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Proactive Customer Service Reduces Customer Service Fires

If your business or organization is spending too much time putting out “customer service fires,” invest more time in proactive customer service strategies.

Businesses and organizations commonly express concerns about spending too much time “putting out fires,” particularly “customer service fires.” Indeed, “putting out fires” is a phenomena that all businesses and organizations experience, yet most businesses and organizations would be surprised to discover the actual amount of time they spend battling “customer service fires” – time that could otherwise be devoted to cultivating, as opposed to consoling, customers. Fortunately, there is a solution: it’s called proactive customer service.

Why does this matter? In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, author Steven R. Covey introduces a time management grid that details the intersection of various activities:

  • Important activities are those that advance our short- and long-term goals;
  • Urgent activities are important activities that require our immediate attention; and
  • Non-Urgent activities are important activities that require our attention, but not our immediate attention.

Covey proposes, and we agree, that the more time we invest in non-urgent activities, the less time we need to spend on urgent activities. Think of it this way:

  • Urgent activities are reactive in nature, while
  • Non-Urgent activities are proactive in nature.

For example, putting out “customer service fires” – an urgent activity – is reactive; in contrast, creating strategic customer service processes – a non-urgent activity –  is proactive. Simply put, the key to minimizing “customer service fires” is to devote more time in proactive customer service.

Proactive customer service possesses three broad characteristics.

Prioritizing Customer Convenience 

Prioritizing customer convenience means that, subject to a few narrow exceptions addressed below, the convenience of customers assumes precedence over the convenience of – or even the inconvenience to – businesses and organizations. Customer service that is inconvenient to customers results in friction, and that friction often sparks “customer service fires.”

That being said, safety and legal issues must always take priority over customer convenience. Accordingly, the goal of businesses and organizations should be to offer customers the most convenient experience within the boundaries of applicable safety restrictions or legal issues.

Planning and Improving Customer Service Processes

Businesses and organizations that consistently excel at customer service share an important trait: they relentlessly and continuously plan and improve customer service processes, regardless of whether those processes are characterized as:

  • routine, such as greeting customers; or
  • contingent, such as handling rare emergencies.

Indeed, deliberately investing time in planning and improving customer service processes is one of the most effective strategies that businesses and organizations can use to minimize “customer service fires.”

Continuously Training Employees

Ongoing customer service training is also a critical component of proactive customer service. Without customer service training, even the most effective customer service processes lose their potency.

One particular industry does this extraordinarily well: commercial airlines. Think about it. Commercial airline pilots and flight attendants receive intense training with respect to both “normal” and “emergency” procedures. Moreover, the training is continuous, as opposed to sporadic.

Businesses and organizations that adopt a similar approach toward customer service training tend to be customer service powerhouses. Such businesses and organizations recognize that customer service training shouldn’t be exclusively reserved for on-boarding new employees.

This sounds reasonable, you’re thinking, but how does our business or organization plan and design effective customer service processes, a linchpin of proactive customer service? That’s an excellent question, and in the future we’ll share some practical strategies that your business or organization can use to create effective customer service processes.

In the meantime, have a customerific week!

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Mark