Article | 12 min read

Proactive customer service: Definition, strategies, and examples

Proactive customer service is about anticipating buyers’ needs and making the first move. Learn how to do it successfully so you can build trust and long-term relationships.

By Amanda Roosa, Staff Writer

Published November 14, 2018
Last updated August 2, 2022

Trust in companies is at an all-time low. The State of Consumer Data Privacy Survey found that only 21 percent of consumers trust global brands to keep their personal information safe. The lack of trust is understandable given the rise in data breaches, spam galore, and data privacy issues—customers often expect the worst.

To build customer trust, companies must seek ways to be proactive—not just reactive—with their customer care. Proactive customer service is critical to business success.

What is proactive customer service?

Proactive customer service is about anticipating buyers’ needs (or problems) before they are aware of them or need to contact you for assistance. Examples of proactive support include:

  • Immediately alerting customers of mistakes or issues, like shipping delays and service interruptions
  • Introducing customers to new products or services they may enjoy
  • Looking for ways to improve a customer’s experience, such as upgrading someone’s airline seat

Kohl’s is one company with proactive customer service. After customers place an online order, the store automatically sends them emails with shipping updates and tracking information. If there’s a delay, Kohl’s tells the customer when their order will arrive. This process saves the customer from having to call and ask where their package is and when it will be delivered.

Proactive vs. reactive service

Proactive and reactive customer service are differentiated by who makes the first move. Proactive service means the company initiates contact with the customer, while reactive service means the customer is the first to reach out.

Waiting for a customer to notify you of a problem is like waiting for your houseplants to start wilting before you water them—the damage is done. The customer is likely already frustrated with your brand, even if you have a solution. At that point, the problem may be complex and time-consuming for your team to resolve.

With proactive customer service, you’re anticipating issues before they occur, which saves the customer time and effort. For example, if there’s going to be an outage with your service, a proactive approach is informing the customer immediately via email or text rather than waiting for the customer to contact you when they notice the outage (reactive approach).

Even though proactive customer service has its advantages, a business can’t anticipate every single customer need. The best strategy is to combine the two: Identify the areas where proactive customer service can help, and implement reactive customer service as support.

Why should you provide proactive customer support?

The importance of being proactive in customer service cannot be overstated. A proactive approach to customer service is essential for companies looking to create more positive customer experiences.

According to a study by HelpLama, 89 percent of consumers find proactive customer service to be a pleasant surprise or positive experience. And good experiences lead to a better bottom line: 81 percent of shoppers say a positive customer service experience increases the likelihood they’ll make another purchase.

Waiting for a customer to notify you of a problem is like waiting for your houseplants to start wilting before you water them.

By understanding and anticipating customers’ needs, you show that your business is customer-focused and striving to deliver a fantastic experience. When customers feel special, they’re more likely to stick around for the long term.

The benefits of proactive customer service

Here are a few ways that proactive support can benefit your company.

  • Stronger customer loyalty

    In Microsoft’s Global State of Customer Service report, 67 percent of respondents said proactive customer service notifications are favorable. When you proactively engage customers, you have a better chance of retaining them.

    For example, suppose a customer is caught in traffic on the way to the airport. The airline can proactively send a notice informing them that they’ll likely miss their flight due to their present location, and suggest alternative flight options. Providing proactive customer service like this will boost trust in your brand and keep buyers feeling satisfied and valued. In turn, you’ll see stronger customer loyalty.

  • Increased sales

    Research indicates that about 70 percent of online shoppers will abandon a purchase after adding it to their cart. Additionally, 17 percent of customers will leave their cart if they find the checkout process too complicated. This is why proactive support and engagement are necessary to increase sales.

    If a customer hesitates on your checkout page, a quick message from a customer service representative could help them solve a problem or get a question answered, encouraging them to complete the purchase.

    Many businesses have found that reaching out in real-time and offering proactive customer service improves sales. For example, after implementing proactive support via AI-powered chatbots in its online store, Spartan Race saw a 27-percent increase in retail sales and a 97 percent customer satisfaction rating over chat.

  • Reduced pressure on support agents

    Proactive support can significantly lower the number of support tickets. When common customer questions are resolved proactively, it gives your team more time to focus on the most pressing, complex, and high-priority support inquiries. As a result, agents will have more time and headspace to help customers solve their problems in a truly personal way.

    Your agents will likely be more focused and engaged, too—fewer tickets means less stress. This will boost employee satisfaction and happiness, positively impacting how they show up at work and serve customers.

  • Higher customer satisfaction

    Being more proactive with your support leads to better experiences and improved customer satisfaction.

    In their book The Best Service is No Service, authors Bill Price and David Jaffee explain how eliminating the need for service is the best way to satisfy customers. But to do this, companies must provide proactive customer service. By proactively addressing customer pain points and making it so customers don’t need to reach out to them at all, businesses can create positive experiences.

    When customers don’t need to contact companies for help or information, everyone benefits.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

8 ways to deliver proactive customer service

While shifting from reactive to proactive customer care might seem daunting, it’s an essential move for companies that want to deliver superior experiences and gain a competitive advantage. Here’s how to be proactive in customer service.

  1. Be open with your customers

  2. In a McKinsey survey of over 1,000 people, half of the respondents said they were more likely to trust companies that proactively disclose data breach incidents to the public. So, make your customers aware of issues as they occur.

    For instance, if you notice a potential data breach on a customer account, you can be transparent about the process, telling the customer when it happened, what data might be compromised, and the steps you’re taking to mitigate the issue.

    You can also create an incident management portal where customers can see whether a current outage exists on a particular service. We do this at Zendesk:

    Zendesk Status

  3. Conduct surveys regularly

  4. To better understand your buyers and their needs, send customer surveys periodically. They can help you identify common issues customers face and provide insights that you can analyze to improve your product, service, or customer experience.

    In your survey, you can ask open-ended questions such as, “What issues are you currently experiencing with our product?” or “How could we improve your banking experience with us?” This will allow you to gather qualitative customer feedback, which is vital to improving your proactive customer service.

  5. Build a knowledge base

  6. Create a knowledge repository that customers can easily access from anywhere and at any time. For example, ensure your website has an FAQ page, help center articles, or a tutorials section that explains how to use your product. These self-service resources enable customers to independently solve basic issues and find answers.

    As you’ll see below, our knowledge base covers a collection of common customer inquiries.

    Common customer inquiries

  7. Pay attention to your customers online

  8. Monitor what your customers are saying about your product or service online, and use that to your advantage. Social media and various online forums are good ways to learn how you can offer proactive support. You can get involved in customer conversations, for instance, and respond to comments or complaints.

    According to Harvard Business Review, customers who had a support interaction on Twitter were more likely to pay for a company’s services and much more likely to go with that company over a competitor.

  9. Interact with your product

  10. When releasing a new product or feature, ensure extensive testing is done internally. Employees are more likely to give detailed feedback because they’re most in tune with the product. They also have intel on historical issues, enabling them to contribute to user testing. By testing your product internally, you can be proactive in identifying problems customers may encounter and then quickly address them before going to market.

  11. Leverage technology

  12. Technology can help you deliver proactive customer service. Companies are leveraging AI chatbots that can be programmed to help customers navigate a website, provide personalized product recommendations, and answer basic questions. This saves customers from needing to reach out to a support agent.

  13. Assemble the right team and empower them

  14. Proactive customer service starts from the inside and works its way out to the customer. Hire people who are passionate about helping others, and give them the tools and resources they need to provide great customer service. Train customer service reps not just on how to deal with problems, but also on how to be proactive and support customers before they ask for it.

  15. Contact your customers

  16. We all like attention—it’s human nature. That’s why proactively reaching out to customers is generally well-received. In a HelpLama survey, 92 percent of consumers said that the experience of being contacted proactively by a company changed their perception of the company positively.

Examples of proactive customer care

Let’s look at a few companies that are applying proactive customer service strategies to improve the customer experience.

Help customers onboard faster: Scoot and Slack

Properly onboarding customers is crucial, and there’s always the initial hurdle of helping them discover what your product or service can do for them. Delivering tips and recommendations are effective ways to engage your customers and create a better experience.

For example, Scoot requires new riders to take a short online class and test before their first rental. Then, the company sends reminders about the class, plus tips and advice to get new riders over the anxiety of riding a Scooter for the first time.

Another example of killer customer service and onboarding? Slack created Slackbot to engage and onboard new customers proactively.

Support customers with timely information: Amazon

Sending a relevant message to a customer in a tricky situation or guiding them through an issue is an excellent way to proactively support buyers.

Amazon is known for anticipating questions on delivery dates and times, so if there are any delays with an order, it gives the customer a heads up via email. Also, if the customer is an Amazon Prime subscriber, the company might give them a month of the service for free to make up for the inconvenience—all without the customer ever inquiring.

Amazon

Image source

This makes for a smoother customer service experience and helps ensure agents don’t get bombarded with tickets regarding order delays and questions.

Mitigate customer pain points: DigitalOcean

It’s important to keep buyers informed about ongoing operational, product, or customer service issues and to provide updates as they arise. Say your company just implemented a software update. In an ideal world, everything would go off without a hitch, but it’s beneficial (and more realistic) to prepare for any mishaps that might occur.

Cloud companies like DigitalOcean are known for proactively informing customers of system upgrades and outages, so users can plan adequately.

DigitalOcean

Image source

Keeping your users in the loop during updates and outages can save your support team time in the aftermath of a problem and help reduce customer complaints.

Notify customers of new product releases: Cinemark and Zendesk

Another way to engage with your audience? Send updates about new products, features, integrations, next steps, or new styles.

For example, when Cinemark has a new movie coming out in theaters, the company sends an email announcement to a specific group of customers who might be interested in that movie.

At Zendesk, when we’re trying to drive webinar registration, we use messaging software to send proactive, in-product messages to relevant customer segments that might be interested in attending.

Nurture your customers: Apple

Proactively interacting with your customers is key to forming connections with them and retaining them. By engaging customers with suggestions, resources, or best practices for using products, you’re nurturing those relationships and building trust with them.

Apple adds fun and exciting aspects to its technology and encourages buyers to get involved, so people are eager to use its products. For example, Apple invited users to share their favorite iPhone pictures with the “Shot on iPhone” challenge. The chosen images are featured online, on Apple’s social media accounts, and on billboards worldwide.

Apple

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Proactively engaging with your audience through campaigns like this helps increase customer loyalty and trust. According to CIRP research, Apple has maintained loyalty rates of more than 90 percent over the past three years.

Upsell customers: Deliveroo

Once you have a strong relationship with your customer base, you can proactively extend the buyer’s journey by gently nudging them toward new and relevant offers that relate to past purchases.

For example, Deliveroo increases the chances of ingredient add-ons by simply giving customers the option before they check out.

Deliveroo

Image source

Based on a customer’s previous touchpoints with your company, offer an upsell that’s a solution to a problem or that meets their preferences. Hopefully, you’ll retain more customers as a result.

Implement proactive customer care today

As your industry, company, and products evolve, it’s time to reevaluate your customer service strategy and methods of communication. In the world of good customer service, there are more ways than ever to reach consumers instantly: the web, mobile, messaging, social media, and live chat.

Proactive customer support and engagement can help you meet your audience’s needs, get in front of problems, and ensure important information is easily available.

Instead of leaving your customers to fend for themselves, proactive support and engagement can enable you to nurture lasting relationships.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

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