Complete Guide to Proactive Customer Support

14 min read
Customer service agent offering proactive support

Over the course of history, the typical support interaction has generally involved a customer reaching out to a business, typically by phone, and waiting in a support queue in the event of something going wrong. But in the world of customer service, timing is everything and proactive support can help.

According to the Customer Service Barometer study fielded by American Express, 40% of customers agree that they would be pleased by customer service agents taking care of their needs faster. To meet this expectation, companies have to be forward-thinking about their customers’ wants and needs to get ahead of the curve — they need to be providing proactive customer support.

What is proactive customer service and how is it different from reactive customer service? What are the benefits of a proactive customer service strategy? How can businesses implement effective proactive customer service and what tools can they use? Let’s take a closer look at proactive customer support to answer these questions and more.

Feel free to explore at your own pace, starting with our table of contents:

Satisfied customer smiles at her computer

What Is Proactive Support?

Proactive support is a company’s strategy to anticipate the probable concerns and preferences of their customers, such as communicating shipping delays or inventory issues in advance of the customer knowing about them. It is an attempt to meet customers’ needs prior to them reaching out themselves — to answer the customer’s questions before they have the chance to ask.

The traditional customer service strategy had been a reactive approach for so long:

  1. Customer reaches out to brand
  2. Brand has protocols and best practices in place for responding to the customer
  3. Brand attempts to tackle the customer’s single concern

Rather than reacting when a customer reaches out, the modern CS organization should be one that is proactive, using a mix of technology and human forward-thinking to anticipate the next step in the customer’s journey with a product or a brand. Reach out and check in with a customer, let them know that the same product is available in another color or that there’s an update to their current product. It’s not salesy, it’s not stuffy, it’s not formulaic — it’s empathetic and it’s personalized.

Proactive customer support: 

  • Empowers customer service agents to make the first connection to offer a solution or suggestion without being prompted
  • Solves for a need, such as faster delivery to avoid a forecasted storm
  • Provides solutions to problems that haven’t yet occurred
  • Initiates first contact on behalf of the brand 
  • Allows agents to focus on relationship-building and delivering value

Reactive customer support:

  • Offers support once the customer brings the problem to the surface
  • Solves for a want, such as a refund for an unsatisfactory experience
  • Reacts to problems that have already transpired
  • Accepts first contact from the customer
  • Burdens agents with low-level, repetitive inquiries

Examples of Proactive Support

In its simplest form, proactive support might consist of customer service agents communicating shipping delays or product inventory issues in advance of the customer learning about them. Proactive customer support is advantageous in these scenarios, as it allows the brand to take control of the narrative of a potentially unfortunate circumstance while also making the customer feel valued and respectful of the brand’s transparency.

Source: Starbucks Barista chatbot

More nuanced proactive support examples could include sharing relevant product updates based on a customer’s previous experiences with your brand. Not only does this kind of support potentially turn a one-time customer into a repeat customer by informing them of relevant updates, but it also encourages a sense of brand loyalty by fostering a conversational relationship throughout the customer journey.

Live chat can also be used more proactively to meet a customer where they are and connect with them the moment they might need guidance. If a customer is spending a lot of time on one webpage or is frequently returning to the same page, agents can use that data to proactively live chat the customer while they are on that page. Agents can answer questions about the product, offer recommendations, and even guide them to a successful purchase. 

Other great uses of proactive support include:

  • Dynamic FAQs: FAQs are a simple but very effective method of proactive customer support through self-service, and the more dynamic they are, the more information and satisfaction the customer will get out of it.
  • Automated chatbots: Chat doesn’t have to be live to be effective and proactive. An automated chatbot can prompt users with any questions they may have while also simplifying the ordering process and even notifying the customer about purchase updates.
  • New feature or product tours: By releasing a video or tutorial highlighting a new feature, product, or update, this proactive support can serve double duty by preemptively resolving questions and also promoting something new.

Why Is Proactive Support Important?

 Customer engaging in proactive support messaging

The modern customer has much higher expectations – being able to manage support inquiries is no longer the baseline expectation from consumers. In recent research, CX organizations identified proactively resolving customer issues (70%) as a top priority, after reducing wait times (81%) and consistency across channels and touchpoints (70%). All three of these priorities should be included as part of a thorough, and comprehensive, proactive customer support strategy, without which customers could turn to another brand that meets their needs better and faster.

Proactive support as a competitive advantage

Every market is virtually saturated with brands trying to outdo their competition and be the favorites of their target audiences with ads on social media, bombarding email inboxes, and flooding notification screens. Brands can use proactive customer support as a key differentiator to stand out among their competitors. If your brand and the next brand offer the same products and services, but your brand is the only one that provides proactive customer support that answers customer questions before they even have the chance to ask them, which brand do you think will stand out? By anticipating customer needs in advance and harnessing proactivity, your brand becomes the obvious choice. 

When done correctly, brands that can master the right mix of technology and agent skill set will be able to blur the lines between marketing, sales, and support to leverage proactive support as another revenue driver for their business.

What Are the Benefits of Proactive Support?

With 91% of American consumers reporting that they will take their business elsewhere following a bad customer service experience, the benefits of providing proactive customer service that addresses issues before they happen are substantial, to say the least. While addressing customer demand in the digital age is a multifaceted endeavor, proactive support has a direct impact on the success of a brand, regardless of size.

In order to cultivate loyalty and retention, proactive customer support needs to be integrated throughout the entire customer journey, not only limited to the initial purchase transaction. 

Top benefits for providing proactive customer support

  • Controlled touchpoints that engage the customer frequently and effectively, before they have the chance to reach out with an issue;
  • Greater customer satisfaction by being transparent and authentic in your forward-thinking communication;
  • Increased customer retention and loyalty, turning one-time customers into brand advocates;
  • Standing out among the competition as a brand that customers can trust to address their concerns before they even know they have them;
  • Collect data and analytics proactively to perpetually improve the experience, instead of waiting for the data to come to you.

How to Implement Effective Proactive Support

Every brand is different, which means that an effective proactive customer support strategy will look slightly different on every customer support team. There are, however, specific elements behind the proactive support strategies that are most impactful.

Collect customer feedback

Your customers are your greatest source of data, and the best way to learn from them is to simply ask. Collect customer feedback from each of your interactions and identify common questions, concerns, and pain points, as well as common successes; knowing what’s working is often just as important as knowing what’s not working. Support teams can then use this crucial data to proactively check in with customers before they’ve reached out with a problem.

“One of the benefits of surveys is that you can gather feedback from customers immediately after an interaction with your team. This helps you better understand customers’ experiences in real time. You can segment the results by agent, team and — most importantly — channel.”

— John Merse, Kustomer Senior Product Manager 

Start by measuring three core customer service metrics:

  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT): A CSAT score is used to measure an individual customer’s feelings about a specific interaction with your support team through a Likert scale question
  • Net promoter score (NPS): NPS is a calculation of the percentage of a company’s true advocates — the higher the score, the greater the advocate and more likely they are to recommend your brand to others
  • Customer effort score (CES): CES is a score that tracks the effort a customer puts into using your product or service; the more effort that is needed over time will likely erode their loyalty

Train your customer support team

Proactive customer support isn’t just about analytics, it requires an equal amount of human insight. Before investing in technology, make sure you have a team of engaged agents that are already thinking about your customers’ needs.

As reactive support is generally more common, you need to establish a culture of proactive support that starts from the top down, ensuring that the customer’s satisfaction is always top of mind. Just because the customer hasn’t expressed an issue, doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing one or that they won’t — it’s the trained team’s job to address potential issues before the customer has the chance to bring it up.

Prioritize and invest in analytics

By combining human insight with powerful analytics, reporting and a record of every customer’s history, you can equip your team with everything they need to know about their customers. Customer behavior data and analytics are crucial to empower your team to proactively address issues before they’ve taken place.

When you have all of your customer information in one system, across all of your platforms and integrations, you can create the kind of granular searches for customers that account for their specific behaviors or needs. If you don’t have all the data in a single customer view, it’s almost impossible to be proactive.

Protect and secure your data

Beyond having all the necessary data at your fingertips, that data needs to be in one safe, central location or network of locations. This can be a system you’ve created in-house or a third-party CRM — the important thing is security, usability and easy accessibility for your agents. Your solution should secure all customer and company data with logical roles and authentication, while simultaneously providing customer support agents with easy access to accurate customer data in an intuitive interface. 

Have robust customer self-service tools in place

Research indicates that 88% of consumers expect brands to now offer at least one self-service option, and another 58% reported that they prefer to solve customer service issues on their own versus talking to a company representative. The customer has told us what they want — why not give it to them?

Common self-service options include:

Implementing self-service options empowers customers to discover answers to common questions on their own without needing to speak to a customer support representative, and it also saves your agents’ time and energy, allowing them to focus their effort on more nuanced customer interactions. 

Leverage omnichannel communication 

If customer satisfaction is the goal, then it’s essential to be able to meet the customer where they are, rather than expecting them to flex their preferences to your format. Kustomer research found that CX professionals believe live chat (79%), social messaging (72%), and SMS (56%) will become more popular channels in the next three years. With this in mind, brands need to establish multiple platforms through which customer service teams can offer both reactive and proactive support. 

“In a true omnichannel environment it’s important to understand that each channel is unique and requires a specific communication style.”

— John Merse, Kustomer Senior Product Manager

It’s clear that customers now expect efficient, personalized support. Support leaders are turning to conversational, chat-based channels, such as live chat and social media platforms to help them strike the balance of informative, personalized, and authentic while leveraging proactive support at scale. 

Give agents the right tech

Without the right tools in place, agents can only do so much toward fulfilling a proactive support strategy. A customer relationship management (CRM) solution contains and empowers agents to execute every form of proactive customer support, including knowledge bases, live chat, chatbots, email, phone support, and messaging. It also stores extensive data on every customer interaction, helping agents to address customer concerns more quickly and accurately. 

Alongside a CRM, there are a number of other important solutions that set agents up for successful proactive support. These can include automation software, marketing tools, coaching software, and customer feedback solutions.

Unsure on where to start? We’ve put together a seven-step guide on how to implement proactive messaging at your organization.

Proactive Support FAQs

1. Why is proactive support better than reactive support for a CS strategy?

Many organizations base their understanding of customer service on reactive interactions — those that take place after the customer has reached out to the brand for support. But every business offers this service in one form or another, and companies are in need of opportunities with which to stand out in a saturated market. By initiating support conversations with customers — proactive CS — businesses can not only solve otherwise undetected purchase problems but also differentiate themselves with proactive customer service practices.

2. How does proactive support fit into the larger customer experience?

As customer service is one element of the customer experience, it’s important to focus on both of these aspects, rather than prioritizing one over the other. Enhancing the entire customer experience provides brands with greater opportunities to in turn enhance unique customer service interactions. With proactive customer service supporting the greater customer experience, brands will increase customer loyalty, improve consistency across the board, and advance the trackability and success of essential interactions. By continuously improving the experience as a whole, brands can transform one-time customers into loyal advocates. 

3. What is proactive messaging?

Proactive messaging is the customer service strategy in which a business reaches out to customer before they reach out to your company across each and every communication channel. With proactive messaging, you can influence the customer’s purchasing decision by presenting them with new products or services or by providing guidance on a product or service they’ve interacted with. By connecting with customers in this way you’re able to create a longer- and stronger-lasting impression. 

4. How can you measure proactive support actions?

How does a company actually define “great” customer service? How can a company determine the level of its service? Turns out there are multiple ways CS software can measure the proactive performance of your CS team. Today’s customer service metrics are able to capture comprehensive information from a range of vantage points. Utilizing these metrics will help discern where your team and company are excelling as well as where there is room for improvement. These insights can not only empower a company to respond, but also identify areas where proactive steps can be taken.

5. How does proactive support increase customer loyalty?

Engaged customers are often easily retained. There are opportunities for businesses to harness data like prior purchase history and customer preferences to offer discounts or share low inventory alerts on items you know customers actively seek out. Taking a proactive support approach fosters a sense of loyalty and allows customers to build a personal connection with your brand. 

6. What factors can agents use to be proactive in their support? 

Instead of waiting for a customer to ping you, agents can send instant messages to target audiences based on various factors, such as:

  • Time spent on the page
  • Last page visited
  • Geographical locations
  • Attributes based on log-in information
  • VIP status

Are you looking to make the transition to proactive customer service? Uncover the power of the Kustomer CRM today with our 14-day free trial.  Deliver faster, richer experiences to your customers with omnichannel messaging, a unified customer view, and AI-powered automations. All with Kustomer, now part of Meta.

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