Proactive customer service is the kind of customer service we dream of, but what does it really look like?
Think back to the best customer service you’ve ever had the pleasure to receive. Hopefully, there is an example you can think of, but if not, close your eyes and imagine what the most excellent customer service interaction ever would be.
I’m willing to bet that in either instance, it involved some element of anticipation. It seemed like the business provider had magically anticipated your wants, needs or desires, and somehow managed to deliver on this without you even uttering so much as a peep.
Just how do they do it? Are they psychic, or just very lucky? Well, we’d like to argue that the answer is neither. At the end of the day, superlative customer service all comes down to being exceedingly well prepared. It involves an in-depth knowledge of your customer base and a willingness to be extremely proactive in anticipating and delivering on what they might want.
However, you will be pleased to know that there are some steps you can put in place. These will help you become truly proactive with your customer service strategy. Read on to find out what they are.
Know your ideal customer inside out
Step One in developing your proactive customer service strategy is to get to know your customer genuinely.
Note that we say customer rather than customers; this is entirely deliberate. Any good business development strategy builds a foundation. It first identifies who the ideal customer is, so that you will recognize who they are when you see them. Then it works to turn up many more of them.
If you haven’t done this preparation, you will find it very hard to anticipate and exceed customer expectations. Mostly because you will have no clue what they are.
On the other hand, if you have built a detailed picture of who it is you are serving and trying to serve (and who you aren’t), you will be much more capable of finding those people, and subsequently to engage in detailed research to find out what they need.
Get comfortable with the ‘r’ word
Oh dear, there it is… the ‘r’ word… research. Market research can sound like a big scary complicated topic for some, and indeed there are many practitioners out there who have turned it into a veritable art form. Hats off to them, especially if they are making a living out of it, as research can be a very noble thing.
However, if you are a business operating on a shoestring budget, market research is probably one of the first things to go when times are tight – if there ever was a dedicated budget for it in the first place.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Market research – the ‘lite’ version – can be done effectively even on a limited budget (see our previous article on how to get started if you’d like some ideas). Sure, it may not have all the bells and whistles that a market research consultant would throw at it, but a little research can go a long way when the alternative is to run your business in the dark.
Space doesn’t allow us to go into great depth here, but there are lots of resources out there on the web to advise you on how to get started with market research: try this Q&A by The Guardian; or The Basics, by Entrepreneur.com; or this how to get started guide by MarketResearch.com.
Overall, it’s important to remember not to get overwhelmed by the ‘idea’ of market research; even something simple such as an in-depth conversation about your business with a highly valued customer should generate a veritable goldmine of useful insights.
Anticipate their next (and subsequent) move
One of the best ways to understand what customers are most likely to want and need next, even before they know it, is to make sure you and your team have a handle on the typical customer journey during a customer’s lifetime, including some ‘deep dives’ into standard product and service pathways.
To illustrate what we mean here, let’s consider an example. Sally is a young mom who first purchased cloth diapers from an online baby products store because her neighbor recommended the website. Having been delighted with her first purchase (at which point she also joined the email list), she subsequently went online a second time to buy related products that automatically generated through a recommender system – liners and wipes made from eco-friendly bamboo, and a cute crocheted diaper cover.
After the second visit, Sally’s purchases became sporadic and dropped off altogether after two years, at which time her child had grown and she no longer needed the products and services offered by the site. Sally may well return for a new purchase on the birth of a second child, or to buy gifts for friends with new babies, although a relatively high percentage of customers like Sally will not return after their second purchase.
This example is based on an online store, but a physical shopfront or even market stall would probably show a similar customer journey pattern. Rather than an online recommender system, the business owner might choose to display items together with respect to how frequently these items are purchased together so that they appeal more to the customer. Either way, with sufficient records or even with just keen observation, the business owner should be able to predict what the customer is likely to do next.
Be proactive about complaints
Let’s face it. Customer service wouldn’t be customer service without consideration of how to handle customer complaints.
In the context of proactivity, customer complaint handling means being able to anticipate what common problems customers are most likely to have. You do this as they navigate their way through your store (online or bricks and mortar).
Note: this is not the same thing as assuming you know what the problem is before you’ve heard the customer out fully. It's not asking the customer to repeat a step you know they have already tried without success (“just turn it off and back on again”). This will get you in trouble with the customer, so avoid at all costs!
Proactivity here means understanding what the most typical problems are. Then, putting in systems to reduce as many problems as possible. Be responsive and available when customers are trying to contact you. Resolve outstanding issues as swiftly as possible to the satisfaction of the customer. Proactivity is hard to accomplish if you are not keeping a log or actively monitoring your social media pages.
The truth is, proactive customer service is not rocket science. There are likely many things you and your team can put in place to make your customers’ lives easier and their experience with you awesome; you just need to see things from their perspective every once in a while.