We live in the age of the customer. Customers have more access to information about products and services than ever before. And as companies continue to pursue old strategies–fighting over pricing and features–a new battleground has emerged: that of the customer experience.
Delivering the perfect experience to every customer in every circumstance is the new quest for supremacy. Companies invest in techniques like journey mapping to identify the possible routes, detours, and potential breakdowns along the customers’ path, each of these offering an opportunity to impact (positively or negatively) the underlying customer experience.
It’s the breakdowns in the journey that are often the hardest to anticipate and respond to. They are often random. They can affect large numbers of customers. And they can have a very negative impact on a brand.
Turning the tide
Enter proactive customer service. Rather than waiting for customers to call, chat, or email customer service about an issue, the customers are preemptively notified of the issue. Ideally, that notification includes a solution to the problem; if a solution is not yet available, it lets the customers know the company is aware of the problem and working towards a solution. In worst-case scenarios, the problem affects most or all customers and prevents them from using the product or service.
There are challenges to delivering proactive service. The least of these problems is having details about the customer base: who owns or uses the product or service; how they use it (if that plays into things); and how to contact them.
Having a standardized process to respond to issues is a larger issue. It must be a system that routes the problem to the part of the company responsible. After all, the problem never originates in customer service–billing problems come from finance, product issues arise for engineering or manufacturing errors, etc. The process must also ensure accountability and a timely response, which requires cross-organizational alignment and teamwork.
Delivering proactive customer service may sound daunting. There is a lot of effort needed to get things started and ongoing vigilance to monitor for problems to pounce on and address. However, consider the payoff: customers’ efforts are reduced (since a solution is pushed to them) and their experience is back-on-track faster while customer service is spared the calls, emails, and chats related to the issue.
So how does an organization begin to develop its proactive customer service skills? It can start very simply, by looking for the small opportunities to make a difference with customers.
Some businesses are based upon delivering repeated services to customers. Those services might vary slightly at times. Those variations can create customer confusion, requiring them to go online to find an answer or to contact customer service directly. This is inconvenient for the customer.
My local waste management company only picks up recycling every other week. I can’t always remember what week to put out the recycling, and I apparently wasn’t the only customer with a bad memory. Several years ago, the company announced an opt-in weekly reminder text message service. Based upon the customer’s scheduled pick-up day, the reminders alert customers a day in advance if recyclables should be out at the curb. Now I never miss a recycling day.
Safety and security
It’s safe to say nearly every company today has some part of their customer experience take place online. It could be to find information, order products, or to get customer service. Because consistency and a personalized experience is important, most companies request customers create a profile and log-in to perform these tasks. That profile may contain sensitive information that must be protected.
I have a set of security cameras around my home. Video from those cameras is stored in the cloud, and is accessible via a mobile app or browser. Every ninety days, the company providing this service suggests (but does not require) a password change. When they recently added two-factor authentication for additional security, a helpful notification email suggested I enable this as well as provided a video on its benefits and the steps to activate it.
It’s important to instruct customers on the proper steps to successfully use a product or service. Quickstart guides and manuals exist for this very reason. But what about information that could be helpful later in the customer journey?
A few months ago, I purchased a pair of casual shoes from a company that prides itself on the quality, comfort, and sustainability of its shoes. I recently received an email thanking me for my purchase (serving to maintain my awareness of the brand); the same email indicated I’d now had the shoes for six months and offered the best method of laundering the shoes to keep their appearances up, prompting me to restore the shoes to nearly-new appearance.
Little efforts with big results
For some customer service leaders, the prospect of delivering proactive customer service feels beyond their reach. The right company culture doesn’t exist. Processes are lacking. The systems can’t support it. Yet improving the customer experience demands delivering proactive service. Companies not moving to anticipate and respond to issues before customers encounter them will lose out to the competitors that do.
But proactive customer service is more than just addressing big issues. It’s also about providing timely reminders and offering advice and tips. There are many times in a customer’s journey where they must seek information; by proactively offering it, a company shows the attention and care it has for customers. And once a company is successful at providing service for the non-emergency issues, it has the basics down to develop the additional processes and systems needed to proactively address major issues.