My last blog post addressed making the Customer Experience (CE) proactive. The second cardinal aspect of CE, addressed here, is to make it preventive. Every organization can prevent as many as 30 percent of all service interactions. You must first identify opportunities for prevention and then apply simple tools to address them.

Identifying opportunities for prevention

The key to preventing customer problems and questions is to understand their cause. I use questions and problems almost interchangeably because a question not well answered quickly becomes a problem. “Why do I have this service charge?”—is that a question or a problem? 

There are four major preventable causes:

  • Marketing and sales cause confusion and unmet expectations—they only mention limitations in very fine print.
  • Broken company processes cause unpleasant surprises—the front desk overbooks the physician so patients wait an hour to be seen.
  • Customers cause problems via mistakes and failure to read directions—my favorite example is consumers requesting better-tasting laundry bleach to whiten their teeth.
  • Employees lack effective tools and explanations—employees want to do the right thing but often lack tools and empowerment to take and explain reasonable actions.

Conduct a root cause analysis of your most prevalent service and support questions. Would better expectation-setting or customer education eliminate the problem or does a process need to be changed?

The 4 most effective prevention tools

The key aspect of prevention of problems is customer education. The challenge is that no one reads—I routinely ask audiences of 300 executives how many have read their homeowner insurance policy or their auto manual. Only three hands (1 percent) go up. The two solutions are to educate on the top five issues (more will dilute effectiveness) and provide education just in time in small chunks.

Four tools are most effective:

  • Welcome letters, emails and quick-start pages: An insurance company welcome letter highlighted that the homeowners policy only covered up to $3,000 in jewelry or guns. Customers (who had not read the policy) asked for riders (at extra expense) to cover the additional goods—unpleasant surprise and complaint prevented and extra revenue produced. 
  • Video: Most customers, especially twenty-somethings, will watch a 60 second video. 
    • Tesla has broken 28 minutes of video into 16 very watchable chunks.
    •  Zipcar’s videos are short, entertaining quasi-soap operas.
    • Youtube videos done by your staff or customers are well accepted and cheap!
  • Website: The website homepage is your first line of defense. Most customers go to the website before calling or emailing.
    • Highlight the top five questions that the service channel received last week. This week’s list should reflect last week’s top issues. 
    • The website map should be an index to the top 30 questions and problems customers encounter. Most customers go to the website before calling or emailing.
  • Tip sheets, while mundane, can be wildly effective. One insurance company sent a 10-point tip sheet to any customer who called with “dumb” questions—subsequent calls from those customers declined by 30 percent while satisfaction with service increased.

The payoffs can be transformative—and they'll help justify the investment:

  • Reduced contacts, usually 20-30 percent of workload and 15 percent of service budget.
  • Reduced service staff frustration (and turnover) due to handling repetitive contacts they recognize as easily prevented.
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction, especially for the 2/3 of customers who would have had the problem or question but who would never have contacted. Preventive education has the biggest impact on those who would not have called.

Thought question: Should you want to prevent all service transactions?

Some consultants have suggested that the best service is no serviceI disagree—no service can mean a lost opportunity to create emotional connection or to give extra value.

How to move service to prevention

Take two actions to become preventive. 

  • First, analyze your service workload to identify those transactions that are due to:
    • Incorrect expectations
    • Customer errors
    • Broken processes
  • Second, pick two prevalent issues and test several educational channels—remember your customers use multiple channels at different times. Measure using pre/post or control/experimental designs. Be sure your CFO is involved and buys in.

Celebrate the results so Finance will actively invest in more customer education. Ask your staff to create mini-videos; start slowly, experiment and measure and celebrate the impact. A few failures shows you’re thinking creatively.   

GoodmanJohn Goodman is one of the original trailblazers of the customer experience industry and has personally directed some 1,000 customer experience studies for clients worldwide. He is the author of two books: Strategic Customer Service and Customer Experience 3.0. Follow him on Twitter: @jgoodman888



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