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Proactive? Yes, But Let’s Work Out These Issues First

20th August 2017 No Comments

John Duffy reports on the findings of a recent well-attended roundtable discussion VoiceSage organised with the UK Contact Centre Forum on the topic of proactive engagement

Brands know they need to get more proactive – but that knowledge isn’t enough for them to deal with the remaining blockages they see in the way to connecting better and in a more timely fashion with their followers.

It’s worth pointing out that many brands say they are good at being proactive in one important category of business process – marketing. The gap is being as effective on the service side of the customer relationship, which is a far trickier proposition.

That’s leaving them looking for ways to manage the issues of securing better engagement from users, moving the proactive debate from Marketing to Service, and getting better at adding in new tech like AI and new channels like social media into the family – as these are just some of the main challenges contact centre managers face today, according to a recent survey VoiceSage conducted in conjunction with the UK Contact Centre Forum, which featured input from senior UK customer contact practitioners.

“We know we need to do this, but in the context of the business as it is now, it’s hard to prioritise it,” confessed one banking IT leader.

“We can see where we’d need to do it – the channels people like to communicate with us on, which is often text, and if we could do it there we’d get results.

“Doing it is the hard part.”

This response sums up something heard many times on the day – the difficulty of securing management backing for adding proactive contact. Another aspect to that issue is the acknowledgement that proactive could be key to deepening the relationship brands have with their markets: “It’s not contact we need to improve with our customers,” said another banking IT professional. “It’s making them engage with us. We don’t know how much of what we are saying gets heard and that is problematic.”

Is there one proactive tech, or is it many working together?

So proactive is desirable for many brands. But not at any price warn practitioners. It has to be cost-effective if it’s going to happen soon. “For compliance reasons we need to send out a lot of information, in our case to around 800 businesses,” said another financial services professional. “We can do that by paper or email, but to move to a more real-time way of doing this I’d need another 60 contact centre staff that I can’t afford. Technology would have to be the way to do this.”

That technology, the market believes, has to be cost-effective but also able to link all the elements in the customer journey chain together quickly and easily. is there a technology for proactive that would be suitable for all industries? Some doubt it, as many businesses need to follow what their market demographics prefer – “90% of our world is on paper, and that doesn’t look like changing”, as one practitioner somewhat ruefully observed.

Some experts believe there are technologies out there that could do a lot of what our panel believes necessary. For the round table participants, whatever it is it has to include new channels, as this is becoming ever more of an issue. “We’re good on email,” noted one manufacturing sector attendee. “We rely on it and have got some great triggers set up to handle all sorts of events. But we know we’re not good on social – we’re very behind on social media, let alone WhatsApp. That’s a potential blind spot for us, as we know there is more and more customer activity happening there, and we need the same kind of triggers for that too.”

The proactive/self-service boundary

However until the market settles on a clear understanding of what it wants, it might take some time for the majority of brands to pick up on this insight. For example, debate still remains on what the precise difference is between offering proactive versus self-service. Practitioners acknowledge that offering online solutions or a knowledge database and making it as easy as possible to find the answers to problems can help users, but they are less clear on when that shades over into preventing problems before they happen (which is a practical definition of ‘proactive’, according to commentators like Forrester Research).

Other practitioners, like IT service professionals, believe that the ideal place for proactive is to cover off exceptions. “I think we run a pretty good service, at a high level,” offered one education sector representative. “What would be nice to have is to see what we’re missing. Users tell us quickly enough about what’s broken and needs fixing, but if we knew a bit more about what their niggles were on a less critical level, then we could start thinking about what we could do to clear up some of those issues for them too.”

The conversation around service – be it proactive or self – does circle round to the golden principle of simplicity. “If it’s simple, people will use it,” pointed out one participant. “You know this yourself – you’ll work more with colleagues who make it easy, and conduct business with service providers who do the same. The more we can make it easy to work with us as brands, the greater our success rate – it’s as simple as that!”

One technology that is definitely arousing contact centre interest around getting more proactive is chatbots. There is serious debate going on in some enterprises, we learned, about when the right time might be to introduce an AI/chatbot element into the service mix – with some practitioners convinced chatbots could already handle some routine service queries, while others see them as being so inherently limited their better function would be as to replace IVR. “It’s going to be a while before this replaces any serious element of the contact centre workforce, but it does have a role to play,” was the conclusion of a newspaper publishing manager on this debate.

Flipping the brand-customer view

Summing up this debate, what was the main takeaway for our participants from the round table? Practitioners stressed they know the promise of proactive and are laying the groundwork to get there, but that for many it’s still a time for planning and research. As one financial services expert candidly put it, perhaps there is a major change that needs to happen before we can get there: “We need to start seeing the customer not as a set of channels that we try and link together, but the other way round – as a unified whole that can decide to talk to us, or not, in the way they want.

“Until we can get that cracked, proactive might have to wait.”

We certainly think there’s something to debate here – and we hope to carry on the conversation.

I encourage any CX practitioner to get in touch to discuss their own proactive engagement roadmap or individual strategies and how they are going to deliver a cost-effective proactive engagement solution.

The author is Enterprise Consultant at VoiceSage.