Best Practices for Proactive Support

July 28, 2011

Perhaps nowhere is the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” more true than in the customer service space. (Well, it’s pretty true in terms of health care, but just go with us on this).

Preventing customer issues from even becoming issues in the first place is called proactive customer support. Proactive support also involves identifying ways in which a customer experience can be enhanced without the customer asking for it or even knowing that it’s possible. A text letting a customer know that her flight has been delayed. A phone call checking to ensure that an anomalous-seeming charge was really made by the customer. A note informing a customer that a new flavor is available in the gourmet coffee line he always buys.

The proactive support model can pay great dividends in terms of reduced help desk costs, customer loyalty and even increased revenue, and it is becoming more easily achieved with the increasing use of analytics and social networking, along with more traditional, tried-and-true customer support tools.

Proactive support demands that all company stakeholders–not just dedicated support personnel–listen very carefully to customers on every possible platform and track very granularly what customers are doing and even thinking. This requires an investment in time and tools, as well as an ability to connect what may sometimes seem like disparate dots.

Social Media
One of the most important channels for enabling proactive customer support is social media. Not only should your company have a formal presence on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but customer service, marketing and other personnel should be “listening” to customer comments, engaging customers in discussions about your company’s products/services and working to head off issues. And company’s wishing to really get an edge on the competition should be incorporating social media into their overall customer support strategy. For example, in a proactive customer support model, a representative at a smartphone vendor might notice buyers discussing a particular mobile app on Facebook and provide a link to related documentation that would provide more information (and prevent one-off questions about the app to the help desk).

Reporting and Analytics
Also very important in achieving effective proactive support are analytics provided by your help desk system, customer relationship management system, website, social networking platforms, and so on.

For example, using analytics to see how customers are engaging (or not) with your site can yield a plethora of opportunities for proactive support. Are customers consistently failing to log in because they have forgotten that their user name is their email address? A pointed (and quick) text message, email or phone call will make customers feel like you care enough to take the time to reach out to them, help ensure that they are engaging with you business, and prevent what would likely be a more costly and time-consuming help-desk call down the line (if not a customer simply lost to frustration).

While analytics play a huge role in proactive customer support, it should be acknowledged that gleaning meaningful information from the mass of data that is collected on a daily (if not hourly) basis is challenging, to say the least. (That’s why it’s called “big data.”) Companies should begin by identifying a shortlist of metrics to track based on business requirements, and then add to and/or modify that list as time goes on and as needs and goals change.

It’s clear that technology–including social networking, help desk, CRM, analytics, mobile messaging and email–plays an important role in the implementation of a proactive customer support, but the significance of training cannot be overstated. A culture of proactive customer service can be achieved only if customer service representatives are empowered with the tools, and the knowledge, to support customers in such a way that the help desk is no longer just a cost center but a potential revenue generator.

Using the smartphone company example again, will reps noticing customers commiserating on your Facebook page about your lack of, say, folders for apps know that just such a feature is in the works and set for release? Will the reps be armed with a link for more information? Will they have a channel through which to feed new customer wish lists they see brewing on social nets up to sales, marketing and development? Only then can your company deliver on the goal–and reap the rewards–of true proactive customer support.