Proactive Customer Service Starts With Changing Your Mindset

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This post originally appeared on my column.

Too many companies assume that all they need to do to enact proactive customer service is to buy some new technology. The reality is that making the shift to proactive customer service first requires a change in mindset and strategy.

Recently, I had the chance to put this theory to the test and put some more ‘meat on the bones’ of it during a conversation with Software Advice Analyst Ashley Verrill, who writes about and reviews customer service technology.

When we were chatting, she was working on an article about how US Airways recently implemented a new IVR system that recognizes the customer from their phone number. Their technology then goes on to suggest a solution based on that customer’s purchase history. For example, let’s say the customer called the support line and the IVR recognized that they purchased a ticket a month ago, and their flight was that day. US Airways found, by analyzing their data, that customers in this scenario are most likely to be calling to check on the status of their flight. As a result, they have set up their IVR to say something like “Hello Ashley, would you like to check the status of your flight?” This offers the customer the opportunity to reduce their effort and prevents them from having to click through seven different options to get the answer they are looking for.

Now, after Ashley explained this to me, she asked whether I felt like this could truly be classified as proactive customer service. I replied that, whilst I thought this solution is certainly more proactive than most IVRs, it’s more “reactively proactive” than purely proactive. The reason being is that it still requires the customer to ‘trigger’ a response from the company. Ideally, proactive customer service is really all about reaching out to the customer to solve their problem, or answer their question, before they even know they have one.

Ashley and I then talked further about the US Airways case and we came up with something really interesting…….. a solution for how US Airways could take what they are currently doing and make it truly proactive.

In the scenario I just described, the IVR system is using its data to respond intelligently to the most common reason customers call on the day of their flight.

Taking this a bit further, why doesn’t US Airways extend this and proactively reach out to customers to give them this information anyway without them having to call? Couldn’t they further interrogate their data and see how the customer interacts with the company to best understand how to deliver this information? For example, if they normally call on their mobile phone, could they not send them a text message an hour before their flight confirming the status of their flight and their flight time?

In response to that, Ashley said: “I guarantee someone can build that technology.”

This is exactly why I say proactive customer service starts not with technology but with mindset and strategy. Ashley and I had one conversation and came up with a great idea for how US Airways could change their approach from “reactively proactive” to truly proactive. That does not mean that technology is not important. Far from it. Technology will be crucial to enable and scale this process, but the essence of proactive customer service starts and is centered in strategy.

This post originally appeared on my column.


Photo Credit: ransomtech via Compfight cc

10 comments On Proactive Customer Service Starts With Changing Your Mindset

  • Adrian,

    I enjoyed this post, and I agree that the initial example is reactively proactive. I like the solution you came up with and think that airlines are close. If they can do that by emailing or texting flight status (after you first set up notifications), then they can certainly take that one step further and just automatically send you notifications without making you submit all your info and set up notifications. It would require contact information, but if most of us are buying tickets online, they already have, at the very least, our email addresses – and likely our cell phone numbers, too.

    Annette 🙂

  • No need to build it! Poactive outbound messaging has been in vendors portfolios for the last half dozen years. Never adopted by organisations because of mindset issues as you said

  • Hello Adrian,

    I find myself to be in total agreement with you. Our limits are not set by technology as Martin says in his comment. Our limits are set by our worldviews and cultural practices. It occurs to me that folks in business are not embedded in cultural practices that call us to be proactive in being of service to the lives of our fellow human beings. Our cultural practices are functional-technical. Not emotional-human.

    All the best,

    • Hi Maz,
      Thank you for that. I really like your classification of our cultural practices and that being so functional-technical and not emotional-human prevents us from being more proactive in how we deliver customer service.


  • Hi Adrian,

    Good post. I think the point you were alluding to in your post is how customers can in fact now use big data to better understand customer behaviour. Once they have the insights they can then devise proactive strategies to better the customer experience.

    I think we have not seen this level of intelligence applied yet in many organisations but believe there will be more of this in the near future.

    • Hi Joe,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree that we haven’t seen much of this right now and big data may be able to help. But, if our minds are not open to possibility of being proactive and what we could learn from data and do differently then no amount of data will help us. Agree?


  • Adrian,

    I think your story shows an example of proactive cost saving, rather than proactive customer service.

    I suspect the debate was all about how to save call centre costs not drive improved service.

    The example also shows that great customer service is also invariably the cheapest option in the long run. But that is another debate.


    • Hi James,
      Your suspicions about the nature of the debate may be true. I have no insight as to their motivations.

      But, as you say, the example does show that delivering the best customer service is likely to be cheapest option in the long run.

      Thanks for your input,


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