In their Top Trends For Customer Service In 2017, Forrester Research reported “companies (will) sustain automated customer conversations … (anticipating) needs by context, preferences, and prior queries and will deliver proactive alerts.” Similarly, Shep Hyken declared in a Forbes article that “companies are getting better and spotting problems and fixing them before the customer notices and complains.” And in another survey by ServiceNow, 89% of respondents (customer service leaders) said that becoming more proactive was a top goal.
Preemptively addressing issues is becoming the new normal in customer service. How is your company doing in this area? The reality is that it can be hard to overcome the reactive service paradigm, but the opportunity is there! While proactive service might not be easy, it can be summarized in this three-step approach.
Step 1: Know Your Customer
Your company likely maintains varying degrees of information about its customers, depending upon your route to market: customers might purchase direct, making it easy to know key customer information, or from a sales channel, which might complicate information collection. If your customer service team lacks customer details, it should be a priority to change this. For one thing, if you already know key customer data, there is significant time savings with every customer contact because entering or adding customer information isn’t necessary.
In addition to demographics, you must collect information relevant to your product or service that is likely to influence a failure. Perhaps this is manufacturing date, where the customer is located, how the product is used, etc. The cornerstone for delivering targeted proactive service lies in accurate and relevant customer details; with it, the greater your chance of correctly segmenting your customers into similar and specific groups. If you struggle on this step, it will limit your effectiveness.
Step 2: Identify Customers Likely Affected
If one customer is having a problem with your product or service, they probably aren’t alone. In many cases, issues occur under a specific set of circumstances–a specific model, a particular firmware, the operating environment, etc.
In Step 1 you have consciously collected and maintained customer information relevant to your product or service (and the criteria likely to influence a failure). By isolating the details of the initial affected customer or customers and comparing those details against your larger customer base, you will arrive at the customer segment to proactively notify of the issue. By only targeting those customers most likely to encounter a problem, you also reduce the risk of “crying wolf” and frustrating other non-affected customers.
Step 3: Take Action
Last fall, a severe windstorm was forecasted for my area. A few hours prior to the storm, my Internet service provider did something remarkable: they sent me an email indicating they suspected a loss of Internet service due to the storm but to rest assured they would work quickly to respond to any outage. To proactively notify me there was the possibility of a service interruption and also they had taken additional steps to amp up field services to respond quickly? You don’t see this type of service from a company very often, let alone an Internet service provider known for legendary poor service.
Needless to say, I was amazed. They had identified the likelihood of a loss of service. They had segmented their customers based upon the anticipated path of the storm. They then preemptively emailed those targeted customers to not only alert them to the potential outage but also that they were prepared to restore service as quickly as possible.
Like this example, you should do the same: with your set of customers likely to be affected by a problem identified, use their preferred method of communication (because you know that as a result of Step 1) and blast out the automated calls, emails, or text messages letting them know of the problem and the steps you will be taking (or they should take) to avoid it. Bonus points if you deliver the solution via self-service–a knowledge base article or an automated solution–since that’s what customers prefer.
In truth, elements of customer service will always be reactive. Unexpected issues arise, either in launching a new product or service where directions were incorrectly printed, there’s a manufacturing or engineering flaw, the customer encounters a shipping or billing issue, etc. Every potential problem cannot be anticipated. As anyone in the service business will tell you, the key is in identifying product or service trends early and figuring out how to either efficiently solve them with the current customers or to address the root cause to prevent future customers from experiencing the same issue. This is “good enough” service.
Go from good enough to remarkable with proactive service. Rather than waiting for customers to encounter a failure to occur you know is only a matter of time, notify them of the problem and the path to avoid or correct it. In doing so, you will instill greater trust, confidence, and positive feelings in customers and raise the bar on your customer service.