This is a guest post provided by Ashley Verrill, a market analyst and a proactive customer service adviser at Software Advice.
If you asked someone what they think about when you say customer service, they would likely describe an unpleasant experience – one of compounding frustration because they had a problem, then were forced to sit on hold and bounce from one agent to another to get it solved.
This scenario is even worse from the company’s perspective. This might have been the only communication since the customer purchased, and it doesn’t really sound like an experience that inspires them to come back.
There is an alternative – proactive customer service. This means reaching out to your customers before they have to call you, instead of reactively responding when they have a problem. Not only does this provide a better experience, but in one study it reduced call volumes by as much as 30 percent. In the same report, customer retention rose as much as 5 percent.
Here, my company provides six specific actions you can take to turn your service from reactive to proactive.
Want to know what your customers are thinking? Just ask
Customer service is about giving customers what they want, which means you first have to find out what that is. And there’s no better way than to ask them. By regularly reaching out to customers, businesses can easily identify areas of weakness and correct them before customers become unhappy.
PBS.org, for example, used customer feedback technology from ForeSee and found out that many of their website visitors were looking for recipes from their cooking shows – information that wasn’t available online. This frustrated many viewers that visited the website. As a result, PBS.org created a new website exclusively for recipes and other food-related resources. Their customer satisfaction levels increased dramatically.
Reach out and be transparent if there’s a known problem
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. While they might still be frustrated, these customers are less apt to hold a grudge; or worse, head to social media to voice their dissatisfaction.
If your company identifies a problem, you should first identify all customers that would be affected by the issue and proactively reach out and offer an apology. Additionally, you could offer a discount towards a future purchase, or a refund if your solution to the problem can’t address their needs.
If you can’t solve the problem right away, be empathetic and clear about what you’re doing to address the issue. Finally, invite them to contact you with any questions or feedback, and make sure those responding to this channel do so quickly.
Show some love for your loyal customers
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.
Sending an email to a customer a couple months before their two-year subscription renewal is due, for example, and offering a five percent discount to thank them would likely 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.
Look for clues of unrest in online conversations, attack the problem
Use social listening technology or manual searches to find customers talking about your company on social media. If you find someone voicing a complaint, reach out and see what you can do to address their needs. If they respond positively, you might retweet or share that experience. This shows you care and respond proactively, and could solve similar issues if other customers are having the same issue.
If you surface a repeated issue, this might indicate something bigger is going on. This would prompt you to reach out to similar customers in your database just to check and make sure they don’t have the same problem.
Use live chat to prevent customers from digging around to find the answer
A Forrester survey found that 44 percent of respondents believe the ability to get quick answers from a live chat representative during an online purchase is “one of the most important features a website can offer.”
Online chat assures website visitors that someone at the company is there to provide any information needed and saves them the trouble of having to search for an answer or call or email the company.
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.
About Ashley Verrill
Ashley Verrill is a market analyst a proactive customer service consultant at Software Advice. She 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. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.