Too often, call centres are seen purely as cost centres. In these instances, making customer service representatives (CSRs) more productive by shaving minutes, even seconds, off every call is the name of the game, with the goal of potentially saving hundreds of thousands of rands on call resolution time annually.

According to Ebrahim Dinat, chief operations officer at contact centre solutions provider, Ocular Technologies, an alternative and far more profitable approach is to transform call centres into customer loyalty centres, through proactive customer care.
“While at first it may seem potentially more costly for CSRs to spend additional time interacting with customers, delivering better service in this manner pays real dividends both in the near-term and over time,” he says.
While proactive customer care can help drive immediate incremental revenue through cross-selling and up-selling, he explains, it can also increase customer retention and loyalty, agent retention and job satisfaction, and profitability over the long-term.
“Proactive customer care is more than a ‘feel good’ benefit to customers,” he says and lists five reasons why proactive customer care makes good business sense, along with some basic tips on how to start a proactive customer care campaign.
Proactive care makes customers loyal, increasing their long-term value
Forward-looking companies are measuring their customers in terms of their long-term value or profitability. Lifetime value is based on the profit earned from a customer over the total lifespan of an active account.
Meeting or exceeding customers’ support expectations maximises their lifespan and, as a result, their value. The more contact one makes with a customer, the “stickier” that customer becomes.
For example:
* A major airline proactively calls customers to advise them of flight delays and severe weather warnings before they head out to the airport.
* A corporate billing department alerts customers when an invoice is nearly due. Rather than waiting until an account is delinquent, the simple courtesy of a reminder call gets bills paid sooner, saving the company money on write-offs and lost interest income, and diminishing the ill will of finance charges, penalties and collections agencies.
“It may take 30 seconds to reach out to a customer to satisfy a need or perform a welcome service. If that time costs about R7-million a year, it can yield twice that amount in new or continued business, as well as word-of-mouth referrals to new customers,” says Dinat.
It increases customer retention – which costs less than winning new customers
What is the cost of adding a new customer or replacing lost business? Consider the highly competitive telecommunications industry. On average, wireless carriers don’t start profiting from a new customer until the last few months of the typical two-year contract commitment.
“Here’s where proactive customer care can put a real dent in customer churn. What if wireless carrier agents proactively called customers to advise them in advance of their prepaid accounts’ nearing depletion? Or to inform them about more appropriate calling plans, based on their cell phone usage patterns?
"Even if customers switched to lower cost plans, the value of locking customers into new two-year contracts is easy to measure,” explains Dinat.
It drives new revenue streams
By identifying their most profitable customers, companies can develop proactive care strategies that maximise revenue potential. In the case of the financial services industry, most institutions have some customers that are costly to service, and others that have significant long-term revenue potential.
A proactive care approach might segment these groups and leverage low-cost, online self-help to serve the large number of less profitable customers, while reserving personal interaction for the most valued customer segment. Proactively offering retirement services or other investment instruments to this top-tier segment grows customer loyalty and builds long-term value.
It mitigates the impact of telemarketing regulations
Proactive customer care campaigns can also alleviate the impact of do not call (DNC) regulations, which restrict who may be called and how often, unless the company has a prior business relationship with the customer.
This “restriction” to call existing customers creates an opportunity to transform telemarketers into customer loyalty ambassadors.
For instance, companies in telecommunications, finance and other industries can use outbound calling solutions to welcome new customers, provide the latest status on outstanding payments, announce special offers, acknowledge payments received and check on unusually large expenditures for security reasons.
It increases agent job satisfaction and retention
“Just as customer replacement is costly, so is employee replacement,” says Dinat.
The CSR’s job is traditionally marked by high turnover and rapid burnout. According to Spherion, an international recruitment firm, the turnover of one job, on average, costs a company 1.5 times an employee’s annual salary when separation costs, overtime payments to temporary workers, loss of productivity, and replacement costs are considered.
“Proactive care agents who spend time solving customer issues, providing useful information and having meaningful interactions with customers have a more satisfying work experience and keep their jobs longer – easing the corporate burden of costly employee turnover, while building strong relationships with customers,” he adds.
Financier Warren Buffett has noted, “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.” Unfortunately, says Dinat, amid the cost-cutting fervor of recent times, companies have lost sight of delivering value.
“Customers have shown time and time again that they are willing to pay more for higher perceived value. Proactive care allows a company to provide greatly differentiated, high-touch services that reinforce the company's brand identity and customer value proposition. Even if these services cost the customer more, companies will attract a loyal following of those who appreciate being treated like valued customers.”
To launch a proactive customer care strategy, Dinat, suggests the following:
* Develop a strategy for proactive care that fits that unique business and pick tools that best meet the customers’ preferences and needs.
* Leverage customers’ buying patterns as well as trends to uncover outreach opportunities. Don’t rely on customer surveys alone for this data; observe what customers do. Actions speak louder than words.
* Consider the lifetime value of customers; don’t measure the value of customer service in overhead costs alone.
* Segment customers by long-term value, reserving the most personal interactions for the most profitable and potentially profitable customers.
* Leverage DNC regulations as an opportunity to focus on growing incremental revenue with existing customers.
* Think out of the box – be creative in the new services provided to customers.
* Leverage blending to minimise agent downtime, match customers with the most appropriate agents, streamline interactions, and provide consistently high-quality customer experiences.
* Train agents on how to cross-sell and up-sell profitable new offerings to customers.
“The challenge is to find the perfect balance between containing costs and delivering value through highly differentiated customer service. Ultimately, squeezing more productivity out of CSRs reaches a point of no return.
"When customer intimacy fades, so does customer loyalty and the ROI calculations become less and less compelling. As the economic climate improves and consumer spending rises, companies that have done the finest job of building customer loyalty will be best positioned for growth and success,” he concludes.