Providing good customer service is no longer enough. To stay competitive, brands need to not just meet customer expectations in real-time but anticipate and provide solutions to problems before customers even know they have them. In other words, customer service needs to be proactive.
Almost a decade ago, Forrester released a report titled “Top 15 Trends For Customer Service In 2013.” Proactive customer service featured prominently on this list. At the time, Forrester reported that 29% of enterprises were investing in proactive communication.
In the years that followed, having a proactive support strategy did not become any less important—to customers at least. But for one reason or another, brands did not follow through when it came to actually adopting a proactive customer service strategy. In a 2020 survey, Gartner found that of 6,000 customers surveyed, only 13% received any type of proactive support.
Yet that same study also showed that proactive service can lead to a full percentage increase in a brand’s customer satisfaction score, net promoter score, value enhancement score, and customer effort score.
Fast forward to 2022, and businesses are finally paying attention to the need for proactive customer service. According to Gartner’s annual customer service and support priorities poll, more than 1 in 2 companies are shifting focus from reactive to proactive customer service. By 2025, Gartner predicts that proactive customer engagement interactions will outnumber reactive ones.
Here’s everything you need to know about proactive customer service, including proactive customer service meaning, its benefits, and how to get started.
What Is Proactive Customer Service?
In practice, proactive customer service usually involves brands contacting customers before customers reach out to them. For example, a company might let a customer know their order has been delayed rather than waiting for them to inquire about it.
Top reasons brands contact customers proactively include:
- To resolve an issue.
- To educate users about a new feature.
- To offer a new product.
- To renew a purchase.
- To set up an appointment/reminder.
- For warranty & service information.
- To announce special occasion offers.
Proactive customer support comes in many forms, including AI-powered chatbots, FAQs, self-service knowledge bases, social listening, surveys, co-browsing sessions, text messages, etc.
But regardless of what methods a brand uses, proactive support can help take customer service up a notch. More than two-thirds of customers have a better opinion of brands that contact them proactively.
Proactive customer service pays attention to the entire customer journey of a brand’s customer base (including potential customers).
Why Proactive Customer Service Approach Is Important
There are many reasons why adopting a proactive customer service approach is becoming essential for companies. Here are just some of the benefits of proactive customer service (and 12 reasons customer service is important in general).
It increases customer loyalty
When a brand preemptively helps customers instead of waiting for them to make contact, customers feel appreciated and are more likely to stick around.
One report found that proactive support increases customer retention rates by up to 5%. Because loyal customers are proven to spend more (and are more likely to try new products), better retention rates also translate into higher revenue.
Plus, happy customers are more likely to share a positive experience with family, friends, and co-workers. This free word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful fuel for business growth.
Case in point: when the customer care team at the e-commerce store Panhandle Ink realized they didn’t have the right size T-shirt to fulfill a customer’s order, they messaged the customer immediately and gave them one free t-shirt of their choice.
The customer was so impressed they shared their experience on Twitter. This is just one of many examples of proactive customer service.
It reduces customer churn
Research shows that:
- Only about 1 in 26 people will complain directly to a brand.
- More than 9 in 10 dissatisfied customers will simply leave.
By proactively looking for ways to improve the customer service experience, support agents are more likely to address the issues that customers who would never contact a brand directly might be facing.
It helps companies identify customer pain points and cuts down on customer complaints
Finding and solving customer pain points ahead of time reduces the likelihood that customers will complain, either directly to the brand or online.
About 13% of unhappy customers will share their bad experiences with at least 15 people. That’s 15 people that could have become new customers, but that will now probably go to a competitor instead.
It lowers the burden on support teams
Between 25% and 40% of all customer support requests are unnecessary.
According to research by Sabio and the Customer Contact Association, the most common reasons driving avoidable customer calls are:
- Customers looking for information about deliveries.
- Customers looking for updates on what to expect next in the buying cycle.
- Customers clarifying pricing/terms and conditions.
- Customers re-contacting customer support after their problem was not resolved the first time.
When a brand anticipates customer issues instead of waiting for them to appear, it can immediately resolve low-priority problems like these and reduce support ticket volumes. One study found that by taking a proactive approach, companies can lessen support ticket volume by up to 30% over a 12-month period.
Not only can this prevent customer service burnout. It also gives customer support agents the time and space they need to deal with critical issues more thoroughly.
It catches small issues before they become big problems
By getting ahead of customer pain points, proactive customer support teams have the opportunity to fix small issues before they turn into complex and time-consuming problems.
For example, reaching out to customers who recently bought a product to ask how they’re doing and discovering that some of them are struggling with setting it up/using it.
It’s much easier to walk customers through a product than to convince them to stay with a brand after they’ve repeatedly tried to get the product to work and couldn’t. About 1 in 3 customers will walk away from a brand after just one bad encounter.
It establishes a productive customer feedback loop
Through proactive customer support, businesses can better understand what customers want from them, their products, and services.
This is not just good for business. It also makes customers feel part of the business decision-making process and the product roadmap, which in turn makes them feel more attached to a brand. 77% of customers see brands that seek out and apply consumer feedback in a more positive light.
Reactive vs. Proactive Customer Service
Proactive support means making the first move to help customers. On the other hand, reactive customer service is when customers initiate contact about a problem they’ve encountered. By this point, the customer is more often than not frustrated, and the issue is a point of friction.
Proactive customer service definition: Anticipating customer issues and solving them before they arise/before customers reach out to you. Ideally, a customer shouldn’t even realize that there was ever a problem. This is a customer-centric approach to customer service.
Reactive customer service definition: Responding to problems customers are already facing and have contacted you about. This is the default approach to customer support for most organizations.
That’s not to say that reactive customer service is redundant or that brands should focus exclusively on proactive support. In reality, it’s not possible to anticipate every customer problem/need.
As a result, it’s best not to focus on proactive vs. reactive customer service. Instead, the best strategy is to offer both: provide reactive support when a problem has already occurred but focus on proactive service as a way to anticipate consumer pain points and delight customers.
Examples of reactive and proactive customer service include: fixing a feature that a customer has contacted you about (reactive) and notifying customers of a bug that you are currently working to resolve (proactive).
In a HelpLama survey:
- 89% of customers said they found proactive customer service a pleasant surprise and/or a positive experience.
- 92% of customers said that a company’s proactive strategy made them think of the company more positively.
- 87% of customers said proactive customer service prompted them to take positive action (like feeling more loyal toward the company or sharing their experience with others).
Together, reactive service and proactive service create the ultimate customer experience.
How to Be Proactive In Customer Service
Here we break down tips on how to be proactive in customer service into two types: support agent opportunities and self-service opportunities.
Support agent opportunities for taking a proactive approach
Here are some proactive customer service ideas support agents can implement.
Pay attention to social media platforms, forums, and other online sources. Just because your customers haven’t contacted you directly doesn’t mean they’re not seeking help elsewhere.
For more effective social listening, use a social media monitoring tool. Then, get involved in the conversation to help shape the narrative around your brand image.
The tech giant Amazon knows the value of proactive listening on social media. In one example, when a customer complained on Twitter about a Prime subscription, an Amazon customer service representative responded to them immediately.
Send out customer satisfaction surveys
Customer satisfaction surveys are questionnaires brands use to understand how their customers feel about their products/services/brand/customer support.
Surveys are a great way for companies to figure out what they’re doing well and what they could proactively improve upon.
There are different types of customer satisfaction surveys. Two of the most popular ones are:
- Net Promoter Score (NPS): This survey asks customers just one question: how likely they are to recommend the company to someone they know (from 0 to 10). In B2B industries, the average NPS is between 25 and 68. For B2C, it’s 4 to 71. Generally, any score above 0 is good because it means that your promoters exceed your detractors.
- Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): This survey measures how satisfied customers are with a particular experience/interaction. Scores between 75% and 85% are thought of as good. In other words, if you have a CSAT of 75%, that means that three in four customers rated you positively.
Whatever type of survey/metrics you choose to use, it’s crucial that you respond to low scores immediately. That way, you can quickly figure out what went wrong—and fix it.
Some good free/freemium options for surveys include Google Forms, Survey Monkey, and SurveyPlanet.
Leverage on-demand support tools
The best on-demand support tools will give customers access to proactive support when and where they need it and will elevate the support team’s customer interaction into a white glove service.
Take RemoteHQ as an example. Instead of communicating with customers through inefficient email, chat, and screenshots, customer service teams can use RemoteHQ’s Shared Browser to hop onto the same webpage as customers—and troubleshoot/solve their problems in front of them remotely. This could be showing them how to use a new feature, fix a common issue, or even renew their subscription on their behalf.
RemoteHQ also supports knowledge sharing. Support agents can create a reference file for each customer, upload notes and files, and share it with the customer or their co-workers.
This is important as having to repeat the same information multiple times is one of the most frustrating aspects of a bad customer experience—and the opposite of proactive support.
With all of the customer information right in front of them in a reference file, customer support agents will never have to ask customers to repeat themselves again, regardless of who the customer spoke to initially.
In addition, RemoteHQ also provides other must-have features for proactive service, like audio and video calls, a shared whiteboard for brainstorming, and integrations like Google Drive, Salesforce, Trello, and more.
How RemoteHQ Works
For example, Datapay, a payroll and human solutions provider, uses RemoteHQ as an always-on communication tool that makes it easier for them to provide proactive support to their clients.
Datapay gets countless calls throughout the day with questions and payroll reports from clients who sometimes also highlight mistakes that need to be fixed immediately. However, the Datapay service representative that spoke to a client initially may not always be available for follow-up support. This means that another team member has to relearn a customer’s case, increasing the time it takes to solve problems and annoying time-poor customers.
To help solve this problem, Datapay uses RemoteHQ to let team members communicate with one another as if they were in the same room. As a result, customer queries and problems can be solved as soon as they arise, and different team members are brought up to speed far more quickly.
Whether you’ve just made a sale or solved a customer query, it’s always a good idea to send a follow-up email to see how your customers are finding your product/service and if they’re satisfied.
At the very least, a follow-up email lets your customers know that you care about their experience and encourages them to get in touch with you in case they need more information. But it can also result in you getting valuable insights about your product/service.
There are many follow-up email templates you can follow, including this one from Hubspot.
Reach out and set up an onboarding call
First impressions are everything. If a customer can’t quickly figure out how to use your website/product/service, they will find an alternative.
You can use tutorials and automation to help customers get started. But if you notice that they’re stuck or haven’t logged into their account for a while, reach out and see if you can set up an onboarding call where you show them the ropes.
To ensure your customers are following along, use a co-browsing solution like RemoteHQ.
Our contextualized cursor means that customers will always know where on a page you are and what you are doing. At the same time, our Remote Browser means that you can give customers control so that they can practice using your website/product/service while you watch.
Put customer feedback to use
Implementing customer feedback can improve your product/service for other customers and reduce the likelihood that they’ll need to contact you about an issue.
Putting customer feedback to work can also increase customer loyalty. Nearly all customers say they are more likely to be loyal to a company that acts on their feedback.
Communicate via newsletters and real-time notifications
Email newsletters and/or text messages are a great way to stay in touch with customers and offer proactive support.
For example, through newsletters and text messages, brands can inform customers about:
- Issues that other customers are facing.
- What the company is doing to fix those issues.
- What the customers can do in the meantime.
One of our favorite proactive customer service examples is Anglian Waters. The water infrastructure company sends over 200,000 proactive SMS messages a year to notify customers about water outages and other problems in their area. So, rather than wondering what happened and figuring out if they should contact support, Anglian Water customers know what the problem is and that the company is working to resolve it.
This has led to a better customer experience, as proven by positive customer feedback. What’s more, this type of proactive customer service saves Anglian Water £100,000 yearly in call center costs.
Create an omnichannel customer service strategy
Customers expect a seamless experience, no matter the channel they’re on.
As a result, it’s crucial that businesses have a great omnichannel strategy in place. A customer service conversation that starts on social media needs to be able to continue to text messages, video chat, phone call, etc.
The shift from channel to channel needs to be continuous. In other words, customers shouldn’t have to re-explain something they’ve already shared with customer support when they switch channels.
Self-service opportunities for a proactive approach
Sometimes, the best thing a customer support team can do is provide self-help resources for customers.
Create a knowledge base/FAQ page
As many as 69% of customers would rather solve as many issues as possible on their own.
A similar number will always start by looking for an answer to their problem on a brand’s website.
If you want to meet customer expectations, you need a knowledge base/FAQ page.
A knowledge base is an online library of information about a product or service. It can include things like troubleshooting guides, manuals, company information, knowledge about different departments within your company, etc.
A frequently asked questions (FAQ) page is often an important part of a knowledge base. It includes a list of questions and answers to common customer queries.
Both knowledge bases and FAQ pages help with proactive customer support by anticipating customers’ problems and providing resources to resolve these problems themselves.
However, for a knowledge base/FAQ page to be useful, it needs to be well-organized. Make sure to prioritize common customer issues, i.e., they should appear at the top of the page.
You can figure out the issues customers most often run into by reviewing support tickets.
For inspiration on how to do this, look no further than LinkedIn. Their FAQ page is clean and straightforward to navigate. But it also has a search bar for users who can’t find an answer to their problem straight away.
Don’t forget to monitor content regularly for errors and relevance, too. Outdated content can confuse customers further or, worse, make them doubt that your company is still in operation.
Use chatbots with access to your knowledge base
Not every customer might have the patience or the skills to sift through your knowledge base, regardless of how easy it is to use.
For customers that would rather speak to a human but whose queries are so common, you’ve already answered them multiple times on your site, a pop-up chatbot that answers the question and links to your knowledge base for a more in-depth answer is a good solution.
Customers can ask the chatbot questions, and the chatbot can quickly point them in the right direction.
Ideally, you should opt for a chatbot that can record customer details. That way, customer support agents can reach out to customers whose queries are more complicated and could not be answered by AI.
Proactive Customer Service Needs to be Standard
At a time when switching brands is easier than ever, providing an exceptional customer experience can make or break a business.
Yet surprisingly, proactive customer service is still an underused customer support tactic.
For brands that want to stand out from competitors, foster customer loyalty, and grow revenue, switching from a solely reactive customer service strategy to one that also involves support agents reaching out to customers proactively is a must.
It’s not that difficult, either. As long as you have the right tools and listen to consumers, you can become known as a brand that goes above and beyond for its customers.