Improve Customer Loyalty Through Proactive Communications

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"Improving customer loyalty" is the ultimate raison d'etre of the call center. As economic and regulatory pressures continue to squeeze the 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 extinguish the fires of dissatisfaction. 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 dissatisfied.


As call centers become more engrained in strategic initiatives, they require innovative thinking and models that leverage proactive customer outreach programs that are cost-effective and efficient, mitigating customer service issues before they arise. Customer notification services can be ideal for companies looking to deliver customer-welcome calls, payment reminders, new service/upgrade information and other personalized and value-added touches.


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


The interaction begins. When a customer buys goods or services, the customer begins an ongoing business relationship with the enterprise. Good businesses recognize that the potential for profitability lies in how they maintain and strengthen the customer relationship over time.


Customers generally place value on the quality and speed of interactions, so the quicker and easier the enterprise can make it for customers, the more likely they will remain loyal.


At almost every phase of the customer lifecycle, a company can distinguish itself from the competition with customer care that anticipates needs and streamlines delivery of that information, making each interaction quick and resourceful. Though many companies understand the need to personalize and streamline interactions, a lag remains between knowledge of the situation and implementation of the practice.


A main hurdle 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 dialogue. Often, these calls are of the routine and repetitive variety, focusing on items such as account balances or shipping times.


The inability to pre-empt inbound inquiries can hurt customer satisfaction. The more times a customer has to call to resolve a problem or obtain information, the more likely he is to grow frustrated or dissatisfied with the business, jeopardizing the relationship. As many wireless, credit card and ISP companies have learned in the past few years, increased customer frustration leads to churn.


Given the economic and competitive pressures most businesses face combined with the mounting choices consumers have, preventing customer churn has become a mantra readily embraced across all industries.


More companies are seeking solutions that let them communicate with the customer effectively while reducing the number of inbound calls a contact center receives. Companies no longer can wait for the customer to initiate the dialogue regarding products and services.


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


Know your audience. The first step in proactive communications is to develop an understanding and knowledge base about the target audience. Customer preferences should drive all proactive communications campaigns. As illustrated by the tremendous support and advocacy of the national no-call list, consumers do not want to be bothered by outbound calls of limited value.


Customers need to feel they are in control of how they are communicated to, deciding when, where, how and how often they are contacted. Proactive customer care means providing customers with options that let them control the means of communications and can be achieved by letting customers opt in to such services.


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


Tailoring information delivery. Determining how and when to contact a customer is paramount in a good proactive communications program. Proactive customer programs need to be tailored 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 a growing choice of communications platforms. Along with traditional modes like phone and fax, the proliferation of communications devices such as e-mail, wireless and SMS have created new ways for customers to glean relevant business information. It also provides businesses with the chance to further personalize their interactions.


Proactively pushing the information to customers 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 customers what they want. Proactive communication gives customers control options, varying from how they want to be communicated to, to when they want it; it also means that they have a chance to complete transactions rather than just receive information.


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


· Telecommunications companies can notify customers if they are reaching usage thresholds by offering alternative minutes plans, 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 update borrowers on loan status and integrate with fraud detection systems to alert customers when suspicious activity occurs.


· Insurers can accelerate the claims settlement process by notifying customers on settlement status, inform them of policy and rate changes; or make them aware of missing paperwork.


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


A side benefit -- reducing labor costs and increasing service level. Proactively pushing information such as account balances and expected ship dates to customers alleviates the flood of routine calls that often cripples productivity. As a result, call centers can dedicate more time to the critical problem calls, inbound inquiries that need to be attended to due to threat of client loss.


The call center units of the enterprise are transforming. While federal regulations such as the no-call list have hampered the marketing practices of the call center, increased competitive pressures have forced customer-care business units to re-examine their business practices to reduce customer churn.


Enterprises increasingly need to recognize that the path to profitability often lies in maintaining and strengthening the business relationships with customers. Customers value the quality and speed of interactions, so when these standards are not met, frustration results, a step toward losing that customer's business.


As businesses in industries such as the credit card and wireless markets continue to see their products and services become commoditized, a key 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. Proactive communications can go a long way toward "getting to happy."


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