What Is Proactive Support?

You’ve heard of people with the “patience of a saint,” but have you ever heard of someone with the “impatience of a customer”?

Maybe not, but if you’re in the business of providing customer service, then you probably won’t object to that description. Customers, especially in the context of customer service, value their time to a supernatural degree.

They may be patient as individuals, but on the whole, customers become frustrated and impatient in seconds, not minutes. In the world of customer service, time is always of the essence.

Enter proactive support, the only time-travelling form of customer support. Proactive support lets companies answer the questions of tomorrow, today … before their customers even knew they had them!

Curious? Read on! We’ll have you back on your way in no time.

Reactive vs. Proactive Customer Support
Proactive Customer Support Examples
Finding Opportunities for Proactive Customer Support

Reactive vs. Proactive Customer Support

In competitive industries—which now includes any industry that competes for customers online—customer service is never “good enough.” Customers want their support questions answered as quickly as possible.

The challenge is that communications technologies and new service strategies are constantly adding to the scope of “what’s possible.” These approaches continuously raise the bar for what passes as great service.

Businesses have aimed to improve customer service by doing things such as shortening phone queues, offering call-back options and increasing self-service resources.

Indeed, all of these measures help. They can ensure that a customer with a question doesn’t wait too long and provide a competitive advantage. But these and most other traditional service methods can only do so much.

The ideal scenario is to prevent that customer from even needing to ask the question in the first place. And that’s exactly what companies do when they implement proactive customer support.

Proactive customer support is a support strategy in which a company anticipates customer issues.

It can either remedy them in advance or design service resources such that, when the question does arise, the customer is presented with the answer without needing to contact the company.

Proactive customer support is an approach to providing customer support. It’s not a specific support channel and can take many different forms.

Before we give suggestions for finding opportunities for proactive support, let’s look at a few examples.

Proactive Customer Support Examples

Even if the concept of proactive support is new to you, there’s a good chance you have some experience with it. In fact, many customer support resources which are now considered standard would have seemed proactive in years past.

Since proactive support is defined in relation to customers’ ever-increasing expectations, what’s proactive today may be standard tomorrow.

Here are some common examples:

  • Recorded answers to common questions
    Call up a local store and there’s a good chance your call will be answered first by a recording. If you called to ask about store hours, then you’re in luck, because the recording just told you what they are. Maybe you had a question about the store location? The recording covers that as well. The questions you intended to ask a store employee were answered before the employee even knew you called.
  • Tooltips to explain technical vocabulary
    Tooltips are a great way to add basic proactive support to online resources. Let’s say, for example, you’re reading the online instructions for setting up your new router, but you keep running into technical vocabulary such as Subnet Mask. Adding tooltips to difficult terms helps readers better understand what they’re doing, without expecting them to look up every term. Their questions are directly answered, without the customer needing to pick up the phone or write an email.
  • Live chat to rescue confused shoppers
    Let’s say you’re shopping online and find a shirt you really love. You select the right color and the right size, go to checkout and the size you selected has changed! You go back one page and select the correct size once more. Once again, as you try to checkout, you see the shirt’s size has changed. This time, when you return to the page with the shirt, a live chat window pops up. An agent asks if you need assistance, before you need to contact the company for support.

Finding Opportunities for Proactive Customer Support

When customers have questions about products and services, where do they turn first for help? According to our research, nearly three-quarters first go online to search for an answer:

What Consumers With Questions Do First
customers with questions
While many proactive support opportunities are available online, they’re found elsewhere, too. Returning to the three examples above, let’s try to imagine the chain of events that lead the business to implement proactive support.

  • Recorded answers to common questions
    Before adding their hours and location to their phone greeting, what types of questions do you think employees answered most often? That’s right, questions about their hours and location! Putting that information in the phone greeting is a simple and obvious way of saving time, for both customers and staff.
  • Tooltips to explain technical vocabulary
    Customers love online self-service resources, such as frequently asked questions (FAQ) pages. Let’s say the company that makes your new router knows that customers often have trouble setting them up. They create the online instruction page, and the number of questions from new customers drops a bit. But it’s still too high; many customers are still confused by the terminology. Adding tooltips lets customers see the meaning of challenging terms in-line and without clicking away, and improves their success rate.
  • Live chat to rescue confused shoppers
    How did the online store know you were having trouble selecting the right size shirt? It probably didn’t know you were having that specific problem. But when you went from the shirt page to the checkout page, then back to the shirt page, then back to checkout and back once again to the shirt … the company’s chat software recognized this as the browsing pattern of a confused customer. Since it recognized a confused buyer who was trying to checkout, it created a high-priority chat request and assigned it to the first available chat agent.
Companies can find opportunities to implement proactive support when they examine the types of questions the service department answers most frequently.

Adding clarity to online resources can improve the overall success rate of self-servicing customers.

Online behavior and browsing patterns are also telling. They can serve as indications that particular customers are in need of immediate assistance.

Ultimately, all proactive support initiatives should be designed to save customers’ time or reduce the friction at a specific point on their customer journey. By saving their time, your company appears a bit more “saintly” in the customer’s eyes.

As a result, their loyalty increases while lowering demand on your other, more costly, customer service department resources.

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