What Is Anticipatory Customer Service?

in Aug 22, 2018
hand holding  Crystal Ball

A fascinating article in Forbes shared a concept that is increasingly winning over customers. In the article, the author described what he termed “anticipatory customer service” as “a customer experience that manages to serve even theunexpressed wishes and needs of your customers through the use of technology and automation.”

People are busy. A gesture such as an emailed service reminder that a customer can view when they have time in their hectic schedule, is certainly appreciated by many. However, Anticipatory Customer Service takes this to another level. Depending on the circumstances and the customer preferences, not only would you e-mail the customer, you would also call them, send a text message and then a letter as well. This method works well for customers who want this communication. When a customer drops their car off for service, they want to be kept up-to-date on progress and completion.  If they’re in a meeting, they might prefer a text message. While if they are working at their computer, an email might be their preferred method. Anticipatory customer service is all based on providing consumers information before they know they want it themselves.

The popular pharmacy chain Walgreens has refined the art of Anticipatory Customer Service and makes dealing with them easy and convenient. They allow you to refill prescriptions online or via a free app. If that’s too hard (or you forget), they will e-mail you. All you then have to do is reply, and they will refill your prescription. When it is ready for pickup, they will email you again. If you forget to pick it up they will then call you and remind you that it’s ready… multiple times. Once you pick it up, they thank you through their rewards program. No doubt this works to Walgreens’ advantage by decreasing the amount of time between a customer being eligible for a refill, and actually refilling it. It also decreases the time between when the refill is ready and the customer collects it. The pharmacy doesn’t make money until the prescription is picked up. By continuously reminding customers, they are increasing their revenue.  Of course, there is a fine line between using multiple methods of communication and badgering a customer. So businesses need to ensure that there is a way for customers to inform them of their preferences.  This is simple through opt-out links on email communication and the “stop” message for text messaging.

Parallels definitely exist in the automotive world.  For example, minor and regularly scheduled service such as an oil change. Walgreens doesn’t know how many pills you have remaining, just as you may not know how many miles the customer has driven since their last service. However, based on the customer’s visit history, it can be closely approximated.

Many companies send out one email and call it a day. The strength in Walgreens system is its repetitiveness. A service customer may get that e-mail reminder and not be ready for an oil change based on mileage; or perhaps think it’s a good idea but be too busy to make an appointment. By continuing to contact them via multiple methods, you give yourself more opportunities to reach the customer at the moment in which they are ready.  A scenario none of us want to happen is to remind the customer, have them agree to the service, then they become busy and forget. You fail to stay in contact, and on a future date the customer pops into a Jiffy Lube to get that convenient oil change, simply because they are near it. I’m sure Jiffy Lube thanks you, however.

Making it as easy and convenient as possible for your customer to do business with you is the key point here. There is no reason why you can’t text a customer and allow them to text you back to make an appointment. The same applies to email, or a phone call reminding the customer about their upcoming service appointment. According to the article, “it’s here that you shift your customers’ perception of your company out of the ‘they’re perfectly fine, for now’ to ‘they’re my one and only.’ It’s here that they become truly committed to, loyal to, the idea of working with you on a permanent basis.”

A more proactive approach and the use of technology to maintain contact with your customers about information they WANT to receive, can help builds better relationships and a more loyal customer base.

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