The magic of proactive customer support in growing your business

Catherine Heath | November 27, 2019

When was the last time you dealt with a company’s customer support team, and felt like they truly had time for you? Or is it easier to recall signing up for a product or service, and only having some begrudging, limited contact with a company when something went wrong? It seemed like they stopped caring about you after you parted with your money. 

Proactive customer service is going beyond aiming for customer satisfaction, and instead focusing on customer delight: customers really are number one. It’s the difference between having an ordinary customer experience, and an extraordinary one. 

Here at KnowledgeOwl, we are big fans of proactive customer support. The whole company is structured around our customers, and we’ve removed the hoops that customers normally expect to jump through when interacting with support. Customers are delighted by the simplicity of contacting our support team, and with the service they receive. 

What is proactive customer support?

According to sources, proactive customer service is one of the top trends in customer service, and it’s becoming the norm for what customers expect. Although there will always be a place for reactive customer support, it must be delivered in combination with proactive support.

Attaining the “wow” factor in customer service is more than just offering discounts and offers. There are two dimensions to proactive customer support: 

  1.  Anticipating customer problems before they occur and providing the solution 
  2.  Creating situations where customers experience delight

Let’s look at an example. Glasses brand Warby Parker wowed a customer by returning their lost glasses to them, after an employee found them on a train. This customer was turned into a brand ambassador. But proactive customer service isn’t just about flashy gestures: it must be a part of the everyday operations of your company.

Kayako has published a great post on the history of customer service, covering how it has evolved from an IT troubleshooting “ticket” mentality to more proactive and personalized communication. 

Put simply, customers don’t want to deal with complex bureaucracy anymore, or repeat their problems over again (a scenario that 89% of customers complain about). Customers expect you to know who they are when they get in touch, be aware of the context, and to anticipate what they need. 

Proactive customer service can take place before the sale, after the sale, or before a customer is about to churn. 

Benefits of proactive customer support

There are many benefits to investing in your proactive customer support strategy. We’ll look at just some of them now. 

1. Fulfil customer desires

Proactive customer service is the benchmark standard that customers want to see from companies. 87% of customers want to be proactively contacted by companies they do business with. 

They are happy to be contacted if it’s something important that benefits them: as opposed to generic and irrelevant communications. 75% of customers said a positive interaction improved their perception of a company. 

2. Earn Customer Loyalty

More importantly than gaining new customers, you want your existing customers to stick with you through thick and thin. Earning customer loyalty is the holy grail of customer service. Loyal customers are five times more likely to buy from you again and four times more likely to recommend your brand to others.

The most significant factor in earning customer loyalty is reducing the customer effort it takes to interact with your company. And that’s the heart of what proactive customer service is all about. You’re eliminating the burden placed on customers to resolve their own issues.

3. Increase Customer Retention 

Loyal customers are retained by your business in the long term, and are resistant to the lure of competing products and alternative brands. Proactive customer support catches customers before they churn. Just a 5% increase in customer retention can increase profits by up to 95%

Proactive customer service is more closely tied to customer success and falls under the umbrella of customer experience. You must go beyond the bare minimum to make sure that customers get the most out of your product. 

Only a very small percentage of customers actually complain to your business – you will only ever hear from one in 25 of them. This means that the majority will just churn if they encounter problems, and you will never hear about it. 

4. Create Brand Advocates (NPS)

Brand Advocates are those customers who will tell their friends and family about you. Just like we mentioned earlier, that Warby Parker customer told all of their family and friends about the great experience they had. They were effectively recommending the brand through word-of-mouth. 

As well as just being good for your brand, word-of-mouth referrals is one of the most powerful ways to generate new business. 90% of customers said word-of-mouth recommendations strongly influenced what they bought.

Net Promoter Score measures how likely your customers are to recommend your business, dividing customers into Promoters, Passives, and Detractors. 

5. Build trust in your brand

It’s a heart-stopping moment when you experience a big problem with your product. You expect a deluge of customer complaints, and service cancellations. It’s tempting to avoid facing the problem altogether.

It’s not good enough to hope that most of your customers won’t notice. Customers appreciate when you proactively report on service issues, outages, or security breaches, rather than brushing them off with corporate speak or totally failing to disclose a problem.

Customers understand that companies are not perfect but appreciate being kept in the loop. Transparent communication shows you care about the customer experience and you’re willing to take charge of the situation. It demonstrates you’re working on the problem – whether that be a late package, delayed flight, or software outage – instead of leaving your customers in the lurch. 

6. Reduce support burden

Being transparent with your customers also has the potential to reduce incoming support issues. If you take the time to notify customers of routine problems and issues, they won’t feel the need to get in touch. 

For example, customers often have questions about new bills. This is what AT&T noticed when its customers were receiving their bills for the first time. They had a lot of questions and were suffering from "bill shock". To solve this problem, AT&T sent a personalized explainer video to each customer, which substantially decreased customer contacts. 

How to be more proactive with customers

Now we’ve looked at the benefits of proactive customer support, we want to explore what this looks like in practice. 

At KnowledgeOwl, we’ve built our business on a customer service culture. From Day One of their subscription trial, we are in contact with our customers, each of whom has a direct line to a human being with the ability to offer proactive customer support. We enthusiastically welcome questions from our customers. 

1. Impress customers during product trials

Dedicate time to your customers during product trials. Go out of your way to answer all their questions, and help them understand how they can get the most out of the product. 

This kind of customer service means more since it takes place before customers have parted with their cash. You’re proactively showing what it would be like to interact with the support team before your customer is “owed” anything. 

2. Take customers to the next level

When we’re discussing a new pro services project with a customer, we do our best to think through all the different features they might want in the future, and discuss those with them. 

Often customers have a specific idea in mind of what they want, but they haven’t thought through all the other practical ramifications. It’s saved us so many headaches down the line, and sets the right expectations for a customer from Day One – everyone’s happy!

We’re also big on understanding how KnowledgeOwl fits into the customer’s world and existing processes, so we suggest ways they can use our product to solve some of their dilemmas. This is particularly prevalent in product demos, or with customers who have KnowledgeOwl at the very centre of their daily operations.

3. Empower support reps

Empower your support reps to delight customers, and give them the freedom to choose how they help customers. Consider disposing of complex escalation procedures in favor of giving customers what they want: rapid service. 

Give your team the resources to dedicate as much time as necessary to helping each individual customer. Let your agents jump easily from email to phone, and don’t make it hard to contact you. Treat your customers as people instead of ticket numbers. 

Dispense with the red tape and let anyone lend a hand in customer support. Everyone in the company can easily talk to anyone else, so problems get resolved quickly. 

4. Invest in your team

Helping customers is a very important role in the KnowledgeOwl team. We invest in technically proficient customer support pros who can confidently handle complex customer queries. Our agents are empowered to ask questions, notice trends, and play their part in making changes on a bigger scale than just that particular customer issue. 

Since the beginning of the company, customers have always been a top priority and proactive customer service happens from the top down. Our CEO and Knowledge Goddess Marybeth is heavily involved in customer support, showing just how important our customers are to the company. 

5. Spend time with your customers

We spend time on the phone with our customers, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be because they have a problem – we want to help them get the most out of the product. 

Customers can easily book call time with their favourite support rep. We always ask what more we can do for them, and customers don’t feel like they are being hurried off the phone. We know their names and we have real relationships with them that go beyond just being transactional. 

6. Make the most of technology

Find the right technology that helps you deliver proactive customer support. For example, a help desk software system like Help Scout allows you to view customer conversations, customer profiles, previous conversations, and links into other project management software like Asana. 

It’s easy to look back at the history we have with each customer and store private notes relating to their service. This means when we handle a new interaction, it's always connected to the wider context of the relationship we have with that customer. 

7. Keep customers informed

Deliver product and system updates proactively using customer email lists. For example, we use Status Page to proactively alert customers to system outages, and notify them when the system is back online. 

We are in the process of migrating our customers to MailChimp. This is so we can keep them proactively updated about service changes using targeted email lists. 

8. Provide self-service support

We invest in our self-service customer support knowledge base because we have anticipated our users’ questions and issues. 

There are many benefits to customer self-service, not least of which it’s what customers expect from businesses nowadays. It’s really worth taking the time to create detailed knowledge base articles on the most common issues and questions. 

9. Cultivate the right tone

Humanize yourself and your team, speak to your customers like humans, and don’t be afraid to add a little humor when appropriate. We don’t tend to use automated messages that would make customers feel like a ticket number, and we always reply to emails personally. 

10. Attend conferences

Part of why we attend conferences like Write the Docs is to gauge the mood in the technical writing space, and see what new innovations our customers are looking for or talking about. We can talk to many people whom we wouldn't have contact with otherwise, and we often connect with some of our existing customers there. 

Final remarks

Developing your capacity for proactive customer service is an exciting way to grow your business and please customers. How this looks will be different from each and every company. 

Of course, there will always be a place for reactive customer service since there will never stop being problems that you can’t anticipate. The aim should be to increase the amount of time you spend on proactive customer service, versus being simply reactive. Your customers will definitely notice and appreciate it. 

If you’re not already invested in proactive customer service, it’s time to start taking the first steps. 

Invest in your proactive customer support strategy now. Take our knowledge base software for a test spin. 


About the author
Catherine Heath
Catherine Heath

Community builder at KnowledgeOwl. Blogs. Copy. Documentation. Freelance content writer for creative and ethical companies. Contributing to open source and teaching technical tools.

Catherine blogs on her personal websites Away With Words and Awkward Writer. She runs the Write the Docs Northwest meetup group. 

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