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Understanding proactive customer service

Anyone who has stayed in a five-star hotel or had a meal at a top-flight restaurant knows the experience of having service staff anticipating every need. That’s the idea behind “proactive customer service,” in which brands use digital technology to improve customers’ experiences by delivering assistance before they ask for it.

What is proactive customer service?

Proactive customer service is the process of using customer-interaction data and automation tools to recommend products and services, solve problems, or surprise customers with something unexpected.

Proactive customer service is the opposite of reactive customer service, which happens when customers ask for advice or help. While reactive customer service needs to be executed well to keep customers happy, proactive service sets a brand apart from its competition.

How to offer proactive customer service

Proactive customer service requires a system to identify and deliver customer needs.

1. Flag problems before customers experience them

Often, when problems occur—delayed orders, a service slowdown, sold-out items—organizations are alerted in real time. Notifying customers through their preferred channels—email, text, or app—before complaints start rolling in is one way to keep customers informed, and therefore relatively satisfied. Proactive communication should not only alert customers to the problem, but explain how it will be solved.

2. Recommend new products and services

For regular customers or those who have set up personal profiles, brands can use previous purchases, product searches, and website browsing to send personalized “You may also like” messages about other offerings. Recommendations can generate added revenue, but if done smartly and selectively, they also let the customer know the business is in tune with their needs.

Tools for proactive customer service

Proactive customer service relies on data and tools, from the analog to the automated:

Customer feedback

Asking customers what they want is an important customer-service tool. Customer surveys are the most obvious way to get this feedback, but brands have other ways to glean information:

Track customer behavior on websites and apps to see where interactions drop off or encounter obstacles. If shoppers place products in carts but leave before checking out, that might be a clue that shipping prices are too high or that checkout is complicated.

Gather support-desk or customer-service data to track the most common troubleshooting issues. The information can indicate which products, services, or processes cause the most problems and can identify gaps in service information provided to customers.

Knowledge base

Providing customers with accurate and easy-to-access self-help information is another way to provide proactive customer service. The simplest is a list of frequently asked questions addressing the most common issues. Discussion forums where customers can share insights with other users of the same products or services can also be helpful. The key is to ensure that the information is easy to access and refreshed regularly.

Automation

Automation is critical to anticipating customer needs and addressing them proactively. For instance, customer-service automation can track delays in orders, investigate solutions, and inform customers of the new delivery schedule long before the customer realizes the order is late.

Measuring the proactive customer experience

Tracking the performance of proactive customer service is much the same as measuring any customer interaction. The most common metrics are:

  • Retention rate. This metric details the percentage of customers that stay with an organization over time. Providing a proactive experience can increase customer loyalty and lead to repeat business.
  • Churn rate. The opposite of the retention rate, churn rate measures how many customers are lost over time.
  • Number of support tickets/resolution time. The upward movement in the number of support tickets can indicate whether there are problems with products or services that should be resolved—and if the support team needs to be beefed up. Conversely, a decline in support tickets could indicate proactive service’s success.

Anticipating customers’ needs doesn’t require clairvoyance; it only takes seeing your organization the way your customers do and imagining what would make them happy doing business with you. When the proactive customer experience goes beyond the routine, it’s more likely to be a hit.

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