Flawed Proactive Customer Service Can Do More Harm Than Good

Nearly two-thirds of customer service and support executives cite shifting from a reactive to proactive strategy as a top priority in 2022, and rightly so. A proactive approach to service reduces customer effort and promotes loyalty, according to Gartner's recent global survey of customer service preferences and behaviors. However, Gartner's analysis reveals common flaws and unintended consequences of proactive outreach: It can confuse customers and drive costly assisted-service contacts.

A full 66 percent of B2C customers and 82 percent of B2B customers who receive proactive customer service outreach follow up with the company afterwards, typically using assisted-service channels such as the phone. Are these additional contacts and costs worth it? It all depends on the reasons customers follow up.

Analysis of the data found that 37 percent of follow ups are for productive or desirable reasons, like when the company specifically requested that the customer get in touch or the customer wanted to learn more about a new product.

The bad news is that 45 percent of contacts after proactive outreach are for undesirable reasons, both for customers and businesses. These customers contact the company because they aren';t clear how they can resolve the service issue on their own, need additional confirmation that the issue has been resolved, or feel the outreach might have been a scam. In other words, proactive customer service outreach often raises unanswered questions that erode the benefits for customers and lead to additional costs for businesses. If being proactive is a key part of your service strategy, take the following steps to ensure that you get more value out of this approach.

Customer service leaders can prioritize proactive outreach for urgent issues. Customers who receive outreach about issues they see as urgent (a credit fraud notification might be an example) report better customer effort scores than those who discover the issue on their own. When the customer does not see the issue as urgent, proactive outreach does little to reduce customer effort.

Customer service leaders can also design proactive outreach that builds customer confidence in the company's ability to serve them effectively. The following three elements improve customer confidence:

  • Clarity: Improve the clarity of proactive messages by anticipating and addressing customers' next moves or questions. Test the outreach with customers or service reps to identify the likely follow-up questions and link to answers and more details.
  • Confirmation: Provide confirmation through visuals and direct statements that communicate to customers what you want them to know. It's one thing to tell someone a package has arrived, it's another to include a photo of the package outside the front door, removing any potential doubt that it arrived in the right place.
  • Credibility: Demonstrate credibility by helping customers see that the outreach is official and not a scam. Ten percent of BC2 customers and 24 percent of B2B customers follow up after proactive outreach simply to verify the message was genuine. Proactive outreach should come from a phone number or email address that can be verified as being from the company and can include links to a secure portal where customers can verify the issue.

Finally, customer service leaders can prepare for some additional contacts. If an uptick in phone calls after proactive outreach is likely and intended, customer service leaders should time messages to coincide with low-call-volume periods. Additionally, consider dynamically adjusting the interactive voice response system to identify callers who received proactive outreach, prompt them with a few options if their call is related to that outreach, and attempt to resolve their issue without sending them to an agent.

Customer service and support leaders can follow these steps to craft proactive outreach that increases customer confidence, not confusion.

Eric Keller is a senior research director at Gartner, where he leads a portfolio of research developing insights and actionable recommendations for customer service and support executives.