Proactive customer service has been gaining attention in the past couple of years. This may have been because e-commerce was under the spotlight during the Covid pandemic and so many e-commerce companies became concerned about abandoned carts. So many online customers start selecting items, but then never complete the transaction.
The research varies, but a commonly accepted average is around 70% of all carts are filled with products and then the transaction is not completed. Customers may become distracted, or they don’t like the delivery cost, but the end result is that they fill the cart and then don’t pay for the products.
Many commentators have argued that proactive customer service can help. The idea is that if you know your customer is shopping, but taking a very long time to complete the transaction, then you can reach out and ask if they need help. By making a proactive intervention the theory is that you should be able to push them over the line so the transaction is completed.
The industry analyst Gartner recently published a paper that questions this theory. They are suggesting that if you trying proactive measures and don’t do it very well then it could actually be creating negative customer experiences. The Gartner research featured feedback from almost 5,000 customers shopping in November and December last year.
What is important to note is that Gartner found that proactive customer service can improve customer service – they suggest an enhancement of about 9%. However, they also note that in 66% of cases a customer that has been helped through proactive outreach will still need to call the general customer service team for help.
That’s the danger. If you create an outreach process that is designed to help customers, but it doesn’t work very well, or the agents are not empowered to take the kind of decisions that might be needed, then the customer can feel that the entire experience was just a waste of time.
Imagine if an agent pops up on screen in a chat window because an e-commerce customer has been taking a long time to pay for their cart. The customer says, ‘I didn’t expect that I would need to pay such a high delivery charge.’ The agent could just respond and say ‘that’s the charge, sorry about that’ or they could say ‘let me see what I can do about reducing that charge if that’s your main issue…’
If the agent can reduce, or even remove, the delivery charge and that is the push the customer needed to complete the transaction then that’s great for everyone. The customer feels that the brand listened to their problem and was flexible enough to make the required change. The brand makes another sale and the customer is happy.
But what if the agent said, ‘sorry, that’s just the way it is?’ It might be the policy of your company to never waive delivery charges. It may look to the customer that the agent is offering help, but isn’t empowered to actually do anything, so the conversation is pointless.
The Gartner research is interesting reading and the bottom line is that if you are going to proactively reach out to customers and make an offer to fix a problem, such as resolving why they have not completed a transaction, then you also need to create scope for the agents to make decisions and take action. If you can’t build this flexibility into your processes, or you just don’t want to deviate from any standard processes, then proactive customer service could do more harm than good.