It Pays to Make the First Move

Proactive customer service is the latest online trend for surpassing your customers' expectations. In essence, it is a service approach that attempts to anticipate customer issues, questions and requirements before the customer approaches the company with them.

Traditional customer service has been almost exclusively reactive. A company designates a team to deal with incoming customer complaints and enquiries. This, though generally satisfactory, has drawbacks and is unlikely to turn a customer from a detractor into a promoter.

Proactive customer service can take pressure off your support team, reduce customer churn, minimise the impact of negative press and can come across as genuinely thoughtful and impressive. I once ducked out of an online purchase at the last minute, put off by exorbitant postage costs. Shortly after, I received an email offering free postage on that transaction which immediately persuaded me to buy. This company had identified the barrier to purchase and instantly removed it.

Naturally, this type of customer service requires customer knowledge. Monitoring your customers' online habits will enable you to draw useful conclusions. If lots of customers are abandoning your site at a particular point, it is safe to assume that there is a problem with the usability or functionality at that point. Solving this problem will benefit sales and reduce the number of complaints.

Being proactive in your customer service approach is all about reducing the effort and frustration that can characterise online purchasing. Live chat facilities provide a brilliant way of nipping any problem in the bud. A window appearing offering help and support, triggered perhaps if a customer is taking an excessively long time on a transaction, provides the human touch to the cyber experience and can save a company's sales and reputation with little effort. It is also a good opportunity to assess the bigger picture of your customer service provision. Give your agents the chance to feed back their experiences and you may be able to identify common issues and address them to improve future service.

Monitoring support problem trends fulfils a similar function, giving a company useful information that can be utilised to improve future service. Creating a bank of self-service resources for your customers from the feedback you collate will ease pressure on your staff and will contribute to the promotion of your company's image. It can help you be viewed as a company that has its customers' requirements at the heart of its operation. This will naturally have a knock on effect on the perception people have of the products or services you are selling. If your customer service is exemplary and thoughtful, that bodes well for the ensuing products or services you offer!

So, don't sit back and wait for the complaints to start rolling in. Get to know your customers, equip yourself with knowledge and start solving your customers' issues before they even know they exist!