3 Keys for Shifting to Preemptive Customer Service

The customer service paradigm has long been centered on the notion that service begins when a customer contacts a company, typically with an issue. Customer service and CRM systems have been built to follow this reactive approach to service, one that focuses only on the engagement with the customer and the tracking of a case. But what’s needed now is a new paradigm where service is delivered proactively, enabling continuous improvements in a company’s products, services, and processes while at the same time delivering a higher-quality experience for the customer. 

Why Can Great Customer Service Be So Hard to Deliver?

In a study of 200 customer service leaders, three top issues emerged as barriers to delivering superior customer service:

  • 57 percent reported they have difficulty connecting all service processes;
  • 54 percent said that departments are siloed, making it difficult to collaborate and work across the organization; and
  • 50 percent reported a lack of automation, leaving a heavy dependency on manual processes.

In addition, the study also identified some interesting trends in how best-in-class companies, or those whose behaviors enable them to have a higher impact on revenue or customer loyalty, are addressing these issues compared to their lower-performing counterparts. For example, best-in-class customer service organizations are 127 percent more likely to collaborate with different parts of the organization to help them provide better service. These same companies are also 163 percent more likely to focus on resolution of the root causes that are driving customers to contact them in the first place. These points shed light on the fact there are always better ways to deliver customer service. Here are three concepts for creating a new service paradigm, one that can help any company deliver more proactive service.

1. Streamline operations via self-service. The only way to get off of the reactive service treadmill is to move to a model that focuses on eliminating the reasons why customers call for support in the first place. This means reducing the time that agents and leaders spend on operational day-to-day activities in order to shift work to strategic projects that help them get ahead of the curve. But where do companies start?

We can take some direction from the best-in-class customer service organizations. They are 36 percent more likely to take advantage of self-service to enable customers to help themselves. And customers prefer this! In fact, TSIA reported that companies with self-service are seeing higher volumes of requests coming in from this channel (34.5 percent) as compared to phone (31.6 percent) and email (19.1 percent) for the first time this year. 

The self-service front includes many options for reducing manual work and providing a better experience for the customer. They include:

  • Personalized portal. Because many customers prefer self-help channels, providing a robust portal with everything the customer needs is a strong option. Customers can view their products and services, change order information, make service requests and track the status of them, and get bulletins and notifications on upgrades, workarounds, or new services.
  • Request catalog. Many companies receive high volumes of repetitive requests. While providing a web front end for customers to make requests is common, what is more beneficial is to offer a catalog of common requests. Service catalogs collect needed information, but can also automatically creates cases and manage those cases to completion with automated workflows.
  • Automation. Many types of work can be automated with robust yet flexible workflow engines. 

There are many other ways to streamline workloads and offer a great user experience, such as knowledge bases and communities, to name a few.

2. Eliminate customer issues, and drive continuous improvement, through interdepartmental cooperation. Reducing manual and repetitive work through self-service and automation is a great first step to freeing up time for strategic projects. The next great opportunity that brings an organization closer to a proactive service paradigm is to begin eliminating the reasons why customers contact an organization for service.

As noted, best-in-class companies are 163 percent more likely to focus on resolution of the root causes of customer issues. Too often, customer service departments are left on their own with little help from other parts of the business. Without a bridge to other departments, customer service sits on an island left to its own devices. This slows the resolution process, frustrating both the customers and the agents trying to help them.  

Resolving a customer’s issue quickly and effectively requires real-time collaboration, coordination, and accountability among customer service, engineering, operations, field services, and other departments. A successful customer service team breaks down the barriers between departments and creates a “team” approach to customer service that involves the whole organization. When everyone is working together, customer service is more likely to effectively identify, diagnose, and resolve problems.

Eliminating an issue for good ensures no additional customers are impacted and reduces the volume of incoming requests. Additionally, it enables the organization to continuously improve its products, services, and processes. 

3. Remember, it’s a journey with lots of new opportunities. Reducing manual work and eliminating issues for good helps customer service organizations move from yesterday’s reactive service paradigm to a place where more time can be focused on truly improving the customer service experience. Getting to a true proactive paradigm is a journey, and most companies will follow a maturity model that starts with the approaches mentioned above and layers on additional opportunities, including these:

  • Trend analysis can identify issues and fix them before they impact large groups of customers or automate recurring requests exposed through predictive insight.
  • The Internet of Things can provide visibility into the health of customers’ products and services so that issues can be identified, triaged and resolved before customers even realize there is a problem. Align the real time performance with service level agreements and contract terms to ensure no loss of revenue through violations. 
  • Automatically match customer and field service requests to subject matter experts or technicians with specific expertise using machine learning.

Changing the service paradigm is possible. Moving from reactive strategies to proactive service not only cuts costs but results in better products and services, as well as happier customers.  Start your journey today.

Holly Simmons is senior director of global product marketing and customer service management at ServiceNow.

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