The deeper your legacy roots, the stronger your association will be between customer service and how well your contact center agents handle incoming calls. Provide a good IVR experience; deliver short queue times; give agents customer history and context when they answer the call. That methodology has provided great service for a long time, and still does in mature markets where customer behavior remains consistent and the barriers to entry for competitors remain high.

But as Dylan said, “the times they are a-changin’.” Today, you face tough customer service challenges. Competition is relentless, switching costs are low, and most important of all, customer expectations are much higher. Traditional models of providing customer service can still be effective, but do not address the full spectrum of what is known as the customer “journey”. Most verticals now define customer service in terms of a distinct lifecycle of “touch points” where customers engage with a company, and market leaders must understand not only how to manage every one of them, but how to manage the connections between them.

Imagine this scenario. A customer calls to make a reservation, perhaps for a hotel stay, or for a flight, or for any personal service. While on the phone, your agent asks if the customer has access to your website and, if so, walks them through the reservation process online. The next time that customer needs service, they will naturally choose the faster, easier method. Then, 48 hours before the scheduled time, the customer gets an SMS text, an appointment reminder on their mobile device. Ah, but they can’t make it, so they choose a callback option which promises a personal call within five minutes. On that promised call, the reservation is changed to a later time. And after the appointment, the customer receives a survey via email or text, which they fill out on their positive experience. And since it’s positive, they are automatically asked to “like” the company on a social media site.

There are six different touch points here, using five different interaction methods. But it’s all part of the same unified customer experience. It ties together; it’s omnichannel. But it’s not all you can do.

Our scenario started with the customer contacting you. But many customers don’t call until they have a problem. Just because you never hear from a customer doesn’t mean they’re happy or loyal, and that’s where there is an opportunity to really make a difference. Be proactive.

Proactive service is about anticipating situations that might trigger a problem, and addressing them before they become a problem. Even basic CRM data can be leveraged to drive proactive customer outreach. Did a customer issue change status? Let them know. Is there a new product or service available that aligns with their interests? Reach out and tell them.

Every vertical sector will have distinct events such as alerts, notifications, renewals, upgrades, reminders, etc. All of these are opportunities to contact customers in ways that will benefit them and make them feel valued. Of course, you need to be careful not to be self-promotional – unless customers request that – but when done for the right reasons, this speaks to an important aspect of the customer journey.

Contact center implications

Depending on how much proactive outreach you want to do, your current corps of agents may be sufficient. However, you may also want a dedicated team for outbound contact, especially since their performance drivers will differ from agents handling inbound inquiries. There are also important technology implications. Proactive customer service can be effective using the traditional telephony-centric model, but that alone won’t make it a differentiator.

Keeping in mind that the objective here is to make the customer feel valued, you’ll have more success by communicating via their interaction method of choice. Once these preferences have been determined and integrated with CRM, your systems and your agents will always know the best way to reach out to specific customers. Ideally, you will know the best times as well, making it more likely the customer will be receptive to your outreach. Think about your experiences with unwanted telemarketing pitches, and then think about how welcoming the experience would be if it was of genuine interest – and even benefit – to you.

The message is important, but so is the medium. When a welcome message is communicated via the mode you most prefer, the experience does not feel intrusive, and your relationship with the company suddenly feels a lot more personal. Customers value personalization, and this is where today’s technology plays such a key role by enabling contact centers to deliver that via omnichannel communication. Part of being proactive is knowing what the customer wants, and when automation and agents can seamlessly choose among the various modes – voice, IM, video, text – and even mix them, they will ease the customer’s journey in ways that no inbound-only call center could never achieve.