What Is Proactive Customer Service and Why It’s so Good for Business

11 min read
Feb 18, 2016
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Shop exposition welcome sign proactive customer service

When you want to help customers on your website, there are basically two ways you can go about it.

On one hand, you can sit tight and respond to any questions customers ask, either via phone, chat or email. This is reactive customer service.

On the other, you can show initiative and offer help before customers ask for it. This is proactive customer service.

There’s definitely nothing wrong with answering when you are asked. However, it’s a lot more powerful to reach out to a customer and solve a potential problem before the customer asks for help.

Read on to see why reactive customer service doesn’t cut it anymore and what makes proactive customer service such a hot topic.

Proactive customer service definition

Proactive customer service is an approach to customer support in which businesses make the first move to help customers. These businesses go out of their way to first find potential problems and then resolve them before customers need to ask for help.

An easy way to tell if your company is doing reactive or proactive customer service is to ask yourself: who makes the first move? You or the customer?

If the customer won’t get help unless they ask for it, you're doing reactive customer service. If you tend to offer solutions to problems before they force the customer to ask for help, it’s proactive customer service.

Why proactive customer service is better than reactive

Offering help when a customer asks a question is simply OK. It’s nothing revolutionary and you won’t charm anyone just by doing that. On-demand customer service came to be expected by customers. Providing reactive customer service is now the norm.

You need to go a step further now to amaze customers with your good customer service. One of the ways to do that is through proactive customer service.

What’s so special about it?

First of all, proactive customer service allows you to detect and react to customer problems. You can catch them before they grow into these big, impossible to overcome customer pain points. This means that you don’t have to wait for customers to become annoyed with something before you can help them. Instead, proactive customer service allows you to reach out to them before they reach the pain point and become annoyed.

From a customers’ perspective, this is considered very thoughtful and customers appreciate it. The proactive approach saves time for customers that would be spent on finding a solution. It also allows customers to reach the value that your business is offering that much quicker.

Proactive customer service will allow you to build customer loyalty through amazing customer service experiences.

Secondly, all the tools you use to monitor customer activity can be a source of valuable feedback from customers. Based on the customer feedback, you can make more informed product design decisions. You will also be able to create resources that will solve the problems without the need to involve an agent.

Finally, proactive customer customer service allows you to create an optimal way to seek help on your website. Instead of having all customers going for the more time-consuming or simply more costly support channels like phone, you can guide them to either go for your self-service resources or to use a more scalable channel like chat or email.

How to introduce proactive customer service in your company

The biggest challenge you need to overcome when switching from reactive to proactive customer service is finding situations where a customer needs your help before they even ask for it.

You need to know what’s the biggest pain to deal with on your website or what causes customers to scratch their heads and ask questions.

You can do that in two ways: by gathering feedback and by monitoring user activity.

Gathering customer feedback in proactive customer service

First, you can start listening to what your customers are saying more closely. If a group of customers is experiencing a certain problem and they told you about it, there’s probably a silent majority of users with the same problem.

You can identify common customer pain points and fix them by gathering customer feedback. You can gather the feedback in many ways: surveys, emails, at the end of a chat or a phone call.

First of all, you can go for a service like Google Forms that will get you started with basic surveys. You can send them to customers via emails or chats. This option is good for companies that work on a tight budget.

If you have some wiggle room in terms of spending, you can go for a paid service like SurveyMonkey that offers a more powerful surveying suit.

Another feedback-gathering option is available for companies using live chat. Many live chat solutions offer a way to gather feedback during chat. For example, you can create a post-chat survey in LiveChat that will offer the customer the chance to answer a few questions after a finished chat.

If it sounds interesting want, you can test it. Signup for LiveChat and use it for 30-days for free!

Proactive customer service - livechat survey

Lastly, you can create an email campaign in which you will ask for feedback regarding your product or service. Once customers start responsing, simply check how many times a particular topic comes up.

Once you know what part of your service or product is a pain to deal with for customers, you can do something about it.

It can be something as simple as fixing a bug on your website or preparing a guide on how to use your product properly. These changes will get rid of or mitigate the problem before it can cause any harm to your customers.

Creating self-service materials in proactive customer service

Solving your customers’ problems with guides and other self-service materials is one of the more scalable ways of doing proactive customer service. For example, switching from from customer service that has been done solely over the phone will allow you to save a ton of resources and manpower.

When handling a customer problem, a call center agent can help only one customer at a time. When you have hundreds of customers facing the same problem, wouldn’t it be more efficient to handle it with a single self-service material?

Once you have a guide explaining a particular problem, you can link to it every time a customer asks about that problem.

There’s a ton of different types of self-service materials you can create: a knowledge base, a FAQ section, ebook guide, tutorial video, demo of your product and more.

Place these kind of materials where customers might need them. For example, if you have a tutorial explaining your pricing plans, provide a link to the tutorial on your pricing page.

We do something similar in LiveChat by providing a link to a tutorial in every feature description in our app. For example, when someone wants to learn more about chat window customization, there's a link to a tutorial waiting in the customization section of the app.

Pre-chat survey live chat

Monitoring user activity in proactive customer service

You know what’s even more impressive than offering helpful self-service materials? Stepping in when a customer is about to face a challenging problem.

For that kind of help, you need something more than just a feedback platform. You need real-time monitoring of customers’ activity on your website.

One of the quickest ways you can get something like that on your website is getting a live chat. Most live chat offer a way to not only get in touch with your customers but also to see what they are up to when visiting your website.

What does a real-time monitoring gives you?

For starters, you can see how customers are moving through your website. For example, you can see when they are going to a different page, how much time they are spending on a particular page and so on.

You could say that you get the same (and more) data in Google Analytics, and you would be right. However, GA doesn’t allow you to react to a customer action that you know will end with the customer leaving your website. You also get to interact with individual customers that have names and nationalities instead of just numbers.

When you notice a customer going back and forth two websites, there’s a good chance they got stuck and need help. The same goes if a customer spends a lot of time on a website that should take them just a couple of minutes to go through, for example your shopping cart. In these kind of situations, you can jump in and save the cart by starting a chat with them.

Customer monitoring live chat app

With this kind of responsibility, you might think that it is absolutely crucial that you don’t let your eyes of the visitors list. However, this is not something anyone could do, especially if you are getting a lot of traffic.

What you can do instead is to automate most of the monitoring and set custom triggers. They will fire when your live chat notices a particular pattern.

For example, you can check in GA how long it usually takes someone to finish an order. Let’s say it takes two minutes on average. You can assume that anyone that needs longer than that is experiencing some kind of a problem.

You can create a trigger that will start a chat with anyone who spends more than that. This is the kind of proactive customer service that not only leaves a good impression but also saves carts.

Proactive customer service is about coming clean with customers

Proactive customer support will also help you diffuse any big problems or even disasters your business might face.

Let’s say you’re facing a major crisis, for example your shop goes offline, customers can’t finish their orders, everyone starts getting angry. It’s time to go into full crisis management mode.

A business doing reactive customer service would simply get everyone onboard and start answering questions. That is not an incorrect way to handle difficult situations. After all, you need to provide quick answers. However, we can’t really call it correct either.

In the same situation, a proactive business would do the very same thing. But at the same time, they would also:

The difference between reactive and proactive customer support here is keeping customers in the loop. Just imagine how many chats, calls or emails could be avoided by keeping customers informed. With lessened question load, agents could place more focus on individual chats or calls.

Sweeping the problem under the rug and waiting for customers to come to you is the worst thing you can do. Coming forward and letting your customers know that something’s up shows respect, and saves you a ton of time and resources on questions that could be answered with a single tweet.

Is proactive customer service worth it

Proactive customer support is definitely a big step forward from simply handling cases reactively. Going the extra mile for customers and handling many problems before they can even manifest makes customers keep coming back for more.

Here’s a summary of what proactive customer service has to offer:

  1. Making an effort to help customers before they need to ask for help build customer loyalty (who wouldn’t want to come back for a service like that?).
  2. With all the feedback and monitoring involved, you are able to learn a lot about your customers and the way they access your website or treat your product. This data can be used for much more than just proactive customer support.
  3. Proactive customer service helps you build an optimal way of helping your customers. Instead of having all customers contact you by phone, you can answer some questions with a self-service guide. Only the most pressing problems should be handled by your agents personally.

To get a proactive customer support going in your business, you would need to:

  1. Ask customers for feedback because if a group of customers is experiencing the same problem, there’s a good chance other customers face it too.
  2. Once you know what are the most popular problems, you can either issue a fix that will get rid of them or create a self-service material like an article or a tutorial video that will help customers overcome a particular pain point.
  3. Monitor customers’ activity on your website in real-time using tools like live chat to be able to react to situations as soon as they arrive.
  4. When a crisis happens, don’t try to sweep the problem under the rug but make sure customers know what is going on. This will not only reassure customers but will also allow you to answer a lot of questions with a single email or tweet.

How does proactive customer service look like in your company? If you haven’t gone from reactive to proactive yet, tell us what’s holding you back. Feel free to share other proactive customer support methods that worked for your customer service.

Photo courtesy of halfrain via Creative Commons.

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