In college I was really good at one thing: procrastinating. I’d study because there was a test tomorrow. Or, get started on a paper because it was due in a week. I managed to get by, but it was stressful and also didn’t give me time to really go beyond average. I was always in a reactive mode, instead of a proactive one.
In some ways, it’s not dissimilar to how many people approach providing customer support: we frequently don’t address issues until someone brings them to our attention.
But reactive customer service rarely provides the best experience. Solutions can be rushed, and customers may not get the absolute best out of us. While, just like in college, you can get by being reactive, you probably won’t be able to excel. In order to do that, you need proactive customer service.
In this article, we cover what proactive customer service is, and four ways you can implement it in your support strategy.
What is proactive customer service?
Proactive customer support is any effort you make preemptively to stop a support request from happening. Basically, it means you thought ahead about a potential issue someone may come across and did something to prevent it.
One great example of this is Nike. When you order shoes online they send a return label with the shipping. That means if you need to exchange or return the shoes you don’t have to go online, download a label, then find a printer and print it out.
That simple gesture makes the experience so much better. Instead of dreading the possibility of needing to go through some arduous return process, the customer can simply check out with their purchase and if it’s not quite right, it’s no big deal.
The other alternative is reactive customer service. It’s the method most of us are familiar with where when we have an issue we reach out to a company’s customer service team and wait for them to respond. In the example above, the customer would need to contact customer service for help returning the shoes, taking up more of both the customer and the support team’s time.
Why is proactive customer service important?
We all know the saying “the early bird gets the worm.” When you use proactive customer service, you’re becoming the “early bird.” Though there are numerous potential benefits to proactive customer service, there are three key benefits that stand out most:
- Frees up resources – Most proactive customer service measures are meant to address very basic customer issues. As in the Nike example, getting a return label doesn’t require a representative. By removing those requests, it allows your team more time to focus on higher-level issues that do need a human touch.
- Improves customer retention – Research shows that proactive customer support efforts increase customer retention by 3-5%. As we’re aware, retaining customers costs a lot less than acquiring new ones. Along with that, loyal customers tend to spend more and have a higher lifetime value.
- Creates a better customer experience – Most of the time when someone contacts support, it’s a last resort. It’s not to say that they can’t have an incredible experience when interacting with a support team. But, the best experience they could have is not having the need to contact support in the first place. By investing in proactive customer service, you eliminate the need to contact support, thus creating a better experience.
How to implement proactive customer service
Knowing how to do something in theory, and actually doing that thing are very different. For example, you could read a manual on how to fly an airplane, but no one would hire you as a pilot. Below are four steps you can take to implement proactive customer service into your organization.
Imagine you had a friend who started their car with a screwdriver. When you borrow their car, they might forget to mention that detail, which seems pretty important to know. But because it was their car, and they drove it daily, they might never think about it.
The same thing can happen when you work with a product every day. Maybe there’s a small bug and there’s a workaround you’ve become really used to. In order to gain perspective, we have to seek feedback from our users.
There are a multitude of ways to seek feedback from people. You can do customer interviews, or focus groups. For a lower-cost option, you could send out a survey asking for feedback. You could even set up a system using snippets and canned responses including tags to keep track of each time someone opens a ticket about a certain item. That data is a great source of feedback, too.
Remember, asking for feedback is just the first step. Once you get those customer insights, be sure you put them to use in some way. If you don’t, not only do you waste your user’s time, but yours, too.
Invest in self-service
If you grew up in the 90’s you may remember Clippy, the virtual assistant from Microsoft Word. Though a divisive character, Clippy was useful for giving tips on how to use Word and to address basic issues one might face in the program. Clippy was an early version of self-service.
The days of Clippy are long gone, but self-service lives on. In fact, research shows that 67% of people prefer to use a self-service option over contacting a rep. It makes sense, since a knowledge base or bot is available to use 24/7 and doesn’t require holding. Self-service options can also generally help save time for the viewer since they don’t have to wait for a response from a rep.
More advanced tools like AI bots can be great if you have the resources. However, a strong knowledge base that is easily accessible is as useful as any self-service tool and is usually a lower-cost option.
Transparency has become somewhat of a buzz word over the last few years. There are even entire very successful companies (see Everlane) based around the idea of transparency. In the context of proactive customer service transparency is about being upfront.
One great example of being upfront proactively is Amazon. Most of the time when you make a purchase on Amazon, they show a guaranteed delivery date. However, even with the massive resources of Amazon, things can happen and shipping gets delayed.
Instead of letting the customer worry about their package, or requiring them to log in to their account to find out, Amazon sends an email letting them know about the delay and offers an updated timeline if they can. They even sometimes proactively offer credit for the inconvenience.
By doing so, they get out ahead of the issue and help minimize the sting. Though you may not have Amazon’s resources, you can set up a status page, or create a crisis communication action plan to make sure customers stay-in-the-loop for any issues that may occur.
Did you know that for every one person that voices their concern, there are 24 others with the same issue who don’t? What it really goes to show is that no matter how well we are serving those who do reach out to us, there’s still more that could be done.
However, if someone doesn’t reach out, how could you know about their problem? One way is to monitor their activity. For example, if someone is idle on a certain page or section of a page, you could trigger a pop-up chat window to ask if they need any assistance.
Another place to monitor is social media. You could track brand mentions and associated hashtags to stay in the loop. When you’re aware of those instances you’re able to proactively reach out and help with any issues that may need solving.
How great a customer experience would it be to tweet at a company that the shirt you ordered is the wrong size and instead of having to go through calling or emailing, they simply replied with a return shipping label? You’re able to provide that type of experience…you just have to listen for the cues.
Continuing the effort
You hardly ever hear someone regret being proactive. “Oh, no! I gave myself too much time to study” was never something we uttered in college. Just like no customer ever said, “it was too easy to get my issue solved.”
It’s not to say that every customer service issue that arises can be solved proactively. There are just some things we can’t predict. But it is a worthwhile effort to find the things we can address proactively.
So, be sure you’re staying vigilant about the things you and your team can improve. Seek feedback, invest in self-service, be transparent, monitor what’s going on and you’ll be well on your way to success.
Have you noticed a company providing great proactive support? Let us know in the comments below.
And for more information about collecting customer feedback to find those opportunities to be proactive, make sure to check out our article on gathering customer insights to improve the customer experience.