Whatever sector you operate in, it’s likely that your business is facing stiffer competition than ever before, putting you under increased pressure to keep customers happy – customers who are often willing to shop around and switch providers at the slightest disappointment or frustration.

As businesses put ever more emphasis on the need to improve customer engagement and retention, smart organisations are starting to look for opportunities to move from a ‘reactive’ to a ‘proactive’ approach to customer service as they strive to ensure they are delivering the best possible experience.

Making the first move

Proactive customer service is made possible by the proliferation of smart, cross-channel analytics technologies. These tools make it possible for companies to predict when a customer is likely to call in and, once that scenario has been identified, it is possible to take proactive steps to address problems before they arise.

For instance, by monitoring reasons why customers are calling your contact centre or self-serving online, a telecoms operator can identify unexpected problems, so that it can proactively solve these for other customers. Such as, if customers are struggling to insert the SIM card into the new model of iPhone, then it has two options: it can either wait until customers call, tweet or visit the website looking for help, or it could proactively try and help them solve the problem. In this example, that could be through something very simple, such as a video tutorial showing how to insert the SIM card, which could be emailed out to customers prior to them receiving their new device and shared through social channels.

A change in mindset

One thing that traditionally puts companies off from taking a proactive approach to customer service is that, in many cases, they will effectively be notifying customers about potential problems. This is an understandable concern but, if implemented effectively, a proactive approach will benefit your business in the long-term.

Ultimately, it comes down to the customer service mindset that you want to instil within your organisation. Businesses must accept that the best way to build customer satisfaction and loyalty in the long-term is to take an honest and open approach to dealing with customers. This means that, rather than burying their collective heads in the sand and hoping that customers will not notice a problem, brands will be better served by addressing the problem proactively and earning customers’ trust through openness and transparency.

Don’t spend more, spend smarter

The Holy Grail in customer service has always been reducing cost while improving the customer experience.

Proactive customer service allows brands to do just that. By focusing on instances when customers are likely to contact you directly, and reaching out proactively, businesses can reduce the time and resource needed to deal with inbound calls and enquiries at peak times. For instance, prior to sending customers utility bills, energy providers can use data analytics to predict which ones are most likely to experience ‘bill shock’, and how they may react. By segmenting customers and proactively targeting the ones that are most likely to react negatively with a ‘helpfulness’ call, they can create the opportunity to explain how their bill has been calculated and proactively suggest alternative tariffs that will better suit each customer’s needs and save them money. In addition, they could offer energy saving advice and direct customers to self-service portals where they can monitor future usage. This not only has the potential to retain customers and increase brand loyalty, it also prevents the need for customers to call in, and thereby saving cost to service inbound calls to your contact centre.

Proactive customer service can also open up additional cross-selling opportunities and act as a retention tool. For example, if a customer is repeatedly calling the same handful of numbers, then this provides a mobile operator with a great opportunity to upsell a friends and family call package – both delighting the customer with improved offerings (that could actually save them additional charges) and creating additional revenues for the business.

Pick your moments

The critical thing for proactive customer service is to give your employees the insight they need to make the right offer, to the right customer, at the right time. Of course, to make this possible, it is essential that businesses pick the right opportunities to engage with customers. The right moments will vary from customer to customer, and from brand to brand, and will also be heavily dependent on the state of the customer relationship at any one time.

It is vital therefore that any proactive strategy is informed by intelligent use of data analytics. Collecting data on all aspects of a customer’s past behaviour and relationship with the business can deliver hugely valuable insights that can allow you to identify possible issues before they even arise.

Smart data analysis also means that you can choose the right method of communication for each customer and situation, whether that is an email, a phone call, a letter or even a push notification via a mobile app.

Measure, improve, repeat...

It is also critical that brands measure the success (or otherwise) of all attempts at proactive outreach. A smart approach to measurement will help you to learn from each occasion, improving your ability to pick the right moments – and the right customers – for proactive outreach.

A personalised and unexpected call will be greatly appreciated by the customer if it offers a genuine sense of value. The analytics component is therefore the key factor in determining the success of your proactive strategy. Brands should embrace a culture of experimentation, testing and measurement in order to identify the approach that works best for their business, both in terms of boosting customer satisfaction and delivering a strong return on investment.

By Cormac Twomey, VP, EMEA, Convergys