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In the vast majority of cases, our relationships with customers do not revolve around a single event. They’re ongoing, and they develop. Even if there may be a focus on one large purchase (such as buying a car), there’s still a need for customer service in the form of things like maintenance, replacing parts, etc.
Recognising your customer base’s needs and listening to their experience via customer feedback can go a long way toward providing a level of service that could ensure customer loyalty for many years to come.
The type of customer service strategy you adopt will depend on some factors. These can include the industry you operate in, such as eCommerce, but should include being aware of your customers’ needs.
In line with this, many organisations now offer proactive customer service, but what is this, and how will it benefit your business?
What is proactive customer service?
Perhaps the easiest way of understanding proactive customer service is to first look at its ‘opposite’; reactive customer service. Reactive customer service is what most people experience every day today. If a customer has a question or problem, they contact you themselves to resolve their issue.
A business will anticipate questions or common customer issues with a proactive approach and provide solutions before the customer asks. Most organisations offer some form of this, such as FAQ sections, help videos and so on.
It also includes notifying customers of any forthcoming issue. For example, a company such as Anglian Water contacting you to say the supply may be interrupted for maintenance. By anticipating issues, you can increase your levels of both customer retention and customer satisfaction.
The benefits of proactive customer service
More and more, companies are focusing on providing a better and more personalised customer journey. Yet only 13% of 6,000 customers surveyed in this research reported that they received any proactive service.
However, customer knowhow is increasing, and they may now make choices based not only on pricing but also good customer service.
Recognising that people want a more customer-centric experience and better levels of service is an unavoidable fact. But it helps to know the benefits you will receive as a company if your customer service team moves to a more proactive approach.
Increased customer retention.
By taking a proactive approach, you will see an increase in loyal customers. They’re likely to be more satisfied having queries answered proactively than if they have to spend time seeking out answers.
Decreased customer calls.
By answering questions proactively, you resolve issues quickly, meaning fewer phone calls to your customer support team. This leaves them able to focus on other issues and also reduces waiting times for other callers.
By providing proactive customer support, you’re not only increasing customer satisfaction but increasing the likelihood of those happy customers sharing their experience with others, thus attracting new customers.
Better productivity and efficiency.
With better communication with a proactive approach, you have more time to listen to customers, collect data about their needs and wants, and identify areas to add services. This leads to a more productive, efficient and profitable business.
With some 40% of customers preferring self-service over contact with a human agent, providing proactive support means you’re enabling them to access information and answers they want without them having to contact you directly.
How to provide proactive customer service
The first thing to do is to audit your current customer support framework. You may find you already have elements of a proactive approach integrated into this. This could be as simple as an FAQ section or knowledge base on your website. Make a list of any proactive elements and also the reactive services you currently offer.
The next step is to look at the experiences of other companies. These could be your direct competitors or companies who have made a successful change to proactive support. Websites such as Forrester contain a lot of information on this subject as well as case studies.
Once you have a better overview of what proactive customer support means in different settings, you can then progress to making a plan to integrate this model into your customer support framework.
This might include:
The people who are the experts on the level of support you should provide are your own customers. If you have a mailing list (or are on social media channels), send out a simple survey to gather feedback and ask what they expect. If your website includes user forums, start a thread to get an idea of what customers are looking for.
Technology is a major part of how we now do business. One great piece of tech that can help with a proactive approach is a chatbot. Chatbots can give prompts, direct customers to resources, pass queries to technical teams, etc. But be aware that chatbots do have some limitations and make sure any chatbot you choose fits and is adequate for your business model.
Holding workshops with team members to discuss any changes can stimulate ideas and discussion. This can help you plan a rapid or gradual change to your support systems.
For example, you may initially decide to implement a proactive approach on your social media channels before rolling it out on other platforms.
Be prepared for things not always to go smoothly. New ways of working may take time to perfect, and for your staff to get a handle on them. Adopting the new approach and listening to what your employees think means new systems will work better quicker.
If you have several social media channels, make sure you pay attention to what customers say about you. This can include platforms as diverse as Facebook and LinkedIn. This help shows your NPS (net promoter score) and will give you an idea of improving services.
Messaging. Integrating proactive messaging as part of your support is a great way of providing exceptional customer service. This can include sending a customer an after-sales email or SMS to see if they are happy with their product and your service.
These are merely the starting points and foundation of your proactive customer service journey. Once you identify the elements that best work for you, you then put them into practice. Delivering that level of proactivity long-term is something that will need regular monitoring and reviewing. Some tips to achieve that includes:
- Review. Regularly review and update your knowledge base, FAQs, etc.
- Mistakes happen. Accept them, take ownership of them, and share them with your customers.
- Listen. Listen to your customers. You may not listen to every individual voice, but regular surveys can help you tweak how you deliver your service.
Examples of proactive customer service
As mentioned, one great way of looking at how you can integrate a proactive customer service approach is to see how other organisations have achieved it. You can look at examples from two areas: companies in your sector and generic businesses. This can help you formulate a plan to adopt proactive customer service in your own company.
There are some great examples out there.
- Facebook. With more than 2.7 billion active monthly users, this is an organisation that has to be proactive in many ways. While the inability to speak to a human agent when self-service does not help is extremely frustrating, they still have many positive, proactive approaches.
- Virgin Media. As the leading media operator in the UK, with six million cable customers and 3.3 million mobile customers (as of the end of 2019), Virgin Media has to offer exceptional customer service and communications. Their 2,500+ engineers were finding that around 10% of appointments with customers were failing, however. So, they switched to a more proactive approach.
Before an appointment, Virgin now proactively contacts its customers. This has led to a major decrease in failed appointments, saving millions of pounds and ensuring higher customer satisfaction levels and better NPS scores.
- Debenhams. The UK retail giant has integrated a slightly different proactive approach into its business model. Their website offers in-depth buying and product guides which allow customers to consider more carefully before committing to a purchase. This can include factors such as helping them decide if a clothing item fits with their wardrobe.
The result of this has been a decrease in the levels of items returned or exchanged. This move has not only made customers happy but has also reduced the company’s costs and helped free up resources.
Is proactive customer service the future of call centres?
Generally speaking, call or contact centres have practised reactive customer service. They respond when a customer calls with a question or a problem. But as times change across all industries, so must call centres adapt to providing proactive service.
Customers now expect to access the same sort of interactions with a call centre as they do when using an app or a company website. Increasing incidences of an omnichannel experience and proactive approach should include the call centre options you provide.
While resolving an issue at the first attempt may look good, preempting those issues is better. The way to achieve this mirrors some of the steps required in more generic scenarios and adaptations to suit your call centre model.
Analyse All Calls.
You want customer support to be continuous and wide-ranging. Collect analytics on all calls to see how you can provide constant help instead of being a ‘one-issue solution’. Identify the metrics you think are important, use technology to monitor, and provide training on how to move up to the next step.
If you’re considering a move to a proactive model, seek feedback while still operating reactively. This can take the form of a few simple questions at the end of a phone call or a follow-up email afterwards. To encourage participation, offer rewards in the forms of discounts or similar to customers who provide feedback.
Many of the questions asked of call centre agents may be common ones. Standardising an FAQ script for when this occurs can be a huge help. But it’s not only about creating useful FAQ content. A proactive approach encourages the constant reviewing and updating of that content.
Up Train your Agents.
If you’re going to adopt proactivity, be aware that your agents will likely have to deal with increasingly complex issues. Whereas in a reactive model, they may face many ‘trivial’ requests that will quickly change. Recognising this and providing them with new skills and knowledge is essential.
The speed or extent to which you adopt a proactive customer service approach will depend on your customers’ needs and your specific business model. The major point to take on board is not to rush into a new approach, which may lead to mistakes and confusion.
Look at the different templates used by other businesses to provide a proactive approach. You can then identify what elements fit your needs. It’s also crucial that you identify any pain points your customers’ experience, as solving these should be your primary concern.
It’s important to be aware that these changes will affect not only a positive way – the overall customer experience but also the internal culture of your company. It’s thus crucial that you closely monitor how changes work in real-time, both from your customers’ and employees’ perspectives.
Originally published Apr 12, 2021, updated May 15, 2021