Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Aligning Technology Choices with Customer Engagement Goals

An interview with:
Michael Taylor
Senior Director, Client Support

Interviewed by Sam Narisi

Technology is moving faster than ever, and there are many new tools available to help companies manage their interactions with customers. However, companies need a strategy in place to make sure their investments are helping create the kind of customer experience they want.

Frost & Sullivan recently spoke with Michael Taylor, CareerBuilder’s Senior Director of Client Support, about the opportunities companies have to improve the customer experience and the lessons he has learned about aligning technology decisions with company strategy. Michael will also be leading a discussion around these and other topics at the 10th Anniversary Customer Contact 2014, West: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, October 19 – 22, in San Diego, CA.

What are some of the biggest opportunities available for companies to use technology to improve the customer experience?

Even before looking at a specific technology, you first must understand your strategy and goals for driving a strong customer experience. For us, we are working to create an effortless experience for our customers. In the past, we’ve made investments in technology, but not necessarily directly aligned to that strategy.

Over the last six months, we have performed discovery around the support best practices from our partners in the business, our customers, and various industries. That’s led to some important findings. One is that the concepts of Support and Success are very different and require very skill sets, incentives, and bottom line goals. Support is any process that involves a customer contacting you with a question or concern. Success is where we proactively work with the customers to drive long-term engagement. You have different incentive structures and goals that align to each.  We tried to do both at the same time with the same people. Part of our discovery process was uncovering how to maximize both through technology, automation, and structure in a way that aligned with our goals.

For support, there are key parameters you must maximize to achieve an effective customer experience: speed, accuracy, and transparency. To achieve this we’ve worked on three areas with technology:

  1. Commitment to a strong and flexible central CRM platform. 
  2. Integrating or consolidating our internal systems and customer platforms so that the full record of the customer, including their journey, history, and opportunities, are fully visible. 
  3. Striving to make it as easy as possible for the customer to be able to contact us and get a full understanding of their inquiry, who is working it, and when it’s expected to be resolved. 

We’re proactive in our communication to the customer, and they have the ability to see their status first-hand at any point. Integration is critical because we have to ensure this communication is visible to the front-end for our customers, as well as pull any data on the back-end into that platform. This gives you the opportunity to have one lens, one view, and one voice of the customer. Over the past few years, the software has become very flexible, so even if it’s not all on one platform, it’s possible to gather the data into one system.

What benefits have you seen as you’ve improved transparency – for example, how has it affected call volume? 

It reduces calls and escalations. You can also leverage any of the customer intelligence gained to provide content in the front-end for more effective self-service. This improves impact and efficiency because whenever escalations occur, many parties become involved to resolve; more managers and leaders of other groups are involved, which doesn’t necessarily help speed up the resolution and draws a lot of static.

However, the other key benefit is longer term. Transparency helps ensure a long-term customer. There are many occurrences where you capture the active voice of the customer, whether they’re contacting you, filling out a survey, or communicating via social media. However, there are numerous sentiment and health signals that emerge when customers are not interacting with you directly. The real opportunity is not only to capture customer sentiment from all channels, but to understand the customers’ overall health based on their usage, allowing you to take effective, proactive action.

What are some examples of how you engage customers proactively?

We use Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a metric for the transactions various teams have with customers. For all of those transactions, our scores as a whole, I’m proud to say, are quite high – at the world-class levels. We thought that was great news, but then our marketing team did a brand loyalty assessment to gauge the overall sentiment of CareerBuilder as a brand. We learned that while the NPS for individual interactions was quite high, the overall sentiment was probably significantly lower. There was a gap, and that was part of our call to action to improve engagement.

We target proactive activities in two areas: one is time-based within the customer’s life, and the second is based on specific events and specific usage patterns with particular products. An example of a time-based trigger would be a quarterly account review that looks at the performance for the customer based on the products they purchased. We analyze the data against their goals and provide recommendations to ensure they’re maximizing their experience of what they purchased from us. Event-based triggers are product specific. One example is with our data products. We look the customer’s usage. So if a customer is leveraging the tools quite frequently, but their usage declines over a period of time, we take action, investigate, and reach back out to the customer.

How can you ensure incentives and the use of technology align with the company’s overall strategy?

At the end of the day, it’s about knowing the most important bottom line goals for the business. There has to be transparency across the leaders and there has to be consistency and understanding of what the mission, strategy, and goals are. Then it’s a partnership between leadership and the success and support teams to ensure group goals and incentives align to the vision. For us, our mission became to create a fun and effortless experience for our customers and partners.

Once you have your group’s vision statement, you can target specific objectives and measurable goals to achieve it. That could mean looking at ways to use technology, outsourcing, consulting, or your own personnel. You have to ask: Does what we’re investing in align with the overall goals of our products, our customers, and our business as a whole? Can you prove it or at least show a logical roadmap to get there? For us, it didn’t just start with signing our CRM contract, but with the willingness of the business to invest time and other resources to ensure the platform was a vehicle to achieve our mission: creating a fun and effortless experience for our customers. We will achieve this by maximizing the speed, accuracy, and transparency of Support, and long-term engagement and partnership of our customers through Success.

Also, there’s an opportunity for any group or company to leverage discovery and rapid prototyping. It costs no money and limited time; and the more of that you’re willing to do, the greater your understanding and likelihood that you’ll make the right investment. This increases your ability to create a case that shows what the return on technology investment will be and how it translates to the bottom line goals of the business. This will set you on a path to success.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Submit Your Nomination for the 2015 CIO Impact Awards

All industries are changing fast, and no business can survive without serious digital innovation. As a result, CIOs and other IT leaders have never been more integral to their organizations’ success than they are now.

At the 2015 CIO Impact Award and Gala, Frost & Sullivan will honor those IT leaders who are true game-changers and have stepped up to help their companies innovate, overcome challenges, and capitalize on new opportunities. To make sure your organization or others are considered, submit your nomination today. Nominations are open to companies and their IT teams from around the world. For each nomination submitted, nominees are required to identify a senior project sponsor at the VP level or above.

Held annually during CoNEXTions: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, The CIO Impact Awards honor enterprise teams and individuals that are enabling breakthrough new business models and strategies through the innovative use of transformative technologies.

The CIO Impact Awards recognize top performers in the following categories:

  • Enterprise Social Networking
  • Advanced Software Development
  • Advanced Analytics and Big Data
  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Mobility
  • Cloud Computing
  • Unified Communications and Collaboration
  • Data and Network Resilience

In addition those award categories, the CIO Impact Awards will honor two CIO Innovators of the Year from among all of the project award winners. These winners are CIOs whose teams had the most positive impact on their enterprises’ strategic innovation and who delivered a significant competitive advantage.

Winners of the CIO Impact Awards will be presented with their award at the gala on the final day of the event, February 10, 2015, in San Francisco, and will be recognized in front of their peers as global IT leaders.

Act Now to Reserve Your Company’s Spot at Our Next IT Think Tank

Never before have CIOs and IT team been so critical to the company's growth strategy, and never has it been so important to showcase IT's impact on the business. While there are definitely challenges ahead, this is a time of significant and electrifying change for IT executives. New industries, business models, and products will emerge, organizational roles and relationships will be redefined, and IT will be at the epicenter of it all.

Frost & Sullivan is pleased to announce the 3rdAnnual ConNEXTions 2015: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, featuring a unique format designed specifically to help CIOs and other IT professionals navigate this new environment and plan for the future. In an effort to maximize the value of this think tank and its interactive discussions, Frost & Sullivan has invited a selection of cross-vertical IT leaders. Most of the content will be PowerPoint-free, relying instead on interactive discussions to engage peers in small groups to facilitate candid discussions and cross-industry leaning. The date and location have been confirmed for February 8-10, 2015, in San Francisco.

For this year’s event, Frost & Sullivan has invited representatives from sectors such as:
  • Information and Communication Technology (eBay, Expedia, Yahoo!, Xerox, Honeywell)
  • Financial Services (The Blackstone Group, Charles Schwab, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo)
  • Government Administration (U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Commerce, City of Palo Alto, California Department of Public Health, Office of Management and Budget)
  • Healthcare and Medical Devices (Abbott Laboratories, Cardinal Health, CVS Caremark, United Health Group, Quest Diagnostics)

Building close relationships with peers in other organizations and industries will be critical for IT leaders to develop the innovative ideas and best practices needed to help their companies succeed in the future. Past participants agree the unique format of a Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange offers the best opportunities to network, build relationships, and share best practices with peers.

To make sure your company is represented in this innovative information technology think tank, be sure to take advantage of Frost & Sullivan’s new Colleagues and Clients referral program. If you refer a colleague, you’ll receive a $100 discount on your next Frost & Sullivan event. And If the person you refer registers for ConNEXTions, that discount will increase to $250.

To maximize your savings, let your company’s IT leadership know about the 3rd Annual ConNEXTions 2015: A Frost & SullivanExecutive MindXchange today.

Creating a Customer-Centric Culture

Tammy McLeod
Chief Customer Officer
Arizona Public Service

Some companies are founded by individuals who know that their customers are the life-blood. But what about those that haven’t been as attentive? How can you turn a ship so that it’s sailing along with the customer point of view? In a session during this year’s Customer Contact 2014, East: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, Tammy McLeod, Chief Customer Service Officer for Arizona Public Service, discussed the importance of effective customer experience management.

To see more of the insight and best practices presented at the event, be sure to download a copy of Frost & Sullivan’s Executive MindXchange Chronicles, a valuable collection of all the key take-aways from Customer Contact 2014, East.

A Consistently Positive Experience

Customer experience management is the discipline of understanding, planning, implementing, and optimizing all customer interactions to deliver a consistently positive experience, McLeod said. Companies need to build a deliberate strategy for managing the customer experience and incorporate this strategy into the day-to-day aspects of the company. If they do not, their customer experience will suffer.

The customer experience is incredibly important for every business, McLeod said. Customer satisfaction is an indicator of operational health and has a direct impact on the bottom line. Customer expectations are shaped by the customer’s experience with the company and its products or services. It is important that you shape the customer’s perceptions of your company so that they see you as meeting all of their needs.

Start With Your Employees

For engaged customers, companies should start by engaging employees, McLeod said. One way to create more engagement in both groups: Give employees the ability to interact with the customers through social networks.

Social media can shape the perception of your company and allow for better access to detailed customer feedback. McLeod suggested monitoring all of the feedback on social networks, identifying trends and themes among the data, and determining opportunities for improvement based on those themes.

Companies must engage employees in the process of obtaining and interpreting customer feedback, McLeod said, and developing strategy based on it. Engaged employees create engaged customers.

When monitoring social media interactions, it’s critical that agents quickly resolve any issues that are discovered. A single negative incident can have a widespread impact due to social media.

Study Your Customers

The customer experience strategy should align with the organization’s corporate goals. If a deliberate customer experience strategy is in place and it aligns with the corporate goals of a company, then the customers become central to the company’s structure and business.

Before developing your customer service strategy, study the interactions that your customers have with your company. Gather, analyze, and incorporate customer feedback for all customer touch points to determine what it is that customers want from your company. Use these metrics to motivate your leadership and your employees. When you do begin to strategize, develop guidelines for the customer experience process. Those guidelines will enable employees to put the strategy into practice and also ensure that your company is easy to do business with, as employees will consistently know what to do in every situation.

McLeod recommended companies create an advisory board with senior-level representatives across all disciplines within the business. These representatives are the ones who will create the guidelines and manage employee performance.

Establishing processes for governance for customer-facing functions is also key to customer experience management. The advisory board should design a governance structure, including performance management, process improvement, customer engagement strategies, voice-of-the-customer programs, and experience architecture.

Bring the Whole Organization On Board

It’s important to get everyone in the business on board with the customer experience strategy, McLeod said. The strategy will likely fail if the organization does not have:

  • The support of senior management
  • A cross-functional group to monitor customer experience
  • Simple and focused metrics
  • Engaged employees

It’s critical to build the focus on customer experience into the organization’s culture.

Customer service leaders can get their teams on board by making customers real to employees. McLeod recommended sharing the financial impact of customer satisfaction and making it clear that everyone in the business is responsible for creating and maintaining this satisfaction. Gaining support from executives and senior-level management and making that public can help drive home the value of customer satisfaction. Also, communicate the customer experience strategy regularly and share both good and bad experiences with all employees.

Some other ways companies can get everyone on board and focused on the customer experience strategy:

  • Start meetings with a story about a positive customer moment
  • Share books on customer engagement
  • Train agents to turn every complaint into an opportunity for improvement
  • Celebrate a special “customer experience day”
  • Designate a single room, or area within a room, to contain all things related to customers 

Final Thought

The customer experience is perhaps the most important aspect of managing a business. If your customers aren’t satisfied, the business will suffer. Companies must create a strategy for managing the customer experience and incorporate this strategy into every aspect of the organization. This will ensure that the customer experience becomes a regular part of the organization’s day-to-day functions and create a culture of customer service among all employees.

How a Lack of Communication Can Ruin Your Customer's Day

By Derek Williams
Founder and Chief Executive 
The WOW! Awards

In May 2014 I was invited to the wedding of a family friend. Maggie and I have known Toni for 32 years – since she was a toddler. And we felt very privileged to be asked to join her and Richard for their wedding and holiday in the sun. But it didn’t quite work out as planned.

Toni and Richard booked the wedding in April 2013, a full year in advance. All the prices that they were given for hairdressing, bows for seats, etc., were from the 2012 price list but they understood that.  They knew that prices might change for 2014.  But there was an express clause in the company’s terms and conditions that, “They would be kept informed of any changes.”

There were special benefits to having a group of 20 people in the party:

  • The company offered a special box for Toni to carry her dress in for the flight.  
  • There were tickets for Toni and Richard to use the VIP lounge at Stansted.  
  • There was to be a bridal suite for the night of their wedding.

So where did it go wrong?

  • Now just imagine Toni’s dream dress. Full length. Lots of folds. A long train. Everything that she wanted to make her wedding to Richard so special. She knew that Richard would cry when he saw it. But Toni was the first to cry when she saw the size of the “special box”.  For a mini skirt it would have been fine.  But for a traditional bridal gown it was ridiculously small.  So the beautiful dress had to go into a conventional suitcase.
  • On arrival at Stansted they headed straight for the VIP lounge and a glass of champagne. But where was it? One advisor told them that it was closed. Another told them that it was so far away from their departure gate that it wouldn’t be worth the walk.

Hey ho. Toni and Richard were in love. They weren’t going to be put off by a ridiculously small box and the vanishing VIP lounge.

On arrival at the hotel they were immediately informed that they would not be guaranteed all of their party to be sat together in the restaurant after the wedding service.  Hmmm.  Interesting.  What on earth made the company think that Toni and Richard might possibly want to sit with their family and friends for their wedding feast???

The only option available to them if they all wanted to be seated together was to book a private room for an extra £180.  But to be certain of the private room they would need to pay immediately as there was another wedding on the same day as Toni and Richard’s; the bride for that wedding would be arriving shortly and it was the first one to pay who got the only private dining room available.

Toni and Richard had struggled to pay for this wedding.  The last thing that they wanted was to be pressured into coughing up another £180 without any warning.

Then there were a few other things that the holiday company had forgotten to mention.

  • The free bows for the seats in a variety of colours?  No longer available.
  • The free hairdressing rehearsal the day prior to the wedding was now going to be £35.
  • The £35 hair do on the wedding day was now going to be £85.
  • The new terrace especially for the reception was no longer available.
  • And the bridal suite had disappeared.  Must be somewhere out in the ether with the VIP lounge.

If this was your wedding, all your hopes and dreams coming together a year after being booked.  How would you feel?

What happened next was really interesting.  You see, Toni and Richard had arrived 10 days before the day of their wedding. The plan was to have a lovely period of relaxation before the big day. Those 10 days however now turned into 10 days of worry, of frenzied meetings with the hotel and the holiday organizers.

And the guests came in a steady stream; people arriving every couple of days. As each new arrival joined the party, the story of all the disappointments was being repeated. It was like plunging in the knife over and over and over again. Everyone was shocked and angry.

Ten days spent arguing with the organizer. Meetings with the rep. Complaints back to the company’s UK head office and their Customer Service Director. Toni and Richard were in tears – they were just so stressed out and upset.

What did the company do to resolve all this? Honest opinion? Not very much.

They did get the bows for the seats. They were allowed to sit as a group in the restaurant without having to pay for a private room. But that was about it. There really wasn’t any genuine feeling that the company was sorry about having spoiled such an important occasion.

The day after Toni and Richard got married another couple got married at the same resort and all organized by the same holiday company.  This second bride, however, was delighted with her day.  She’d been kept informed of all the changes from the very start and nothing was a disappointment for her.

And that’s all it took. Simple communication in accordance with the company’s own terms and conditions. Simple stuff that the company could have been done at any time in the previous year but didn’t.

Now for the good news. Two days after the wedding we visited the local village and arranged for a boat to take our group on a tour of the local islands and bays. Just our group. The company heard about Toni and Richard being married and immediately organized champagne and cake for us – all at no extra charge. We all bought bandanas and dressed as pirates. It was the most amazing day out and one we will all remember. Thank you to the Captain of the Boat, you made it all worthwhile.

Moral of the story: in our quest to do more business with less employees, customer communication can often fall by the wayside. But if you cannot build loyalty with the customers you already have then you may be wasting a huge amount of money trying to attract new customers. When was the last time that you really listened to your customers?

About the Author:

Derek Williams is Chief Executive and founder of The WOW! Awards.  This process is now being used by organisations around the world that are passionate about creating a great place to work and a great place to be a customer.    +00 44 (0) 1438 310191
Twitter @TheWowAwards

Automated Care that Doesn't Drive Customers Crazy

An interview with:
Tobias Goebel
Director of Mobile Strategy

Interviewed by Sam Narisi

Customers have more demands than ever for the companies they interact with. They want to be able to find answers on their own and solve problems using the channels of their choice. And if and when they do need to pick up the phone, they want the conversation to be as quick and smooth as possible.

Frost & Sullivan recently spoke with Tobias Goebel, Director of Mobile Strategy with Aspect, about some of the ways companies can take advantage of customers’ increasing self-reliance and the new tools available to create an easy and seamless customer experience.

What are some of the biggest trends you seen happening now in contact center automation and self-service?

What we’re generally seeing is customers trying to find an answer to their questions themselves first. Customers are using Google to look for answers. Next, they turn maybe to social networks and ask their peers. If they can’t get an answer, they might try forums and communities, which may be moderated by the company. And if they still can’t get an answer, then they invoke the expert. The agent in the contact center is becoming the expert and is more often the “last resort”.

Increasingly, what we’re also seeing is that if a company doesn’t communicate on the channel of the customer’s choice, the customer may decide to take their business elsewhere. Companies need to innovate, use technology in a smart way, and exploit the fact that consumers are always connected and addressable.

One recent trend is the renaissance of SMS. For the longest time, SMS has been used for marketing purposes, and that has ruined that channel and carriers had to regulate it. But this year Aspect is releasing a solution to take advantage of the SMS-enabled toll-free numbers carriers have recently come out with. These toll free numbers are the same numbers customers already know, but now you can text them, and we have the means to do natural language understanding for self-service.

However, what’s crucial is that you connect it to live service if you need it. Typically, those systems operate in a closed domain and only understand what you programmed them to understand, so you need a human as a back-up. We program the script so that so if it cannot understand an inquiry it will transfer that session to an agent. But it stays on the SMS channel, so we’re still using the channel the customer chose, and now a human can chime in and answer the questions.

When you think about automation and self-service, IVR is probably the first thing that comes to mind, but it’s not something anyone typically likes dealing with. What are some ways IVR can be improved?

The thing with IVR is that the technology is mature, but the devil is in the design. The key is to design your IVR with the caller and the customer in mind. Make every effort to remember and know the caller.

Omni-channel, a new trend in the customer care industry, means you’re preserving context when switching channels, but you also need to preserve context when you stay on the same channel but are having a conversation over a prolonged period of time. The other day, I called an IVR about five minutes before 6 pm. I went through all the options, and it took me several minutes to finally get to the point where I needed to go, and the system said, “Sorry you’re calling outside of normal business hours, please call again tomorrow,” and it hung up on me! The next morning when I called in, the system knew nothing about me. Now, if you think about it, it really doesn’t take much to remember that information. If you do it right, the IVR can ask if I’d like to pick up where I left off and I can skip minutes of IVR navigation.

The IVR is one piece in the bigger puzzle of omni-channel customer care. Know what the customer did in the mobile app. Know about what they did in the website when they logged in. Know what they did with an agent when they last talked. If you show that you remember, that goes a long way to showing customers you care and are trying to improve customer service.

What are some other ways to improve the overall automated experience for customers?

Before, the phone was one of the few if not only ways to engage with the company. Now it’s kind of the last resort. You need to take that into consideration and acknowledge that people probably came from the website or from the mobile app. So don’t ask, “Did you know you could do this and that on our mobile app?” I already know that, because I just came from there. Remembering transactions across channels is one of the most critical things companies can do these days.

It also comes down to knowing about the customer and making the IVR dynamic and personalized in the prompts and menu options it presents. For example, if a customer doesn’t have a mortgage with a bank, why offer a mortgage option in the main menu? If somebody calls the same day every month to check their account balance, why not announce that upfront? Those are all things you can do with existing technology. At the end of the day, it’s about Big Data. It’s about knowing as much as you can about the customer and using that intelligently in your logic, and, of course, making sure your rep knows and sees everything the customer did in self-service before.

You mentioned personalization. Customers want automation and self-service, but they also want a personalized experience. Do you think it’s a challenge to find the right balance between automation and personalization?

No, I think an automated script can be highly personalized. It’s all a matter of how deep you can integrate the data you have about your customer. The data typically lives in CRM systems today, so make sure you get access to that data, which can be a challenge. Within a larger organization, there are different teams with different budgets that handle these different systems. The entire company urgently needs to start collaborating. All of the IT, all of the systems, the contact center, customer care, marketing – they need to collaborate. That might mean consolidating the teams, or creating a cross-functional team with key members of each department. Then have executive approval and support to make the necessary changes and open up toward each other.

What customers want is always evolving and changing. What can companies do to make sure they keep up and meet new demands in the future?

Go cloud. It’s a very simple answer. Companies cannot afford to keep up with all the emerging communication channels. Who knows, maybe in a year or two we’re all going to be talking to businesses on WhatsApp, or SnapChat, or whatever comes next. I think the only way to keep pace is to move to a cloud model where you have the flexibility to change vendors really quickly, the chance to “try before you buy”, and the ability to be much quicker to market with a new solution or infrastructure or channel. Today, people still sign up with 12- or 24-month contracts, but I think even that will go away, and then the flexibility will be endless. I think companies that still try to do everything themselves will ultimately fail.

You touched on SMS earlier, but as the Director of Mobile Strategy, what are some of the other ways you see mobile devices become a bigger platform for customer service?

Mobile devices are essentially a full computer in everyone’s pocket. That means you can use every communication channel on those devices. We’re seeing the entire breadth of communication channels consolidating and converging on that mobile device. But if you look at customer care apps, they’re pretty much built as siloes, like the early IVR. I can guarantee if you pull out your phone and look at your bank app or your insurance app, the only way they give you access to a person is by listing their phone numbers. That’s insanely antiquated. Why can’t they offer an in-app talk function, maybe even with video? We’re seeing that more and more. American Express released a video option in their iPad app, and I tried that the other day and loved it. I know that agents love it too because now they can see the customers they are helping. So it helps the agent experience, which helps the customer experience.

Mobile needs to be part of the bigger customer care ecosystem. The walls around the apps need to be broken up. You need to combine that with voice and text functions. Maybe you don’t want to call, because you’re in a meeting and can’t talk, but you still have a question you want a quick answer to. I see all the channels converging, and I see the smartphone as the new hub for customer care. Reports I’ve read from analysts such as Frost & Sullivan are saying that more and more customer support will be originating from smartphones in the near future.

Where else is customer care headed in the future?

One topic we haven’t touched on is proactive engagement. Companies have knowledge that customers are interested in. It doesn’t take much to share that knowledge in a proactive manner. Why wait for that inbound call that costs you money? You can already predict that a customer will ask the status of an order, and things like that. Whenever there’s something the customer should know, reach out proactively, on the channel of the customer’s choice. You also need to give customers a way to tell you what those channels are and give them a chance to decide which times different channels may be used.

Those are the big topics I see at the moment: proactive engagement, mobile enablement, cross-channel support by preserving context, and offering a seamless bridge between self- and live service.

Proactive Customer Engagement is the Highest Level of Responsive Service

By Shep Hyken
Chief Amazement Officer
Shepard Presentations

The value of responsive customer service cannot be overstated when a customer has a problem or complaint. Handled correctly, it can even be considered an opportunity – you have a situation placed before you in which you can show the customer that you care, that you are willing to do what is necessary to make things right.

But, no one should be waiting or hoping for problems to arise for an opportunity to impress the customer. If you are intuitive and observant you can take a proactive approach – providing great service even before you are asked to do so. A simple example of this would be a waiter filling your glass of water before you ask for more, but there are many ways to anticipate customers’ needs and meet them before they even have to ask.

Recently I was on an evening airline flight, and they served a pretty nice dinner. The flight attendant was serving warm chocolate chip cookies for dessert. I made the comment, “I love it when you serve these cookies. It’s too bad there’s just one per passenger.” A few minutes later she came back with two more for me to enjoy.

This may not seem like a big deal – the flight attendant heard my comment, had some cookies left over and decided to take care of one of her passengers. But, there’s more to the story. I fly a lot – at least once or twice a week. And I make the same comment to every flight attendant who serves me the cookies. Do you know that this is the first time a flight attendant has ever offered me an extra cookie? Most of the time there are extra cookies. I know because I see the flight attendants throw them away at the end of the flight.

To deliver proactive service, you have to be paying attention. Listen. Observe. You shouldn’t wait until a customer asks for something. If possible, do it before they ask.

There are different levels of customer service, and a proactive approach is at the top. Consider three possible scenarios:

  • Proactive – You see a problem coming and head it off – before it becomes a problem. Or even better yet, you spot an opportunity to make something better and take the initiative to make it happen.
  • Reactive – When a problem, complaint, etc., comes your way, you deal with it. And hopefully, you deal with it well and the customer is satisfied with your response.
  • Avoidance – This is the person who ends up having to deal with a complaint or problem and doesn’t react. This only escalates the problem into something bigger, and guess what? They don’t react to that, either. You keep trying to give them chance after chance to make good, and they just keep blowing it. This has happened to me, and probably to you too, and it is so frustrating!

In today’s fast-paced world, the speed of customer service can make or break a business. I recently had the privilege of working with Busey Bank and heard its CEO, Van Dukeman, share a concept he referred to as the Velocity of Business, which had to do with how quickly business moved. As I listened to his presentation, I realized the importance of how this applied to the customer service experience. And what’s faster than addressing an issue before it even becomes an issue for the customer? Proactive customer service trumps even the best response time – you are solving customers’ problems even before they have to ask. Talk about creating confidence.

Proactive service has always been a good strategy. Many times people won’t tell you if there is a problem. You have to know. The way to know is to listen to people’s comments and ask them questions.

Good people have the ability to deal with problems after they happen, but the best people have the ability to head off problems before they happen. Be attentive – to the customers and their reactions and comments, and to the product or service that you are presenting to them. If you detect a problem anywhere in the process, don’t wait for a complaint – take the initiative to make it right now!

About the Author:

Shep Hyken is a customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more articles on customer service and business go to

Copyright © MMXIV Shep Hyken – Used with permission.