Proactive support is the holy grail of customer support – Interview with Paul Adams of Intercom

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Today’s interview is with Paul Adams who is the SVP of Product at Intercom, which helps brands build their customer relationships through conversational, messenger-based experiences across the customer journey. Paul joins me today to talk about putting proactive support back on the agenda, what proactive support means for support teams, what’s stopping support teams getting started and the future of service and experience amongst a few other things.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – The difference and relationship between emotion, empathy and emotional intelligence in customer experience – Interview with Sandra Thompson – and is number 362 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my chat with Paul:

  • This interview was precipitated by a previous conversation that we had about a new report that Intercom recently published: The Conversational Support Funnel Starter Kit.
  • Proactive service has been around for a while now.
  • Apart from the big macro changes driven by the pandemic that are taking place right in front of us right now, there are barriers to the adoption of a more holistic proactive approach to service:
    • In the last few years the products just haven’t been on the market.
    • Organisationally who owns outbound messaging.
    • People don’t know where and how to start particularly if all they have ever done is be reactive in a support context. It requires a change of mindset.
  • The expectations on service have increased dramatically in recent years.
  • Proactive support is the holy grail of customer support.
  • In a recent survey, we found that seventy eight percent of support leaders want to move from a reactive to a proactive approach with their support. But, only twenty six percent say they have the knowledge and tools to do so.
  • What does a proactive approach to support mean? There is no sharp definition.
  • There are actually different types of proactive support.
  • Common questions are answered before our customers have asked them – that’s the simplest definition.
  • The next iteration involves predicting the questions that customers will ask i.e. predictive search on Google.
  • There’s three types of proactive support:
    • 1. Planned – this is predetermined and based on behaviour analysis i.e. helping the customer do something based on usage patterns, other historical customer data and predictive analytics.
    • 2. Situational – there’s a problem or something is broken and you notify customers to inform them before calls and emails start to hit the support desk. This is the reactive version of proactive support.
    • 3. V.I.P. Proactive support – this is special attention to a client’s needs like you would see from customer success teams and is a mix of of day to day observation and looking for patterns and so is kind of opportunistic. It’s definitely the least well understood and least common.
  • However, the tools out there to help with this tend to be focused on marketing or on-boarding.
  • There’s not a lot out there that is support based. But, that is starting to get better.
  • People are often held back by irrational fears of getting things wrong.
  • To be make your support more proactive there is a kind of vulnerability required, probably on behalf of the companies and then the leaders in those companies.
  • There’s a number of examples of Intercom customers on their website that are taking a proactive approach to support.
  • It’s all about making a commitment to wanting to do better and serve customers better, but also at the same time to reduce the demand on your service and support teams.
  • Paul reflected on my recent article: The Four Imperatives Emerging From The Pandemic And What To Do About Them and believes that learning and resilience are two themes right now that are pretty tightly connected. The idea that a company must learn and be adaptable to change while then having the resilience to actually go through the change itself. He also reflected that the protection theme is also hugely important right now.
  • Paul’s best advice: embrace change, educate yourself and collaborate cross-functionally.
  • The support industry and the customer service industry is undergoing massive changes. Be open to the big change and realise that change is hard.
  • Paul’s Punk CX word(s): customer obsessed.
  • Paul’s Punk CX brand (s): Zappos, Amazon.

About Paul

Paul AdamsPaul Adams who is the SVP of Product at Intercom, which helps brands build their customer relationships through conversational, messenger-based experiences across the customer journey.

Paul oversees Intercom’s product, design and research teams, and co-hosts the Intercom on Product podcast series with Des Traynor. Previously, Paul worked in brand, product and UX design at Facebook, Google, YouTube and Dyson. He is the author of Grouped: How small groups of friends are the key to influence on the social web..

Find out more about Intercom here, read some of Paul’s musings here on Intercom’s blog, say Hi to Paul and Intercom on Twitter @Padday and @Intercom and feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Image: Proactive by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

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