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The Reality Of Proactive Customer Service In 2016 UK

12th October 2016 No Comments

Proactive customer engagement specialist VoiceSage recently hosted a Round Table where a number of its key customers debated the important issues that crop up when they implement proactive strategies in their organisations. Trevor Richer sets the scene

What does the term ‘proactive customer service’ mean to you? It’d be hard to see how anyone could disagree with this answer: “A combined approach based on a mix of data and insight that allows you to pre-empt the help the customer needs in the right way, at the right time.” “A true ‘single view of the customer.’” “Being able to help the customer before they even know they need to be helped.”

Welcome to the world of proactive customer service, 2016-style – a world that we have got a better handle on, thanks to a half-day Round Table we hosted with the UK Contact Centre Forum.

The event featured contributions from front-line CX (customer experience), customer service and contact centre specialists from a range of commercial firms, public sector organisations, outsourcers and consultancies. A number of themes emerged from the discussion.

A clear, over-riding priority is to lower the cost of customer engagement, with participants agreeing with one practitioner that, “We’re spending too much money on low value work in our contact centre; we need to raise efficiency, as that’s the best way to stop that happening.” Heading off people dialling up the call centre to ask for things that could be managed more easily and cheaply (for both sides) using technology was a clear winner for all participants, with the use of proactive texting (SMS) as a clear candidate solution.

Apart from that, what are people worried about when it comes to being more proactive?

Welcome Insights

Firms may well be getting good at informing customers when the maintenance worker will be there to fix the broken boiler. But how about analytics that tell Head Office when the boiler (or any other device supplied) is about to break – and get the maintenance worker over there in plenty of time to head off any break in service? This is a classic Internet of Things (IoT) app that we are going to see more of.

“We send out people to do annual checks, but 99% of the time there’s nothing to fix,” one housing sector professional told the group. “It’s going to be better for us and the customer if we only send people out when they are actually needed, ideally before they are.” IoT is seen as a prime way of giving just such potential to brands and service firms, a step that will revolutionise customer service, practitioners expect, with LPWA (Low Power Wide Area) networking seen as a defining step when it comes on-stream.

Technology Is Changing

From RTC to Webchat to more use of messenger apps like WhatsApp, practitioners see the range of outreach options evolving swiftly; some see great potential in customers being aided by things like AI (artificial intelligence). However, most participants in our event agreed that SMS remains at the heart of good proactive work, probably for the foreseeable future. “Some people thought radio would be killed off by the Internet – they couldn’t see any role for it any more,” said one. “However, what’s actually happened is that radio has found its niche and isn’t going away at all. SMS is very similar, given its cheapness, mobility, ubiquity and popularity.”

Social Media Is A Service Problem

Practitioners are definite on this point: with the move to omnichannel, we need to get better at handling social media. “If you’re not careful, Twitter can end up with a ‘Watchdog’ inquest on you,” said one, ruefully. “Social is a service channel and it needs to be respected as such,” said another. The lesson is that social media had been seen as an extension of sales and branding, our panel agreed, when in fact it’s really a Service issue, and needs to be properly managed and run by CX. “That’s because they’re the ones most likely to be armed with customer history and context, and with the tools to take a difficult customer offline, for example,” one participant pointed out. Clearly, having the right data and process to do that satisfactorily is key.

Good Customer Service Is A Social Service

The public sector is also keen on good, proactive CX. Good customer service to this user group is shown as delivering major value for service delivery organisations. “It’s very frustrating for our service users to contact us repeatedly and to be asked for information yet again,” said one of the group. “They get fed up saying, ‘I’ve told you this already!’ An in-depth view of the customer and access to history makes that whole process much smoother and better for everyone, and is a great way of dealing with vexatious and unacceptable customer behaviour.”

Resourcing Is A Major Issue

The practitioners raise an uncomfortable truth. We pay a lot of lip service to great CX, but in practical terms, customer service is often far down the list of priorities. One consultant spoke about how major brands live with under-staffed customer contact centres that have 25,000 calls waiting to be answered by 9.01am and emails over 40 days unanswered – but shrug it off, as profits are good. The conclusion here is that this is short-sighted long-term, as the business will be even more efficient if calls about delivery issues, say, are automated where possible – giving staff more options to do value-add activities. However, it’s an unfortunate reality that CX, even proactive CX, is still something of a Cinderella at many organisations: “Customer contact centres are often seen as cost centres,” said one professional. “Until we flip this and see customer service as the most important job of all, nothing will change.” There are many implications from this, agreed our Round Table participants, including better career tracks for CX managers – and a properly resourced C-suite job.

The good news is that digital seems to be emerging as a real game-changer, with its potential to automate, simplify and redesign the customer journey around proactive engagement, our panellists concluded at the end of the discussion about the issues that matter to the sector.

Trevor Richer is Head of Marketing at VoiceSage

Read how one of our major customers, BrightHouse, is making proactive customer service a reality in this case study