For big businesses, the role of customer service is pretty simple. A customer has an issue, so an agent steps in to help. It’s pretty straightforward.
But this reactive response to customer problems only works because these big business owners aren’t engaging with their customers every day.
When you run a small business, your customers are a part of your community. When you’re not interacting with them as customers or clients, you’re engaging as friends or neighbors. Maybe even family.
As a small business owner, you’re also probably more attuned to their needs. In many ways, this is great for business. You know your customer base better, you have opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with them, and you can use all that great info to provide them with a better experience.
It also means you don’t have to be reactive in how you provide customer support. When you’re so closely linked to your customers, it can be easier to get ahead of the issues. In fact, your customers might be expecting it.
So how can you get proactive and provide good customer service? In this post, we’ll cover:
- What proactive customer service looks like
- 5 proactive customer service ideas for small businesses
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What is “proactive” customer service?
Proactive customer service anticipates the questions, needs, or concerns a customer might have—and attempts to answer them without the customer having to reach out to you.
This might include everything from an FAQ page on your website to instructional videos detailing in-depth how-tos.
Proactive customer support allows you to answer your customers’ questions as soon as they realize they want more information—and often, even before they’ve realized they need this information.
You might have also heard the term “automated customer service.” It’s a subset or, or a specific way of providing proactive customer service. Some customer service apps can help with this and other task automations to lighten the load on your team.
For example, if you’ve created a knowledge base online, your customers can look through those articles to find the solutions they need on their own time––which decreases the number of customer support requests you get (while improving customer satisfaction).
Implementing proactive customer support strategies can also free up your support team to focus on more complicated issues. Their time is important (and finite). Why not let them focus on the complex questions that definitely need human intervention instead of making them answer every little question that your customers could’ve easily found the answer to on their own?
5 proactive customer service ideas for small businesses
1. Create a knowledge base
Where is the first place you’re going to look for answers to a product problem? Probably on the company website.
Having a knowledge base hosted on your website can help customers self-service when they run into an issue with the product they’ve purchased or they want to know more about your capabilities. If you’re looking at B2B customer service, a knowledge base provides in-depth instructions on everything from getting started with the product they’ve purchased to troubleshooting common issues or problems.
Here’s an example:
Customers can easily search for the specific article or problem they’re looking for, or they can browse top articles to see common questions other users have looked at.
How to provide proactive customer service with a knowledge base
A knowledge base is a great proactive customer support tool that you can build upon as your company grows or you get to know your customers better. But to get started, here are some steps to follow:
1. Decide what your customers need to know. What answers are you frequently asked by your customers? What do they struggle to figure out on their own? What guidance do they need to get started or where do they frequently run into problems?
Start your knowledge base by making a list. Talk with your customer support team to see what input they have or what questions they hear very often. You could even ask a friend or someone who’s not an impartial third party to explore your website or try out your product and jot down questions as they go.
2. Give your knowledge base a structure. What elements does each knowledge base article need to have? Most commonly, a knowledge base article will include a description of the problem or issue, a step-by-step process of how to solve it, a description of the expected outcome, and related material including additional readings or alternative solutions.
3. Create your content. Now it’s time to write your knowledge base articles. Keep in mind, these should be different from your company blog posts.
Knowledge base content should use short paragraphs and bullet points where you can, images or even videos to visualize the instructions, and bold and italic text to draw attention where needed.
Links are also a great addition to push customers to other resources.
Keep revisiting your knowledge base and adding to it as you start to better understand your customers and their needs. Look for areas that you may need to improve upon or solutions you may need to build out. This is particularly important when you update, change, or add new products or services to your offerings.
2. Monitor your social media
Social media has become a go-to platform for customers at every stage of the purchasing process. From learning about solutions to actually making their final buy, social media platforms are making it easier for customers to engage with brands without ever even visiting the brand website.
While many businesses have started treating social media like a true customer service platform, that usually only means they’re prepared to redirect customer messages to their website, email, or phone number when someone reaches out.
They’re hardly proactive and missing out on one of the biggest social media benefits––and they’re leaving a serious gap open.
Sure, most people use social media to connect with friends, family, and even strangers about the things on their minds. And once in a while, that thing they’re talking about is your brand.
If you’re not paying attention to the conversations customers are having about your brand on social media (especially the ones where they don’t tag you), you could be losing customers without even knowing it. By being proactive, you can take that first step to get in touch and win them back before they’ve officially left you.
How to provide proactive customer service by monitoring your social media
It’s not realistic to manually monitor all social media channels looking for someone to talk about you. And you don’t have to! One social media best practice is to set up alerts to be notified any time a customer has something to say.
Using a social media monitoring tool like Hootsuite or Google Alerts, identify the words, hashtags, or phrases you’d like to receive alerts for. This might be your business name, a hashtag used in a campaign, or even a competitor’s name if you want to stay on top of what is being said about them (and maybe catch the attention of some of their unhappy customers).
When a customer mentions you on their profile, you’ll get an alert, and you can check what they wrote.
To save yourself more time, try to find a tool that lets you provide omnichannel customer service. For example, with RingCentral Engage Digital, you can respond to customers on different social media channels in one place and consolidate customer identities from multiple social media platforms into one profile:
Here’s an example from Hilton Hotels:
While the original post had nothing to do with staying at a Hilton hotel, the HiltonSuggests account was able to provide recommendations and position themselves as a helpful expert. That person might already have their stay booked for their current trip, but this example of proactive customer support could win business in the future.
Maybe you’ll discover that instead of three customers with the same issue, you’re having multiple conversations with the same customer on different platforms. Or, you might find that a particular customer is really struggling to use your product.
3. Keep your customers in the loop
If you’re implementing new processes, introducing new products or services, or just giving your existing products a major update, there are sure to be some changes in your customer experience. In a reactive customer service world, you’d wait for those customers to discover the changes and come to you for help. You might even assume that everyone who doesn’t reach out was able to navigate the changes on their own and they didn’t need your assistance.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. You releasing a product update that confuses your customer could actually be the thing that drives them to a competitor.
So, proactively reach out about what has changed (or what changes are coming), set expectations for the customer, and open the conversation for questions or assistance. Because you’re taking the initiative, it gives you an opportunity to build trust before customers grow frustrated with changes they can’t navigate.
How to provide proactive customer service by keeping customers in the loop
This strategy comes down to communication. If you don’t have clear and easy-to-use communication channels or a communication plan template, it’ll be more difficult to help them navigate through your company and product changes.
An outbound contact center is one way to stay in touch.
RingCentral’s outbound contact center lets you create a two-way conversation with your customers, so you can proactively offer them support—before they even know that they need it.
Let’s walk through an example of how the outbound contact center works:
You’re a healthcare provider working to continue seeing patients through the COVID-19 pandemic. With guidelines and procedures changing every week, you can’t expect clients to stay up to date on what to expect when they come in for their appointment.
With an outbound contact center, you can take charge and inform clients well ahead of their appointment date and time.
Many integrate with healthcare software too, showing you what day and time someone is scheduled for an appointment. You can then reach out to that person a day or so before their appointment to let them know about the latest changes in policy, what they should do when they arrive at your practice, and what they might need to bring with them.
By being proactive about the support you’re providing clients, you can relieve the stress of needing to stay on top of the ever-changing news (and prevent clients from coming to their appointment unprepared).
4. Get ahead of any issues
Mistakes are embarrassing. Whether in our personal or professional life, it can be nerve-wracking to bring attention to something we’ve done wrong.
But mistakes also happen all the time. Things go wrong or something outside of your control ruins your plans.
Even so, it can be tempting to brush it under the rug and hope no one saw it. Unfortunately, dismissing those hiccups (or in some cases, major issues) can cause frustration with your clients.
Staying proactive about any mishaps or problems and informing clients before they’re impacted can show you’re on top of things and doing what is necessary to set things straight. It also puts the power back in your hands, so you can stay in control of the situation to properly fix the problem.
How to provide proactive customer service by getting ahead of issues
When something goes wrong, you need to act quickly if you want to be proactive. Here are the steps to take to stay ahead:
1. Investigate what went wrong. Whether you posted an insensitive social media post or you sent a customer the wrong order, your first step in solving a problem proactively is to understand what went wrong. Look into what happened and why it happened, and identify where the issue lies.
While you want to know the root of your mistake, you also don’t want to spend too much time looking into minute details before giving your customers a heads-up. A key to staying proactive is responding quickly, so if your investigation will need more time, at the very least let your customers know.
2. Notify your customers. Tell your customers what went wrong and offer a sincere apology. Tell them what happened and what steps you’re taking to fix the problem.Here’s a quick example of an email you could send:
Our recent software update is giving some users trouble logging in to their accounts. We’re aware of the problem and have our development team looking into the issue.
We’re so sorry for any inconvenience that this has caused, and we’ll keep you informed on our progress with hourly updates to let you know of any changes.
While this message is short and doesn’t offer all the nitty gritty details, it still lets your reader know you’re looking for a solution. It keeps them in the loop with a rough timeline and helps you manage customer expectations.
3. Offer a discount or refund. Depending on the size of your mistake, a discount or refund might be appropriate for convincing customers to give you a second chance. If you can’t find a solution to satisfy their needs, or they’re just ready to move on, make an offer that can at least let them go without a bad taste in their mouth.
Although things may not have gone the way they hoped, a discount or refund can salvage a potentially lost customer experience. And you never know––they might come back!
4. Tell customers what you’re doing to prevent the issue from happening again. Although mistakes can happen, customers want to know that you’re learning from them. They might forgive you the first time around, but if they constantly run into the same issues, they’re likely to become frustrated and want to move on to a competitor.
To prevent that from happening, make changes and let your customers know what you’re doing to avoid the same issue from occurring again. Fill them in on new processes or procedures you’ve implemented, including additional tests or checks that’ll help you catch future problems before they happen.
5. Make your outreach personal
A decade or so ago, getting an email from a brand addressed to you felt a little spooky. But as almost every business has adopted personalization in one way or another, it’s what we’ve grown to expect.
In fact, 80% of consumers1 are more likely to make purchases from a brand that offers personalized experiences.
If you know that one of your customer segments is not as tech-savvy, for example, you could personalize your emails to them with extra tips and tricks for how to use your product or service. Maybe even set up a monthly Q&A call hosted by your customer service team where customers can ask questions and get answers in real time. These are both great ways of providing proactive customer service!
Customers can feel cared for and heard, making your job easier.
How to provide proactive customer support by making outreach personal
When providing proactive customer support, try to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach—it can feel spammy. Unless a mistake or change is impacting your entire customer base, you don’t need to send a mass message to everyone in your CRM (customer relationship management platform).
Targeting those messages at specific customers can help you get the right message to the right person at the right time. Here are some ideas to make your proactive outreach more personalized:
- Use location targeting. Certain problems or challenges may only impact customers in a certain area. Using the customer’s location (which you should’ve logged in your CRM), send out specific updates or messages.
- Send updates on past purchases. Knowing what products or services your customers have bought in the past can go a long way in sending personalized messages. Keep them up to date on specific product changes, or just follow up on their feedback on a purchase.
- Offer product recommendations. Product recommendations are one commonly used way to upsell and cross-sell existing customers. (Amazon is a master at this. Speaking of which, here’s how to improve your e-commerce customer service.) By offering new items based on their previous purchases, you can increase your customer’s lifetime value and even help them discover products that they didn’t know about before.
Make proactive customer service part of your support and marketing plan
Having a strong reactive customer support team is important for making sure issues are resolved and problems are handled. But it’s usually not enough to keep customers happy.
Before a customer is willing to reach out for assistance, they need to be somewhat invested in your brand. If they don’t feel that connection or desire to really want to know more, they won’t waste their time on you.
With a proactive customer service strategy, you’re ready to answer questions, provide support, and encourage customers to engage. Customers can find exactly what they need right when they need it–and you can reduce confusion and prevent customers from churning out.
These five proactive customer support strategies are just the start. As you get to know your customers more, you can implement more targeted practices to make your proactive customer support even stronger.
Originally published Jun 01, 2020, updated Oct 23, 2020