What is proactive customer service and how can it help your business?

Author: Nick Reese

Customers have shown they are willing to switch brands to get the experience they want—54% of consumers will stop using a brand after only one bad experience.

In this environment, it's no longer enough to be highly responsive when a customer reaches out. Instead, businesses can benefit from taking a proactive customer service approach that anticipates what a customer needs before they reach out to ask—or before they even know they need help. According to a HelpLama survey, around two-thirds (64%) of customers have experienced proactive service.

What is proactive customer service?

Proactive customer support is the process of anticipating customer problems and requirements and addressing them before the customer has to reach out to your contact center.

Addressing the issue ahead of time and making the first move allows you to manage the issue on your terms and come to the customer with a solution in hand; for example, an auto company

reminds a customer that their vehicle is due for service. This helps start the conversation on the right foot and improves the odds that the customer experience is a positive one. Of the 36% of HelpLama survey respondents who had not experienced proactive service, 83% said they want companies to contact them proactively to provide customer service.

Proactive customer support may seem like it requires CX teams to be part detective, part analyst, and part mind reader. But by leveraging data and technology, CX teams can uncover insights about their users that allow them to take the initiative and reach out to customers ahead of time.

How does proactive customer service work?

Imagine you are out to lunch at your favorite café. Which would you prefer: Asking the waiter every time you want more coffee or having them notice when your cup is low and offer to refill it? That's proactive customer service in a nutshell.

Whether it's a coffee top-up or a sophisticated outreach or upsell strategy, every proactive customer support effort shares three key characteristics.

1. Anticipate customer needs

In the above example, the waiter knows an empty coffee cup doesn't always mean the patron is finished drinking coffee. Being proactive requires the ability to anticipate what the customer may need or want based on their prior actions and your historical customer data.

2. Provide a personalized experience

If the waiter proactively refills the coffee cup with water, don't expect a happy customer. By using context clues about what each individual wants, you can personalize the experience so your proactive customer service is useful and appreciated.

3. Monitor customer feedback

A customer who asks for the check most likely no longer needs a refill. Each subsequent customer behavior and interaction provides new context clues you can use to inform your next proactive customer service action.

The benefits of proactive customer service

With a honed approach to proactive customer service, you can go above and beyond what your competitors offer, allowing you to:

  • Increase revenue. Proactive measures and triggers such as cart and browse recovery communication can help drive sales. One report found that  cart abandon emails (6.2%) and browse abandon emails (3.8%) helped boost extra sales.
  • Reduce customer churn. Proactive customer service that creates positive customer experiences makes it less likely that a customer will abandon you for a competitor, helping you get more lifetime value out of each buyer.
  • Improve your brand reputation. Providing proactive customer support helps your brand stand apart, which lets you attract new customers while increasing customer loyalty and referrals. According to HelpLama, 92% of consumers said receiving proactive customer service positively changed their perception of the company.

Optimize CX efficiency. Proactive customer service can reduce ticket volume, freeing your staff to be available to help other customers with more difficult issues. Zendesk used customer support data to deploy proactive measures that saw a 65% increase in visits to self-service resources, helping to combat the impact of spiking ticket volumes.

Understanding when to use proactive vs. reactive service

Unlike proactive customer support, reactive customer support requires customers to take the first step. Not only does an upset customer have to take time out of their day to get assistance, but they need to figure out which of your channels to use, wait in line for help, explain their issue, and wait for a resolution. Even if you're able to solve the issue, the experience can leave a bad taste in their mouth.

However, this doesn't mean a proactive customer service approach should be your only approach, or even that it's the superior approach. A strong reactive customer support approach is crucial for solving specific customer issues that are impossible to foresee, troubleshooting complex issues, and providing customers with answers when they're exploring their options.

Rather than focusing on one or the other, the key is to offer both proactive and reactive customer service at the right time and at the right points of the customer service journey. Use proactive customer service to do things like:

  • Send order updates if there are product delays
  • Launch an automated chat when a customer is browsing the knowledge base
  • Send product recommendations for accessories to a recent purchase
  • Request that a customer leave a review

Use reactive customer service to respond to the pressing issues that can make or break a customer relationship, such as:

  • Responding to a customer complaint
  • Providing technical support
  • Helping a customer resolve a billing issue

How technology enables proactive customer support

Unlike reactive customer service, which may require a human element, proactive customer support is often automated and triggered by a customer action or insight.

The data you capture in your customer relationship management system can provide a wealth of information about what your customer needs, wants and thinks, so you can anticipate their desires and provide a more personalized experience. This data can then be used to trigger emails, chatbots and other automated outreach efforts in a way that is helpful and relevant to each user.

By leveraging advanced predictive analytics, you can analyze all your data across your customer base to better understand what different customer cohorts are doing and why. This allows you to create more personalized proactive experiences that generate relevant recommendations at the right time to improve customer satisfaction and drive growth. You can also monitor changes in customer feedback and behavior in near real-time, so you can execute the next best action without human intervention, allowing you to react faster.

Implementing proactive customer service is a critical element to CX success. Verizon's CX consulting services can integrate proactive customer support strategies and technologies into your contact center to help you deliver better customer experiences. Learn more about Verizon CX consulting services and solutions.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.