Proactivity in Customer Support
Customers in 2021 expect near-instantaneous results, with speedy resolution and experience delivery as a major competitive differentiator. One step beyond that – proactive customer support. Understanding customer needs leads to having the ability to anticipate ways to satisfy those needs before they engage, creating the kinds of amazing customer experiences that drive loyalty.
As a customer success and support manager, I love proactive support because when you put a little extra effort in to get ahead of common problems and get customers started on the right foot, it saves support teams from costly problems and headaches later.
“Proactive support aims to get ahead of these problems before a customer reaches out to contact support.”
What is proactive support?
Traditionally, customer support has been thought of as reactionary, like firefighters that arrive to a house after a 911 call. A customer writes or calls with a problem, and the trusty support team is there to handle with care, quickly and efficiently.
Proactive support aims to get ahead of these problems before a customer reaches out to contact support. It’s at the very top of the Conversational Support Funnel, the first line of defense when it comes to solving customer issues.
This could mean anticipating common questions, or leading customers toward their next step in the customer journey to further product or service adoption. For e-commerce, this could look like sending notifications alerting customers when their product will ship, or presenting alternative suggestions if a product requested is out of stock. For B2B, this could look like presenting set-up guides or videos at sticky points during set-up, or nudging customers toward features they haven’t yet explored.
From a support perspective, proactively absorbing customer questions frees up support teams to focus on their most important, complex, and VIP support queries. Not only that, but nudging customers to key touchpoints in the customer journey gets customers to valuable “aha” moments faster, driving customers to adopt the product and become happy, healthy, long-term customers. In fact, 68% of customers view brands more positively after receiving proactive customer service notifications, according to Microsoft.
“68% of customers view brands more positively after receiving proactive customer service notifications, according to Microsoft.”
Best practices for proactive customer support
It’s not enough to simply start reaching out to customers proactively, generically asking them how they are doing or if there’s anything you can do to help. This would be like a lifeguard asking, “Excuse me, are you drowning?” A proactive support strategy should be exactly that: a strategy. Contextless proactive support comes off as badgering, ineffective, annoying, and a huge turn-off to customers.
Follow these best practices as a proactive customer support framework that drives consistent value to customers.
Start with the customer journey
Customer journeys are a popular component to any comprehensive customer experience strategy, and outline the path of steps and interactions a customer experiences with a brand, product, or service. Customer journeys can cover the end-to-end experience, or focus on a smaller part of the funnel.
While the customer journey should be written from the customers’ experience, these are the key components to create a successful proactive support strategy:
- Product touchpoints that lead to happy, healthy, long-term customers.
- Types of engagement that leads to happy, healthy, long-term customers.
- Variations based on customer segment.
“The two most famous product touchpoints during onboarding are activation and point of first value.”
What product touchpoints lead to happy, healthy, long-term customers?
Throwing all of a product’s functionality at a customer at once is not only overwhelming, it makes it impossible for the brain to commit information to long-term memory. It’s why cramming for a test doesn’t work. Instead, focus on a few product touchpoints proven to drive the most value to your customers, and work from there.
The two most famous product touchpoints during onboarding are activation and point of first value. While the two are similar (and frequently tied together) they have differences:
- Activation: The product moment where the customer officially starts using the product. This could be the first step in set-up or first order placed.
- Point of first value: This is the customer’s aha moment when they really “get” the value of the product. The more immediate this value is after activation, the better.
After identifying the activation product touchpoint, which hopefully correlates closely with the point of first value, identify 2-3 more product touchpoints that deliver the most amount of value to customers, and focus on those. Your customer journey should make sure all customers hit those product touchpoints.
What types of engagement leads to happy, healthy, long-term customers?
How you engage with customers depends on your product and customer type. A Gen Z direct-to-consumer brand likely wouldn’t get very far calling customers on the phone, while offering screen-share coaching sessions might be very effective for a more complex legal software. You can likely make some hypothesis about how your customers like to engage, and what recipe works the best with the least amount of effort in leading them to success, but it’s important to test which engagement methods are most effective to optimize efforts and maximize resources.
Some hypothesis you may want to test include:
- Does having a chat widget available during onboarding increase trial to paid conversion?
- Does offering screen-sharing coaching sessions lead to long-term retention and expansion?
- Does email outreach work to bring inactive customers back to the product or service?
Experimenting with engagement types like email, chat, phone, SMS, or social will help identify what channels your customers respond best to when adding the human element to your proactive support strategy.
“Experimenting with engagement types like email, chat, phone, SMS, or social will help identify what channels your customers respond best to when adding the human element to your proactive support strategy.”
Variations based on customer segment
While businesses may value all of their customers, it’s naive to think that all customers deliver equal value to a business. Now that you’ve identified what product touchpoints lead to successful customers and what engagement touchpoints your customers respond most effectively to, it’s time to weave them together based on the customer segment.
You may discover that screen shares and coaching calls are very effective at converting and retaining customers, but time-consuming and labor-intensive. As such, it’s a good idea to reserve coaching calls for the higher-value customer segments. Use customer segments to create self-serve, low-touch, and high-touch proactive strategies centered around the product touchpoints and engagement touchpoints that make up the customer journey.
Identify known customer pain points and FAQs
Once you’ve mapped the customer journey, the next most important step is to identify trends where customers fall off that journey. Where do they get stuck? Where do they drop off? These parts are called customer friction and can be lethal to the customer experience. Fortunately, identifying friction is easy, if you know where to look.
“The easiest way to identify friction is to identify when customers are dropping off the customer journey.”
Identifying friction points
The easiest way to identify friction is to identify when customers are dropping off the customer journey. If you have 2-3 product touchpoints that lead to a successful, long-term customer, and 75% of folks seem to drop after touchpoint 1, you’ve just stumbled on a point of friction.
Find evidence of friction in support conversation data
While drop-off behavior is a reliable indicator on where friction exists in your customer journey, conversations in your customer support queue give you context to what that friction is. Referencing customer feedback and common problems across behavioral drop-off points will give you a pretty clear picture of what the problems are. Actions speak louder than words, so if the problem aligns with a behavioral drop-off point, even issues that only have a handful of customers writing about it might be indicative of larger issues.
Create relevant content to provide help at key moments
Now that you know where the friction is, and have referenced your support conversations to identify what the friction is, you can get ahead of it! Create relevant content based on how you solve the problem when customers write in about it, and serve that content at the friction point.
Voilà. Proactive support.
“Proactive support is a key facet of any overall customer experience strategy.”
Define and co-own bottom-line metrics
Proactive support is a key facet of any overall customer experience strategy, which is not only cross-functional between growth, customer-facing, and product teams, but deeply tied to business health metrics like conversion, retention, and expansion. Define which bottom-line metrics your proactive strategy aims to improve, and work with other stakeholders to define, measure, and co-own success.
Measure your baseline first
It’s impossible to know what proactive experiments are working if you don’t know your baseline customer health metrics.
Before starting any experiments, get familiar with metrics around:
- Trial to paid conversion
- Churn and retention
- LTV and expansion
- Support volume
In testing, the most important thing to monitor for is variance, which you can’t identify if you don’t have a baseline. If trial to paid conversion improves after sending a proactive message in-app at a common point of friction during setup, it’s easier to identify the success of the experiment and ROI than if you started without knowing your baseline.
Set SMART goals
SMART is a popular acronym used in goal setting for everything from health practices to business.
To make sure goals are attainable, make sure they are:
- Specific (simple, sensible, and significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
- Achievable (agreed, attainable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic, resourced, and results-based).
- Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost-limited, timely, and time-sensitive).
Once you’ve measured your baseline for revenue, product adoption, and support KPIs, use the SMART system to create measurable goals to assess performance of your proactive strategy.
For revenue, your SMART goal might look like:
By adding a chat widget to the onboarding process, our goal is to increase trial to paid conversion in the next month.
It’s specific — your goal is to increase trial to paid conversion with a chat widget.
It’s measurable — trial to paid conversion is a quantifiable metric.
It’s achievable — it doesn’t say by how much or how little (like convert 100% of our customers) but instead, accepts any increase as successful.
For product adoption, your SMART goal might look like:
By creating an in-app product tour, our goal is to increase the number of customers that successfully implement key value-driving features in the next quarter.
Again, this is specific to measuring in-app product tours ability to drive an increased number (measurable) of customers to implement key value-driving features (achievable) in the next quarter (time-bound).
For support KPIs, your SMART goal might look like:
Our goal is to reduce conversation volume per customer in the next three months by serving contextual knowledge base content in-app.
All of these examples are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, which makes them easy to quickly identify as successful or not.
“The most important piece of this puzzle is refinement and optimization, which can only come from measuring performance.”
The most important piece of this puzzle is refinement and optimization, which can only come from measuring performance. Make sure to regularly assess if you’re hitting your SMART goals within the timeframe identified. Using BI tools like Looker or Amplitude combine measurement for your proactive efforts with business health metrics to identify successful efforts.
Getting started with proactive customer support
These best practices for crafting a proactive support strategy should point to what points you need to be proactive around to drive value, eliminate friction, and measure success, but what about tactics to execute?
Onboard and educate customers with Product Tours
After doing your homework and mapping your customer journey, you should know what product touchpoints deliver the most value to your customers, what engagement points drive customers to adopt those product touchpoints most successfully, and how those paths should vary by your customer segments.
Use Product Tours to follow along each step of the customer journey, preemptively delivering in-app nudges and guides to where customers should explore next, and prompt engagement to high-value segments to deliver personalized touch where needed.
In-app product tours can drive customers to activation, point of first value, and any subsequent stops on the customer journey to adopt a product or service faster and with fewer questions for customer-facing teams.
“Proactive support should meet customers where they are at, which for most customers is in their email inbox.”
Help customers overcome common hurdles with outbound email
Proactive support should meet customers where they are at, which for most customers is in their email inbox. In-app tours work great for customers actively using the app, but lose customers who might have abandoned the product after running into a point of friction. For those customers, use outbound email to revive their product usage.
After identifying common points of friction, monitor behavior to make sure customers are overcoming obstacles on those phases. While some friction can be relieved with better UI or product decisions, sometimes that’s not a quick and easy fix. Instead, get ahead of those issues by sending targeted emails to customers that fail to overcome that hurdle with helpful guides and videos. For customers in the high-value segment, this would be where to prioritize your human touch to make sure they successfully move past that point of friction.
Proactively answer FAQs with AI Chatbots and Messenger apps
After segmenting your customers into low-value, mid-value, and high-value segments, leveraging AI Chatbots, messenger apps, and serving relevant content to answer frequently asked questions at key moments is a great way to deliver an excellent customer experience without expending resources. Serving the right content to the right customer at the right time can help customers overcome friction points or guide them to their next step in the customer journey, without costly human touch.
“Attempting to implement a proactive support strategy as part of your Conversational Support Funnel without putting in the work of creating a customer journey or identifying points of friction could do more harm than good.”
Don’t phone it in
Customers expect companies to deliver personalized, proactive experiences, but attempting to implement a proactive support strategy as part of your Conversational Support Funnel without putting in the work of creating a customer journey or identifying points of friction could do more harm than good. It’s not enough to write a check-in email after two weeks to see how things are coming along. Customers crave specific, contextual, and personalized help. Otherwise, the extra email in the inbox becomes nothing more than noise.
Once you have a map, it’s easy to put the proactive support framework outlined here into place, implementing in-app product tours, email outreach, and contextual help articles in practice to help customers find their way to success.
If you missed it, here’s our post introducing the conversational support funnel. You can also read our other post about if you should use a framework in customer support. Stay tuned for another post about Intercom’s Conversational Support Funnel framework soon.
Intercom has put together an in-depth Starter Kit to help you learn more about their Conversation Support Funnel framework so you can start using it in your own operations.
The kit includes:
- The full scoop on the framework
- An interactive worksheet to help you plan your funnel
- Tactics for fast and personal issue response
- Advice on what to measure and how to get buy-in for your support program
About the Author
Mo McKibbin served over a decade in customer-facing roles from sales, support, and customer success for brands like Threadless and Help Scout.
She now heads Customer Success at Moxion, helping Hollywood productions get made with software enabling remote workflow for filmmakers.
Outside of work, she enjoys hiking, yoga, screenwriting, and a variety of side hustles.
Laura Marciano-Sawh is the VP of Operations at DrFirst, responsible for the integration, implementation, support, NOC, and project management teams, encompassing the entire cycle of the customer once a sale has been completed. They regularly create unconventional solutions that solve care collaboration, medication management, price transparency, and adherence challenges faced in healthcare.
Laura just moved to Maryland with husband and son, and due to COVID-19, has been spending a lot of time driving and playing DoorDash roulette. In normal times, you can find her traveling, taking photos of landscapes, and obsessing over the weather — sometimes combining all three together!