Among the trends predicted for customer service in 2017, a more proactive approach to service made the list. Depending upon the products and services a company offers, the ability to deliver proactive service might vary-but nevertheless, it is possible and has gotten easier.
Businesses offering Internet of Things (IoT) connected products and services would appear to have it easy. That same connectivity can monitor the current status and ongoing health of their connected products and services. As a result, they can receive an early warning if a product or service is heading towards a problem or has stopped operating, alert the customer, and begin working on a solution even before the customer is aware of the issue.
But even a company offering IoT products and services will experience mundane problems common to every company. An instruction manual is missing a step. A product fails under certain usage conditions. A widespread shipping or billing issue occurs. Despite having a seemingly simple solution, problems like these can quickly become overwhelming if every affected customer picks up the phone for help.
The thing is, you don't need to wait for customers to contact you for issues that have been solved. The key is in identifying these trends as they are developing, ensuring the appropriate customers can be targeted, determining the appropriate response, and alerting the customer.
Know Your Customers
A fundamental requirement to providing proactive service is to know your customers. Regardless if they purchase directly from you, you have a third-party sales channel, or customers register their products and services, you must be diligent in collecting some key customer details.
Why? Minimally, you must understand what products and services they own and use, any special usage conditions that might cause breakage, and of course how to contact them. There may be other qualities worth identifying. The more you know about your customer, the greater your opportunity of segmenting your customers into like customer groups. This will become important later, so continue reading.
Analyze Reactive Service for Proactive Opportunities
If one customer is having a problem with your product or service, chances are they're not alone. Reactive service requests become the source material for proactive service efforts. Examine your trending case topics. What topics have a high volume or are on the rise?
At the same time, examine the profile of customers that have been affected. What are their characteristics that caused them to experience it-or is it a situation where all customers might encounter it? This detail will be necessary to help zero-in on the right customers to notify.
As you dig into the details, also be sure to weigh the following:
- Severity - what is the impact to the customer? Is it a minor annoyance or a major issue?
- Likelihood - what are the chances of customers encountering the issue? Might all customers experience it or just a subset?
- Characteristics - is there anything unique to the customer or their use that causes them to be affected; and if so, what? (Also important: is there anything beyond the customer information you normally collect that you should start collecting in the future?)
Weighing each of these can assist in prioritizing which topics necessitate a proactive response, whether the solution can be a workaround or requires a permanent solution, and which will have the greatest positive impact across the customer base (as well as eliminating repetitive calls and emails for customer service).
Cooperative Problem Solving
Customer service must work cooperatively with the rest of the organization-manufacturing or product development, finance, field services, etc.-to develop solutions to customer problems. Full stop. If this is not happening in your company today, this must change and should become another resolution for the new year. Lacking a team approach to customer service, the whole company cannot work collaboratively to address issues. I'll step off the soapbox now.
Using the severity and likelihood details, customer service can work with the appropriate department(s) to develop a suitable solution: perhaps it's as major as stopping the production line to address a quality issue, or perhaps it's as simple as developing a manual list of steps a customer can use to address the issue. Whatever the case, together the organization must agree on and produce the solution that best addresses the problem.
Target Customers Likely Affected And Deliver The Solution
Return to the profile of the customers likely affected. Is it all customers or a subset, with unique characteristics? Based upon the size of that segment, that will help you determine how you communicate the solution.
If the problem might affect specific customers, target them only. Use the contact information you have to use one-to-one communication methods like email or telephone and direct them to the solution.
If the problem is more likely to affect most or all customers, email or telephone calls might not be realistic. Consider a one-to-many approach such as highly-visible messages on your main or customer service websites. Playing an automated message in the phone queue might also be an option.
Does the solution require action by the customer in some fashion? Use self-service and automation on your website (powered by workflow) to address issues like product replacement to connect the customer's request directly to the department that can address it, bypassing customer service and allowing them to focus on other issues while decreasing the resolution time for the customer. Another form of self-service, knowledge base articles are an ideal approach if the solution involves steps a customer must take.
Make More Service Proactive
Customer service's very nature is reactive; it exists to respond to customer problems. But agents don't need to wait for and be buried by calls, emails, and chats for known issues with solutions.
With knowledge of customers and their products and service use and by keeping an eye on issue trends, companies have an opportunity to up-level their customer service. Today, most companies are delivering proactive service on a limited basis (if at all). Make 2018 the year you surprise and delight your customers by delivering solutions prior to customers experiencing problems!
This article originally appeared in A Customer Service Perspective.