Proactive, pre-emptive customer service


Most companies establish contact centers to handle all those inbound customer service requests, whether it’s calls, emails, or otherwise. But when tons of money and effort is being spent on the design and implementation of a world-class contact center, are there discussions on how to proactively pre-emptive an inbound interaction? In other words, pushing service out to customers. Most of the time there’s no brainstorming session on how to reduce inbound customer service calls and why that should be considered.

In other words, bringing up a contact center is usually an reactionary exercise: we forecast x inbound calls per month — how can we handle that volume? How many toll-free numbers, how many IVR ports, how many speech licenses, how many servers, how fast the networks, how many supervisors, how many agents, how many this and that… Nobody gives thought to how can we reduce that x number up front.

The benefits of reducing x is obvious. A lesser inbound volume could mean lesser resources — hardware, software, and labor — are required, therefore cost savings could be realized.

It boils down to notifying the customer when an event occurs that could trigger an inbound call. A good example of this (and to my pleasant surprise when I first encountered it) is from airlines automatically notifying changes to a passenger’s reservation or itinerary. One time when I was at an airport awaiting my flight I received a call on my mobile phone from the airline informing me of a change in my flight time. It was great because I could stay where I was sipping a cold beer and not having to find out later from a LCD monitor or bother a gate agent.

The applications are numerous. Cable companies could send out alerts to area customers whose service is down. Banks could inform customers when a large withdrawal is made on an account. Retailers could notify customers about an order’s shipping status.

Some of these are already implemented by companies. But with today’s technologies there’s a lot more that could be done.

For example, a cell phone carrier knows a subscriber’s monthly charges. Its systems ought to be able to establish a pattern of usage and charges. If suddenly there’s a usage spike which results in excess fees, why can’t the carrier send an immediate SMS or make a phone call to inform of such an unusual activity? Instead, we keep hearing reports of “bill shock” and disgruntled customers, and it wasn’t until recently that carriers finally came to terms with the government to curb this.

So it took thousands of complaints from subscribers and eventually government intervention to end this, when in reality the carriers could’ve provided better service by proactively informing the customers about abnormal usage and fees.

Or how about this: a smartphone-toting customer recently purchased a product that turned out to be defective and has initiated the process to return it. One day as the customer is out on the road and comes near the retailer’s brick and mortar store, s/he receives a call (or SMS) from the store manager inviting him/her to the store with an exchange unit ready for pickup. Such a scenario is no longer science fiction with GPS-enabled smartphones equipped with proximity awareness features.

Again, why wait until a customer contacts you when you have an opportunity to serve the customer beforehand, armed with the best knowledge of the customer gleaned from your systems.

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