Customer Service

Proactive Customer Service: Complete Guide [2021]

August 2, 2021
 - 
12:00 am
 EST

In this competitive world, the success of any business depends on the quality of the proactive customer service it provides, rather than reactive.

What do we mean by that? Conventionally, when customers are having issues, they’re the ones who contact customer service to get them resolved. This is called reactive customer service.  

But, businesses are now adopting a proactive customer service approach that’s very closely tied to customer satisfaction, loyalty, and positive experiences.

We created a complete guide around the subject of proactive customer service:

Let's get started.

What is proactive customer service?

Proactive customer service means responding to customer issues before they arise or going the extra mile to provide a better experience for your customers.

For example, imagine a simple gesture of politeness from a company you’ve placed an order with. Your order has been delayed, but the company doesn’t wait until you become concerned and forced to inquire about it – they send you an email to inform you your delivery might take a bit longer than anticipated. That’s not only proactive customer service, that's impressive.

Example from online marketplace Redbubble

This sounds more simple than it is in reality. That’s because being proactive entails: 

  • Understanding what your customers expect,
  • Having clear and fast-moving communication channels with customers and,
  • Being able to identify issues as they arise and cook up customer service strategies in the blink of an eye.

But, all this effort is worth it. 

Benefits of proactive customer service

Proactive customer service sends the message that you care about your customers and their experience above and beyond the traditional purchasing process. And, by being proactive, you’re providing customers with those little moments of delight that may make all the difference in your company-customer relationship.

More specifically, the benefits of this approach are:

  • Reduce incoming inquiries. Customers don’t have to ask about certain things (e.g. when your system is down) because you’ve already informed them about what’s happening.
  • Anticipate customer needs. For example, isn’t it great when you get an email with recommended products that fit exactly what you bought before?
  • Resolve issues faster. If you already know an issue has arisen, you can send customers knowledge base articles or let them know how they can best reach you, which will help resolution times.
  • Improve service continuously. If your data help you predict customer service trends or market trends (e.g. one product selling faster than others), adjust your marketing and operation strategies to match what your customers want.
  • Turn customers into ambassadors. The result of higher satisfaction and loyalty is some good ol’ word-of-mouth marketing. Customers will share their good experiences and recommend your brand.
  • Retain customers. And not just because of increased satisfaction. In SaaS especially, proactive service includes reaching out to customers to help them make the most of the platform – before they stop using it altogether for lack of results.

7 ways to implement proactive customer service

  1. Train your team
  2. Take advantage of live chat
  3. Pay attention to self-service
  4. Gather feedback
  5. Listen to social media
  6. Use your analytics
  7. Make proactiveness a habit

We'll explain.

1. Train your team

Proactive communication depends on your customer service employees. They’re the ones in the front lines, who’ll be alerted first about an issue and will tell you if you need to send a message to your entire customer base to let them know. They’ll be the ones to get feedback from customers first, in order to help you build your strategy around real customer needs. They’re the ones who will reach out to customers when needed. 

So, make sure you have a proper training plan in place for your agents, and make sure the team’s philosophy includes being proactive.

2. Take advantage of your live chat

Granted, live chat is a great customer support tool. Customers or visitors can reach out to your team directly from anywhere on your site or app without having to type emails or look for contact forms.

But, live chat is also an excellent proactive service tool. Your team can monitor customer interactions on your site and proactively reach out to ask if they need help with anything. Or, make recommendations for new content (or even products).

Imagine, for example, your customer engagement platform shows you a customer has been on the same contact form page for quite a while. There’s a chance they’re having trouble with something. A great opportunity for your agents. A team member can send a message via live chat and simply ask “Can I help you with anything?” and customers can decide whether to reply or not. Those who do will certainly be impressed with the care you show them (not to mention, conversion rates might go up with this strategy).

3. Pay attention to self-service

You may wonder “how is it proactive to have customers service themselves”? The secret is in the content and availability of self-service resources.

Customers often look into search engines or your help center whenever they have issues or questions. But, more often than not, they’re not finding what they’re looking for – or what they find is incomplete and outdated.

That’s where proactive customer service comes in. If you know what your customers are looking for, you can create targeted knowledge base articles. Or even create FAQs and disseminate them at the right times (e.g. when there are changes in terms and conditions or scheduled maintenance). Knowing that your customers are sometimes in need of support after-hours will help you consider options to service them 24/7, such as a chatbot. You get the idea.

4. Gather feedback

Customers want to be asked their opinion about your service – and they want you to act on it. You don’t have to wait until a complaint comes in before you can find out about an issue. Reach out proactively to customers and make sure you gather feedback in a structured way.

Usually, you'll get to send CSAT or NPS surveys. Or, your customer support agents or account managers may ask pre-determined questions during calls with customers when appropriate. Find out the way to ask for feedback that better suits your company's operations.

For example, Dunkin’ Donuts includes a survey code in every receipt. Customers can go to the site dunkinrunsonyou.com and complete a survey. This is a simple way to encourage customers to leave feedback without disrupting their daily lives.

Screenshot from Dunkin’ Donuts

5. Listen to social media

This could be part of gathering customer feedback, but it deserves its own category. Social media is also a great customer service tool.

That’s because social media isn’t only a place to ask for customer opinions, but also a place to listen.

By social listening, you may find the answers to questions like: 

  • What are customers saying about you?
  • Are there negative impressions and how were they shaped?
  • How do people interact with your competition?
  • Are influencers in your industry aware of your brand? What are they saying?
  • Are there any interesting events/happenings/conversations you can take part in?
  • Can you use humor to respond to customer posts?
  • Are there any ideas for content your audience would find useful? (e.g. a survey on a topic related to your industry?)

6. Use your analytics

The very purpose of data analysis in customer service is to discover patterns or preferences that can influence customer experience. So, put this data to use by informing your proactive customer service approach.

We’ve already mentioned, for instance, that if you know your customers are looking for answers to specific questions, you can build an FAQ section on your site. But, one of the most important uses of data is in personalizing your service. After all, personalization is one of the most critical differentiating factors in today’s market.

For example, one of your customers just bought ski goggles. You can now send them an email proposing similar ski-related products. That’s one of the ways ecommerce businesses grow.

Also, customer success benefits a lot from analyzing data and using it for proactive customer service. The CS team wants their customers to learn how to use a product to meet their goals. What if the team sees product usage is declining? Or that the customer isn’t on track to meet their targets? That’s when they can proactively reach out to provide solutions before the customer slips away.

7. Make proactiveness a habit

Being proactive means being transparent and ready to offer solutions and information when needed. This means weaving it into your strategy whenever possible. 

Mapping out the order process? Make sure your customer knows the state of their order at all times, either with tracking codes or with carefully timed SMS. Trying to improve your site navigation? Do a redesign focusing on UX. Want to make sure people don’t abandon their shopping carts? Make it simple, as you would like it to be if you were in the customer’s shoes.

This approach may include potentially awkward situations, like apologizing to your customers

Many companies will start getting specific complaints about something (e.g. a malfunction of a product/site) and they’ll focus on fielding incoming calls and messages from frustrated customers. But, that’s a great opportunity for proactive service – after the first couple of complaints, immediately prepare and send an apology email explaining what’s happening and how you’re fixing it.

Generally, make sure you give your team leave to be proactive and support them with the tools they need to provide excellent service.

Keep your customers in mind

In the end, the whole of proactive customer service is to have a customer-centric approach. Customer service teams always have different tasks to take care of – many of them strictly operational – but how much you manage to delight customers will always be the main factor of success. And doing that before they even ask you to is bound to create pleasant surprises and a better experience as a whole.

Does your company provide proactive customer service or are they more on the reactive side? How's that been working? Let us know in the comments.

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