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Featured in the Spring 2016 Issue of "CRM Magazine," see how to provide proactive customer service to improve your brand equity

Anticipating customers’ needs and providing useful information the moment they need it can help build your brand equity.

Key Takeaways

You can start being proactive with consumers by doing the following:

  • Ensure key information follows consumers from channel to channel, allowing for a seamless conversation.
  • Reach out with a personalized message to a specific question to help consumers stay engaged.
  • Reduce the risk that all of your agents are tied up when the opportunity to engage with a highly prized consumer comes along.
  • Help agents be successful by providing the right tools for the job, including training, processes and software solutions.
  • Have processes in place that are flexible enough to meet people where they are.
  • Look for technology that can determine opportunities to reach out and adjust agent assignments on the fly.

We know that being brilliant at handling customer interactions when they reach out to your brand is critical to providing great customer service. But, is it enough? As consumer expectations shift towards customer service as the single most important differentiator—even over price and product quality—delighting your customers will take more than quick resolution of their immediate issues. This is where proactive customer care comes in.

Consider how anticipating customers’ needs and providing useful information the moment they need it can help build your brand equity. Consider the shift in recent years to friendly bill reminders a few days prior to a bill being due rather than a red-stamped “overdue” notice a few days after. Amazon proactively reaches out to let you know delivery dates once your order is placed rather than forcing its customers to reach out to them.

But you may be wondering: In a world where we as consumers are bombarded with communication, can reaching out to customers cause annoyance rather than appreciation? In a survey by inContact, 87% of customers indicated they would welcome proactive contact by a company when it came to customer service issues. In addition, nearly three quarters (73%) of those who had been contacted proactively and had a positive experience said it led to a positive change in their perception of the business.

Proactive customer care breeds customer loyalty, which will drive success as the economic landscape continues to improve. When thinking about proactive customer engagement, a good first step is understanding where the opportunities for outreach exist.

Intelligent escalation

We are all well versed by now in the concept of omni-channel customer experiences. Consumers expect to communicate with your brand across a number of different channels and are demanding a link between those channels that allow a continuous conversation with your brand.

Research shows that more than 70% of consumers like to start their interaction with self-service. From there, they may want to chat or talk to someone to get additional information, and they are counting on you to be there. But, instead of providing the channel and hope they take advantage of it, what if you were able to reach out to them proactively in their moment of need?

That addresses the escalation part, but what about the intelligent part? Moving consumers through multiple channels seamlessly is a great step to providing a good brand experience. But, if they are asked to repeat themselves multiple times along the way, that might feel very much like one step forward, two steps back.

Having key pieces of information follow them from channel to channel allows for the continued conversation consumers are clamoring for. Agents are able to pick up where the customer is, building trust and reducing frustration.

Personalization

Admittedly, this is easier for some types of companies than for others. For example, a retailer who has an established loyalty program may have consumers identifying themselves on the company’s website by signing in. This allows the company to easily access rich information about the consumer and react accordingly. These reactions could be based on things such as loyalty status and order history.

Having deep insights about that particular customer can determine how and when to reach out. But even if your company doesn’t have the luxury of an identified consumer, there are plenty of insights that can be gained and leveraged to give your consumer precisely what they need, when they need it. For example, if a consumer has asked your virtual agent the same question several times, it means they aren’t getting the response they want. Reaching out with a message that is personalized and relevant to that specific question may be the difference between them giving up, or staying and engaging.

Another example might be a customer has been sitting idle on their shopping cart. Providing a helping hand or a discount specific to their items of interest may give them the nudge they need to complete their purchase. By using behavioral data from its website, Edmunds.com was able to determine that 13% of customers who were on their mobile device were also within 600 feet of a dealership. By using these types of analytics to target specific customers, it is able to proactively offer a personalized quote, which resulted in increasing conversion rates by nearly 20%.

Orchestration of agent availability

By now I hope you are convinced that proactive customer service can be extremely valuable to your brand. But often, the reality is that resources are limited, meaning you need to maximize the impact of your proactive engagement.

Agent availability orchestration is one great way to do this. This starts with defining a profile by which you can identify the consumers that are most important to you. Companies can use any mix of factors to determine which consumers qualify as important. Whatever they are, the point of orchestrated availability is to watch for those consumers and then reach out to them at the right moment. Whether a certain number of agents are specifically waiting for this situation to arise or your systems are able to reassign agents from one queue to another based on the number of high value consumers currently on the site, the idea is to reduce or eliminate the risk that all of your agents are tied up when an opportunity to engage with a highly prized consumer comes along.

To take advantage of the opportunities discussed above, you will need to ensure you think through three important pillars of execution: people, processes and technology. All of these play an important role in providing the best proactive customer service experience:

People

You need people who are passionate, inspired, and most of all who are true advocates of your brand. You may have heard the notion that everyone in a company works in sales. I would argue that with the importance being shifted to customer experience, everyone works in customer service. If you are going to offer channels such as live chat, voice and video, then you need to ensure you have people who can provide a consistent, positive experience. You can help them be successful by providing the right tools for the job, including proper training, processes and software solutions.

Processes

Having processes in place that allow for repeatable, predictable experiences is extremely important. However, those processes still need to remain flexible enough to meet people where they are. Reaching out proactively to customers requires planning and foresight versus only reacting to the customers who are raising their hands.

You want to have an organized offense and be a step ahead. The only thing worse than missing the opportunity because you aren’t ready is reaching out proactively and delivering an unsatisfactory experience. Customers are sharing their experiences real-time on across a plethora of social channels, which means you need to be poised and ready without the luxury of time.

Technology

Proper technology solutions are essential for good customer service experiences, starting with gleaning the proper insights that allow you to identify the customers you want to reach out to. The ability to escalate from one channel to another requires tightly integrated systems that work seamlessly together. In addition, capturing and passing in-context information is critical to present a personalized and highly effective message to the consumer.

Intelligent solutions can do so much more. Go back to the example of the consumer using your virtual agent who couldn’t get an answer and they were escalated to a live chat. What if that consumer instead asked a question that indicated they were angry with your brand? Wouldn’t you want to reach out immediately to solve the problem if you could? Well, having technology that is smart enough to detect emotions means that reaching out proactively is now an option. Another strong example of how technology can support the goals of proactive customer service goes back to the notion of orchestrated agent availability. Look for solutions that can both determine opportunities to reach out by monitoring for eligible customers and adjust agent assignments on the fly.

As you consider your customer experience strategy for 2016, ensure that you maintain a solid plan to address consumers that are directly raising their hand as needing customer service from your brand. However, also be ready to embrace opportunities to delight them by reaching out a hand before they’ve even decided they need it.


Shellie Vornhagen is the vice president of marketing for Astute Solutions, a leading provider of smart consumer engagement solutions. A veteran in the software industry, she is passionate about using technology to improve people’s day-to-day lives.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 Issue of CRM Magazine