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Operations Management

Proactive Do’s And Don’ts

Add value through proactive work. How to get the most out of your efforts.
Jay Minnucci

Jay Minnucci

In many contact centers, proactive contacts seem to function as “filler work”—an activity that gets done when there is some down time (which, of course, there never is). That’s unfortunate, because proactive work is one of the few ways we have to really change the culture and the prevailing attitudes toward contact centers. It’s a way to show the organization that we are more than just an expensive department that reacts to the inquiries delivered by customers and prospects. The proactive work we add—whether it is outbound calling programs, questioning added to inbound calls, or the monitoring of and responding to social media posts—offers a unique way of adding value that helps to distance us from the “cost center” mentality too often attached to contact centers.

Given the casual approach toward the addition of proactive work, it is not surprising to find that, when these projects are implemented, the results are often less than expected. Part of the reason is that proactive work is very fickle—what works well in one contact center may not even be appropriate to try in another. So while there is no real recipe for success, there are some general guidelines to follow to make sure that you are getting the most out of your proactive efforts.

The Do’s of Proactive Contacts

DO KEEP LOOKING FOR PROACTIVE OPPORTUNITIES

For most centers, the possibilities are endless. That doesn’t mean we should start calling our customers on a weekly basis, but it does mean we should never have a bunch of agents waiting for 10 minutes between calls. If you are already doing some proactive work, look to the most valuable programs and try to replicate or extend them (e.g., if a conservation program for defecting customers is working, why not create a calling program for “at-risk” customers and talk with them before they defect?). If you haven’t started yet, why not try a welcome call campaign for new customers? It’s usually a great way to start the customer relationship, and there are many valuable uses for the program (see “The Welcome Call”).

DO WORK IT INTO THE ANNUAL BUDGET PROCESS

Until a work type makes it into the annual budget process, it becomes an easy target when staffing gets tight. Before long it becomes something that is done “every now and then, when it is not busy.” Eventually these proactive activities disappear, along with the results they are (or could be) producing. To avoid this, your annual budgeting process needs to show at least the successful proactive campaigns and the staffing required to keep them going. But remember—once you get the funds to staff these initiatives, producing results is no longer optional!

DO REPORT ON THEM

It can be easy for others to forget all the extras we provide if we do not get the information out in front of them. Our reports should show both the effort and the outcomes—for example, 402 exiting customers contacted last week; 177 accounts saved. We communicate via reports in contact centers, so if it is not on the report, no one will ever hear about it.

The Dont’s of Proactive Contacts

DON’T ASSUME THAT EVERY PROACTIVE PROGRAM IN PLACE IS WORKING

The biggest difference between proactive work and the standard reactive work (handling inbound calls, answering emails, etc.) we do is that proactive work is optional. It always has to justify itself against the expense savings of not doing it at all. Under that scrutiny, it should be expected that some proactive initiatives will fail and should be removed from your workload.

DON’T TAKE THE SHOTGUN APPROACH

Too often, the initial attempt at proactive work is to add some sort of offer (or a group of offers) to every inbound call. The only definitive outcomes from this practice are higher handle times and lower customer satisfaction scores. Proactive offers work well when they are made in the context of a conversation, and/or are thoughtfully presented based on the customer’s particular situation, background, purchase history, etc. In other words, they require precision to be effective. Rather than “thinking big and adjusting to failures,” you should think small and add to successes.

THE WELCOME CALLNot sure how to get started with proactive work? Most organizations start with cross-sell or upsell initiatives added to inbound calls. That might be OK, but the added handle time can cause some real turmoil, especially if no extra staff has been provided.

For my money, a welcome call program (in which new customers are contacted during their first 30 days as a customer) is a great way to get started with a proactive initiative. You can limit the calling to times when inbound is slow, thereby ensuring little disruption to your main service channel. And a welcome program can generate value in many ways:

  • Higher customer satisfaction levels. Most new customers are appreciative of the attention and effort.
  • Lower customer attrition. Identifying and resolving a problem early on can help avoid customers making a quick exit.
  • Inbound call avoidance. Customers usually have a lot of questions when getting started with a new company, so the contact may prevent an inbound call.
  • Information capture. The welcome call is a great time to find out how the customer likes to receive information—email, SMS, outbound, etc.
  • Self-service promotion. A well-timed call can encourage a customer to activate their online account, especially if the rep is willing to walk the customer through the transaction and some of the highlights of your web capabilities.

PROACTIVE WORK IS ONE OF THE FEW WAYS WE HAVE TO CHANGE THE CULTURE AND THE PREVAILING ATTITUDES TOWARD CONTACT CENTERS. IT’S A WAY TO SHOW THE ORGANIZATION THAT WE ARE MORE THAN JUST AN EXPENSIVE DEPARTMENT THAT RESPONDS TO INQUIRIES.

DON’T FOCUS ONLY ON THE SALES VALUE OF THE WORK
When proactive efforts fail, one of the main culprits is typically the discomfort that many service reps feel when asked to do “sales” work. So why ask them? If what you run is a service center, then any efforts you make along the lines of cross-selling, upselling, etc., are better defined as proactive service. Rather than getting into the whole sales vs. service conflict, make sure that your staff understands that one of the few ways you can stand out as a service organization is by making proactive offers at the right time. Some of these may involve the sale of a product, while others may be providing an additional service. In either case, it is just an extension of your commitment to a complete service experience.

Proactive Work Adds Great Value

Proactive work doesn’t get the attention and hype as many other contact center initiatives. There is no vendor dedicated to it (though plenty of tools support it), and it is not riding a wave of cultural change (like social media). Without the external push, it is easy for proactive projects to get stuck on the back burner. Yet there are very few other changes out there that can have such a dramatic impact on the value we offer the organization. If you have not added proactive work to your portfolio, or if your program has gotten stale, take the time needed to go to the next step. It’s a great way to recharge the contact center.

Jay Minnucci is Founder and President of the independent consulting firm Service Agility.
– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline, www.contactcenterpipeline.com


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