Is your customer service proactive?

For many companies, customer service is a reactive service. Something your customers will contact when they are purchasing a product or maybe are done purchasing it. When a problem arises, after sales.

But customer service can become an integrated part of the overall purchasing experience. After all, that is what customer service is all about: Servicing the customers – preferably upfront in stead of waiting for something to go wrong and a reason for the customers to get in touch.

This may not be in sync with the objectives most customer service organisations operate with. Often, customer service is driven as a cost center, seeking to reduce customer contact costs and increase productivity, but that is not necessarily a good driver for profitability. In stead, a balanced model integrating customer satisfaction is needed.

Hertz used to be a text book example of great customer service..

15 years ago, Hertz was a text book example of great customer service, now Hertz customer service is ranked #361 out of the 622 companies that have a CustomerServiceScoreboard.com rating with an overall score of 32.83 out of a possible 200 based on 642 ratings. This score rates Hertz customer service and customer support as Disappointing. That’s a long way from the praise in Patricia B. Seybold’s Customers.com.

Service = sales
Customer service can be considered a sales channel in which satisfied customers are good ambassadors for the brand. This view is shared by 83 pct. of the e-commerce and e-business professionals surveyed by Econsultancy for their Reducing Customer Struggle report from 2012. A mere 3 pct. of them (all European) disagrees that the customers essentially are sales people being activated by great experiences.

As ClickFox has found in their annual benchmarking survey, Consumer Tipping Points, more than half of the customers that have a bad experience with customer service will talk about it to family and friends. More than 1 out of 3 of these will cease doing business with the company. And 16 pct. will write about their (bad) experience on social channels or review sites.

Retention and loyalty
By turning the whole approach to customer service on its head – from reactive problem solution to proactive customer nurturing – it is possible to increase the value of the customers’ interaction with the company – both the value they provide, and the value they receive. Because a better experience will contribute to the customers’ loyalty and retention.

This is most effectively done by identifying and addressing the customers’ needs before they turn into a cost at customer service. Among other things, this requires a profound understanding of the customers and their communication style. If done properly, suggestions for complementary products and cross sales now become possible. Forrester predicts growth for such personalised cross- and upselling – together with a general increase in the use of proactive, outbound communication, e.g. as service alerts.

Zappos customer service

Believe the hype! From my personal experience with the world famous Zappos customer service, I’ll say: Yes, it is truly magic. Incidently, Zappos customer service is ranked #2 out of the 622 companies that have a CustomerServiceScoreboard.com rating.

Growth in digital channels
Voice remains the preferred channel for customer service, but only 26 pct. think that call centres provide excellent service. This is bad news for many companies, and one reason use of self service and digital tools like chat and email are surging. According to Forrester, there has been a 12 pct. increase in customer service via self service on the web, 24 pct. for chat, and a 25 pct. increase in community based customer service over the past 3 years.

Omnichannel customer service
Just like many other digital initiatives, customer service should be agile. As customers, we expect to be able to initiate our contact with customer service in one channel and continue it in another. According to ClickFox this is actually the most frustrating experience many people have with customer service: Having to talk to different customer service agents and starting all over every time.

Hence, integration of customer service across all channels is a crucial element if genuine, customer-centric service is what you’re after. Profound customer history across all channels is a crucial part of this. The Reducing Customer Struggle report shows, that 59 pct. of the European companies has a regular communication between call center and the digital team. But 37 pct. only has occasional communication between the two.

Unfortunately, only few companies invest in integrating their various communication channels, but not doing so means de-coupling the people in customer service from the channels they are expected to support. This means a total lack of internal transparency regarding customers’ interactions, and thus failure to meet the customer with a personalised and contextualised dialogue. And that takes us right back to the conditions for a proactive customer service.

Proactivity can begin in the social networks
A Stanford University survey has revealed that 90 pct. of executive managers understands the effect of social media on their organisation. Nonetheless, only 32 pct. of them monitors the social media in order to receive early warnings about threats towards the business. And that is a shame, because the social channels are great for proactively identifying customer service related problems before they escalate out of control. Try a Twitter search on your own brand with the #fail hashtag. Or try #epicfail if you dare.

According to a Forrester Thought Leadership paper, the highest prioritised tactical initiatives for customer service are: Securing customers get an answer to their questions during the first contact; measuring how well customer service is provided and leveraging this knowledge to improve customer service; and providing the same information to customers regardless of the channel.

But do begin with defining what customer service should be for you. Reactive or proactive?

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