Get Started With Proactive Customer Service

Proactive customer service marks on notebook.
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Time to move away from reactive customer experience and deliver proactive CX instead?

Paul Weald, The Contact Centre Innovator, who has worked in the contact centre industry for 30 years, explores the role that CX leaders and Continuous Improvement (CI) teams can play in identifying the root causes of customer journey pain points to deliver proactive CX.

What’s the Difference Between Reactive, Active, and Proactive Customer Service?

As a concept, proactive customer service isn’t new. There have been several Call Centre Helper articles – and an excellent webinar – that have previously looked into this topic.

That being said, here’s a quick overview of the key differences between reactive, active, and proactive customer service:

  • Reactive Service – Only fixing problems when the customer reports them.
  • Active Service – Where the organization provides customers with reminders and notifications to inform them of potential service interruptions or delays.
  • Proactive Service – Where the organization is on the front foot in terms of adapting its products and services, so that the probability of service outage (negatively impacting CX) is reduced.

Three Pathways to a More Proactive Customer Experience (CX)

Here are some strategies to try:

1. Analyse and Understand the Root Causes of Complaints

One of the first areas where these CX/CI teams can start is to analyse and understand the root causes of complaints.

A Complaint Handled in Less Than 5 Minutes Scores More Highly in Future NPS

Paul Weald, The Contact Centre Innovator
Paul Weald

There are plenty of studies that show the positive impact that service recovery can have on future customer loyalty, with a Harvard Business Review article on “how to turn angry customers into loyal ones” showing that customers who have a complaint handled in less than 5 minutes score more highly in both future NPS and customer lifetime revenues.

And it’s an increasing problem. Based on the annual ICS survey (Jan 2023), 16.5% of customers experienced a problem with an organization last year. That’s an increase of 2.9% over the past two years which is driving higher demand into complaint-handling teams.

Recognize the Characteristics of a Complex Complaint Scenario

It’s important therefore to identify and respond to simple enquiries with a target resolution time.

The characteristics of these simple complaint types are that:

  • They are easy to identify, diagnose and resolve – The customer can provide sufficient information (with minimal additional organizational input) for their issue to be immediately understood.
  • The issue raised has a low propensity to escalate – So the best way to proactively handle them is to empower your frontline teams to resolve these issues “there and then”, by acknowledging the mistake and providing goodwill as a form of redress.

Implementing such a change would free up the CI resources to focus on the more complex complaint types.

And there’s some useful research from digital complaints management specialist Resolver around the behavioural science of complainers.

What they have found is:

  • Device type – Laptops with better/larger keyboards are typically used for the most serious complaints, compared to mobiles for the simpler ones.
  • Attachments – There’s a strong relationship between the number of attachments on a complaint and customer dissatisfaction, with each additional attachment adding a 10% increase in customer frustration.
  • Time of day – Take notice when the complaint was submitted, as more serious complaints are made at an afternoon during the weekend, or first thing in the morning or last thing at night during the week.
  • Level of detail – Complex cases are typically 30% longer than an average complaint.
  • Emphasis – More serious cases comprise several different elements and are more likely to reference the financial impact the customer has experienced.

These characteristics mean that your operational teams can immediately spot a complex complaint scenario as soon as it is raised.

Then you can be proactive by triaging them as quickly as possible to your most skilled team members who can initiate an investigation.

A First Come, First Served Approach Leads to Delays With the Most Serious Complaints

Many ‘traditional’ complaint-handling processes operate a serial process where complaints are dealt with on a first come, first served basis. This inevitably leads to delays until the most serious complaints are escalated.

Being proactive is all about making decisions at the ‘front door’ of the process to either resolve simple issues there and then or use a risk-based approach to direct the complaint to the right resolver group, reducing overall resolution times that are critical to future customer loyalty.

To find out how contact centres should be monitoring customer complaints, read our article: 7 Effective Ways to Monitor Complaints

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2. Focus on the Customer Goal

Last year I worked on a project with a regional transport provider. They had a CX objective to provide an accessible and integrated single point of contact for customers using their public transport network of buses, trams, on-demand minibus, rail, and active travel (walking and cycling).

Facilitate Customer Journey Workshops to Look at Key Scenarios

Workshop with people putting sticky notes on window
Facilitate customer journey workshops
to look at some key scenarios

We facilitated customer journey workshops to look at some key scenarios when planning a journey, travelling and post journey, using different profiles of travel users.

A particular focus was to consider how these personae react when there is disruption – the information currently available to them and the likely contact channel response.

In terms of customer pain points, then how the user responds to transport cancellation and delays is the key moment that matters.

If you focus on the goal – that the customer wants to get to their destination and notify the people they are meeting how ‘late’ they are going to be – then you can start to see new ways of nudging that behaviour.

If you are looking for advice on customer journey maps, read our article: How to Improve Your Customer Journey Mapping

Is There a Role Apps Could Play in Providing the User With Personalized Information?

These sessions emphasized the relative importance that travel apps could play in providing the user with personalized journey information, where travel alerts advise on alternatives at the time of disruption.

Focusing on the customer goal informed the roadmap for a transport app as a comprehensive mobile digital disruption management tool – one that not only informs and give choices but also shows the time impact of those decisions.

What Are the Key Emotional Questions in the User’s Mind When Issues Occur?

Emotions, questions concept with brain, heart and question mark
What are the key emotional questions in the user’s mind
when issues occur?

That takes away the uncertainty of “how late am I going to be”, which is the key emotional question in the user’s mind when travel disruption occurs.

Becoming more proactive also requires user education on the benefits of using the app as an alternative to calling the contact centre, initiating webchat on the operator website, or using social media to share their frustration.

These exercises identified gaps in current information provision and how these could be addressed in a future ‘to be’ solution, with an outcome of eliminating the need for the user to contact the customer contact centre by phone, messaging, or social media.

For advice on including emotions on journey maps, read our article: Five Steps to Map Emotions Onto the Customer Journey

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3. Eliminate Repeat Calls

Another example of proactive service is to understand the drivers of failure demand, i.e. what causes (unnecessary) calls into your contact centre.

Address Pain Points for Greater Operational Efficiency

If you understand and address the root cause, this reduces future contact demands, which is a win-win for both customer – addressing a pain point – and for the organization through operational efficiency.

Many operations have already implemented effective self-service programmes, but the impact is that what frontline contact centre agents are now left with is an increasingly complex set of issues, not all of which can be resolved on first contact.

For practical suggestions on how leaders can proactively spot customers’ pain points, read our article: 25 Ways to Proactively Spot Your Customers’ Pain Points

Separate out the Complex ‘Hard to Resolve’ Issues

One telco client project set out to separate out the complex ‘hard to resolve’ issues and ring-fence these as enquiries requiring additional support.

They established a “Resolution Hub” team to handle those enquiries and empowered agents to take 100% ownership of the issue, providing proactive customer follow-up when they had to investigate the issue internally.

Set up a ‘Close the Loop’ Squad to Better Understand Issues Causing Repeat Contacts

As the aim was to eliminate further calls from these customers regarding the same issue, they then set up a ‘close the loop’ squad – involving stakeholders across the organization – to understand the type of issues that were causing repeat contact to the frontline.

cycle and closed loop concept
A ‘close the loop’ squad to
understand repeat contact issues

The squad used insight from the Quality and CX teams – using speech analytics – to classify not only the specific intent but also to discuss and agree on the failure scenario that was the catalyst for contact.

One example they found was that existing customers who were looking to upgrade their mobile handset were calling back multiple times when the phone they wanted was out of stock.

The current online process just returned stock availability results at that moment in time, with no ability for the user to be informed when the item that they were interested in became available.

The unintended consequence was that customers looked for alternative sources of information, and that was to call the contact centre.

It was a legitimate reason for the enquiry – given that the customer wanted to renew their contract – but was not something the contact centre agent could resolve, as the information they had on stock levels was exactly the same as the user was seeing online.

The ‘Close the Loop’ Squad Can Help Find Long-Term Solutions

What the ‘close the loop’ squad determined was that the long-term solution for this issue was to set up a notification process to alert the customer when the phone they wanted to buy is going to be in stock.

They worked with the digital team to define a potential improvement to the customer app which could be used to manage user expectations around lead times.

To create a business justification, they calculated the frequency of frontline contact arising from the ‘out of stock’ scenario to determine the priority for making this digital change.

The improvement ranked highly from an ROI (Return on Investment) perspective not only to reduce operational cost (by eliminating demand) but also to have a positive commercial outcome (by increasing customer spend). A true win-win scenario for being proactive.

To learn how ROI can be delivered, read our article: Proven Ways to Get More Budget for Your Contact Centre

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The Secrets to Implementing Successful Service Changes

So how do you start building an internal process to implement proactive service?

One of the key attributes of the digital age is that change programmes are informed by data, using analytics to uncover the insights.

Using test and learn results data in an agile way allows a multidisciplinary implementation team – operating as a squad that ignores traditional organizational boundaries – to achieve the following:

  • Apply an iterative, task-based approach – with measurable success criteria – to drive momentum and show business value quickly.
  • Encourage small groups to deliver incremental changes.
  • Deliver time-boxed change – typically through two-week sprint cycles – where each new iteration fixes a prior problem.

These regular iteration cycles make squad members feel more involved in delivering a positive change outcome, one that they can feel proud to be a part of.

The outcome is proactive service delivery in action.

Written by: Paul Weald, The Contact Centre Innovator

If you want to know more about contact centre customer service and CX, read these next:

Author: Paul Weald
Reviewed by: Megan Jones

Published On: 13th Mar 2024
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , , , , ,

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