometimes customers may not tell you what they are thinking, but they will post about it on social media or leave reviews. If you are implementing a new strategy, monitor all the social media channels, including Instagram, where people discuss your brand.
But your work does not end once you have implemented a new proactive strategy. This is like a plant that needs constant care and attention if it is to thrive and grow. That care does not only need to happen in the early stages of your strategy, but for its entire lifetime. Of particular note, you should:
- Review. This is not only about reviewing how your system works, but also what it is delivering. New questions arise and new knowledge is acquired, so you should be looking to regularly update FAQs, knowledge bases, etc., as well as reviewing how the system works as a whole.
- Honesty. Customers know you are not perfect, but if you try to avoid or deflect mistakes and problems, they will have less faith in you. If you get something wrong, accept it, be honest about it, and share that mistake with your customer base.
- Feedback. It’s something we repeat as a must-do in every area. The biggest experts on your services are not you and your staff, but the customers who use those services. Set up regular channels for feedback such as surveys, social media polls, etc.
SO WHAT SHOULD I INCLUDE IN MY PROACTIVE STRATEGY?
As mentioned, you may have some proactive elements already incorporated in your customer service model. But it can help to look at all the major things that can be done to be more proactive.
There will always be questions or issues that arise time and time again. The majority of these are fairly simple to solve. Having human agents handle them takes up time that could be dedicated to bigger issues.
Identify what the most common questions are. Then, provide answers that solve these queries and present them to the customer in easily understandable formats. While this will most likely be in an FAQ section, also consider things like video how-to guides that can be used for queries such as ‘how do I set up my Smart TV?’
2. Live chat and video chat
Your system should flag up when a customer is having a problem on your site. This could be something like them having an issue at checkout or in adding items to their cart. In some cases, those issues may lead to abandonment and them leaving the site. But by being proactive, you can offer assistance before they either ask for help or leave the site.
A simple ‘do you need assistance?’ message in real time offers support to the customer without being overly intrusive (as they can always refuse help). But it is another example of how proactivity promotes being customer-centric and personalizing their experience. It is on a par with a sales assistant offering help in a physical store.
We have already mentioned that many customers prefer self-service, so ensure that this lies at the core of your proactive approach. Self-service provisions should come in multiple formats and across all the channels you use. They should also reflect the products and services you provide, as far as their complexity and extent is concerned.
It is not enough to simply provide an FAQ section. While these are useful, they are also a little limited in the scope they offer. Look at what sort of content you can provide that relates to your products. This can include tutorials, videos, forums, and your FAQs.
For many products, especially more technical ones or software, people want to not only be able to use the product but also be able to understand it. For example, it can be fairly easy to use a program like Adobe Photoshop at a basic level, but to master it takes a lot of time, effort, and studying.
By providing educational resources, you can help signpost your customers toward a better understanding, and that leads to them appreciating the product and the brand more, too. You can post webinars and video tutorials or even host a series of modules as an online course to help people use your products better. Video conferencing packages mean that these solutions can be easy to include.
You want to know how well your proactive approach is working, and that means you need to monitor and measure it. But what metrics are going to show that your new strategy is effective and working? You don’t really have to look at anything much different from what you may already be using. Good metrics or tools that can show how well your proactive approach is working include:
- Retention rates. If you are maintaining or improving on these rates, then things are working well.
- Conversion rates. If you see better conversion rates, then this is another metric that shows the proactive approach is working. And this can be especially true with upselling and cross-selling, two areas your staff may have more time to focus on.
- Resolution times. While your staff may have more complicated queries to deal with, they also have more time to deal with them. And with simpler queries being dealt with via self-service, customers should get the answers they need without lengthy waiting times.
- Social media feedback. What your customers are saying about you across social media can give you a good overview of how your strategy is performing. It can also give you more detailed insights than simple numbers.
- NPS. If you see an increase in your net promoter score, then that means customers are happy. And an increase in your NPS can also reflect positively on your bottom line.
- Surveys. Surveys have always been a good way of measuring your performance in any area, and that also applies to your proactive strategy. You can send an email to your customer database, have an exit survey at checkout, or post a poll on your social media pages.
The question should not be if you should implement a proactive approach, but when you will do it. Proactivity is the next level of customer service and it is something your customers will come to expect in some form when they visit your website. Equally, though, it’s not something you should rush into with consideration of your customers’ needs and your organization’s abilities.
The key to moving forward with proactivity is to always think in a customer-centric way. It is very much about fulfilling the expectations and needs of your customer base in relation to the products and services you offer. It is essential, too, that your proactive strategy is constantly evolving, constantly monitored and reviewed, and constantly adapting to new needs.
Richard Conn – RingCentral US
Richard Conn is the Senior Director, Search Marketing for RingCentral, a global leader in unified communications.
He is passionate about connecting businesses and customers and has experience working with Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Experian, Target, Nordstrom, Kayak, Hilton, and Kia. Richard has written for sites such as Cincopa and Multibriefs.
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