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How to avoid bad things happening?
by Peter Panagopoulos, Chief Customer Officer, Inc.

There are two sides to customer care – Reactive and Proactive. Both are needed today yet they differ quite significantly in requirements and challenges.

Reactive customer care involves a customer calling in, or logging on, or going to a chatbot, but Proactive customer care relies on a machine reaching out to customers via what is believed to be their channel of choice to see if those customers can be helped with needs that they are believed to have.

One of the principle differences between Reactive and Proactive customer care, therefore, is to do with the care and attention that must be applied. In Reactive customer care, if things go poorly, you can only disappoint customers one at a time, and only for a limited period: if the customer isn’t enjoying the experience, they can close the chat, log off or hang up.

In Proactive customer care, however, unless you have extremely capable technology that has been specifically designed over many years to avoid over-communication or inaccurate communication, you are likely to disappoint many customers all at once, and to keep on disappointing those customers for as long as it takes until they complain, that complaint makes its way through the layers of management to the vendor, and the problem is fixed.

I have one such complaint!! As a regular business traveler, I look to find ways to minimize the time I spend at the airports (they can be quite challenging especially around each gate) yet I also need to guarantee that I make it to my destination on time week in and week out. As a frequent flyer, I take advantage of all the amenities at my disposal and find the tranquility of the business lounge of my preferred airline quite comforting and efficient. Get early to the lounge, have my morning coffee, run my morning calls, get to the gate and off I go. That is (well “was” amid Covid) the process.

When I started receiving messages (and I do mean 1-way, where if you respond even with a simple “Thank you” there is silence on the other end and God forbid you ask a question on that channel) that my gate was boarding, I was ecstatic and somewhat impressed. That simple proactive SMS told me that my airline was mindful of my time and gave me the assistance to wait it out in the comforts of the lounge until it was my turn to head to the gate. Any delay was suddenly irrelevant - the “your gate is boarding” SMS would alert me, and I would head to my gate and get on my plane.

For the next couple of months, I depended on that SMS and I enjoyed it (I really did!) until one morning, same routine different outcome. I waited for the SMS for 30 min past my scheduled departure time and finally packed my things and went to the gate only to find out that my flight had departed. I frantically called in (struggled to find the number of course, vented to the agent about my experience in which they had no idea what I was talking about) and rebooked my flight. From that moment onwards, I (and probably thousands of business travelers that depend on proactive SMS to help them manage their business travel) have lost all confidence in the communications (boarding or otherwise) that I receive from that airline. A bit of my trust has been lost (and let’s not forget the unplanned yet avoidable additional cost to the airline)!!

ContactEngine’s success in proactive conversational journeys has been built on the backs of a decade of design and experience applied to miscommunication. It is this decade of design that has been led by never-missed weekly meetings where the design team consider the following question: “how to avoid bad things happening?”.

A significant proportion of the ContactEngine product development is focused, not on new features and functionality, but on ensuring those features and functionality can be deployed safely and securely within proactive customer engagement.

For one client, in the three years ContactEngine has been deployed and the 20 million customer journeys that have been completed (~100 million conversations that always listen and strive to help customers) there has only been one (1) customer escalation to a human agent due to over or mis-communication that occurred via ContactEngine. The escalation was the result of a minor error in a secondary data feed: an appointment got stuck in a reschedule loop in a back-end system, with ContactEngine receiving 131 requests to reschedule the customer’s appointment to different dates. Fortunately, one of the ContactEngine communication protections caught the problem before it got too bad – but even so, the customer, Victoria, had her appointment moved backwards and forwards 10 times.

Gartner have indicated 'proactive outbound' communications as the #1 way to deliver both productivity savings and improved customer experience (CX)[1]: but without the right vendor that has spent years putting in place a product with the appropriate guardrails for successful proactive conversational journey  deployments, the anticipated benefits can get derailed (or even lost) quickly for thousands - to even millions - of customers and, of course, the business. You can all imagine the ensuing chaos!

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[1] https://www.gartner.com/en/webinars/3982362/virtual-briefing-identify-and-prioritize-the-most-effective-self

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