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Customer service experiences rarely delight us. Most of us can detail an unpleasant customer experience (looking at you major U.S. airlines) where it seems like our business is taken for granted. These unpleasant experiences make the great experiences stand out.

I’ve written before about M.M.LaFleur and its support for its customer community. A few weeks ago, I had sent a gift card to another member of the M.M.LaFleur Slack community, and the email confirmation didn’t arrive. I messaged the community manager, who in five minutes didn’t just email me the confirmation — she also direct messaged me the code. That pleasantly surprising instance of added value is proactive customer service. Proactive customer service is important to increasing customer retention, along with enhancing customer satisfaction and delight.

NewVoiceMedia research found U.S. brands are losing approximately $75 billion annually due to poor customer service. Proactive customer support is all about identifying and resolving customer issues before they become problems. Reactive customer support requires a customer with a question to find a contact page, call or email, and wait for a response. With proactive customer support, you anticipate customer issues and address them before they happen — through FAQs, forums, knowledge base articles and elearning platforms — and offer supplemental experiences to increase customer loyalty.

Why Customer Support Matters to Customer Experience

Customer support, customer success, customer experience — are these all just different sides of the same coin?

A company’s relationship with customers is about much more than simply getting better surveys or bigger attendance at events. Understanding the customer experience is about learning what customers experience from the moment they purchase — and then working to make the experience of being a customer as successful — and seamless — as possible.

It makes sense. Happy customers lead to more revenue, and ultimately more growth and company sustainability. But so do product development, marketing, UX, sales, and many other resources at your organization. So why prioritize customer experience — or customer support, for that matter?

  • Customer support drives revenue. GrooveHQ reports that 84% of organizations working to improve customer support report an increase in revenue. It can be hard to show a one-to-one correlation between customer support and revenue, but tracking customer experience metrics like net promoter score (NPS), customer satisfaction score (CSAT) and social sentiment against revenue can help show the value of your investment in customer support.
  • Customer experience drives growth. A great customer experience drives referrals. According to Qualtrics, 94% of American customers will recommend a company whose experience they recommend as very good. It’s great to budget for advertising campaigns, but referrals outweigh multichannel ads every time. A great customer experience means customers tell future customers about how great your product or service is and what a difference it makes to their business.
  • Customer success drives retention. Focusing on customer success — making sure that customers see value from their investment — reduces churn and helps drive growth in annual recurring revenue. You can’t succeed without it. According to Oracle, one-third of customers will walk away from a brand after just one disappointing interaction. Sometimes unhappy customers complain, but most just leave. Focusing on customer success from the start is better than trying to win back customers later on.

Depending on the size and structure of your organization, the employees who interact with customers may be on different teams. Regardless of how you structure your customer experience team — if it’s three teams, one team, or even one person — when you have the ultimate emphasis on your customer, it’s easy to see the benefits.

Related Article: Customer Service Requires a Bold New Approach

5 Ways to Get Started With Proactive Support

If your support team has traditionally waited for customers to call them with problems, it may seem challenging to get started with a proactive approach. Proactive customer experience starts with empathy — understanding a customer and what they’re experiencing at any moment.

There are some easy ways to get started, from conducting surveys to admitting (and fixing) problems when they happen. Here are five ways to add proactive support to your customer experience strategy.

  • Send out surveys. Do you know what customers want, or do you just think you do? More importantly — do you know what your most valuable customers want? There are many ways to collect customer feedback, from NPS and CSAT surveys to simple post-transaction questionnaires. Whichever direction you choose, be sure that you’re asking questions that help you improve — and that you’re open to the feedback you’re going to get.
  • Monitor customer activity across platforms. Have you ever read the article "She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By the Sink?" Spoiler alert: It wasn’t about the dishes. Support can be the same way — the support case is often the final straw or, if the situation is bad enough, may never even be filed. Be sure you’re paying attention to what your customers are saying on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. That way you can detect situations that need to be fixed before you’re writing an article about losing an account because the password reset process didn’t work.
  • Create a knowledge base or FAQ. Creating a knowledge base or FAQ is a great way for customers to solve their own issue without contacting your support team. It’s proactive because you’re anticipating issues and providing customers with the answers they need before they even happen. Knowledge bases are available 24/7, making them extremely convenient for customers. Don’t know what questions are the most popular? Ask your support team, or ask your digital marketing team for what search terms get people to your website!
  • Invest in Elearning. We all know that training is important to customer success. It helps customers feel more confident and see more value from their purchase. Investing in an elearning platform — whether it includes longer courses or quick tips and tricks — is a great way to expand on a knowledge base or FAQ. Customers can easily absorb and access information through an elearning platform, and the platform is available around the clock so that videos can be revisited multiple times.
  • Be honest when you mess up. It’s important to treat customers like humans. And that means being polite — saying please and thank you, and apologizing when things go wrong. Things will go wrong. It’s better to admit the issue, apologize up front and offer a solution before customers find out about it. This proactive approach shows you are committed to building an ongoing, successful relationship with customers.

Putting your customers first means changing how you run your business, train your team and handle support. But by adding proactive support techniques to your overall customer experience plan, you won’t just keep the customers you have happy — you’ll help turn your customers into brand advocates and ultimately increase satisfaction, loyalty and revenue.