Back in the last century, I remember standing, freezing, late at night at Crewe Railway Station waiting for a train, having no idea if it was coming, if it was going to be late, if it was going to come at all, and wondering how I was going to sleep on the platform. It was a very unpleasant experience. And it was similar for every train journey.
Since then, Passenger Information Systems now allow you to see much more information, and in most cases to make informed decisions about alternative options, booking a hotel room in a timely way, or whatever, but the very presence of the live information is comforting and the experience has improved.
The same principle was realised in the parcel logistics sector, and in the ‘70s Federal Express realised the value of their internal tracking number systems to the customer. Fred Smith, Federal Express (now FedEx) said “The information about the package is as important as the package itself." The impact on customer experience was so strong that this information was made available to customers. It became a key differentiation in parcel services and now all companies make online information available in multiple channels.
Despite becoming table stakes for this and other industries, I can well imagine the angst of many in these businesses as they resisted this transparency citing "but the customers will be able to see how broken our processes are and how poor our performance is!" However, despite concerns, these systems were made available. The fact was that customers already knew how bad processes and performance were and frustrations were amplified with opacity around ETAs and delivery failures.
Proactively providing transparency that enhances customer experience is well proven over time and across so many services.
Coming up to date, I moved into a house in the US for a temporary assignment with my company on April 1st which was "interesting" as it was right at the start of the COVID-19 situation. Even though we were initially sleeping on air mattresses, clearly broadband was a basic human right for me and my family in order for work and home life to function at all. Luckily, I was able to have Verizon deliver broadband on our move-in date.
As the installation date came closer, Verizon reached out to me using my preferred channels (in this case a combination of their App and SMS) with clear information on when the installation was to happen, who would be coming, and all of that useful information. But adding real value above that transparency, they proactively told me about their COVID-19 policies and asked me what would work for my personal situation. I was able, if I wanted to on these channels, to say I was in lockdown or self-isolating and Verizon intelligently provided additional information and options such as rescheduling if needed. A proactive conversation that was comforting because, like myself, I am sure a lot of customers were concerned about how COVID-19 could impact their installations. It must reassure their customers that Verizon was giving information and options specific to their situation, without having to search for and read long and complex FAQs etc.
A useful Gartner public article Coronavirus Impact on Service Delivery Continuity, Employees and Customers reflects this best practice where they recommend to:
- Proactively notify customers of any status or policy changes caused by COVID-19 by utilizing inbound and outbound channels such as SMS, IVR and phone.
- Create a centralized COVID-19 customer information resource center to house anticipated customer questions and identify known changes to process or service so agents can provide consistent and transparent responses. Communicate these responses both proactively and reactively using outbound messaging, IVR, your website, bots and agents.
- Implement proactive methods of customer engagement that can be used in emergency events.
Reactive needs to be there but proactive is always better.