Some of the best customer support you’ll ever get is the support you didn’t know you needed. This is what proactive customer service, also called proactive customer support, is in a nutshell. It’s a way of anticipating your customers' needs and solving them before they become a real issue—sometimes even before your customers know about it.
Webster’s dictionary defines the word proactive as “acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes.” It’s literally a forward-thinking approach to customer support. You solve now for problems that may occur later.
What exactly is proactive customer service?
Proactive customer service is identifying and solving customer issues and answering common questions before your customer needs to contact you. You meet your customers’ needs before they know they even need it.
Proactive support can include something as simple as going above and beyond for a customer, creating proactive alerts for glitches, or creating new products or services to address customer needs.
Proactive vs reactive customer service
Reactive customer service is the traditional form of support given to customers. The customer has a problem and they contact the company to resolve it. And while it’s impossible to predict every issue, reactive support can be an inconvenience at best and a cancellation driver at worst. Taking a proactive approach is getting in front of customer needs before they have to take the time to call you.
Think of it like the difference between a nice sit-down restaurant and a fast-food restaurant. In a nice restaurant, a server comes to you for your order. They may help you through the menu and make recommendations. While you’re eating, they’ll refill your drink before you need to ask. This anticipation of needs is proactive customer service.
In fast food, they wait for you to come to them. You have to go to the counter and order. It’s your job to fill your drink if it’s empty. And depending on where you go, asking for a recommendation gets you only a blank stare. This is reactive customer service and the chief difference is when you work on customer issues and needs. Proactive is future-minded and works to anticipate needs before the customer brings them to your attention whereas reactive begins to work on issues only after the customer tells you about them.
Why proactive customer service is the next evolution of customer support
Proactive customer service is the next step in providing a great customer experience. It’s a true differentiator for your brand. Here are four reasons to implement proactive customer service.
1. It’s what customers want
This is the simplest and most obvious reason. The vast majority of customers want proactive customer support. And that hasn’t changed over the course of the past decade.
A 2013 study by InContact found that “87 percent of U.S. adults want to be contacted proactively by an organization or company.” A 2022 HelpLama study uncovered that 83% of customers who were not contacted proactively said they want companies to reach out to them proactively to provide customer service.”
2. Increased customer confidence in your brand, product, and support
When you anticipate customer needs, it shows you really care about them. This builds trust and confidence in your brand, your product, and your support team. When you’re proactive, your customers know they’re in good hands.
MyCustomer reports on a study from Frost & Sullivan where 73% of customers that were reached out to proactively and had a good experience with the agent felt a positive change in their perception of the brand.
The same HelpLama study found that a whopping “92% of consumers reported that the experience of being contacted proactively by the company changed their perception of the company in a positive way.”
3. Increased retention
Any interactions that improve the customer experience are something that customers want. Proactive customer service is one of those types of interactions. Any time you can solve an issue before your customer finds out creates a win for their customer experience. And customer experience always improves retention.
Additionally, Zendesk reports that “81 percent of shoppers say a positive customer service experience increases the likelihood they’ll make another purchase.”
4. Lower contact volume and reduced costs
Being proactive in your customer service will lower your contact volume in your call center. A study by Sabio and the Customer Contact Association (reported via MyCustomer) reports that “between 25% and 40% of all calls to UK contact centers are either unnecessary or avoidable.”
If you’re proactively reaching out and lowering the contact volume in your contact center, it will naturally lead to a reduction in costs. Your agents will be able to focus on the customer interactions that you can’t prevent providing a better customer support experience, and you may even be able to reduce the headcount on your support team because of the increased efficiency.
6 ways to implement proactive customer service
Now that we’ve gone over the benefits of having proactive customer service, how exactly do you implement it? Ultimately it’ll come down to what your customers need and what makes sense for your business, but here are 6 ways you can start implementing proactive customer support today.
Create an FAQ
FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions and an online FAQ is a collection of frequently asked questions with helpful answers your customers can use to self-serve instead of contacting your support team.
Get started with an FAQ by taking inventory of the most common types of cases your support team gets that are not issues they are actually needed for. For example, a managed web hosting company may have a special reporting tool to analyze web traffic that may count visits a little differently than Google Analytics causing a difference in numbers. One of the FAQ questions could be “Why are my website numbers different than Google Analytics?” and could provide a simple explanation. This would prevent customers from needing to call customer support simply by anticipating their question.
Create a customer-facing online knowledge base
A Knowledge base takes an FAQ a step further. A knowledge base has in-depth how-to’s and other helpful articles that teach your customers how to use your product, go deeper if they want, and start solving their own issues.
Unless you have a perfect product (hint: nobody does), you’re going to have customers that call in simply because they can’t figure out how to use your product. Providing them with easily accessible step-by-step articles and videos to walk them through the process by themselves is a great way to self-serve while also proactively cutting down on support ticket volume.
Develop a knowledge base by tracking “consulting” tickets in your support ticketing system.
Set clear follow-up expectations
Many times, customers feel they have to reach out to get an update on an issue they’re already having. This erodes trust because customers want to be reached out to proactively, even if it’s for something where they had to reach out to support first. This is where setting clear expectations comes in.
When there is an issue, set clear expectations with your customers about when they will hear an update, when it might be resolved, and what might be happening. And then follow through with those expectations. That last part is crucial to continue to build trust in your brand and support team. This will cut down on repeat calls, which lowers your overall volume.
Set up system alerts
System alerts are automatic alerts set up to give notice when something is up. An alert could be generated when your website is down, when there is a glitch or error in your product, or something as simple as the product ships. Set up alerts that instill confidence in your customers that you are proactively working for their benefit.
There are two types of system alerts. The first is an alert generated in your system to let you and the company know something isn’t quite right. With these alerts, you can jump on the issue before any customers have to let you know about it.
The second type of system alert is an alert generated for the customer’s benefit alerting them of an issue or change in status. Online order shipping updates are a great example of this, but issue notifications are also becoming more common. A simple alert like “Something is wrong with our system, but we’re on it! Look for an email from us within 2 hours with an update.” can go a long way.
Get customer feedback
Gathering customer feedback from CSAT, NPS, and reviews is one of the best ways you can deliver great customer service. But it doesn’t have to stop there. It is also a great way to provide proactive customer service.
Your customers are the greatest source of inspiration when it comes to proactive service. Survey your customers, find out exactly what the majority sees as pain points, and then address them in a way where it doesn’t take contacting your support team to fix.
Customer feedback is easily found on social media as well. Customers will often say more on social media than they will in a review or survey so include social media channels in your feedback-gathering process.
Lastly, you can conduct product testing for old and new products and features alike so you can accurately anticipate where your customers might get frustrated with your products. Ask good questions and take great notes to keep a record of pain points.
Try out your product or service personally
Another great area of proactive inspiration is your support team. These are the folks that use your product almost every day, are experts at analytical thinking, and would love to feel valued enough to help improve support. Ask them to poke holes in your processes with the specific purpose of coming up with proactive service ideas.
By trying out your product, you get to see how things are from the customer’s perspective. You get to see first-hand how the product works, what it takes to sign up, what it takes to get support, and everything else your customer sees during their journey with you. Find where your product or service is lacking, and then use that to proactively solve those needs for your customers.
Real-world examples of proactive customer service
Now that we’ve gone through the what, the why, and the how, let’s look at some real-world proactive customer service examples in action. Here are four examples of proactively solving customer needs.
Cars.com focuses on cross-collaboration and inter-departmental relationships
Cars.com puts a strong emphasis on internal teams working together. Jared Hamby, Senior Manager, Inventory Operations at Cars.com has this to say:
"It's important to develop strong relationships between your Customer Support and Engineering/Product teams to partner in identifying and solving customer issues proactively before the Customer needs to worry about it.“
Cars.com uses this strong sense of camaraderie to create system alerts and identify global issues that could affect many of their almost 20,000 car dealership customers and potentially disrupt the livelihood of so many in the industry. Hamby adds, “Nothing is better than being able to reach out to a customer and let them know you found an issue and resolved it for them providing them added trust and peace of mind."
Honeylove Sculptwear focuses on setting clear expectations
Honeylove Sculptwear loves communication and uses it as the basis for their company-customer relationship. They communicate in a way that anticipates what information their customers need when they do require support and as a way to reduce repeat call volume. And this proactive approach has helped them grow to where they are today.
Ebony Hope, CX Team Lead for Honeylove Sculptwear, gives this example:
“When a customer reaches out for help, to exchange their order for instance, I set them up with exactly what to expect next. I explain how the process works, what they have to do, any relevant ETAs, and the final outcome. This creates a one-touch resolution and removes the need for the customer to reach out again. Empowering customers with the information they need gives them a stellar experience and reduces inbound volume. It’s a win-win situation!”
Texas de Brazil focuses on the little details in proactive service
This one comes from my own experience as a restaurant customer. US-based Brazilian steakhouse restaurant company Texas de Brazil puts a tremendous amount of effort into anticipating your needs as you’re eating.
For the uninitiated, a Brazilian steakhouse provides you with all-you-can-eat steak, chicken, lamb, and Brazilian sausage carved right at your table by expert carvers called gauchos. It’s an experience, to say the least.
Part of what makes that experience so special is how well they take care of their customers. They specialize in the finest details. When you get up from the table, they neatly refold your napkin. If your water is almost empty, they always refill it before you have a chance to ask. Their servers even come by and proactively ask what cuts of meat you’d like so they can send it around for you.
The key is they anticipate your needs and don’t stop at the big, obvious details. They get down to the nitty-gritty of taking care of their customers and that can be carried over into any industry.
eBay’s sell page is a masterclass in proactive clarity
In his book Building a Storybrand, New York Times bestselling author Donald Miller says “ The key is to make your company’s message about something that helps the customer survive and to do so in such a way that they can understand it without burning too many calories.” eBay took that philosophy and ran with it.
It’s no secret that eBay is a big company. And when you’re a company the size of eBay, it’s easy to overlook the smaller details. But eBay’s sell page provides clarity into exactly how their process works. And it comes complete with an FAQ.
They first outline the basics in a three-step process starting with listing your item, then to what protection you get, and finally selecting how you want to get paid. They then take you through how to create a great listing to help you sell your item, followed by an FAQ section with helpful answers to commonly asked questions. They’ve essentially laid out everything you need to know so you don’t have to wait for them to provide you with customer support.
Proactive customer service is not just something that’s “nice to have.” Customers want it and it has clear benefits for your business. Put these tips into action to start meeting your customers’ needs before they even ask.
At Peak Support, we value providing proactive customer service to our customers, and our client survey results agree. One of our customers said, “I think our Peak Support team does a great job at communication and being proactive about issues or blockers they encounter.”
If you’d like to explore working with us to help implement, scale, and overall improve your customer service process, contact us today!