It can be cheaper to reach out to customers rather than have them contact you!
A few years ago, it was expensive to contact a customer because you could either phone them, email them or send a letter. These mechanisms were either slow, expensive or couldn’t be guaranteed to reach the customer. As a result, physical mail was probably the most common form of outward contact for things that didn’t need to be immediate like bills and statements. Now the world has changed, and the acceptance, speed and low cost of messaging and email have unlocked the potential of pre-emptive contact.
Organizations today can use a range of inexpensive “outward” mechanisms such as texts, social media messages, notifications and email. These mechanisms mean that organizations can change from a reactive “inbound” contact model to one of proactive “outward” contact. Now companies can use “pre-emptive” strategies to keep customers informed, prompt customers to action and manage customers' expectations when things go wrong.
Pre-emptive strategies can be used to make customers feel better about bad situations and reduce their impact. Things do go wrong, and in a climate impacted world, these events will be more frequent and need more management. For example, a utility texting customers about a current outage helps customers because it:
a) Shows that the business is aware of the problem and prevents inbound calls
b) Sets expectations on the extent of the inconvenience and restoration time
c) Helps the customer plan around the problem
d) Frees up internal resources to work on the problem, rather than call handling
Pre-emptive strategies are a win-win because they prevent costly inbound contact and put the customer in control. However, the plethora of spam and fraud attempts is already moving some countries to regulate these mechanisms. Therefore, it is important to use them wisely and in ways that help customers. Badly targeted texts. messages and campaigns lose companies credibility and make these mechanisms ineffective. For example, one super fund sent their customers a badly worded message with a poorly explained call to action. Over 70% of message recipients called the contact centre seeking an explanation thereby flooding the operation with work that blew out wait times.
Let’s explore the scenarios where pre-emptive strategies apply and then some key techniques to make them work.
When and where can we be Pre-emptive?
We have identified seven scenarios where pre-emptive contact help:
Customer expectations need to be managed, particularly when an agreed timetable or expectations can't be met, for example a delayed delivery.
Events or issues that impact the customer that are not known to all customers, such as software bugs or network outages.
Long-running processes with variable timetables that customers want to track or understand, such as insurance claims or job applications.
Customers need reminding of future events like appointments.
Customers could make mistakes such as warnings of car speeds or insurance plans about to expire.
Customer actions could put them to an advantage such as early health interventions.
Customers may be out of date on how the business operates (new hours, new terms and conditions, and new offers).
Organizations of any size can do this. Many small health practices like Dentists and Physios send booking reminders to patients. That is another win-win. Customers get a timely reminder, and the practice gets notified if there are schedule gaps to fill. Ironically, when businesses get behind with work they often stop communicating, when the opposite is needed. For example, if an area falls into backlog and processing times are delayed, it’s far better to tell customers proactively than take all those “where is my X?” calls.
Select best pre-emptive actions
The great thing about some of these mechanisms is that they cannot only inform the customer, but also get information back. The dentist and physio reminder is an example of a simple “Yes or No” response. Other messages can be used to offer choices or capture missing information. For example, an airline can contact frequent flyers to offer them alternatives when delays occur. Another possible pre-emptive mechanism might prompt a conversation because that is what the organization needs. For example, where a customer is on the wrong mobile plan, the business needs to prompt a conversation to discuss alternatives. The best actions also include selecting the right channel or mix of channels. For example, many airlines now provide both text and email warnings of delays.
As companies migrate to dealing with their customers in apps and portals, these can be used in combination with other mechanisms. Customers can be warned via email or text that messages are waiting for them within an app where more sensitive data can be used. This also reduces the risk that messages will be perceived as spam and ignored. However, this needs to be done sparingly or messages will lose their impact. Mobile apps are using the app notifications as a more secure mechanism but it’s a delicate balancing act between expecting customers to log in regularly and notifying them that messages are waiting.
Fine tune techniques
The other characteristic of Pre-emptive actions is that companies can fine tune these techniques. They can trial these mechanisms with small groups of customers and refine things like timing, wording and channel. They can “usability” test messages and formats with customers to refine wording. In a world full of fraudsters and spam, companies need wording to prove messages are legitimate. Banks do this by including parts of account numbers, for example, your account ending in XYZ, to make it clear they are genuine but without risking privacy. Some companies are also allowing customers to control how and when they are contacted so that they can customise the information flow.
In this paper, we hope we have explained the power of Pre-emption. It doesn’t fix or eliminate problems but it’s a great way to manage them, prevent unwanted contact and help customers. It’s explained in “The Frictionless Organization” with far more detail than we could include here. If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03 9499 3550 or 0438 652 396.