Sunday, April 29, 2007

Reactive or proactive customer service: What's the difference?

I recently completed a series on defining the term customer experience. The series sprang from a discussion on my first podcast with Susan Abbott, where we discussed it in more detail.

An article in yesterday's paper added another layer to this discussion that I wanted to share. The article featured a new hotel in San Diego that is training, in the English style, a dozen butlers to offer customized service to their high-end clientele.

The item that struck me was the trainer's quote, "Most hospitality service is reactive, not proactive." He goes on to talk about how a good butler might notice that a guest had eaten all the black jellybeans out of the bowl, and could then replace them with all black jellybeans while the guest was out, thereby anticipating a need or desire. Photo by Laura Embry/Union-Tribune

Reactive vs. proactive is another way of framing the discussion about customer experience, too. Reactive is equivalent to removing the irritants for customers, reducing their complaints, and thereby improving their experience. But in some ways it's too late, because they've already had a problem that you are now trying to fix.

Proactive is going far beyond that, being ahead of the customer in a sense, reading their cues, designing and developing aspects that will wow and delight them. If someone noticed my jelly bean preferences and responded to them in that way, I would certainly tell people about it and be more likely to want to return.

Tip of the day: Proactive is better. Figure out how you can step ahead of your customer's wants and needs to surprise them, rather than just responding to complaints. Your number of complaints will probably lessen as well!

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