pre-emptive service

Pre-emptive Contact Center Services – The #1 Customer Retention Hack?

Get enough data together, and your business can know customers better than they know themselves.

For a contact center that means understanding the problems customers face.

But you have a choice: will you try to solve the problem? Or prevent the problem?

Today we’re looking at why refocusing contact center services on prevention is great for customer retention.

In this post:

  • What is pre-emptive service?
  • Is ‘pre-emptive’ different from ‘proactive’?
  • What are the benefits of pre-emptive contact center services?
  • 3 examples of pre-emptive contact center services

What is pre-emptive service?

You buy yourself an Ikea bookcase.

You’re pretty handy at putting things together and you have the instruction manual.

Still… this is a pretty complicated bookcase. Are there supposed to be so many bolts?

Maybe you should call customer services? (Just to double check you have the right parts.)

But then you remember, Ikea sent an SMS message with a link to a Youtube video. The video has super clear instructions for assembling this bookcase.

There you go – the bookcase is finished.

That’s pre-emptive service.

You didn’t want to call customer service. It would be a waste of your time. It might even have put you off buying more Ikea furniture.

And Ikea definitely doesn’t want you to call customer services because it would cost them money.

Is ‘pre-emptive’ service different from ‘proactive service’?

There are some differences between these two approaches – but they overlap as well.

We’ll look at both, and think about how they differ from traditional ‘reactive’ service.

Reactive service: A customer has an issue. The customer contacts your business. Your business resolves the issue.

Proactive service: A customer has an issue. Your Business contacts the customer. Your Business resolves the issue.

Pre-emptive service: A customer may have an issue in the future. Your business creates a mechanism to prevent the issue.

proactive and pre-emptive service

What are the benefits of pre-emptive service in the contact center?

The big benefit we’re focusing on is ‘retention’. Retention is the most important metric that your business can measure, for one simple reason: most metrics track either customer sentiment or cost efficiency.

Retention tracks both.

If your retention rate is good, then you know two things:

  • Your customers like doing business with you, and
  • You’re not leaking customers and throwing away money.

Do we *know* that pre-emptive service = high retention?

Yes we do. Research from Enkata shows that pre-emptive service increases retention by 3-5%.

We can also see a number of related ways that pre-emptive service is good for costs and service.

Let’s look at three of them!

Pre-emptive service reduces call volumes

It doesn’t get much simpler than this – prevent customers from having problems, and they won’t call you with their problems. (The Enkata research showed a whopping 30% drop in calls for businesses with a committed pre-emptive strategy.)

In fact, looking at call drivers is exactly how an inbound call center can design pre-emptive strategies. Whatever drives the most calls – those are the problems you need to prevent.

Pre-emptive service saves money

If you can reduce contact volume – especially calls – you’ll tend to save money as well.

Better service, but cheaper? Most businesses will see that as ‘job done’. As we’ll see in the Anglian case study (below) the savings can be huge.

But is there a corresponding CX benefit to that?

Well, reduced volume means shorter queues, so… yes! Ideally, those savings will be put to work increasing the scope of pre-emptive service.

Pre-emptive service means better customer journeys

There’s something crucial that a contact center misses when it measures AHT or similar metrics.

It misses the time that the customer has already invested trying to solve the problem.

You might aim for ten seconds of hold time and feel pretty good about achieving it – but it’s not the whole story.

‘In our experience, redesigning customer journeys raises customer-satisfaction scores by 15 to 20 points, reduces cost-to-serve by 15 to 20 percent, and boosts employee engagement by 20 percent.’

Customer experience: New capabilities, new audiences, new opportunities 

avoidable contact


3 examples of pre-emptive contact center services

#1 AT&T give the right details at the right time

An enormous number of contacts are driven by avoidable, straightforward queries.

This is something US telecomms company AT&T realized when looking at their incoming calls.

As much as 10% of their traffic was coming from new customers who had questions about their first bill. And because of pre-paid service costs, a lot of those customers mistakenly believed they had been overcharged.

So – not only are there a lot of calls… there are a lot of angry calls.

What’s the solution?

AT&T’s idea was simple. New customers get a link to a short video explaining their bill in detail. The questions answered in the video are based on the most common queries fielded by their agents.

Compared with answering literally thousands of calls, making a video and automating some outbound SMS/emails was incredibly easy.

More importantly – the business was no longer starting its customer relationships with anger and frustration.

Companies recognize that securing a customer today provides no guarantee that he’ll return in the future. That’s why customer service is inextricably linked with customer retention – and why a lack of current technologies can be so devastating. Companies must be ready to recognize when older technologies limit that needed flexibility and progress.’

Pamela DeLoatch, TechTarget 

#2 Amazon put delivery tracking in customer’s hands

It’s no surprise that a major contact driver for Amazon was just one question: ‘where’s my package?’

The business (very) rapidly increased both the volume and the variety of the items they ship around the world. But they knew they’d never be able to affordably scale contact centers at the same speed.

Amazon also noticed customers weren’t even waiting until packages were late. Some customers would check in several times on a single package to track its progress.

What’s the solution?

Amazon essentially decided to hand over all available delivery information to customers.

Why have an agent read out information that the customer can read themselves. Now that we’re several years down the line, this hardly seems like big news. But Amazon made some of the early innovations in this area.

Now, they also use integrated chat, email and SMS to supply updates before customers ask for them.

customer journey


#3 Emergency updates

UK water supplier Anglian Water consistently saw contact traffic spike during unexpected disruption.

Some events, like a burst pipe, could mean a several fold increase in calls. Those callers would hear a pre-recorded message, which did the job… but only for the people who actually got in touch.

Other customers – especially those in vulnerable categories – would have no idea when normal service would resume. They wouldn’t even know if the problem had been reported.

What’s the solution?

Anglian now takes the lead during emergencies and sends a pre-recorded message to any customers affected.

The result is a lot of reassured customers and far fewer inbound calls. The cash value of that reduced call volume is around £100,000 so it’s a clear win across the board.

(If we’re splitting hairs then yes, this is more in the ‘proactive’ camp than the pre-emptive. It’s still a good example though.)

So why is pre-emptive service great for retention?

There are a lot of reasons why pre-emptive service will help you to retain customers. 

But at its core, it’s as simple as could be. 

Customers leave when they encounter problems. Take those problems away and… more customers will stay with you. 

That is it

At least… that’s it in theory. In our next post we’re going to look at how you can bring this practice into your contact center services. 

Until then, here’s a hint: it all comes down to automation. If you can’t automate these processes, you’ll never get pre-emptive service off the ground. 

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