Reactive rather than proactive approaches tend to be the norm for contact centers. Those that do reach out to customers first, run the risk of potentially bombarding the customer with unwanted information. The key is in striking a balance: getting it right means knowing when to use proactive strategies and how to use them correctly.
Kelly Conway, President and CEO of Mattersight, said: “With multi-channel complexity and resulting higher customer expectations, contact center leaders today face challenges like never before to provide a positive customer experience. By the time a customer calls a contact center, he has likely already exhausted self-service approaches and may be irritated, or worse.” A proactive approach, he said, can surprise and impress that same demanding customer.
“Many call centers are starting to use data to better understand their callers and proactively provide them with the service they expect. For example, call centers can leverage data from past customer conversations to predict if a callback is likely to occur, sense a caller’s level of distress or engagement, or proactively pair callers and agents based upon a personality match to provide them with the best experience possible,” Conway explained.
Knowing about the individual by predicting current needs and state of mind is not enough though, according to Conway. “Successful organizations ‘operationalize’ this information in an appropriate and sensitive way based upon historic interaction data, stage of customer lifecycle, and specific transaction the customer is attempting,” he said. “ The right approach is never ‘one size fits all’.”
Tara Sporrer, VP, marketing and sales operations at Moxie, said that proactive engagement is critical to the success of sales and service contact centers. “With conversion rates at three percent on desktop and just one percent on mobile, contact centers have a clear opportunity to engage customers to increase conversion, revenue and loyalty. Just as retailers staff physical stores with helpful sales associates they need to also staff their online stores with helpful sales associates.”
Sporrer said that the benefit of proactive contacts lies in its ability to increase conversion rates and loyalty. “Our customers report that 35 percent of customers respond to a proactive offer and that 40 percent of the revenue is generated from proactive versus reactive engagement,” she said.
The formula for success, Sporrer said, with proactive engagement is to offer it based on the context of the customer, because it has to be relevant and personalized to the customer’s needs. “The good news is that retailers have visibility into online and mobile customer behavior and can leverage that data to help customers identify, choose, purchase and obtain support for products and services,” she added.
Matt Dyer, Head of Multi-Channel Solutions at Sabio, said that before pursuing a proactive contact strategy, it is important for organizations to address why they are really doing it. “Traditionally proactive outreach for contact centers has been about deflecting demand, and – while there may often be valid reasons for doing this – simply blanketing customers with SMS messages can often do more harm than good,” he said. ”For basic transactional interactions—confirmation of when a package is arriving, appointment reminders, utility alerts or upcoming renewals—proactive notifications can work well.”
Dyer emphasized though, that it is essential for organizations to get the wording and tone of these blanket messages right, thinking clearly about the impact they are likely to have on recipients. “Get it slightly wrong and all the efficiencies you were hoping to achieve with your outreach strategy can easily disappear as confused customers start calling into your contact center!” he said.
He added that, when the interaction is more complex, it is important to introduce more cross-channel flexibility and demonstrate much greater awareness of a customer’s context. “Take the debt collection process for example. There may be any number of reasons that a contact doesn’t want to talk directly. Here proactive contact can really help, with an initial SMS offered to remind a customer of payment schedules backed up by the offer of a web chat for further discussions,” he said.
Dyer went on to say that this kind of interaction flow works particularly well in situations such as debt consolidation or gambling addiction, where interactions need to be sensitive and contacts prefer the anonymity offered by SMS and text chat. “Often these initial text-based interactions can also make it much easier for customers to move on to the next stage of the process by escalating to voice,” he said.
SMS engagement also should not preclude the customer from being offered the opportunity to extend their interactions to two-way communication, Dyer said. “Strategically you need to think that SMS might evolve into a web chat, or a web chat should have the option to escalate seamlessly to voice. Again, the customer’s interaction from SMS to chat to voice should of course be immediately available to the agent picking up the voice contact, thus reinforcing the impact of a more personalized service.”
Sporrer said that one of the challenges of implementing proactive contacts is ensuring that you engage customers throughout the customer journey; not just in conversion or purchase or service but as they are exploring products and services, and offering the right type of engagement per the context.
“For instance, chat might be the best communication in one situation while email or just a snippet of information might be the best in another. You can’t solve proactive engagement with only one communication channel or in only one part of the journey,” she said.
Sporrer emphasized the importance of mobile engagement. “Despite 95 percent of people on earth possessing a mobile device, conversion rates on mobile are so low they cannot be ignored,” she said. “Customers are no longer tethered and tolerant, they are mobile and multitasking, trying to accomplish important tasks while waiting in line or sitting in an the airport. Proactive engagement on mobile can turn a frustrated customer into a fan because you’ve saved them time and helped them book that ticket, transfer funds or purchase a gift quickly and efficiently.”
Conway emphasized that proactive contact strategies go much deeper than just outbound contact. “We have seen the most success when call centers proactively pair agents and callers for each contact, inbound or outbound, based upon interaction history, agent strengths, and caller behavioral characteristics such as personality,” he said, adding that by using analytics, call centers can identify the natural strengths of agents with various personality and behavioral characteristics.
“We’ve found that through this approach – which is sometimes called ‘strength-finding,’ customer satisfaction scores are higher, call times are reduced, and overall contact center costs are lower,” Conway said.
He added: “As with any new contact center program, it’s important to begin with clear goals and an understanding of the desired outcomes. What are the most important metrics to optimize? Satisfaction scores or NPS? First call resolution? Average talk time? Customer retention? Sales close rates? There must be a way to measure results to know if new proactive tactics are paying off.”
Getting proactive approaches right is about balance, ensuring the right measures are in place and understanding the needs of the consumer. As Conway noted: “Proactive management of customer contact includes understanding what is really happening in customer interactions and being able to act upon that data. The richest source of insight can come from unstructured interaction data, not just transaction or demographic data about your customers. When you unlock and act upon insights about your customer as a person, you can begin to add a human-to-human element that transcends B2B or B2C and markedly improved customer experience.”
This article originally appeared on NSAM sister publication Customer Experience Report.