Proactive Customer Support

Examples, Benefits and Payback

Highlights

  • Proactive customer support prevents or resolves customer issues without being prompted by the customer.
  • It's a method to achieve differentiation and make the leap from good to great. It's the difference between customer service and customer success and it raises customer experiences from ordinary to extraordinary.
  • Proactive customer service also pays for itself and then some. It reduces call volumes, improves customer satisfaction and increases customer lifetime value and retention.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. That's the thinking that supports a growing trend in how customer service is delivered.

When CRM analyst Kate Leggett of Forrester Research announced the top trends for customer service, the number 2 trend was "Companies will explore proactive engagement." This type of program has clearly come to the forefront for most contact centers.

Proactive customer support predicts or identifies customer challenges and implements steps to resolve them before the customer recognizes or raises the challenges.

With reactive service, customers make the first move by requesting help from the call center. Reactive service is the norm. It's expected. It's the bare minimum.

With proactive support, call centers or agents make the first move and preempt problems by anticipating, predicting, identifying and resolving issues before they are noticed by customers or escalated to the contact center. It's all about getting in front of customer challenges before they occur, become cases or escalate.

Preventing or minimizing customer problems saves customers time, resolves concerns before they become crisis, improves the customer relationship and likely increases adoption or utilization of your product or service.

This shift in service is gaining momentum for two reasons. First, creating differentiation in a crowded marketplace is a daunting challenge. Proactive support creates a titanic shift from meeting to exceeding customer expectations. And that creates differentiation. Proactive customer service is the antidote to call center commoditization.

Second, customer expectations will continue to rise, in large part because if their needs are not met by one company, there are others who will try harder.

Proactive Customer Service Benefits

While creating differentiation and satisfying rising customer demands are customer service strategic accomplishments, they also deliver some important tactical benefits.

When problems are preemptively resolved, inbound support calls decline. This is a form of ticket deflection. The best service call is the one that was avoided.

Being foresighted moves the needle from satisfaction to delight. When the call center evolves from good to great, customers become brand advocates and share their affinity is social networks. That online advocacy grows brand value and aids customer acquisitions.

Some Examples

While its pretty easy to appreciate the concept, delivering the service is more challenging. In helping clients with this goal we've found it best to provide examples and use cases.

Proactive Customer Support
  • Customer Activity Monitoring
    Customer data is a source to detect or predict issues or problems. Monitoring online customer behaviors (e.g., digital footprints) or mining activities and cases in your CRM system can identify, trigger and notify the right staff before customers are alerted. Analyzing service tickets, tabulating incidents by product, detecting anomalies or monitoring trends can be automated in your CRM application using alerts and workflows.
  • Voice of the Customer
    It's helpful to identify exactly where customers struggle or what type of help customers want. The best way to get this information is to ask them. A Voice of the Customer (VoC) program captures, categorizes and prioritizes customer challenges and goals. However, challenges change over the course of the customer relationship. So, to maintain periodic or continuous engagement at scale you need technology automation. That usually comes from your CRM software.
Voice of the Customer Data Transformation

VoC data will identify customer frustrations and challenges as well as provide valuable feedback in how to improve your products or services. Acting on customer data will improve customer relationships and increase both customer lifetime value and retention.

When you receive low marks in a particular area, it's important to determine whether the poor customer experience was an isolated event or could be a sign of repetitive behaviors and a growing problem. When you identify a problem that spans multiple customers, you can resolve it at the source before most other customers incur the issue.

  • Realtime Product Monitoring
    Many technology, software as a service or equipment companies can implement technologies to monitor product utilization, detect problems and alert staff. Tools such telemetry, in-app monitoring or IoT (Internet of Things) deliver real-time operating information that can be used for predictive or reactive support scenarios. Many times, remote asset monitoring technologies are also integrated with field service management systems for automated work order, dispatch and remediation.
  • Journey Map Predictions
    Journey maps can help anticipate customer needs and forecast when and how to help customers. Using case history, you can identify the types and volume of incidents along the customer life cycle. You can then modify your onboarding, introduce self-help aids or intervene with planned outreach to steer clear of these trouble points.

I recently worked with a client where we created a nurture campaign for each customer segment to deliver the right help at the right time over the course of the customer life cycle. Offering time-based and contextual advice, knowledgebase articles and some How-To videos at known high risk moments was effective in reducing the case volume. We've since created a related nurture campaign to introduce new features, product additions and fee-based premium support options. Early conversion statistics look very promising. A simpler option is to simply publish a FAQ page on your website. In fact, by reviewing the search inquiries that visitors type into your website you can figure out the problems they are trying to solve.

  • Transaction Delay Notices
    Companies should be aware of transaction delays, such as product fulfillment interruptions, before customers. That advance notice gives companies an opportunity to notify the customer, and potentially offer supplemental information, before the client experiences the delay.For example, Amazon provides links to shipping information with most orders, and if product shipping is delayed, they send follow-on notifications with updated information and delivery dates. Automated preemptive notifications reduce the volume of customer inquiries asking when their order will be received. Forward looking services can be applied to many types of customer transactions such as quotes, sale orders, product deliveries, invoices, credit memos and return merchandise authorizations.
  • Social Listening
    Social listening provides an opportunity to remedy customer problems before customers share them with you and thereby turn unimpressed clients into brand advocates. By tracking brand mentions and product keywords or hashtags, companies can gather candid feedback, suggestions for product or service improvements, and customer problems that need to be solved. Social listening provides an ideal opportunity to show that you are active, motivated to resolve problems, and you care.Many CRM systems offer social listening capabilities. They can be configured to detect customer problems and automatically create cases and assign them for resolution. Less automated methods include tools such Google Alerts or Twitter monitoring. In fact, about 25 percent of all tweets are product or service related, and most of those are customer frustrations with products. Considering there are over 500 million tweets per day, or 6000 tweets per second, there's a tremendous opportunity to apply social media to impress customers.
  • Predictive Analytics
    Predictive analytics examine historical and real-time case data to identify customer pain points and extend the trajectory of data to forecast future trouble spots. This changes reporting from backward to forward looking.

Data patterns can also quickly detect the correlation between new incidents and products, extrapolate to other customers with those products and allow outreach with a solution before they incur the known failure.

Another scenario is detecting case related problems in advance. For example, customer service analytics can quickly detect that one problem creates what may seem liked an unrelated secondary problem that surfaces later. That prompts the agent to fix the problem at hand and then resolve the future problem before it happens.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming the most cost-effective technology for predictive analytics. Analyst firm Gartner forecasts a rising use of AI specifically for proactive support through at least the next five years. Fortunately, popular CRM systems such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Salesforce Service Cloud offer extensible AI tools to create this type of incident detection.

What Gets Measured Gets Managed Funded

No customer service is sustainable if it cannot show an ROI. Fortunately, a wide body of research shares several financial benefits of proactive customer support.

  • A survey by Enkata found that anticipatory customer support increased customer retention rates by 3 to 5 percent. This result alone will more than pay for most preemptive support programs.
  • A research study by inContact discovered that 75 percent of customers who had a positive experience with an incoming call reported a positive change in their perception of the company that made the call. Efforts that improve customer experience and brand perception directly drive increases in customer lifetime value, retention and loyalty.
  • Survey results from management consultancy McKinsey found that 70 percent of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they are being treated. Taking the charge to reach out with help drives positive feelings.

Here are some key metrics we measure to demonstrate proactive support ROI.

Proactive Customer Support Metrics
  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) or Net Promoter Score (NPS). CSAT or NPS scores are needed to demonstrate baseline performance and any measurable improvements. Many times, they deliver a wakeup call. For example, management consultancy Bain & Company research found that while 80 percent of CEOs think their contact center is great, only 8 percent of their customers agreed.
  • ROAR (Rate of Automated Resolution) is the percentage of cases resolved with proactive automation and without staff involvement. Contact centers adopting preemptive support will generally achieve a rate between 3 and 6 percent by the end of the first year. Incremental improvements will occur thereafter. While these figures may seem small, when you multiply by case volume and the cost of support it becomes material.
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). Advance service drives an increase in existing customer revenues and CLV. This most often occurs by customer segment. For example, high value customers tend to show the biggest CLV upward trending. That's important because the minority of high value customers contribute the majority of margins and profits for most companies.
  • Customer Retention. The rise is CLV directly drives a rise in customer retention. This increase delivers a significant financial impact that gets the executive team's attention.