How to Get the Most out of Proactive Customer Care

By Donna Fluss and Gary Schwartz

Proactive customer care (PCC) is an exciting concept that, when done properly, delivers benefits to both enterprises and their customers. Customers want to hear from preferred retailers, healthcare providers, airlines, and delivery companies as long as they consider the communicated information beneficial. The challenge for businesses and organizations is to create useful communications that their customers welcome and to deliver these messages in each customer’s channel of choice – phone, email, SMS, fax and, in the future, video.

What is Proactive Customer Care? Proactive customer care is a business strategy that makes consumers’ lives better and easier by addressing issues before a problem or a need arises. Organizations that adopt a PCC strategy identify and address customer needs proactively by sending messages or other communications to customers and other interested parties at appropriate times.

This concept is not new. Organizations have been making welcome calls for years. For as long as there have been credit cards, fraud departments have been calling out to customers to notify them of potential problems with their accounts. High-end department stores have been calling their big spenders to notify them of sales. Companies have performed these activities because they proved to be highly beneficial in building customer relationships and increasing revenue.

However, it also turns out that proactive customer care is a highly effective way of reducing operating costs while increasing customer allegiance and loyalty. Customers are grateful to be told when their airplane is delayed or reminded that they are due for a prescription refill, particularly if this information is shared in a manner that is convenient and not overly intrusive. Keeping customers informed can greatly reduce servicing costs and unexpected surges in call volume. Assuming that it costs $5 to $25 for a typical inbound customer service call or email and less than $0.05 for a typical automated outbound interaction, it’s impossible to argue with the math.

Uses and Applications for PCC: All types of organizations – public, private, and government – are finding highly beneficial uses for proactive customer care solutions. Enterprises have found PCC to be an effective way to improve the customer experience, build loyalty, and reduce operating expenses. At the same time, properly targeted enterprise customers find PCC to be a great way to reduce non-productive time. Private institutions use PCC to notify members of institutional activities as a way to increase the effectiveness of fundraising campaigns. Federal, state, and local government organizations are using PCC for everything from notifying their constituents about road closures and real-time traffic disruptions to school closings and catastrophic weather alerts. The result is better-informed constituents who see their tax dollars at work.

Implementation Guidelines: Well-designed and properly implemented PCC programs deliver quantifiable and qualitative benefits for organizations and their customers. As an example, consider the healthcare claims process. Today, customers call agents frequently to check on the status of their claim. Companies that use PCC can assure their customers that they will be notified when their claim is processed and can guarantee that the call will be made.

This approach vastly improves customer satisfaction, as most customers are happy to wait if they know that they are guaranteed a response within a specified amount of time. PCC also dramatically improves the cost structure of the service environment by converting thousands of expensive and time-consuming “what’s my status” calls into inexpensive outbound notifications.

Here is a list of best practices to help you succeed with a PCC program:

  • Create an enterprise proactive customer care strategy that encompasses all customer-facing groups.
  • Map your customer lifecycle to your business processes and identify opportunities for PCC alerts, notifications, and communications. Identify and examine processes that result in large volumes of inbound calls and emails and determine how automated outbound notifications can reduce this volume.
  • Obtain customers’ permission to deliver outbound messages. If you want to deflect calls, offer this service while the customer is speaking to an agent.
  • Capture customer notification channel and time-of-day preferences. Note that channel preferences may differ at various points in the day. Whenever possible, offer this service through a Web-based portal.
  • Integrate the PCC system with the enterprise’s back-end systems, including customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, claims processing, inventory, and so forth, as required by our organization. This provides an automated mechanism for generating alert and notification files.
  • When using voice, if the system doesn’t reach a live person, leave a suitable message, if appropriate. Be aware that there are certain situations, such as conveying protected personal healthcare information or making collection calls, when it is illegal or inadvisable to leave messages.  If the notification is time-sensitive, deliver it to an alternative channel based upon the customer’s preference, if it is known.
  • Provide a means for customers to verify their identity before providing sensitive, confidential information.  Also, provide a means for customers to call back if they wish to verify that the outbound message is legitimate.
  • For communications that require a response from the customer, allow them to interact in the channel of their choice. Whenever possible, allow for escalation to a live agent.
  • Record the details of the call, both what’s originally delivered to customers and their response. This information should be reflected in the customer relationship management solution so that agents are aware of the interaction.
  • If appropriate, follow up with the customer, thanking them and confirming the interaction.
  • Follow up with a customer feedback survey to ensure that the customer’s expectations were met.

The result is often a seamless interaction that appropriately sets and meets customer expectations. Even better, the enhanced customer experience reduces inbound call volume, resulting in significant cost savings.

Final Thoughts: Proactive customer care is an activity that can benefit every organization, whether public, private, or government. It is a cost-effective way to deliver personalized, targeted, and timely communications to customers who have opted to receive them. The challenge for organizations is to use this channel effectively, which is why it’s essential to build an enterprise PCC strategy instead of issuing “one-off” communications. The best practices in this article provide a great starting point, but we also recommend learning more about PCC from the vendors who specialize in this area.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting and author of The Real-Time Contact Center. Gary Schwartz is an analyst with DMG Consulting.

[From the June/July 2011 issue of AnswerStat magazine]