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Has Your Brand Transitioned From Reactive to Proactive Customer Service?

7 minute read
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What is proactive customer service, and how can you implement it at your company?

Crafting exceptional customer service experiences is a challenge for brands today.

The unfortunate truth is that customers remember negative experiences much longer than positive ones. And customers expect brands to respond to service tickets quickly and efficiently.

How can brands be proactive and take care of customers' problems before the customer even realizes there’s an issue?

What Is Proactive Customer Service?

Proactive customer service refers to brands anticipating customer expectations and taking action immediately rather than waiting for customers to reach out for assistance.

It can mean:

  • Heading off problems before they occur
  • Letting customers know about upcoming product renewals or new features
  • Informing customers about something that needs to be updated (like payment details) or repaired
  • Eliminating or reducing pain points from the customer journey
  • Finding ways to reduce costs for customers while maintaining return on investment (ROI)
  • Making the process of doing business with the brand easier (i.e., the Customer Effort Score)

"Now more than ever, consumers expect an immersive and convenient customer experience — especially from their most trusted brands,” said Andreas Suma, SVP commercial at Clickatell, a chat commerce platform. “Changing from reactive customer service to proactive customer engagement is a great way to improve the whole customer experience."

Suma believes that brands must build a trusted, transparent relationship with the customer that focuses on serving them anytime, anywhere, using seamless and proactive communications.

Related Article: Customer Care Must Become More Social

Let the Customer Control the Narrative

Negative emotional experiences in the customer journey cause the customer to feel powerless. Forcing someone to remain on the phone, repeat information or be placed on hold more than once is highly irritating and removes the customer’s control.

Irritation, frustration, annoyance, anger, anxiety — all these emotional reactions can occur when the customer cannot control their own narrative.

Providing options such as a Frequently Asked Questions page, a Knowledge Base or an online community where consumers can find answers at any time, day or night, goes a long way toward offering up control. Another option is an artificial intelligence-based chatbot, which can provide personalized care for basic customer inquiries, such as shipping or delivery dates.

Casey Fisher, EVP of operations and implementations at Intuitive Health, a retail-based ER and urgent care company, spoke with CMSWire about how they’ve proactively served customers by enabling them to control their own healthcare narrative while keeping down customer costs.

After realizing that many patients’ ER experiences were far from optimum and ER utilization rates were high, Intuitive Health combined an ER and urgent care where an ER-trained doctor determines the level of care needed. Patients are then only billed for the level of care received.

According to Fisher, “About 70% of patients seen in our facilities walk out with an urgent care level bill, saving patients and payors millions annually.”

Beyond lower bills, the positive customer experience extends to the facility’s layout, how workers greet patients, lower door-to-door times and walking patients through every step of the health care journey for total transparency.

Intuitive Health takes a customer-centric approach using the Net Promotor Score (NPS) to ensure they’re meeting patient needs with real-time feedback. They do this by allowing patients to share their thoughts and concerns at the end of the patient journey. They then use this feedback to improve operational processes and procedures for better patient care going forward.

Artificial Intelligence to the CX Rescue

Some companies use artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the customer service experience by providing real-time feedback, communicating with customers via chatbots and utilizing predictive analytics and in-depth analysis, including sentiment analysis.

Bill Schwaab, VP of North America for Boost.ai, a conversational AI platform, told CMSWire that brands interested in capitalizing on a more proactive approach to customer service should consider using conversational AI.

"With conversational AI, companies can instantaneously respond to common customer queries through the use of virtual agents, around the clock,” said Schwaab. “This creates the infrastructure necessary to more quickly leverage feedback about the kinds of challenges customers are asking about most frequently.”

He pointed out that if the teams working behind virtual agents identify a need, they can then rapidly spin up capabilities on the customer side to protect the overall customer experience.

Related Article: Powering Customer Experience Through Conversational AI, Analytics and Good Data

Eliminate Pain Points With Customer Journey Maps

Pain points in the customer journey are more memorable than the customer’s positive interactions, as they create a negative emotional connection. As such, eliminating or reducing those pain points should be a primary goal of journey mapping and proactive customer service.

Richard Jones, CMO at Wunderkind, a one-to-one marketing channel, told CMSWire that brands must understand the importance of the customer journey and provide customers with a personalized experience to set themselves apart from other retailers.

“By leading customers to stores or exclusive pop-ups, they further strengthen the connection with the brand,” said Jones. “With multiple channels of communication, a brand can recommend a product to a customer and create a seamless shopping experience whether in-store or online.”

Learning Opportunities

Brands can break down the customer journey into five phases:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Purchasing
  • Retention
  • Brand advocacy

Mapping the customer’s journey through each phase enables brands to better understand their customers' touchpoints. More specifically, it allows brands to recognize the negative, frustrating or annoying interactions a customer experiences.

Brands must create a journey map that covers each interaction a customer is likely to have during each phase of their journey. They must also determine which department within a business is part of each interaction. For instance, the advertising department is likely to be involved with brand awareness, and the customer service department is likely to be involved with retention. Understanding this allows internal teams to use the journey maps as a reference.

Vasili Triant, COO at UJET, a cloud contact center provider, told CMSWire that by closely examining the customer journey, brands can see the specific circumstance that caused customers to leave their website, exit the mobile app or drop off a call.

“With the right intelligence and automation, brands can proactively flag problems in real-time, reach out to that customer and give a special promo code for purchasing that item,” said Triant. “This personalized interaction will go a long way towards increasing the lifetime value of that customer.”

The Challenges of Proactive Customer Care

According to a 2022 Gartner report, two-thirds of customers still contact customer service after they have received proactive outreach from a brand.

They often do so using costly assisted channels because they require additional information or confirmation. This can lead to confusion and unanswered questions that diminish the benefits of a proactive strategy.

These findings are a good indication that if brands want to avoid such a reaction, customer service and support leaders should focus their proactive approach on building and enhancing customers’ confidence in the brand’s ability to solve issues effectively.

Additionally, the report indicated that brands should prioritize proactive outreach for urgent issues, as customers value communication that alerts them to problems that require their attention. Proactive customer service today also involves being transparent and open to customers.

“Expectations for retailers to ‘fix’ delivery delays and stock shortages has undoubtedly caused some brands to lose even the most loyal of customers,” said Jones. “However, brands can drive significant revenue and build customer relationships by communicating transparently about low inventory, back-in-stock items and price drops.”

Another challenge of proactive customer service is that business process change is needed to enable these customer insights, said Triant.

“Businesses must transform how they value and manage customer data, connecting their customer service team with their Customer Relationship Management system,” he explained, adding that agents are rarely equipped with data from the entire customer journey — a problem that must be addressed.

“With data sharing across an entire organization,” he continued, “it enables agents to be smarter and more prescriptive.”

Related Article: Where CX Meets EX: Customer-Obsessed Culture

Final Thoughts

Brands are taking customer experience to a new level by being proactive in their approach to customer service. Still, there are some challenges to address.

Fortunately, with the right tools in hand, and a mindset that puts the customer in the driver’s seat, a proactive approach could be just what companies need to create and keep loyal customers.