In my opinion: retailers of the future need to be more proactive with customers, says VoiceSage

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VoiceSage’s Steve Robertson says recent analyst insights echo the breakthroughs of his own firm’s retail customers in an important aspect of customer outreach

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Robertson: proactive engagement is key

For Forrester Research, proactive engagement is the way the whole Customer Experience (CX) movement is going to pan out.

And based on what we see our customers doing, we agree.

According to Forrester, customers driving engagement with brands will increase, with the brands set to win most being those able to pre-empt customer requirements through active insights and data.

“Proactive engagements anticipate the what, when, where, and how for customers, and prioritise information and functionality to speed customer time-to-completion,” says the report. “For example, customer journeys can be monitored and insights can be used to proactively trigger an outreach via, for example, an invitation to chat or co-browse, or an offer or coupon, or a multimedia tutorial, at the right time when assistance is required.

The analysts echo other leading CX commentators when they say organisations should start to explore proactive customer engagement for proactive pre-purchase engagements. Even smarter ones will explore more sophisticated uses of proactive engagement, such as connecting the best company resources to the customer at the right moment of opportunity, and then seek to use learnings from these proactive engagements to improve their operational performance and to predict future customer behaviour, such as prediction of future purchases or likelihood of attrition.

That translates as you need to use and act on information now in order to speed up customer time-to-completion. And this is what we are starting to see from internal CX leaders and contact centres.

Now we are able to capture so much data, we have many more metrics to measure progress by. For example, we can now predict when a consumer is most responsive to a text or voice message. That means whatever you do is visible, accountable, and has to help the bottom line, and you need to be slick in terms of managing call volumes and keep inbound activity to a minimum. As a result, you can’t afford to be waiting for them to come to you; as Forrester says, “Outbound notifications deflect inbound calls, which reduces costs and boosts consumer satisfaction and revenue.”

Proactive is about triggering the response you want

The way you build your customer engagement has to be using a proactive/pre-emptive approach in the ways experts like the authors of this study advise – remodelling the customer experience via technology as a way to increase satisfaction and dramatically reduce costs.

A good course of action would be to monitor customer journeys and how insights can be used to proactively trigger an outreach – in the same way our customers do with our SMS, interactive voice messaging and visual touch solutions. And a great place to start is using proactive outbound communications that notify customers of key relevant events, such as delivery schedule changes, in-store or online promotions, or the availability of their latest bills.

Let’s consider a real-world example. BrightHouse, the UK’s leading rent-to-own retailer, has recently introduced a proactive mobile-delivered text and payment solution based on our tech, Visual Pay. As a result, making a payment couldn’t be simpler; customers fill in their debit card details on their mobile, allowing them to pay at a time convenient for them, and in a wholly secure way.

The solution has won the backing of their customers in a big way – within eight weeks of deployment, no less than one in four in the BrightHouse target group for the service had signed up to mobile payments. “That shift exceeded our expectations,” says Alasdair Skeoch, its head of credit operations, who says ease of use is consistently cited as the biggest single attraction of the new solution. After six months, that uptake went to 65%, by the way.

“Visual Pay is definitely making it easier for customers to engage with us, resulting in increased on-time payments and reduced cost,” Skeoch recently told me. “But ultimately, this is about keeping our customers happy.” Interestingly, he adds that, “There is always a chance with doing something different and new that customers may not warm to it, but in this instance, that didn’t happen – ‘easy way to pay’ and ‘simple’ were consistent customer reactions.”

Here’s another example of a useful proactive engagement – Home Retail Group, a leading UK home and general merchandise retailer whose brands include Argos, Homebase and Habitat. Using proactive SME-delivered alerts, Home Retail Group was able to quickly alert customers about unforeseen delivery delays due to heavy snow – and by contacting customers, at a stroke they reduced expensive and resource heavy inbound call volume. According to Mark Fox, real-time manager for its contact centres, “The huge benefit is that we can proactively contact customers en masse without impacting the front line.”

CX has to be about useful omni-channel interaction

The real takeaway is that these use cases show how proactive customer engagement is nothing but a CX slogan if it’s not about useful interaction. The best interactions build from what we call conversations, threading inbound SMS responses with outbound replies from the agent, seeing how conversations are flowing and determining how best to prompt customers to next steps – whether via text, phone or email. As Forrester says, “Companies must integrate outbound communication technology into the contact centre to support scenarios where customers want to connect to an agent after receiving a message”.

Finally, some real motivation to go the next step with CX and embrace proactive: Forrester says there’s real evidence that a 10% improvement in a company’s customer experience score can translate into huge uptick in revenue. And who is going to say no to that?

Proactive really is what the future looks like for the switched-on digital retailer.

The author is marketing and sales director at VoiceSage (www.voicesage.com), a leader in customer contact technology

(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)