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Improving the Effectiveness of Proactive Customer Service

  • Proactive customer service allows companies to bring up matters with customers before they reach out to the company about them
  • However, businesses should also be prepared for the likelihood that customers will still follow up on certain unanswered questions
  • Tips on how businesses can effectively implement proactive outreach

By Dirk Langeveld

Companies earn high marks when they do a good job of responding to customer problems and complaints. Some businesses have been taking it a step farther, implementing proactive customer service that anticipates these issues instead of simply responding to them.

Proactive customer service can do more to bolster a company’s reputation than the traditional approach. However, it can inadvertently create problems for your business if it is not done properly.

The research and consulting company Gartner Inc. recently looked at 4,800 customers who received proactive outreach from a brand between November and December of 2021. While these customers had a stronger perception of the company’s customer support due to this outreach, two-thirds of business-to-consumer customers and 82 percent of business-to-business customers still ended up contacting the company afterward, usually due to unanswered questions raised by the initial contact.

Proactive customer service is intended at least in part to reduce the volume of customer contacts in need of assistance, but the Gartner findings show how the approach can actually have the opposite effect. The results also suggest that poorly implemented proactive customer service could frustrate customers.

Garter advises that companies using the strategy “must center their proactive approach around building customers’ confidence in the company’s ability to serve them effectively.” Some ways to do so include:

Clear and trustworthy messaging

Include clear, easy-to-follow instructions. Proactive customer service can allow people to act independently to update their account, check out a new product, or otherwise take an action on their own. If your outreach doesn’t include clear guidelines, customers will be more likely to seek further assistance.

Make sure the messaging is consistent with your company’s communications. Gartner’s research found that one in 10 B2B customers and nearly one-quarter of B2B customers followed up on proactive outreach to make sure it wasn’t a scam.

Know your customers

You should already have an idea of who your customers are and what they are looking for. You can use this information to craft your proactive outreach to address matters they care most about.

Scrutinize your reactive customer service data to understand the most common reasons why customers are contacting your business for assistance. This information can let you develop a proactive strategy to address these issues ahead of time.

Previous research from Gartner found that companies were most likely to use proactive customer service to alert customers about a problem. This was followed by outreach to educate them on a new feature or offer them a new product.

You may want to prioritize urgent messages when considering a proactive approach. These communications could cover issues such as recalls, scams, safety hazards, or other serious concerns that customers should address immediately.

Prepare for followup

The Gartner survey shows that businesses conducting proactive outreach can anticipate that a significant number of people will get in touch with their customer service representatives, even when the outreach seeks to minimize these contacts. For this reason, you should schedule proactive outreach when you anticipate a lull in call volume, so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Make sure to get your leadership team involved in the process, and provide adequate training to customer service staffers on how they can encourage proactive outreach. These can include steps as simple as having them bring up a pertinent matter while discussing another topic with a customer.

Proactive outreach can cover multiple channels, including a FAQ section on a website, chatbots, social media, and e-mail marketing campaigns. You should also be patient with the process, as it can take years before proactive outreach becomes truly effective.

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