It may seem pretty obvious, but if you want to stay relevant to your customers, it’s best to move from a reactive to a proactive customer experience or at least make it a both-and story. In order to be proactive, it is important to have a relationship with your customers that transcends the purely transactional. In certain cases, you can't do anything other than act reactively, but how can we turn a customer experience into something more proactive? Sometimes it helps to name the possible stumbling blocks – the smaller or larger elephants in the room, so to speak – and then work on them in a different way.
A prerequisite to making the move is to be customer-centric, putting the customer at the heart of everything you do. Nevertheless, Bain & Company’s research shows that while 80% of companies believe they are customer-centric, only 8% of their customers actually confirm this. These figures have been around for several years, but have recently been confirmed in a new benchmark survey from SuperOffice based on 1000 respondents worldwide, a mix of both small and large organizations. The study also shows a number of trends when it comes to customer service:
These are some surprising figures that demonstrate a considerable gap between assumption and reality. Thus, a reality check is more than worthwhile – knowing that customer service is, of course, only part of the story.
If you want to approach your customers more proactively, you need to know who they are, what they feel, and how they experience your company’s products and services. You do so by actively listening to their opinions and feedback, preferably without any judgment. One way to capture customer feedback is through a customer satisfaction survey, such as the Net Promotor Score (NPS).
However, the first law of NPS is often ignored: it isn’t about the numbers, it’s about the insights they provide.
[Geoff Colvin, Fortune Magazine]
The useful reality check is not in the number, but in the insights. You don’t measure to measure, but to know what’s happening and why and then take action. Actively monitoring your NPS score is intensive, but it’s an important means of moving from reactive to proactive customer contact.
Heineken is a textbook example of a company that measures its NPS throughout the year and actively works on it. It’s right there on their website:
“What do we do with your feedback?
Gain insight into what is important to our customers and discuss it.
Take a critical look at ourselves and our services.
Use the knowledge and insights gained to improve our services in a targeted way.
Making a difference for our customers and delivering the best experience.”
They even provide an overview of concrete solutions that have emerged based on customer feedback.
Unfortunately, this still happens too rarely, and a satisfaction survey is often still used or “downgraded” to see what the current state of affairs is, only to do nothing significant about it. It’s a paradoxical situation because everyone agrees that the real recipe for growth and success ultimately starts with satisfied customers – and, by extension, with satisfied employees.
Maybe it’s about how we challenge ourselves? Revenue, e.g., sales figures, and output, e.g., call volume, are usually at the top of the list. But there are also companies that challenge their employees on customer satisfaction, by measuring the number of successful solutions, for example. At present, however, they are still in the minority. However, it’s not just about sales and turnover anymore, so where can you make a real difference? In customer and employee satisfaction and willingness to embed them in your vision.
The market is constantly changing, as are customers and customers’ expectations, as we can see in their customer journey. By mapping this journey in a canvas, you gain insight into how customers experience a product or service, at what touch points and channels things are going well, and at what moments the experience can best be improved. Then again, not everyone needs a purple broccoli or a white eggplant, so you may not need to use it. It comes down to being relevant and valuable to your customer at the moments that matter and being proactive in doing so.
Just like a customer satisfaction survey, a customer journey canvas helps make things real, outside-in, from the customer’s perspective. In other words, as with satisfaction surveys, the real power here is in regular repetition of the exercise and in follow-up actions: reactive if necessary, proactive if possible. A first mapping is an important milestone, but if there’s no follow-up, such mapping by itself is just an empty gesture.
A proactive customer experience is about connecting the dots throughout the entire organization and the customer journey.
[Jeannie Walters, Customer Experience Speaker]
When it comes to evaluating customer experience, customer service is often looked at. Granted, for many customers, customer service is the face of a company. There is nothing inherently wrong with this service being primarily used reactively. Customer problems are there to be solved, and that’s what a customer service department does.
Nowadays, however, customers expect more. They appreciate it when a company thinks positively with them, understands the trends and proactively identifies problems for them. They then see that the company is one step ahead, above expectations and acting based on their needs and not on a desire to sell.
All too often, however, customer service is seen as a separate or detached part of the organizational structure, and there’s very little two-way communication between the various parts of an organization.
The reality is that management often lacks transparency about the ongoing activities or results of CX initiatives, which can turn these projects into silos. This leads to misaligned activities, waste of already scarce resources and wrong prioritization.
In other words, delivering a positive and proactive customer experience is not the responsibility of one particular service. To achieve the optimal customer journey, you need the entire organization. Only when front-end workers, back-workers, management and non-management come together, do you really deliver moments of truth for the customer.
It has a lot to do with corporate culture. You really need to believe that if your employees are happy and satisfied, your customers will be, too, and the results will undoubtedly follow. Long-term thinking, co-creation and collaboration are important levers in this total experience. The combination of customer and employee experience was – unsurprisingly – one of the hypes of 2022.
There is more than enough technology available to have a perfect 360-degree view of the customer and proactively act with data analytics and AI. But customers are flesh-and-blood people, so give every customer contact or interaction a human and personal touch. Companies like DVV – “Whew, a human” – are explicitly capitalizing on this, through all possible touch points: print, digital, radio and social media. The insurance company Baloise also invests heavily in customers’ human and personal experiences. Their strategy is “Digital where it can be, always human.”
Personalizing is an important part of proactivity, of “outside-in” proactivity: relevant, in the right context, at the right time, and with the right communication. A seamless, consistent transition from technology to people and vice versa is crucial.
“Use automation, but make sure customers can reach a person when they need to. And for their part, automated solutions also need to ‘learn’ from human interactions, so that those experiences also improve.”
Data plays an important role in proactivity and personalizing; the quality of that data is more important than ever. Today, this data is located in a variety of sources, both inside and outside the company. Successful companies collect that data in one place, so that the value of each contact moment can be determined – across the previously mentioned silos, of course. This means data as a source, technology as an enabler, but always with that personal touch.
What are you betting on?
We end at the beginning: proactivity pays off. The above examples provide just a few things to consider – stumbling blocks, or elephants? – on the way to greater proactivity. Do they sound familiar? In the best-case scenario, you have them under control with a plan. Need a sounding board?