It’s happened to almost everyone: You try to use your credit card at the grocery store, and it gets declined. Why? Because your credit card company spotted some fraudulent activity ($600 spent at Chuck E. Cheese?) and proactively froze your account.

That’s pretty good service. Before you even noticed that your card was compromised, the card company proactively helped you out. It would have been much worse if you had found the issue yourself and had to prove that there had been fraudulent activity to get your money back.

Proactive customer service is like that — instead of waiting for the customer to notice something is wrong, the company helps them out without being asked.

If you’re looking to provide your customers with a red-carpet experience, it’s time to think about being more proactive. Read on to learn more about this increasingly popular support strategy and how you can implement it in your own business.

Prefer to watch a video instead? Check out this webinar on providing proactive customer service, featuring Help Scout’s Mathew Patterson along with Erin Lowell and Jacob Lewis of You Need a Budget.

What is proactive customer service?

Proactive customer service is any help, advice, or education that a company provides to assist its customers before customers make a request or complain. There are many different ways of being proactive when it comes to providing customer support, including:

  • Creating a thorough knowledge base and surfacing relevant articles to customers who may require assistance.
  • Triggering a live chat conversation when customers have been stuck on a product page for more than two minutes.
  • Emailing customers with updated shipping information when a delivery may be delayed.
  • Suggesting customers check out a new feature that offers functionality they have been looking for.
  • Monitoring performance and triggering a remote fix of a laptop before the user even realizes there’s a problem.

Proactive vs. reactive customer service

The difference between proactive and reactive customer service is all in the timing. With reactive support, customer service traditionally waits to receive a request from a customer who needs something. The agent then replies to the customer with the necessary information, and the request is closed.

Proactive support removes the need for a customer to contact customer service in the first place. In many cases, the customer may not even notice that there was an issue. If they do, resolution becomes much smoother for both the customer and the agent.

The best customer service is often boring. Great service often happens when customers don’t even realize that they’ve been helped.

The benefits of proactive customer service

Why not just sit back and wait for customers to come to you? After all, you probably already have your hands full answering the customers who do reach out to you with questions.

Proactive customer service offers some benefits above and beyond reactive customer service. In fact, it can even reduce your support team’s workload. By moving from a reactive to a proactive customer service focus, you can:

  • Decrease customer support calls. By identifying issues and resolving them before customers are frustrated, you can reduce the number of customer service tickets you need to handle. Not only that, but customers will be less upset when you connect with them, making it easier to deal with the problem at hand.
According to McKinsey, a leading telecommunications company eliminated 50% of unnecessary service and inbound repair calls by proactively contacting customers as soon as their remote monitoring systems detected a malfunction.
  • Increase customer loyalty. Proactive customer service shows that you care and pay attention to the details: These are two qualities that customers love to see in a business. Beyond the good brand image, better service also reduces customer frustration and keeps them around for longer.
  • Control the conversation and messaging. If customers are left to make their own assumptions, they’ll often jump to conclusions that are far worse than the actual situation. Whether it’s a delayed package or a easy-to-fix bug, when you control the conversation, you can guide the customer to set more reasonable expectations.
  • Increase revenue. Adopting a needs-based approach to upselling can boost revenue by more than 30%. The support-driven growth mindset encourages agents to be proactive about understanding customers’ needs and offering solutions at the right time.

Not only does proactive support make your customers more successful, it prevents them from having to do the research themselves, and it makes your company more money. It’s a win-win.

4 ways to deliver proactive customer service

Sold on the benefits of delivering proactive customer service? The four tips below will help you create your own proactive support strategy — and provide you with the tools to think three steps ahead.

1. Predict user frustration

If you don’t understand where your customers become frustrated, you won’t be able to prevent their frustration. Uncovering those moments of opportunity is the first step in delivering proactive customer service.

There are many ways to find those moments, but here are some places to start:

  • Ask your customers! Collect feedback at points along the customer’s journey using customer satisfaction surveys and other feedback tools. When customers tell you that something isn’t working for them, listen and take action.
  • Create a customer journey map. Document common paths that your customers take to accomplish their goals. Where are the speed bumps? Find places where you can proactively help customers at those places.
  • Walk through your product as a customer with beginner’s eyes. What confuses you? What do you stumble over? Using your own product or software can be extremely enlightening when it comes to finding friction.

Once you know the common places where users might stumble, trigger useful messages at the right time using a tool like Help Scout’s messages. Don’t wait for your customers to contact you before giving them the information they need.

2. Train your team to be proactive

McKinsey Consulting predicts that by 2025 “organizations will shift from reactive service centers towards centers that take proactive control of the customer relationship.” For agents, this is great news. They will be more empowered to look after customers. For customer service managers, this might be concerning.

Do you already trust your team to be proactive, identify trends, and think multiple steps ahead? If not, you’ll need to invest in training a team of proactive agents. Consider training your team with “next issue avoidance” thinking.

Gregory Ciotti suggests asking agents to reach beyond the customer’s immediate questions to help them reach an ultimate goal:

“View a conversation through an outcome-focused lens — what are customers really trying to do? What are their next steps after this resolution? Can you help them before they ask? Can you remove roadblocks before they reach them?”

3. Automate what you can

Having agents individually monitor and reach out to every customer about to run into trouble isn’t scalable. It’s also not very effective — many things will drop through the cracks. Automating proactive service will help you catch all the customers who need help or who got lost along the way.

Using support automation to offer preemptive assistance to your customers can take a variety of shapes.

  • Croissant sent me an email after I failed to complete the onboarding process with a link to jump right back to where I was (easy!) and an opportunity to ask any questions I had (helpful!). You can do similar automations with abandoned shopping carts or payment failures.
  • Heap Analytics monitors the time it takes for queries to run. When a query takes longer than their internal threshold, the customer is automatically sent an email to let them know that the issue has been documented. Not only does this tell the customer that Heap’s support team is on top of the issue, it also opens up a channel for other conversations.
  • Finally, the Gaia GPS app emails new customers a list of handy links they might need. There is a direct link to download the app onto any devices you own, a link to help documentation, and an invitation to get in touch should they have any other questions.

4. Lean into user education

Educating users upfront will always be more impactful than solving their problems later on. Investing in creating helpful content is key to offering proactive support. Not only can customers find help themselves, but creating this content also creates a repository of answers that you can use when automating workflows.

Customers have also come to expect self-service as an option. Microsoft’s Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report found that more than 90% of consumers expect a business to offer self-service or a frequently asked questions page.

User education content can also take the form of webinars, emails, or other types of content. You Need a Budget (YNAB) offers free workshops as a big part of their user education program.

These webinars help new users get the most out of their YNAB subscription and help reduce the load on YNAB’s support team. They specifically designed these webinars to answer the most frequently asked questions from new users.

Get one step ahead of your customers

Proactive support might feel like magic to your customers. But to you, it just requires a little extra thought and planning.

By creating proactive workflows and encouraging your agents to take initiative, you’ll create more loyal customers.

Sarah Chambers

Sarah Chambers

Sarah is a customer service consultant and the founder of Supported Content. When she’s not arguing about customer service, she’s usually outdoors rock climbing or snowboarding. Follow her on Twitter to keep up with her adventures.