By now you've probably heard the term "proactive" so many times, it's about as invisible as "synergy" and "moving forward." But like so many buzzwords that came before it, proactive, as in "proactive customer service" or "proactive tech support," started as a good idea.
That's because working proactively means "acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty." If you can get ahead of a problem before it happens, you'll save your business a lot of grief. For instance, proactive customer service—or taking care of your customers before they ask for help—is an effective strategy for leaving every interaction with a more loyal client.
Encouraging Proactive Customer Service
But how do you get ahead of the game? Here are just a few hints for actually applying proactive customer service techniques, instead of just using the buzz phrase in an employee meeting.
Put somebody in charge of reading review sites, social media platforms and complaint organizations like the Better Business Bureau or Ripoff Report. Do the occasional Web search for your brand name and industry. Find the reviews that specifically ask for something, then get proactive with customer service by engaging with the reviewer and offering it.
One step further: Engage in the comments of negative reviews by asking specifically how you could have made things better, then come back with a report of how you did exactly that, asking for the reviewer to post a follow-up.
Ask For Feedback
Stay away from canned surveys—other canned surveys show they annoy most of your customers unless they're already eager to complain about or praise your company. Engage in proactive customer service by personally contacting a customer or small group of customers and specifically asking how your company could do better.
One step further: Engage your social media or newsletter subscribers by offering them a special discount to answer a series of questions designed to discover your company's greatest opportunities for improvement.
Get Ahead Of Mistakes
Before the Internet, companies could hide their mistakes or find ways to improve the spin of disastrous policies. Now that we all have access to all the information, all the time, that kind of thing gets noticed and shared even more aggressively. Instead of trying to hide the truth, you should proactively tell customers and the public when things go wrong. Apologize—even if it isn't your fault—and describe what you're doing to make it right. People don't expect perfection ... just responsibility.
One step further: Don't just tell your customers about your solution—get them involved with opportunities to give feedback, participate in market research or even volunteer at a project (sponsored by you) that works to solve the problem you became a part of.
There's a fine line of difference here. Reward cards and similar programs are effective, but they're not proactive customer service. Customers feel entitled to those rewards because they feel they've earned them. Instead, give "surprise" or "bonus" gifts to customers. Like a love note left on your wife's steering wheel, these gifts are a reminder that you're thinking of the customers even when they're not doing something for your business.
One step further: Hold online events related to your business, such as a Q&A session for loyal customers or a behind-the-scenes tour. Listen carefully to what your customers say to each other, and respond to what you learn as proactively as possible.
You already know better than to engage in one-way broadcasts via social media and your company blog—that it's better to phrase everything in a way that invites comment. Making your customer service truly proactive means coming back to those conversations with specific replies to specific comments. This takes time and attention to detail, but it will create the personal connection that turns customers into walking, talking advertisements for your brand.
One step further: Post about some of the best conversations in a blog post or social media update, celebrating individual followers' participation with your brand.
A buzzword becomes just another outdated term if you never put it into practice. But putting proactive customer service into practice isn't just smart—it's necessary if you really want to connect with your customers and turn them into loyal supporters of your brand.
What are some of your (least) favorite buzzwords? Tell us about them in the comments below.
Jason Brick has contributed more than 2,000 blog and magazine articles to local, regional and national publications and speaks regularly at writing and business conferences. You can find out more about Jason at www.brickcommajason.com.
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