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If sales, marketing and customer service were siblings, sales would typically be perceived as the outgoing one; marketing as the favorite that gets the biggest allowance, and customer service as the child that stays in his or her room most of the time doing homework, never really asking for much attention. If you’re old enough to have watched The Brady Bunch, sales equals Cindy; marketing equals Marcia, Marcia, Marcia and Jan is customer service.

But everyone knows that Jan is really smart. She has things she’d like to say and can hold her own in a conversation, but it just hasn’t been her place to take center stage. After all, Marcia’s the cheerleader and she wins all those trophies….

But I’m here to tell you that Jan (customer service) deserves just as much attention and a bigger voice. A lot of people think so. And as a brand, being more proactive about giving the usually quiet kid the microphone can result in big benefits.

The Talk around Proactive Customer Service

Proactive customer service has been a talking point for many years. In 2012, Forrester Research VP and Principal Analyst Kate Leggett pronounced it one of her Four Ps of Customer Service (painless, personalized, productive, proactive). Fellow Forrester VP and Principal Analyst Art Schoeller also produced a fantastic research note discussing its monetary benefits.

But proactive customer service never really received the attention it deserved until conversations around customer-centricity and customer experience as brand differentiators started to become more amplified.

When the power began shifting from the brand to the customer, especially with the emergence of social and mobile as public-facing customer engagement channels, brands had to begin thinking more about putting customer service out front and giving it a more pronounced, proactive voice.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Now more than ever, it’s time to stop looking at customer service as primarily a cost center (reactive), and start thinking of it as a product and an asset (proactive) that can help generate revenue through increased customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. Consider this:

  • Just a 10% improvement in an enterprise company’s customer experience score can translate into more than $1 billion in increased revenue. – Forrester Research
  • A 5% increase in customer retention can increase profits by 25% to 95%. – Bain & Company
  • Customer expectations for proactive service are continuing to grow. According to a recent Customers 2020 Report, “the customer of 2020 will be more informed and in charge of the experience they receive. They will expect companies to know their individual needs and personalize the experience. Immediate resolution will not be fast enough as customers will expect companies to proactively address their current and future needs.”
  • Consumers 18 to 29-years-old are more likely to use a brand’s social media site for customer service interactions (43%) than for marketing (23%). – J.D. Power and Associates Social Media Benchmark Study


Speaking Up and Getting Results

According to the findings of a recent Harris Interactive survey of more than 2,000 consumers, 87% of U.S. adults are receptive to being proactively contacted by an organization or company when it comes to service and support. Of those surveyed, nearly three-quarters (73%) who have had a pleasant surprise or positive experience with proactive communication from a brand report they had positive change in their perception of that organization; 62% said they took action as a result of that positive experience.

The utilities industry is a terrific example where proactive customer service and engagement is making a big difference. Many major providers are now using all available channels including IVR, social, mobile and their websites to let customers know of outages, service issues and other proactive communications. And the results from J.D. Power’s 2014 customer satisfaction study speak for themselves, with satisfaction rating increases for 79 of 93 providers due to this proactive communication.

Giving Customer Service a Voice

Through more connected CRM solutions, proactive communication across multiple channels is getting easier. Brands can now in real-time promote proactive customer service information and updates on their website, social media properties, via email, mobile and IVR messaging.

Beyond that, customer service doesn’t have to be a one-way conversation. More and more companies are giving customer service an equal voice with marketing to respond to customer questions, concerns and feedback. And customers are rewarding this effort. For example, a Bain & Company survey shows that customers end up spending 20% to 40% more with companies who engage and respond to social media customer service requests.

Notes Kate Leggett in Navigate the Future of Customer Service in 2014, “In the age of the customer, executives don’t decide how customer-centric their companies are — customers do.” Inform customers. Empower staff. Encourage customer service engagement and feedback. Give the typically quiet kid the microphone. Make sure customer service has an active voice as part of your brand.

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