6 Tips to Shift from Reactive to Proactive Customer ServiceJuly 31, 2013 by Kristen Hicks
For many businesses, the default approach to customer service is to respond to problems as they arise. This reactive method might satisfy the customer, but it won’t surprise or delight them. Instead, imagine if you could solve problems before customers had to call you. Or even better, if you could address issues before they even became aware of them. This proactive approach to support is not only possible, it’s profitable.
A recent Enkata report found that preemptive service can reduce call volumes by as much as 30 percent, while increasing customer retention rates by 3 to 5 percent. Here, we provide six specific actions you can take to start wowing your customers with a successful proactive customer service strategy.
1. Ask Customers for Feedback.
Customer service is about giving customers what they want, which means you first have to find out what that is. And there’s no better way than to ask them. Businesses that regularly check in with customers can easily identify areas of weakness and correct them before customers become unhappy.
WePay, a company that helps small businesses accept credit card payments via an online platform, makes talking to customers a top priority for staff at all levels. In addition to conducting regular surveys and telephone calls to solicit feedback, Vice President of Marketing Tina Hsaio says, “We also have a goal of every person in the company going to physically visit both current, churned and prospective customers – this includes the executives, engineering, marketing, etc.”
Screenshot of a Web-based customer survey from Marketforce.
By making regular contact with customers, WePay can identify and address any issues a client has before they become problematic. This commitment pays off: they have a customer satisfaction rating of over 90 percent.
2. Announce Mistakes Before Customers Find Out.
It’s always better for customers to hear about a problem directly from you instead of realizing the product or service doesn’t do what they need it to, when they need it. If your company identifies a problem, you can build customer trust and avoid damaging PR by taking the following actions:
- Alert customers to the issue and offer an apology.
- Offer a discount on a future purchase, or provide a refund if the action you take to fix the problem doesn’t satisfy their needs.
- Tell them what you’re doing to figure out a solution and ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.
- Make sure they know who to contact if they have further questions or feedback.
According to one report, Barefoot Wines discovered a barcode error that led a shipment of wine to ring up for less than it should, which lost the distributor money. The company was quick to own up to the mistake and informed the distributor about it in person, with a check in hand to cover the loss. The client was grateful, and a potential cause for complaint became a memorable experience of Barefoot’s commitment to serving their customers.
3. Reward Customer Loyalty with Discounts and Offers.
The lesson airlines learned decades ago can be applied to any business: offering tangible rewards for regular business is a powerful loyalty-building tool. Loyalty programs build goodwill by demonstrating a company’s desire to reward a customer to thank them for their business. Proactively reaching out to customers with offers in between purchases provides an additional opportunity for positive interaction with customers to strengthen their relationship with the company.
It can also solve problems customers didn’t even know they had by alerting them to something they may be missing out on and offering a way to fix this. Sending an email to a customer a couple months before their two year subscription renewal is due offering a 5 percent discount to thank them for their business is likely to seal their desire to renew. It also means the customer doesn’t have to call or email to renew themselves, which prevents any lapses in their subscription and ensures their continued satisfaction.
4. Pay Attention to What Customers Are Saying Online.
If you’re not paying attention to what customers are saying about you online, you’re missing key opportunities. Reaching out to customers who mention your company, be it in a good or bad context, allows you to preemptively address their needs and increases customer satisfaction.
In the past, clients of BlueOcean Market Intelligence only interacted with customers who contacted them directly via social media. According to Arnab Saharoy, Product Manager, “What our analysis shows for many brands is that there are millions of conversations happening around the brand’s products or services outside the purview of the brand’s own channel.”
By developing a social listening software, BlueOcean helps clients find and proactively reach out to customers who are talking about them online. A customer service “home run” on the Internet can attract positive attention far beyond the customer you assist. Morton’s Steakhouse discovered this when they saw a popular blogger’s playful tweet suggesting they deliver steaks to him at the airport when he landed. To his extreme surprise and delight, a tuxedo-clad Morton’s employee was waiting for him upon arrival, steaks in hand. The story went viral and earned the steakhouse a reputation that routinely lands them a spot in pieces like this one.
To accomplish a similar win, consider implementing social listening software that will alert you to any mentions of your brand online. Positive mentions can present opportunities to show your gratitude, whether you go the extra mile, like Morton’s, or simply respond to let the customer know you noticed and appreciate it. For complaints, respond with an apology, a description of what the company is doing to correct the issue and a gift certificate or discount to make up for any inconvenience.
5. Create Content That Answers Common Customer Questions.
Many customers prefer to find answers to their problems themselves rather than having to call or email a company. Which means if you make helpful information difficult or impossible to find, you’re cheating yourself out of a valuable opportunity to satisfy customers. A Forrester survey even revealed that 57 percent of customers will give up on an online purchase altogether if finding the answer to their question proves too difficult.
One of the easiest ways to please customers in search of a solution is to make answers to common questions easy to find. You can identify these questions by talking to customer service representatives, identifying the most frequent searches performed on your website and reviewing customer service call and email logs. Group answers in one place, such as an easy-to-find and read FAQ section on your site. To provide more detailed information about common issues, create articles, blog posts and webinars that provide a more extensive guide to addressing the issue.
6. Include a Live Chat Option on Your Website.
The Forrester survey found that 44 percent of respondents believe the ability to get quick answers from a live chat representative during an online purchase is “one of the most important features a website can offer.” Online chat assures website visitors that someone at the company is there to provide any information needed and saves them the trouble of having to search for an answer or call or email the company. HubRunner, a web design company, decided to implement live chat on their site to increase interaction with website visitors. The feature helps customers overcome barriers to contacting the company and enables staff to build better relationships with them.
Example of live chat popup window from HubRunner.
Cassie Crudo, Operations Manager, recalls an incident where a lead who became a customer “was excited to find out that the person she was asking questions to would also be her dedicated account specialist, and was the person she met at the tradeshow the week before.” The feature offered a way to provide personal, helpful information to a customer who was still deciding whether or not to contact the company.
Proactive customer service doesn’t just help you keep the customers you have happy. By turning your customers into advocates for your brand, it becomes a marketing tool that drives new business. Investing a little extra in a proactive customer service approach now is a valuable strategy that can result in considerable dividends down the line.
Thumbnail image created by Stephan Ridgway.