Flipping the script in customer service


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Customer self-service’s popularity continues to rise and companies invest in new tools to offer fast anywhere, anytime service. Customer contact centers are at-the-ready to respond to emails, chats, and telephone calls in cases where an answer can’t be found or for those customers preferring live channels. Regardless of how the customer receives their answer, customer service tends to be a very reactive practice.

The problem is, even when customers receive fast solutions from self-service or a friendly and knowledgeable customer service agent, it still requires effort from them. They had to go online and search or pick up the phone and navigate a queue. Despite a positive result, this is a drag on the customer experience.

Problems may always occur, but there is a better way: proactive customer service. And though it’s been a predicted trend,  companies still struggle to consistently deliver it or don’t deliver it at all. Granted, proactive service might not work in every situation, but it should be attempted when possible. There are many common scenarios where it makes sense.

Perhaps an instruction manual is missing a step; a product malfunctions or breaks under certain usage conditions; a widespread billing or shipping issue occurs. All might be simple problems to address with a knowledge article or a quick email reply, but they impact the customer experience. In high volumes, each of these could also easily overwhelm the contact center if every affected customer picks up the phone for help.

Don’t force customers to find their own answers or contact you for issues that have been solved. With a few changes in process, delivering proactive service in the right circumstances is easier than you think.

Know your customers

Proactive service isn’t possible without collecting some details about your customers. No matter how they acquire your products and services–be it they purchase directly from you or you sell via a third-party sales channel–collect information from them that will assist in times when they need help. Online registration is a great way to do this.

At the very least, you need contact information and a preferred channel (e.g. email or telephone). You must also know the products and services they own and use and, if necessary, any unique operating conditions that might affect use. Other properties might be useful to track, which can be added over time. The more information you have, the greater chance of segmenting your customers into similar customer groups, which will become important later.

Continuously monitor for trends

Customer problems are rarely unique; if one customer is having an issue, chances are they’re not alone and more calls and emails will follow. Reactive service requests are the source material for proactive service efforts. By examining trending case topics, it’s possible to identify issues with an already-high or rising volume.

Looking at the higher volume issues, review the profile information of affected customers. Are there any unique characteristics that caused them to experience the issue (such as living in a certain area or purchased from a particular lot), or is it a situation where potentially all customers might encounter it (that missing step in the instruction manual from above)? This additional detail will assist in identifying the right set of customers to notify.

Targeting affected customers

This is where knowing as much about your customers as possible and how they use your products and services will prove invaluable.

Using the characteristics identified in the last step, search your customer database for similar customers who have not yet contacted customer service. This creates the group of customers to proactively communicate the issue and solution to.

Communicating the solution

If the problem affects only a small set of customers, use the customer’s preferred one-to-one communication method (like email or telephone) to direct them to the solution. If the problem affects most or all customers, email or telephone calls might not be sufficient. Consider a one-to-many approach such as highly-visible messages online on the company’s homepage and customer service pages. Playing an automated message in the phone queue is also be an option.

Does the solution require action by the customer in some fashion? Use self-service and automation powered by workflow on your website to address issues like product replacement requests. Connecting the customer’s inquiry directly to the department that can address it bypasses customer service, allowing them to focus on other issues while decreasing the resolution time for the customer. Knowledge base articles are an ideal approach if the solution involves the customer following several steps.

What if a solution has yet to be determined? Communicate that, and the expected timeline. If expectations can’t be met, let the customer know. Minimize the effort required by the customer to stay informed on the way to the solution.

Change your approach

Customer service’s very nature is reactive; it exists to respond to customer problems. That’s not going to change. But it doesn’t mean contact centers can’t take action on known issues with proven solutions.

With a few modifications to process, the opportunity to regularly deliver proactive customer service becomes possible. By maintaining information on customers and their products and service use and by monitoring issue trends, companies can flip the script on traditional customer service and deliver a better customer experience.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.


  1. Great Article Paul. Totally agreed.
    Superior customer service support is a dying art. Studies have shown that customers are willing to spend more if they receive excellent care.

  2. Thank you, and I agree it is a dying art. Proactive service isn’t trivial to deliver, but in this connected age full of data, why not take every opportunity to do it?


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