customersYears ago … deep in the last millennium … the Managing Director of the ad agency I worked for stuck a photocopied note on the wall outside the door of his office.

It read “If there’s anything a customer loves more than a reactive agency, it’s a pro-active agency”.

Time and again in the last 25 years we have had cause to reflect on those words, and to consider how right he was. Customers stay with agencies that don’t wait to be asked to help. Customers move to agencies that demonstrate initiative.

Then again, there was an interesting counter-intuitive moment in the Wellthisiswhatithink household over breakfast this morning.

Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink’s cellphone rang, and it was our local estate agent. About a year ago we asked them in to give us an idea of what the house might be worth, in case we decided to sell. (We didn’t.) Since then we have received Christmas cards, Easter cards, birthday greetings, and even once, chocolates.

After politely informing the realtor that we weren’t selling anytime soon, he obviously chanced his arm a bit and kept talking. “Look, we’re really not interested.” Mrs W warmed to her task. “Would you please take us off your list? Yes, off your list altogether. Thank you.”

customer puzzleSo much for “Customer Relationship Management” systems.

I can’t really fault the professionalism and interest shown in us by the poor chap.

We just popped up on his computer screen once too often and he tried a bit hard.

I have often wondered how much pro-active contact from companies is too much. It’s a fine balancing act, to be sure.

Anyhow, coincidentally, later in the morning, (when you’re pregnant all you see is babies, right?) at the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we wandered across these comments in a discussion on the topic:

“As companies adjust to the emergence and convergence of both new and more customer service channels, reactive customer service remains the day-to-day norm for most organisations. But taking steps to move from predominantly reactive service and support delivery, to reactively proactive, to proactive can make all the difference in increased customer satisfaction and retention, establishing a differentiator for the brands that can (even at times) delight in this manner.”

Interesting. The article continued:

“According to a recent Harris Interactive survey of more than 2,000 consumers, 87% of U.S. adults are receptive to being proactively contacted by an organisation when it comes to service and support. Nearly three-quarters (73%) who have had a pleasant surprise or positive experience with proactive communication from a brand report they had a also positive change in their perception of that organisation; 62% said they took action as a result of that positive experience.”

Yet the same article reported that only 29% of enterprises are investing in proactive outbound communications, even though customer expectations for real-time updates and information may be steadily increasing, and new service channels such as social and mobile are making it easier than ever to reach out proactively at scale.”

The article went on to make these suggestions for making a move to more proactive customer service:

social media

1. Provide Alerts and Updates.

Use channels such as mobile, social, IVR messaging and Knowledgebase/FAQ updates to provide reactively proactive (great) or proactive (even better) information and updates about service and product statuses.

For example, utilities companies could use the above-mentioned channels to proactively alert and update customers on outages and estimated service restoration times. Retailers could alert customers as to shipping specials, price reductions, product availability or recalls, and airlines can proactively update passengers regarding delays, cancellations or weather announcements. In the USA Delta Airline’s mobile app, for example, proactively delivers flight notifications and allows customers to re-book without having to call or wait in line at the airport. All of these proactive communications can reduce high call or email volumes as well as social media complaints.

2. Make Money or Time-Saving Suggestions.

While predictive analytics have been a topic of conversation for many years now in customer service, the technology to make full use of them is now catching up. A great example of this anticipatory service is Google Now, which combines information that Google knows about you from the devices you use, your location and your online searches to suggest information you might need before you even need it, whether that’s weather, traffic information or the nearest metro station. Brands can apply the same analytics to dramatically improve the customer experience.

Historic analytics can also be used to save customers money, which typically results in delight. Whether it’s an adjustment in utilities usage based on the customer history, or notifying a customer who has placed and then removed a pricey electronics device from their online shopping cart three times that it is now on sale, this proactive customer communication can foster enhanced customer satisfaction and loyalty.

3. Reach Out with a Random Act of Kindness.

Where brands can impact the individual customer experience and deliver delight is through random acts of kindness. Provide customer service representatives with a 15 to 30 minute window each day to reach out to at least one customer whether that’s by phone, email, social media or what have you, just to say thanks for being a customer, happy birthday, hope your day’s going well, or to even present them with a discount or small thank you.

The brands that make this extra effort to deliver small unexpected kindnesses with no expectations will master what customers are craving from today’s big brands: authenticity, care and delight created by a small human kindness.”

Well, we’re not so sure. We can’t fault the logic. We can’t fault the intent. And we’re sure pro-active marketing is going to employ a lot of people in coming years.

But we are tempted to also wonder whether marketeers risk merely adding to the information overload that we all suffer from, and producing the exactly opposite result to that which they intended.

Maybe it’s just that pro-active marketing is a bit like salt in the marketing stew. Just the right amount brings out all the great flavours of everything else. Too much, and the whole thing becomes inedible. And ensure the pro-activity suits the character, likes and dislikes of your audience.

Leave chocolates on my doorstep whenever you like. Don’t ring over breakfast.

(In his “day job”, the author of Wellthisiswhatithink is a marketing and advertising consultant working for one of Melbourne’s leading ad agencies, Magnum Opus, To chat to Steve Yolland about proper grown-up paid advertising advice or to sample his communications knowledge, or maybe to get an opinion on your organisation’s current public profile, just email him on

  1. James Mahoney says:

    Had a similar experience to your estate agent example, and one that further supports your point.

    Several months ago, I bought a jacket from a well-known men’s clothing store. The jacket was not “on sale” at the store, but the manager said, “Let me check online.” He came back shortly thereafter with the news that the company website had the jacket on offer at an astoundingly low price. What’s more, he said he’d honor that price for me.

    Say no more, Squire. Write that puppy up.

    Of course, they got my email address, and shortly thereafter, I received the first of many “great sale” emails from the company. In fact, I get at least one a day, and often two.

    Now you’d think (as they must) that this constant outreach would be good marketing, keeping the brand relationship alive and well. And for a short time, it did. During that time, I thought, “Wow, this must be their traditional ‘sale’ time of year.” I even forwarded a couple of the emails to a friend whom I knew was looking for some new shirts.

    Then a funny thing happened. As the bombardment continued, I suspected, and then became convinced, that they *always* had stuff on sale, and at substantial discounts. That led to two thoughts: First, the company’s “retail” prices are a fantasy, and you’d be a sucker to pay that much there. Second, if they’re selling this stuff that deeply discounted, is the quality anywhere near what their (perhaps now former) reputation was built on? Or are they now stocking their shelves with lesser, “factory outlet” quality lines?

    (As a coincidental aside, The Wall St Journal recently reported that the company’s pricing tactics are being looked at. FYI, in the US, you may not jack up prices to a level that no one ever pays in order to then “discount” them on sale. A large department store chain was nabbed for this several years ago.)

    So, for me, the moral for pro-active efforts in these types of stories is: use a little moderating common sense. A little absence probably will make the customer grow fonder.


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