How To Implement a Proactive Customer Support Strategy

by Jim Berkowitz on January 18, 2010

Here are several excerpts from an excellent post by Ben Yoskovitz, How To Implement a Proactive Customer Support Strategy:

I’ve said before that great customer support has to be proactive. But what exactly does that mean?

The goal of proactive support is to identify and resolve issues before they become problems. In some cases you can be so successful with proactive customer service that you can solve problems before customers even realize they exist.

We’ve all had an experience where a small nuisance grows into a giant, destructive force. Think about the arguments you’ve had with a significant other; it starts with something small that’s irritating you, but you don’t say anything about it until it grows and grows and grows, eventually festering to the point that you explode and freak out. Your significant other can’t understand why you’re so upset, and you’ve actually lost most of the context as well. But you’re mad. Really, really mad.

The same thing happens with your customers. A small frustration left unchecked can turn into an absolute disaster.

The sooner you implement a policy of proactive customer support, the better. And you can start by using metrics…

You need to know what your customers are doing with your product. You need to track key usage metrics of importance (to you and them) and use that data internally, but also share that data with customers. Remember: Think of customer support as a feature of your product. That’s exactly what you’re doing by tracking usage metrics and sharing them with customers.

A few additional things to remember:

  1. Use a good CRM tool. You should have a CRM tool in place that allows you to track all accounts in a very straightforward way. All issues (bugs, inquiries, etc.) should be recorded.
  2. You can’t save every customer. It doesn’t matter how proactive you are, you won’t save every customer. But proactive support can improve client retention.
  3. Know what metrics to track. You have to put some serious thoughts into the appropriate metrics to track. Some metrics might give you false positives — such as logins. A customer might be logging in frequently but not using the app “properly” and still be unsatisfied.
  4. Don’t assume usage means everything is OK. High usage doesn’t mean that a customer is totally satisfied. The same holds true with low usage; you have to know each customer’s unique expectations and intentions behind using your product.
  5. Implement a regular follow-up schedule. Start with a baseline schedule for checking in on customers (via email and phone), and adjust that for each customer based on usage and feedback.
  6. Build metrics tracking into your application. Think about the value add you can provide customers by making usage and metrics a feature of your product. Also think about the potential for using metrics to increase virality and engagement inside a customer.
  7. Track the Social Web. Your customers are out there complaining. And many of them may not do it directly (to you) but they’ll go to Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. and complain there. You need to monitor the Social Web and respond accordingly.
  8. Track trends. Each customer is unique – that’s an important thing to realize – but there are trends that will emerge when you track usage metrics. For example, you might discover that certain features aren’t being used much, or they’re being used in ways you didn’t expect. You might also discover trends about the types of customers (by industry, size, etc.) and their usage patterns.
  9. Don’t go overboard. You don’t want to get so aggressive that customers get irritated. That can certainly backfire. If you build usage statistic reporting into your product, be smart about it — if you don’t see any usage, stop sending the reports. Instead, pick up the phone and call. Or send a personalized email.
  10. Nothing replaces direct communication. Be careful that you don’t get overly focused on tracking usage metrics and implementing automated reporting and support strategies. Nothing beats a direct, personal email or call to a customer. Nothing beats an actual conversation with a customer for providing proactive customer support.

Customer support touches most aspects of your business. Great customer support will increase sales and revenues. Great customer support will assist with product development. Great customer support will increase brand recognition, and business opportunities. Think about taking your customer service to the next level by implementing proactive strategies, ingrained into the product itself and your support staff’s every day activities.

{ 2 comments }

Barry Dalton January 18, 2010 at 10:31 am

Jim,
All good advise. I’d take it even a step further. I think one of the strategic imperatives of customer service and support is to identify and lead the elimination of the upstream errors that drive customer dissatisfaction, and thus support interaction volume and cost.

Not many organizations I’ve witnessed are structured to facilitate this. Nor is customer support typically empowered to influence these upstream functions such as design, manufacturing, AR, sales, etc. Many customer services organizations have invested in Lean Six Sigma programs. But the focus of those efforts is internal. The better use is to direct the reengineering effort to external drivers.

Then, investment dollars can be directed to improving the customer experience in other areas as a competitive differentiator.

thx again
barry

proactive support July 8, 2010 at 12:48 am

Thank you for so informative post.
I’d like to add the point that early proactive discovery makes all the difference in expediting resolution and increasing customer satisfaction.

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