Just twenty years ago it would have been practically impossible for, say, a utility company to contact all affected customers about upcoming maintenance; for a bank to warn every customer about to go overdrawn; or for a retail brand to directly target an offer to customers within a certain radius of its shop.
Today, using digital and mobile technology they can do all these things almost instantly, and at very little cost.
Organisations that are proactive about customer engagement not only save money, they also have significantly better brand perception. According to a recent Forrester survey, 87% of adults questioned are happy when brands initiate conversations regarding customer service issues. 73% of those who have been contacted proactively reported a positive experience on a customer service call which left a positive change in perception towards the brand.
Why is proactive messaging crucial for outsourcers?
From an outsourcing provider’s perspective, what’s good for clients’ customers is good for clients.
Clients now routinely expect service provider outsourcers – such as contact centre operators – to innovate and constantly improve the functions they manage. Many outsourcing contracts have this built into the remuneration package.
With the full suite of digital tools at their disposal, outsourcers have the means to deliver exceptional customer experiences while keeping an eye on costs. Companies that use digital channels to build new customer experiences have four key advantages.
1. Personalise messages, products, services, even prices in real-time based on data – customer history, lifetime value, lifecycle stage, location – enhanced by analytics and modelling.
2. Proactively engage customers to pre-empt customer service issues and create up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
3. Automate – or at least make as efficient as possible – interactions, transactions and entire processes both from the customer’s side and in the company’s back office or supply chain using chatbots and other AI applications.
4. Communicate over digital channels at the customer’s demand and ensure consistency and fluidity of customer experience across multiple channels (omnichannel).
Investing in proactive messaging over digital channels can therefore help with the achievement of critical customer experience goals, such as:
• Delighting customers by enabling them to get things done quickly, and keep things moving, as this improves conversion rates, satisfaction and efficiency.
• Reducing the number of steps in each customer journey, as each contact and each business process called upon adds inefficiency and cost.
• Reducing the number of human-assisted steps in each journey (unless this conflicts with brand values), as these are more costly than self-service.
Intervening at just the right time in customer journeys, or to pre-empt customer queries or complaints, not only impresses customers and saves them time, but can also save the company an unnecessary inbound contact, or make a future contact run more efficiently. These are exactly the benefits outsourcing clients are looking for from modern service providers.
Use cases for proactive messaging
Above all, customers want the companies they deal with to make their lives easier. According to the CCIQ Customer Engagement Report 2016, speed to resolution is one of the most important customer experience traits, as are knowledge, accuracy, the amount of customer effort, and first-time resolution.
Proactive messaging scores highly on all these counts. Ideally, it means solving the customer’s problem before they were even aware they had one – which we might call “zeroth” contact resolution.
As a cloud provider of digital channels, including SMS, mobile messaging, and chat, we are already helping some large enterprises use proactive messaging in innovative ways. Mobile messaging, as part of an integrated, omnichannel contact strategy, can help reduce costs whilst improving productivity. For example, the average SMS chat is up to 75% cheaper than the equivalent voice call. Which means two-way SMS is the perfect channel for low-value customer enquiries which no longer need to take up valuable agent call time.
Here are some examples of how proactive messaging has produced results in different sectors:
• Banking: A high street bank now achieves 50% better first contact response rate for collections calls simply by sending an SMS to the customer beforehand to schedule the call. Another has reduced incidences of fraud by sending text messages to customers when a potentially fraudulent transaction has been detected. By responding with a simple Y or N, customers can approve payments or tell the bank which transactions to investigate.
• Insurance: A large insurance company sends SMS updates to customers about the progress of claims, saving itself the cost of thousands of outbound and inbound calls chasing up paperwork. When this costs 60p a minute to serve customers, that’s quite a saving.
• Utilities: A tier 1 water company is extensively incorporating proactive messaging via SMS, social media and chat to provide notice of bills, service interruptions, and other issues impacting the customer experience. This has resulted in significant cost savings, and the company has risen into the top 5 water companies for customer service.
Achieving a single view of the customer – shared with the outsourcer
An organisation really only needs two things to do proactive messaging: a trigger system which decides when to send messages (i.e. a workflow design and management tool), and a platform able to send those messages out via multiple channels and process responses (i.e. a digital, omnichannel messaging platform). But beneath those two seemingly simple requirements lurk a host of operational and technical challenges for both client and outsourcer.
The first is that old bugbear, the single view of the customer. Today 61% of companies still say their technology does not support it, which means they cannot see what customers are doing across channels in real-time. The Global Contact Centre Benchmarking report shows that only 36.4% of companies say they are able to track a customer journey across multiple channels today, and just 17.4% can locate problem hot spots that impact the customer experience. It’s difficult to warn customers about service issues when you can’t get the full picture yourself.
Too many companies still hold customer data in separate systems and databases depending on how a customer makes contact with the company, which products or services they own, and the purpose of their contact. What’s needed to deliver a truly proactive customer experience is what the Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report calls a master dataset, or ‘single source of truth’. This master database would be available to any agent (or automated system) using any channel, and would include all customer data, all product information, all business process workflows that guide agents through interaction types, and all knowledge bases.
The challenges here are not only to do with the technical integration of systems and databases, and then making these available to all customer-facing channels. There are also issues impacting the wider business. From a cultural point of view, companies need to get used to sharing data between different departments and functions – including possibly with outsourcers. When a company does have the necessary level of integration and insight, its outsourcing provider may not – for security, privacy, or technical reasons. If that is the case these issues need to be overcome, otherwise the outsourcer is effectively trying to perform with one hand tied behind its back.
Only with a single view of customer can the company easily understand its customer experience issues and so create the right ‘triggers’ for proactive messages.
Finding the right platform
On the technical side, a sophisticated digital platform is required to orchestrate the delivery of proactive messages across multiple channels. The platform should be able to cope with the proliferation of new messaging channels, and even automatically add them rather than you have to sign up for each one and integrate new APIs yourselves.
To date, there is no single fully integrated solution that can provide a contact centre with everything it needs in one package: CTI, infrastructure, telecoms, routing, CRM, agent desktop, knowledge base, quality management – and integration with the new digital and mobile channels.
But for most companies that is not what they’re looking for – many have legacy systems that would be prohibitively difficult and expensive to rip out and replace. Instead, the majority of businesses need a conductor of the orchestra; a layer that can unify the contact centre’s existing siloed software, systems and processes with a truly omnichannel customer experience.
Such a digital messaging platform should:
• Be enterprise-grade
• Come with pre-agreed SLAs
• Demonstrate above industry uptime
• Offer multi-channel routing capabilities
• Provide easy integration with all the most popular messaging services.
While it’s not easy to buy such a platform to just bolt on to the existing contact centre infrastructure or CRM ecosystem, best-of-breed messaging providers build platforms that can easily and quickly integrate with existing internal systems via APIs. Our IMIchat multi-channel messaging app for contact centres, powered by our IMIconnect platform, is one of these.
For outsourcing providers, the great benefit is that it doesn’t matter how much of the existing contact centre and CRM infrastructure they own and manage for any given client. Even if almost everything is client-side they can, with light touch API integrations, sit a best-of-breed digital messaging platform on top of it and offer proactive messaging as an additional, fully integrated service.
This blog first appeared in http://www.professionaloutsourcingmagazine.net