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The Art of Customer Communications

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“Improving customer loyalty” has been the call center charter since its inception. But as economic and regulatory pressures continue to squeeze the marketing enterprise, the need to ensure customer satisfaction has made the art of customer communications a tenuous proposition.

Too often, customer service professionals are consumed with efforts to put out fires, spending the majority of their time resolving customer complaints and problems. Few call centers have embraced the idea of proactive customer care—the ability to reach out to customers before they have a chance to become a frustrated and dissatisfied caller.

As call centers become more ingrained in strategic initiatives, they require models that leverage proactive customer outreach programs that are cost effective and efficient and can mitigate customer service issues before they arise.

By proactively making contact at each step in the customer relationship lifecycle, businesses can ensure customer loyalty while diffusing potentially frustrating situations and more effectively allocating agent time and resource.

The Interaction Begins


Good businesses recognize that the potential for profitability lies in how they maintain and strengthen the customer relationship that begins with the initial purchase. Results are generated when the enterprise makes it easy for a customer to do business with it. Because customers generally place significant value on the quality and speed of interactions, the quicker and easier the enterprise can make it for the customer, the more likely it is that the customer will remain loyal.

At almost every phase of the customer lifecycle, the enterprise has the opportunity to distinguish itself from the competition with customer care that anticipates needs and streamlines the delivery of that information, making each interaction quick and resourceful. Although many companies understand the need to personalize and streamline interactions, there is still a lag between knowledge of the situation and actual implementation of the practice.

One of the main hurdles in streamlining the process is that most customer-to-business communication is initiated by the customer. Inbound calls to a call center immediately generate a reactionary feeling, as the customer initiates the dialog. Often, these calls are routine, focusing on items such as account balances or shipping times.

The inability to pre-empt inbound inquiries can have a negative impact on customer satisfaction as well. The more times a customer has to call to resolve a problem or obtain information, the more likely he or she will become frustrated or dissatisfied with the business, jeopardizing the relationship. As many wireless, credit card and ISP companies have learned over the past few years, increased customer frustration leads to churn.

To combat frustration and customer churn, more companies are seeking solutions that will enable them to effectively communicate with the customer while significantly reducing the number of inbound calls a contact center receives. Companies can no longer wait for the customer to initiate the dialogue regarding products and services.

To effectively communicate with the customer and diffuse the potential for negative interactions, companies need to alter traditional businesses practices and become more proactive in customer communication.

Tailoring Information Delivery

The purpose of a proactive campaign is not to bombard customers with outbound communications. Rather, the idea is to provide relevant, insightful information that a customer would find valuable, and ultimately, be willing to pick up the phone to call and find out about.

Determining how and when to contact a customer is paramount to the success of a good proactive communications program. Proactive customer programs need to be tailored to fit to individual customers' preferences. Businesses need to personalize the interactions, delivering the relevant information when, where and how the customer wants.

Technology advances have provided customers with a growing choice of multiple communications platforms. Along with traditional modes of communications, like phone and fax, the proliferation of multiple communications devices such as email, wireless and SMS have created new ways for customers to glean relevant business information. Technology also provides businesses with the opportunity to further personalize their interactions.

Providing multiple avenues for the receipt of information provides new opportunities for proactive customer care. Customers need to be able to tailor the means of communications by having a device preference opt-in. Enabling a customer to tailor the means and time of message delivery puts them in control of proactively receiving the information, making repetitive calls to the call center unnecessary.

Proactively pushing the information to the customer on their terms lessens inbound call volume and deflects the opportunity for frustration to set in, an important step in increasing customer loyalty.

Information You Can Use

Generating customer loyalty usually means giving the customer what they want. Proactive customer communications follows this mantra by giving the customer control options, varying from how they want to be communicated with, to when they want it; it also means that they have an opportunity to complete transactions rather than just receiving information.

Providing customers with the relevant information that they need deflects the potential for inbound calls. Organizations across all industries have the opportunity to provide proactive customer care. For example:

  • Telecommunications companies can notify customer if they are approaching usage thresholds and offer alterative minutes plans; warn them of service disruptions; provide information on account balances and options to pay by credit card or to bridge them to an agent; and welcome new customers and verify plan type and contact information.

  • Financial service organizations can proactively keep borrowers up to date on loan status; notify customers when they are approaching or have exceeded spending limits; and integrate with fraud-detection systems to alert customer when suspicious activity occurs.

  • Utilities can notify customers of overdue account balances, alert critical care facilities of impending outages, and inform customers of rate changes.

Conclusion

The call center is undergoing a transformation. While federal regulations such as the Do-Not-Call List have hampered the marketing practices of the call center, increased competitive pressures have forced the customer care business units to reexamine their businesses practices to reduce customer churn.

As businesses in industries such as the credit card and wireless markets continue to see their products and services become commoditized, the mitigating factor in achieving profitably is increasingly becoming customer service.

A happy customer is a loyal customer, and a loyal customer tends to be a profitable customer.


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Ben Levitan is CEO of EnvoyWorldWide (envoyworldwide.com).

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