When was the last time you were pleasantly surprised by a customer service team?
Perhaps you ordered a coat online, only to find the store didn't have it in stock. Instead of giving up or issuing a refund, the representative had the coat shipped from another location and delivered right to your doorstep. Or maybe you booked a flight with your family, and since the airplane was under capacity, an attendant offered to change your seats so you could all sit together.
These pleasantly surprising instances of added value are forms of proactive customer service. Proactive customer service plays a significant role in increasing customer retention as well as customer delight.
In this post, we’ll define proactive support, explain how you implement the practice at your own business, and give real-life examples of businesses that offer proactive service.
What is proactive customer service?
Proactive customer service, also called proactive support, involves making the first move to help your customers before they feel they need to reach out to you for help. This can include introducing new products or services that they may like, making errors and glitches known as they occur, or simply going out of your way to improving a customer's experience.
While proactive support and proactive service both provide delightful experiences, the former focuses on anticipating and solving customer issues, while proactive service involves offering supplemental opportunities that will enhance the customer experience.
The mentality behind proactive customer service is that your company wants to go above and beyond for its customers, past the point of purchase. You want to prove your trustworthiness and increase customer loyalty, so you offer customers everything they need to have the best possible experience.
However, not all customer service can occur proactively. Reactive customer service is just as valuable but is reserved for different scenarios.
Proactive vs. Reactive Service
You can think of proactive customer service like getting vaccinated. It's proactive protection of your body against a virus that may affect you in the future. Proactive customer service offers solutions to problems that haven’t happened yet.
Reactive customer support is like over-the-counter medication. It's a reactive treatment of your body against an illness that has already affected you. In reactive customer service, a rep steps in once a problem has already occurred.
A straightforward way to understand the difference is knowing who makes the first move. Proactive service means the business initiates contact, and reactive service means the customer is the first to reach out.
Neither is better or worse than the other. In fact, the best-case scenario is to use both strategies. When you notice patterns in a customer's purchasing behavior, proactively recommend services that would supplement or support their processes. When a customer has questions about their product, reactively answer those questions and guide them to success.
8-Step Guide to Implementing Proactive Customer Service
If your customer service team is traditionally reactive, adding proactive measures may seem like a daunting challenge. Below we’ll discuss how you can implement proactive service at your own company.
1. Send out surveys.
Consumer feedback is essential to improving your proactive customer service. One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is assuming that they know what their customers want and need, and it’s near impossible to do this from an internal perspective. As a result, the best way to understand your customers is simply asking them how they feel.
Questionnaires can help you gain information from customers about how to improve aspects of your business. You can ask questions such as, "What do you wish we had done more of?" or "How could we have improved your experience shopping with us?" to gain insights into how to be more proactive with future customers.
Survey tools, like Net Promoter Score®, are great for gathering this feedback as they collect both qualitative and quantitative customer data.
2. Create a knowledge base.
Knowledge bases contain information about a company, its products and services, and other related topics.
It can contain articles, FAQs, and video tutorials that customers can use to troubleshoot issues independently without needing to or before resorting to making a call to your support teams. This is a form of proactive support because you’re anticipating possible problems and giving customers access to the information they’ll need to resolve their issues before they even arise.
For example, here at HubSpot we have a knowledge base that helps us better serve and delight our customers by giving them access to the solutions they need 24/7.
3. Introduce a "Products You May Like" feature.
A “Products You May Like,” or a recommendation feature, is a form of proactive customer service, as you're setting customers up for success by making recommendations that will supplement or enhance their experience. Instead of having to search for new products, you’re already letting them know what they should consider buying.
You can make these recommendations based on individual buyer behavior or use algorithms to understand how similar customers have made previous purchases. Not only will you show the customer you care by recommending things of interest, but you’re also driving revenue by encouraging them to make an additional purchase.
These recommendations don’t need to just be for products and services, though. For example, Netflix is a TV and movie streaming service that recommends new content to users based on their viewing history and the ratings they give content they’ve already watched.
4. Start an email newsletter.
There are other ways to stay in contact with your customers beyond recommending products and services. Email newsletters are a great way to do so, as you’ll keep customers connected to your company and provide them with valuable information.
Your email newsletter can include blog posts, industry news, new product announcements, events, and more. No matter what you include, you should tailor content to your business's offerings.
These newsletters can provide proactive support if you explain recurring issues that customers face and present solutions by recommending products or services that will meet their needs.
5. Automate scheduling processes.
Part of providing proactive support is reducing customer effort, and one way to do this is by offering automatic or SMS scheduling options.
For example, if one of your products requires routine maintenance, place customers on an automatic schedule so they don’t have to make appointments manually. Or, if a customer loves a product, you could offer automatic payment plans so they can continue to use their products without having to remember to re-subscribe every month.
This practice offers both proactive support and service as you’re reducing their effort and providing them with tools that help them succeed, like automatic subscriptions.
6. Monitoring your social media.
Much like how gossip does, company scandals can spread around social media channels and quickly make your shortcomings publicly visible.
If you aren’t monitoring what customers say about you on social media, you’re missing out on valuable opportunities to better understand your customers. Given this, it’s always best to pay attention to your various social channels and track what people say about your company.
You can conduct social listening and follow keywords and hashtags related to your business, and this opens doors for proactive customer support on social media. For instance, if a customer tweets about how frustrated they are with how delayed their delivery is, you can immediately respond and offer a solution.
7. Offer a loyalty program.
It takes a lot for customers to commit to a company, so you should pat yourself on the back for each lifetime customer you attract. However, you should never forget to show loyal customers how appreciative you are of their dedication and trust in your business.
Loyalty programs are a great way to show appreciation, as you’re rewarding customers for continuously doing business with you. These programs are a form of proactive service, as you’re giving special offers and discounts that will enhance and supplement customer experiences.
8. Be honest about mistakes.
It can be disheartening if a customer contacts you about a glitch, technical error, or general mistake that they experienced. It’s discouraging for customers as well, as they’d much rather hear about issues from you and know that you’re already implementing solutions.
Because of this, a proactive support best practice is admitting mistakes and letting customers know when issues arise before they discover them on their own. You can apologize for the inconvenience, explain how you’re finding solutions, and offer discounts or refunds if you can’t adequately resolve the issue.
This strategy is proactive service and support. You’re giving customers the solutions they need if they experience an issue, and offering a refund to alleviate the strain from a faulty product for a stress-free experience. Customers also value this approach because it shows them that you’re keen, honest, and dedicated to providing value.
Following these eight measures should help any business provide proactive customer service, support, and cultivate a valuable customer experience.
Let’s go over some real-life examples of businesses that actively practice proactive service.
Examples of Proactive Customer Service
- Copa Airlines
- Anglian Water
Debenhams is a UK-based retailer that sells clothing. As an Ecommerce site, one of its most significant points of friction is product returns and exchanges. Customers are often left with additional shipping expenses, which creates a less enjoyable experience.
To combat this roadblock, Debenhams created buying guides that help customers select products that best fit their wardrobes. Customers can browse a knowledge base containing self-service articles that explain everything from buying men's suits to what to wear at a wedding.
Customers who may be confused about Debenhams' products can read these guides and make a more confident decision when purchasing online.
2. Copa Airlines
Air travel can be a stressful and
Air travel can be a stressful and confusing process for customers. Some people don't fly often and aren't used to the formal procedures that are common with most airlines.
Copa Airlines tries to reduce this friction by implementing a live chat virtual assistant. Customers can contact the chatbot 24/7 with questions about their trip and resolve issues accordingly. Their webpage also includes explanations of what their chatbot can and can't do, so customers know when their best option is to contact a service representative.
Copa Airlines’ investment in proactive customer service has resulted in a 40% reduction in support agents’ case volume. The support team now has more time to focus on complex and time-sensitive cases that are more likely to result in customer churn.
3. Anglian Water
An interruption to your water supply can have a dramatic impact on your day-to-day life. If your water is cut off, you'll likely want real-time updates alerting you to when it will be turned back on.
Anglian Water provides a self-service option with an “In Your Area” webpage that notifies customers when there's an outage or construction taking place near their water line.
Customers can also subscribe to email or SMS messages that provide live updates on service interruptions and construction in their area. The business proactively provides support by letting them know about possible disruption and offers a service that enhances their experience.
HubBot, HubSpot's chatbot service, acts as a proactive customer support tool on the company website. When customers have questions about products or want to speak with a support representative, HubBot can help them accomplish their goals without friction.
Additionally, HubBot adapts to the page that you're on. In the example above, HubBot is showing a response tailored to HubSpot's CRM page. If you navigate to the Sales Hub page, HubBot updates sales-specific messages, as shown in the image below.
Timberland, an outdoor retailer, came up with a creative approach to proactive customer service when it debuted its virtual dressing rooms.
TV monitors were placed in storefront display windows, and customers that approached them would see themselves on the screen. Customers could then swipe through Timberland products and see how they would look on their person.
The video below shows how this campaign worked.
The business enhanced its customer experience by offering a service that would anticipate customer questions about how clothing would work for them.
Before augmented reality, furniture shopping was a bit of a guessing game. There was no way of telling how a piece would look in your home until you physically put it there.
IKEA's augmented reality app relieves this pain point, as it allows buyers to place items in their homes and see how they look before following through with a purchase. This is a proactive service that gives customers peace of mind and reduces the need for further support interactions when customers aren’t satisfied.
In 2018, KFC experienced a crisis when the company ran out of chicken to serve its customers. Being its number one product and having chicken in its name, KFC took a proactive approach on social media to address the problem. It released a series of light-hearted posts, like the one below, explaining the issue and the steps it was taking to correct it.
This comedic stance was well received by KFC's customer base and helped the company navigate an unexpected crisis. It's a great example of how proactive support can reduce friction when a company makes a costly mistake.
For more ways to provide proactive customer service, read about customer retention strategies.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.