Is Your Customer Service Proactive or Reactive? ‘Stronger Through Adversity’ Author Joseph Michelli Discusses

Don’t miss the opportunity for your organization to offer customer service that is proactive as opposed to reactive. What’s the difference you may ask? Well, on today’s show Joseph Michelli, CEO of The Michelli Experience, joins us to discuss the importance of having proactive service instead of reactive service for your customers. Joseph is a New York Times best-selling author of several books including his latest book, Stronger Through Adversity.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Thank you so much, Joseph for taking the time out of your busy schedule there to help us understand what all of this means and the next best way for us to address having a more proactive service.

Joseph Michelli:
Always an honor to be with you, Jim. Thanks for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Sure, sure. It’s always great. Maybe next time you can be in the studio now that COVID is, I don’t want to say it’s in rear view mirror, but it looks like life is getting somewhat back to normal. So I know before we started recording, you said that you’re out back on the speaking circuit, which is phenomenal to hear. And so, lets start with the difference between what you think is reactive versus proactive service. Talk to us about that.

Joseph Michelli:
So according to a recent study by Gardner, 87% of every interaction we have with a brand after sales is reactive. In other words, we reach out to the brand and we say, “Hey, I need help with X, Y, or Z,” right? “Help me with this.” And if they’re a big company, they may have a call center, a contact center. We talk to somebody, they fix the problem that we brought to their attention, an inbound call to the company.

Joseph Michelli:
The predictions are by 2025, that’s going to flip around, and that the bulk of all interactions on service are going to be outbound from the company to the consumer, and that’s where it’s going. Unfortunately right now, 87% end of the time, we are the ones reaching to the company. So how is that going to change and what do we need to be thinking about and what does it mean to reach out to them about what, right? So that’s I think the future of the customer experience evolution post-sale.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Sure. It’s interesting. How many times a company will reach out to us for surveys? Thank you very much for coming in. Can you take a five second or five minute survey? It’s very important to us. They’re very big on the surveys, but you’re not referring to that. You’re referring to more of actually helping us with the product or maybe even ordering more of that product?

Joseph Michelli:
Well, I think the beauty of what you just said is that outreach, that outbound message is all about the company.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Right.

Joseph Michelli:
Tell us about how we did, help us make ourselves better, maybe so that we can serve you better in the future. And in a lot of the surveys they hear, “Well, I wish you would’ve avoided the problem in the first place instead of actually having me having to call into your contact center, so I can tell you how your agents were.”

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s right.

Joseph Michelli:
So I think what we’re seeing is that a lot of that survey data is telling us, you should really reach out to us to anticipate our needs instead of figure out how you did in response to our needs.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s right. That’s right. What mean to be proactive right now? I mean, a time when many are still faced with chaos and the pandemic that’s out there, but what does that mean?

Joseph Michelli:
It means to alert, avert or avoid. So this is the three dimensions I’d like to focus on today.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Okay.

Joseph Michelli:
Here’s an alert. Netflix, I tried to download something on my computer. I have some technical problems with that. Immediately, they alert me and say, “Hey, we are sorry. We saw that you had some difficulties. We’re going to decrease your bill this month by X dollars,” right? That’s alerting you to the fact that we are tracking your interaction and before you needed to call our contact center, we alerted you to our awareness of your problem.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Yeah.

Joseph Michelli:
A lot of these alerts happen in ways that are well before we have a problem. So LG, for example, the appliance manufacturer frequently tries to get their people, their customers to log into an app. And to do that, they say, “Hey, we’ll give you an extra year’s warrant into you on the product if you will download and use our app.”

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Wow.

Joseph Michelli:
Well in that app, they’re going to be able to send messages from these internet of things, products to let you know when you have to service that product in some way or another.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Okay.

Joseph Michelli:
So in many ways, they’re trying to get you onto a platform they can deliver anticipatory care and you don’t have to wait for you to lapse service and a breakdown happen, you can actually keep this investment running in the background just because they’re keeping you aware in advance of the need.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s right. That’s right. And those are so helpful to consumers today, right? I know that recently, I just got a text message from the car dealership that I bought my car from, and it said, “Your vehicle is ready for service right about now. Can we help you make that appointment today?” I wasn’t keeping track of that, as many people don’t, so I’m like, “Oh, yeah, sure.” Hit the button and it takes me right to their site to sign up for the next service interval or the next service appointment that I can make at the dealership. It was very customer friendly. It was providing, I thought, a service to me while at the same time, it’s getting me in as a consumer to that dealership to get into their service department, right? So it’s a win-win.

Joseph Michelli:
Clearly, you don’t have to go to that service department, right? I mean, you can go to any service department you want to but they have given you the service of anticipating a need for your car’s maintenance.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s right.

Joseph Michelli:
Now, because they’ve done that, they’ve created that ease of appointment scheduling, you probably will go with them. But the clear point is they’re not waiting for you to realize that the check engine light or the service light comes on in your car, they’re telling you, “We want to get ahead of this for you and alert you to an upcoming need in service.” That in and of itself is a proactive, outbound messaging from the brand to you, so that you don’t have to call them up saying, “What’s this light all about? Do I need to schedule an appointment?”

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Sure. In today’s technology world that we live in, it’s almost a responsibility of companies today to provide that proactive service, is it not? I mean, aren’t consumers depending on that? Like, whoa, wait a minute. You know that I bought the car from you, service the vehicle every year. How come you’re not telling me when the vehicle’s next service interval is and setting me up on that appointment? So I would almost be disappointed if they didn’t do that, right?

Joseph Michelli:
Well, in the automobile industry, it’s pretty common on the service maintenance schedule, right? It’s not so common on most appliances that you purchased. It’s not as common in general small business as we think. One of the things that I often say is at Ritz Carlton, if you’re in your running clothes and you’re about to leave the lobby, they’re going to hand you a bottle of water, right? They’re anticipating a need that you have based on their observations of you. Not every brand operates like that. They’re barely fulfilling the responsive needs of the customer. And so, my whole purpose right now is to say, “Where can you alert your customer to things that are coming up?

Joseph Michelli:
How can you avoid them having to take extra steps with you that you know are going to happen?” I had a flight canceled by American airlines not long ago. In the old days, Jim, I would’ve shown up at the airport and they would’ve told me my flight was canceled, right? Or I would’ve been obligated to monitoring the flight status, but now they notify me. Okay, well, they’ve also evolved because in the not so old days, they would’ve notified me, but then I would’ve had to call in to reschedule and rebook. Now they contact me, they avert the need for me to have to go through any process. They’ve already re-booked me in the messaging that they have to me and then they give me the choice to reach out to them if the re-booking isn’t reasonable for me.

Joseph Michelli:
Those are the changes that we’re seeing and brands that aren’t on that pace to anticipate, avoid, avert and then, really, ultimately, we don’t want people to have to call in. So Tesla is a great example. Every time they do a software update, it is building in functionality, removing pain points that many of us aren’t even aware of, right? So the recent update included adding Hungarian and Bulgarian, well, I don’t have a problem with the fact that the onboard computer doesn’t speak Hungarian, but apparently others do. And also, remedy the issue of making it much more convenient to run your Tesla through a car wash. So again, these are things that I don’t even have to think about because the brand is anticipating my needs and building these solutions before they even have to alert me or avert some other problem.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s right. And this really can apply to almost any business that’s out there, big or small, even if you don’t have a huge staff, there’s nothing that would prevent you from taking maybe 20 minutes out of your day, we all have minutes, to even call your past customers that you’ve had in the last week to just say, “Hey, how you doing, Sally? Just wanted to followup with a phone call and see how everything’s going with whatever it is that we sold you, delivered to you, whatever. Do you have any questions about the product that we can answer?”

Jim Fitzpatrick :
And not looking for the next sale, of course, but just to provide that us, because sometimes people get so busy they’re like, “Oh, I got to call that retailer. Haven’t had the chance to do it. Where’s the phone number?” And the call sometimes comes very welcomed, right? To go, “Oh, I’m glad you called. I do have a question on this product. How do you do X, Y, and Z?” Oh, if you’re on the phone right now, I can take care of that for you. That’s a huge service.

Joseph Michelli:
Absolutely. Exactly. I worked for a barbecue restaurant chain and literally what we’ve done is we say, “Hey, thank you for coming in. We noticed that you are eating this product. I wanted to let you know that we have some new product coming up in the fall that’s going to be really related to that. Hope you’ll come and visit us again. In any case, thank you.” There’s so many ways we can, but we don’t always have the time and at scale it’s really challenging. I acknowledge all of that. Sometimes it’s a technology solution that enables it.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Sure.

Joseph Michelli:
But I’m always thinking about how do we respond to the current need and anticipate the future need? What do we learn from all those calls we get with complaints, and how does that foster some solutions for the future so that people don’t have to go through that same mousetrap over and over again.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Sure, sure. What other steps can business owners take to make a shift from reactive service to proactive?

Joseph Michelli:
I like to start with customer complaints. What are we getting the complaints on all the time and how do we swim upstream to create a root cause analysis of what’s causing that so we can solve it up there? I mean, that’s one of the greatest gifts of customer input is it enables us to look at what are those trends that we need to get in front of, we need to go upstream on? So that’s the first and foremost thing and I think the other one is that, okay, you have this need today.

Joseph Michelli:
What need might you have tomorrow, next week, next year and how can we, when we service you today, begin to anticipate that future need, so that we’re alerting you, okay, we’ve taken care of that today but in about three months, you can expect X, Y, or Z. Just seeding in the mind of the customer that there’s another need, and that in and of itself is a value creation for them. It increases their awareness and their ability to move with your product seamlessly and gracefully.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Right. Right. Yeah. Absolutely. And that makes sense. Hey, switching gears a little bit, let me throw this question at you. From your perspective, because I know you work with companies large and small, hundreds, if not thousands, over the years, all over the country, all over North America, for that matter, what impact has this the last 18 months or two years had with regard to COVID-19? Has customer service gotten better or do you feel it’s gotten worse?

Joseph Michelli:
Forester says it’s gotten worse. Their numbers suggest that most people are less satisfied with brands today than they were before. I think there’s a lot of noise in that data. People are frustrated with the situation and customer service gets blamed for some of that. I mean, I’m frustrated that I can’t get the service that I’d like in restaurants because they don’t have staff. I’ve been to hotels and been to events where they didn’t have enough food for the attendees. So I think there’s definitely problems in the supply chain, service is the point where the customer and the brand meet. So I think you’re seeing some of that. But all that said, I think there has been some great breakthroughs in technology.

Joseph Michelli:
We rely on technologies in ways that enable us is to connect with each other. I think we crave human contact, and when we get the right people in those seats to deliver it, it really is something that people are enjoying and appreciating just the fact that people care about them in the human space. So for me, it’s a mixed, mixed bag. I can tell you, it’s essential now to listen to your customers in ways, you might have gotten away with not listening to them. They’re changing so quickly. They’re so reactive to everything that’s happening that if you are not on the pulse of them, you’re finding it difficult to figure out how to position your brand. Do we put masks on our people? Do we not put masks on our people? Do we temperature check you? Do we not? It’s just a massive number of questions we have constantly change every day in the way we respond to the people who trust us to serve them.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s right. That’s right. And you just use the word trust. That means a lot these days, right? The trust that that consumer has about that retailer and even vice versa, but I think that trust needs to be front and center, doesn’t it? Not just from a safety standpoint, but all the way through the whole sales process and the delivery of that product and the support of it, that today’s consumer really has to rely on that trust factor that they’ve got with their retailer, right?

Joseph Michelli:
And it’s so fragile. I mean, I’m a big Apple fan. I just bought a new iPad. It supposedly was going to be here a week ago, it’s still stuck in a freighter somewhere in Hong Kong. Every day I’m getting updates that imply I’m going to get it that day when it’s really in Hong Kong. I mean, this is a trust breach. How much of it they control, how much of it they don’t. How they’re going to manage it when I don’t accept it when it’s past my needs state. These are the challenges that brands face today. I’m not judging Apple or the supply chain, I’m simply saying that trust is at a premium because we need the transparency to make decisions as consumers.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s right. That’s right. Do you think that consumers today are more forgiving because of the situation that does exist out there in the world today? I mean, we all see the cargo liners that are off the shores in California and New York, or what have you and we know about the chip shortages. Certainly it’s hit the auto industry very hard, but do you think consumers are a little more forgiving and understanding to say, “Hey, I get it. We’re all doing the best we can.”

Joseph Michelli:
A little more, but not enough to move the needle, right? I mean, those are all excuses in the mind of the consumer.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Right.

Joseph Michelli:
We understand it conceptually, but when you want what you want when you want it and it’s not there, and a brand explains to you, “I’m sorry, we’re having a hard time getting our people,” or, “Please be nice to our people because we don’t have many of them here.” Then charge me less, right?

Jim Fitzpatrick :
I know, I know. Right.

Joseph Michelli:
Find a way to make it less painful for me to not get what I want.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s a very good point because that’s the first thing that comes up is to say, “Well, wait a minute. If I’m paying premium for this product, or even if I’m just paying for the product, why should I have to be inconvenienced?” Or, “Why should I have to be felt as though I’m at the end of the line, rather than front and center in your world as a retailer? Just because you have got problems, it shouldn’t cost me my time or effort or my money,” right? And you bring up a good point.

Joseph Michelli:
Right or wrong, that’s the way we are as consumers. I always say that consumers are really a problem until we’re the consumer, right? Then suddenly, it’s totally reasonable everything we expect.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s exactly right.

Joseph Michelli:
It depends on which side of the fence you’re on, but always, I think we have to, as businesses try to create value in every way we can. Be open and honest and transparent, to use your point about what we’re going through, so that the consumer is making an informed decision about what they’re getting into. And then as much as we can, let’s start anticipating some of these needs so we don’t keep reinventing the wheel of problems for our customer.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s right. That’s right. Hey, your latest book, Stronger Through Adversity, flying off the shelves, phenomenal book. For those of you that are listening to us have this conversation, make sure you get it. It is absolutely a book for the times, a phenomenal book.

Joseph Michelli:
It’s flying off the shelf because I interviewed you for the book, Jim. That’s why, I mean that alone, got me, I don’t know, hundreds of thousands of sales.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That alone. That right there, that did it. That put you over the top.

Joseph Michelli:
Boom!

Jim Fitzpatrick :
I mean, you’ve got many bestsellers, New York Times, but when you did that, that was …

Joseph Michelli:
That was it.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
… the end all be all.

Joseph Michelli:
I don’t even know if I can ever do a book again now.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Well, that was my next question.

Joseph Michelli:
I mean the book, I think, is a powerful book about what great leaders like yourself and so many leaders of Google and of Target what they do to learn from and adapt to the customer needs in times of diversity to position themselves to come out stronger.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
That’s right. That’s right. Hey, because I know you, you’re probably sitting on a book right now, right? Right now, after this typing your next book. Oh, shh, can’t talk about it, but one’s coming?

Joseph Michelli:
No, it’s top secret.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Okay.

Joseph Michelli:
You’ll be the first to know when I do another book. I’m 10, 11 books in now and who knows how many more I got in me.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
We are showing all of them on the screen right now. So for all of you that are taking a look at this, Joseph Michelli is one of the best business writers out there. You want to learn about these companies, as you can see, they’re all on the covers of the books. They’re great reads, and it’s like going to college and learning about customer experience at all of the best companies out there that we all look up to.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
So Joseph Michelli, CEO of The Michelli Experience, customer experience expert, as I mentioned, New York Times bestselling author, all around great guy and probably one of the best speakers on the circuit out there. We’ve had you speak for our organization and nothing but five stars all the way along. So thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us.

Joseph Michelli:
Thanks Jim. An honor to be here again.

Jim Fitzpatrick :
Thanks.


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