How to shift from reactive to proactive customer support

Posted by: Gráinne Forde /

How can you improve customer experience and reduce the number of tickets your customer support team receives? If your current support process involves solving customer issues as they’re presented, this post will definitely leave you rethinking your approach!


If Smokey Bear were a CEO, he would certainly make proactive customer support his company’s top priority — because he is an expert on preventing fires before they start. 

Traditional customer support is reactive. Companies wait for customers to contact them about an issue before they decide to resolve it. While offering help when a customer asks for it is an absolute necessity, it is also an expected practice that comes with risk.

Reactive customer support can slowly kill your business. For every customer who complains, there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent, and 91% of those unhappy customers will never come back.

Proactive customer support identifies potential problems before they happen, allowing you to solve customer issues before they have to contact you. By anticipating their needs, rather than just putting out fires, you demonstrate a deeper understanding of your customers, building trust and loyalty.

Proactive Customer Support is Your New Competitive Advantage

The new battleground for business is understanding and improving the customer experience. Brands that understand and anticipate their customers’ needs will come out on top — and this starts with offering proactive rather than reactive support.

The 200-year-old brand Brooks Brothers adopted a proactive support approach to competing with newer retailers by asking customers about their experience as they checked into a store on social media. Reaching out immediately helped Brooks Brothers mitigate issues and made the customer feel more valued, which has led to increased loyalty and sales. 

By anticipating and resolving customer road bumps before they become an issue, your support team is transformed from being a cost center that focuses on putting out fires to a revenue center that actively improves the customer experience.

How being proactive turns customer support into a revenue center:

  • Increases Retention: Making an effort to help customers before they need to ask for help builds customer loyalty. A report by Enkata found that preemptive customer service increased retention rates between 3-5%. While that may seem small, another report from Bain & Company found that increasing customer retention rates by 5% leads to a significant increase in profits — 25% to 95%!
  • Decreases Support Tickets: Research found that over 25% of support requests are either unnecessary or avoidable. When you can identify the issues that create these kinds of tickets and resolve them before they become problems, the number of tickets you receive decreases, saving you time and resources. For example, are your customer support agents consistently answering a simple question that could be answered with better wording about shipping costs or an explanation on the item description? Add it, and save customers and support agents a lot of time.
  • Improves Conversions: Poor support during the buying process often leads to abandoning the purchase. In fact, American Express found that 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor support experience. For example, a customer is online buying a new phone but needs to know if it is compatible with international plans. There is no information on the site, but there is a 10-minute wait before they can talk to customer support. When the customer finally gets to chat with support, the representative doesn’t know the answer and puts the customer on hold. This type of negative customer experience leads to cart abandonment. 

3 Things Your Customer Support Team Can Do Now to Shift From Reactive to Proactive Support

Transforming your customer support team, which was trained to be reactive, to proactively identify issues and engage customers won’t happen overnight. That said, there are a few things your team can implement now that will make a big difference and jump-start your transition to a proactive approach.

Customer support now plays a bigger role in enhancing the customer experience. A proactive approach empowers your entire support team to go beyond fielding inquiries to actively engage customers for feedback and creating support content that anticipates customer needs. Here are three ways your customer support team can take the lead and activate proactive support:

1. Gather feedback throughout the customer experience 

Reactive customer support teams gather customer feedback when there is an issue, not before. Unfortunately, by the time you receive negative feedback, it’s usually too late to turn things around. 

A proactive approach sees every touch point as an opportunity to hear from customers, which can give you a more holistic view of the issues and a chance to engage customers before problems spread. A recent study found that 87% of people surveyed were happy to be contacted proactively by companies.

There are several methods to proactively gather feedback per channel. Here are three of the most important ones to start with:

  • Your website is a critical channel to facilitate your customer experience, especially if you are trying to convert a visitor. While your web analytics can show you the barriers, it is hard to know why they are causing issues. Try including subtle feedback boxes or pop-up surveys to solicit feedback when it’s fresh in your customers’ minds. Tools like Hotjar can help with this.
  • Current customers have the best perspective to help you improve aspects of your business because they have first-hand experience of interacting with your company. Using a tool like SurveyMonkey, you can develop surveys that go beyond customer satisfaction and ask questions that identify areas that need improvement.
  • Social monitoring lets you hear what customers are saying about your brand. Your team can monitor comments about your company across all social media using tools like Mention or Social Mention. When your team discovers an issue, they can respond immediately to preempt the problem.

2. Create a self-service knowledge base

One of the easiest ways to be proactive and satisfy your customers is to make answers to common questions easy to find. An HBR survey found that customers were 86% more likely to purchase a product and 115% more likely to recommend your website to others if you provided self-service information about your products and services.

Your customer knowledge base should preempt any questions or issues, empowering customers to find solutions on their own. To accomplish this, your information must be updated, organized and easy to find. Here are three aspects to consider when building a self-service knowledge base:

  • Make it easy to build and update: Knowledge bases constantly change as new queries come in. Tools like the Help Docs feature in Teamwork Desk enable customer support teams to create and update their knowledge base on their own without needing the assistance of web developers. This ensures that new information is posted in real-time before your customers need it.
  • Make it engaging: Videos currently represent 74% of all internet traffic. Make your lengthy support articles easier to digest by embedding YouTube videos in your Help Docs — or consider using a video hosting tool such as Wistia that will enable you to track video engagement and delivers insights to improve.
  • Make it measurable: Insights into how your customers interact with your knowledge base will help you improve the usefulness of the site and identify your customers’ most common problems. In Teamwork Desk, you can generate reports on a multitude of measures including failed search reports, so you can see the things your customers are searching for but not finding.

Solving your customers’ problems with guides and other self-service materials is a scalable way of doing proactive customer support. Not only will you reduce support tickets, but your information will show up on search engines, doubling as marketing content to attract new customers.

For example, if a potential customer does a Google search for information on your product (or even the competition’s), your help docs article might be one of the first links they find. Building a knowledge base can help you reach new customers and drive them to your site with useful product content.

3. Keep customers in the loop

Every company loves to share good news with customers, but when it comes to problems with our product or service, we tend to hide behind radio silence, waiting for customers to come to us (reactive), which is the worst thing we can do. It’s critical to keep your customers informed with updates on everything related to your business that affects them.

While too much communication can annoy your customers, here are a few scenarios when you can use outreach in a proactive way:

  • When anticipating a problem, a proactive support team will get in front of an issue before it escalates by reassuring customers that they are aware of the issue and are resolving it. If you become aware of an issue, your support team should inform all customers immediately and offer an apology. Explain how you’re fixing it and assure them it won’t happen again. It is also important to provide a contact method if they have further questions or feedback. ZocDoc is exemplary in handling their customer issues. Their service connects doctors with patients, but sometimes the doctor cancels. Even though it is not their fault, ZocDoc preempts larger issues by being quick to apologize and offering a make-good response.   
  • When making product changes, there can be unforeseen complaints from customers. To ensure a seamless product update, explain the rationale behind the changes and offer resources, such as videos or demos, to help customers transition. The Evernote product update email below clearly explains the benefit of the new feature and how it works.
  • When the sale is complete, customer support should reach out to ensure the customer is satisfied. Post-sale follow up is probably one of the simplest ways to solidify your relationship with customers. An email letting a customer know that they are supported can go a long way in creating a positive impression. 

Reactive customer support discusses problems with products or services only when it’s too late. Proactive support gets in front of issues by communicating early and honestly, potentially changing a negative situation into a positive. 

Only You Can Prevent Customer Fires — And Build Loyalty

By implementing the steps in this guide, you will build a proactive support process that improves customer experience and reduces the number of tickets your support team receives. Not only does proactive support prevent fires, it generates new insights that improve marketing, sales, and product development.

Does your company take a proactive approach to customer support? Are there any specific benefits you have seen since shifting from a reactive to proactive support process?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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Grainne Forde
Marketing specialist

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