5 Tips to Take Your Customer Service from Reactive to Proactive

You Can Do It Lake Huron Beach Oscoda Trip 9-25-09 16

I came to a revelation the other day after interviewing a customer service trainer about best practices for conducting mock calls. He had just described the various personas he uses to test new agents – Ivan the Irate, Annoyed Angie, Inpatient Irene and so on – when I noticed a common thread among all of these people. They were not happy. In fact, most of the time they were very unhappy.

While the scenarios he described were hypothetical, they were based on real events agents should expect to face during their normal work day. This is primarily because the default approach to customer service is to wait until there is a problem, then do what you can to solve it. But what if you could solve your customers’ problems before they have to call you (sit on hold, wade through a sea of transfers, and deal with agents trying to rush them off the phone)? It definitely increases your chances of satisfying the customer, which should be the whole goal of customer service in the first place.

This proactive approach is not impossible. Here are five tips you can use to implement this strategy in your own company.

1. Keep a Conversation Going

About three weeks ago, I had the headlights on my car replaced. On Friday, one of them inexplicably went out again. This was annoying to say the least. I’ve been meaning to call or stop in the shop and see what the deal is, but I just haven’t had the time. It’s becoming increasingly frustrating the longer I have to deal with it, and if I do go back there to get it fixed (again), it will probably be the last time.

One simple way the auto shop could have prevented this experience was by sending me an email (it could even be automated with feedback software), asking how everything was going with my car. Was I satisfied with the service I received? Was there anything they could have done (or could do) to make the experience better? This would have showed me that they really cared about the service they provide, and whether or not I was satisfied.

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, conducts regular surveys and telephone calls to solicit feedback. 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.

“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,” Vice President of Marketing Tina Hsaio said.

2. Tell Customers About Problems Before They Discover Them

I saw a pretty brilliant BuzzFeed post the other day about “People that are really nailing this parenting thing.” The No. 2 entry in the article called “These parents who know how to travel with kids” showed this image: (bag of candy)

Buzzfeed Image

These parents knew that they would very likely have a problem on this flight. Instead of letting it happen, they told their fellow travelers about it beforehand and took steps to correct it (earplugs).

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 one or all of 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.

3. Show Your Appreciation to Loyal Customers

I used to be obsessed with Fab.com (a daily deals site focused on Etsy-loving kind of people). I purchased more “deals” than I care to admit, but I kept getting really bad quality items. I never called them to complain, instead after six months, I just stopped buying.

Fab.com wasn’t giving up that easily. They sent five (seriously) gift cards in a beautiful black greeting card that just said “Thanks” with a printed note and signature from the CEO. Last week, I caved and bought a watch. 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.

You could, for example, email a customer a couple months before their two-year subscription renewal is due, offering a 5 percent discount to thank them for their business. A gesture like this 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. Keep an Eye Out for Online Conversations

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.

I ran an experiment last year where I sent 14 top consumer brands 280 tweets over 26 days. I wanted to see how often they would respond and how quickly. Shockingly, they only returned my messages about 14 percent of the time on average. These companies missed messages like this: (tweet screenshot)

McDonalds Twitter Message

If this were a real scenario, I doubt I ever would have contacted McDonalds directly, but it’s very possible I would never visit that store again. This would have been a great opportunity for their team to reach out and find out what they could have done to improve the experience. They could also have found out which location it was and reached out to the manager to see what was going on. Maybe their cashiers could use some extra training.

For complaints, it’s always best to 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. Here’s a video with more tips for responding to customer service complaints on Twitter:

5. Keep Your FAQs Page Up-to-Date

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.

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.

Ashley Verrill

Ashley-Furness

This is a guest post from Ashley Verrill, a CRM Analyst at Software Advice and Managing Editor for the Customer Service Investigator.

Ashley has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. Currently, her research focuses on various topics related to CRM software, sales, customer service and marketing strategy.

When Ashley isn’t writing about software, you can find her hiking, floating Central Texas rivers or hanging out with her two perfect puppies. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Connect with Ashley Verrill via LinkedIn, Twitter and Google +.

Kristen Hicks contributed to this report.

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Software Advice helps buyers find the right software for their business. Our experts constantly publish product profiles, comparisons, best practices guides and other research to this site. These experts are also available by phone to provide free consultations for software buyers.

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