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The Small Businesses Imperative for Proactive Customer Service

by Mark Ungerman

Revenue and cashflow are the lifeblood of a small business. It is no surprise that one of the highest priorities for a small business is to find and keep customers. Why? There is a direct correlation between customer satisfaction and top-line revenue and bottom-line profit. Consider the following:

  • Satisfied customers are more likely to make repeat purchases, refer friends and family, and require fewer resources to service.

  • Satisfied customers are less likely to defect meaning customer acquisition costs are lower and upsell opportunities are greater.

In short, customers do business with people they trust. If you want your small business to thrive, you must build trust and loyalty.

Utilizing proactive customer service as a growth strategy is even more imperative when you consider its effect during fluctuating business cycles. When the economy is growing, good customer service acts as a growth accelerator. Conversely, when the economy is stagnant, good customer service improves a firm’s ability to weather a downturn. A firm may not be growing, but it may survive off the customer base it has created.

Therefore, to earn the benefits that only satisfied customers can deliver, a small business must understand its customers and create the kinds of satisfying experiences that will keep them engaged. An effective contact center is essential to these objectives.

The contact center is the designated interface between a business and its customers. It is used to create sales conversations, deliver post-sale service and support and serves as a listening post to alert of changing consumer preferences and trends.

Proactive customer service vs sales The idea that a small business can thrive by taking care of its customers is very intuitive. Yet too often business leaders continue to prioritize sales and marketing over customer care. It’s easy to measure revenue. It is more difficult to understand what effect a customer referral had or whether a satisfied customer really does purchase more. Difficult, but not impossible. This article will give you more insight on a concept called customer lifetime value and how to calculate the value a customer brings to your small business. There is also interesting research showing that delivering great customer service is more important to consumers than product or pricing.

The key takeaway is not that sales is more important than customer care or customer care is more important than sales. They are two sides of the same coin. Customer service accelerates sales success.

How to deliver exceptional proactive customer service Achieving good customer service is predicated upon three criteria:

  1. How effective was the service the customer received?

  2. How easy was it for the customer to receive service?

  3. How did the customer about the services received?

Not surprising, many contact center KPIs are designed to measure these criteria. More on this later. First, let us look more closely at these three criteria.

Effectiveness This measure determines whether a customer can have their issue satisfactorily resolved during the first attempt. It stands to reason that multiple, ineffective attempts inevitably lead to customer frustration and dissatisfaction. First contact resolution (FCR) and quality evaluations (QE) scores are good predictors of contact center effectiveness.

The job of delivering effective customer service rests with you contact center agents and they need all the help they can receive. Working in a contact center is stressful. The work is highly repetitive, and agents are often asked to resolve problems they have not been adequately trained to handle. For these reasons, agent morale is often low, and attrition is high. Yet your call center is the front-line between you and your customers. Under these conditions, it is difficult to see how your business can offer its first, best, impression to your customers. Therefore, to deliver exceptional customer service, you first need to empower your agents. Empowered agents deliver effective customer service.

Outdated call centers make it more difficult for agents to deliver effective customer. Consider the following common problems:

  1. Complexity. The enemy of good service is complexity and the lack of contact center integration drives complexity. Agents need to be focused on resolving customer concerns and not trying to navigate multiple systems. What agents need is to have easy access to contact center tools, customer CRM data and other core business systems – all under a single workspace.

  2. Reporting. If managers cannot see the big picture, then they cannot make needed improvements. Older systems may not capture and publish critical metrics let along combine data from other disparate systems into basic reports. What managers want is to have a standard library of reports (that they do not have to build) that can give them and end-to-end view for how well their contact center is performing.

  3. Training. Most call centers do a good job onboarding new agents. However, what is missing is understanding how well agents are executing and where they need subsequent coaching. Call monitoring helps. But limited sampling creates limited insights. What managers need is a way to automate the monitoring and sampling of all interactions and powerful analytics to identify where objectives are not being met, or sources of customer frustration, and the creation and delivery of training updates.

Ease of use This measure helps determine how easy it is for a customer to get help. The satisfaction received from effective service can be tarnished if the experience was difficult or unpleasant. Basic contact handling KPIs are a good starting point for measuring customer ease. These KPIs include average speed of answer (ASA), abandon rate, transfer rate, hold rate, self-service rate, and customer feedback.

But also consider the recent explosion of conveniences driven by changing customer expectations. These include the rise of mobile and social media, smart omnichannel ACD, chat, AI, AI bots, sentiment analytics and more. This trend continues and is accelerating. For proof, think about all the call center advancements made during the past decade. These advancements are far greater than all the advancements made during the previous five decades! This underscores just how quickly a call center can become outdated.

An example of this is something you may have heard of called “digital first contact center”. This is a strategy many contact centers are beginning to adopt. It is a recognition that advances in mobile technology along emerging preferences of younger consumers now require contact centers to pivot and make digital access as pervasive and convenient as voice has been. When call centers become outdated, they become less convenient for customers to use. Consider the following problems.

  1. Inconvenience. Customers are no longer content with 9-to-5, voice-only access, and live-agent support. They want to send a quick email during a spare moment, engage on the go using their smartphones, and to even help themselves when possible.

  2. Aggravation. Customers do not want to wait or get bounced around. They want immediate help from the agent who understands their problem and who can help. Therefore, small businesses should replace their limited PBX ACD with a smart, omnichannel contact center ACD.

  3. Complexity. Contact centers have lots of moving parts which too often do not move in synchronization which ultimately result in customer inconveniences. Therefore, managers need simple, yet effective administration tools to spot and correct problems and to quickly manage people and configurations.

  4. Disruption. Using outdated call center technology creates barriers. Therefore, small businesses need to be able to future-proof their contact center systems.

Emotion Perhaps this is the most important measure because it reflects a customer’s overall satisfaction. There are numerous ways a contact center may deliver easy and effective service yet still leave customers unsatisfied. Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Scores (NPS) are good measures of how satisfied customers are with their customer service interactions.

Customers who report high levels of satisfaction are more likely to remain loyal customers. But how do you know how satisfied customers are if you cannot measure their sentiments? How can you make needed improvements to increase satisfaction without knowing what customers like and dislike about their interactions?

Outdated call centers make it difficult for business leaders to understand customer preferences because they lack basic to advanced feedback and interaction sentiment analytics.

Cost control vs Customer experience Some contact center leaders may prioritize call center cost control savings over superior customer service delivery. This is understandable if the connection between customer satisfaction and customer lifetime value is not well understood. Still, there is anecdotal belief that unhappy customers do consume more time, energy, and resources. These costs alone may offset any savings that may come from deprioritizing proactive customer service. However, the evidence suggests that the benefits derived from satisfied customers outweigh cost-cutting savings. In other words, implementing cost savings at the expense of delivering superior customer service may be a “penny wise, but dollar foolish” strategy.

Summary Customers reward businesses they trust with ongoing patronage. This loyalty can accelerate small business growth. Your contact center is key to building customer loyalty if it can deliver proactive customer service. Customers value proactive customer service that is effective, easy to access and satisfying. The best way to deliver effective, easy, and satisfying customer service is to make sure your contact center fully empowers agents, offers conveniences customers demand and can help you measure and understand customer satisfaction. Your KPI’s, when benchmarked against other top performing contact centers can help you identify areas where your call center could benefit from modernization. To see how, use this free interactive benchmarking tool.

Mark Ungerman Mark has worked in technical product management and marketing for 20+ years. In his current role as Director, Marketing CX for NICE, he is responsible for conducting primary research to understand how business leaders use customer experience solutions to increase profitability through improving productivity and customer lifetime value. Prior to NICE, Mark held influential roles helping technology companies build and bring products to market.

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