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In this competitive world, the success of any business depends on the quality of customer service it provides to its customers. And that quality is more and more affected by how proactive, rather than reactive, your customer service team is.
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. In fact, Microsoft’s 2018 State of global customer service report found that 70 percent of respondents “have a more favorable view of brands that offer proactive customer service notifications.”
Proactive service is simply responding to issues before they arise or going the extra mile for customer experience without customers asking you to.
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 delivery might take a bit longer than anticipated. That’s proactive (and impressive).
This sounds more simple than it is in reality. That’s because being proactive entails:
But, all this effort is worth it.
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, benefits of this approach are:
No, because that’s not realistic. Even the best companies can’t anticipate every thing that might go wrong or communicate faster than customers can write an email or tweet.
Also, knowledge about customer needs comes exactly from customers asking about something you may not yet offer. For example, asking for a particular product may be a signal that you need to start selling that product. Or, asking regularly about a topic may mean you need to write a knowledge base article about it.
And that’s ok; customers are well-versed in reaching out to companies to talk about things, be it via phone, email, social media, or other channels, and they expect to be able to do that. Just being there at the other end of the line and resolving issues or providing information promptly is an important part of customer experience.
So, there’s really no “proactive vs reactive customer service” debate – it’s more about how to blend the two approaches into one well-functioning customer service process that leaves customers wanting more.
Now that you know you should be proactive, the question is how. Here are five ways to build up your proactiveness:
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
This could be part of gathering customer feedback, but it deserves its own category. 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:
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.
Being proactive means being transparent and ready to offer solutions and information when needed. This means weaving it in 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.
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 better experience as a whole.