Recently, Software Advice hosted an online debate called: “Is Customer Service the New Marketing?” The discussion highlighted customers’ increasing disillusionment with traditional advertising; and as a result, the importance of customer service as a market differentiator. The average consumer is bombarded with thousands of commercial messages per day. That’s a lot of clutter to cut through.
“Competition is now just a click away. Customers are interested in marketing, but they don’t believe what your company says about itself unless it matches what they and their friends experience,” professional keynote speaker and best-selling author Micah Solomon said during the online debate.
Creating a standout customer service experience, however, doesn’t mean simply waiting for the customer to call you when they have a problem. You should create a strategy that enables your team to proactively reach out to customers and remind them why they purchased your product in the first place. In “The Seven Keys of Responsible Marketing,” Patrick Byers puts it this way: “Quit talking at your customers and prospects; begin a conversation with them instead.” This will increase your customer loyalty and retention.
Here are five tips for shifting from reactive support, to proactive customer service that sells.
- Ask Customers What They Want From You
ForeSee CEO Larry Freed recently published a Harvard Business Review article that explored the difference between voluntary customer feedback and random measurement. He postulated that reactively garnering feedback from customers only gives your part of the picture.
“The [proactive customer feedback] does a better job of measuring the wider range of customer experiences, rather than just the very happy and very unhappy customers that often respond to an opt-in feedback button,” he wrote.
His point is companies need to proactively reach out to customers for feedback to gain the most accurate data, and to glean the kind of actionable insights that will improve the overall experience.
WePay, a company that helps small businesses accept credit card payments via an online platform, makes talking to customers a top priority for staff at all levels. In addition to conducting regular surveys and telephone calls to solicit feedback, Vice President of Marketing Tina Hsaio says, “We also have a goal of every person in the company going to physically visit both current, churned and prospective customers – this includes the executives, engineering, marketing, etc.”
By making regular contact with customers, WePay can identify and address any issues a client has before they become problematic. This commitment pays off: they have a customer satisfaction rating of over 90 percent.
- Reach Out to Customers Affected by a Widespread Issue
It’s always better for customers to hear about a problem directly from you instead of realizing the product or service doesn’t do what they need it to. Or even worse, if they read about an issue with their product in the headlines. If your company identifies a problem, you can build customer trust and mitigate damaging social media fallout by contacting those affected by the issue (before they have to call you).
First and foremost, apologize. Don’t try to sweep it under the rug. Be specific about the steps you are taking to address the problem, and offer a discount on a future purchase in the mean time.
Barefoot Wines, for example, once discovered a barcode error that led a shipment of wine to ring up for less than it should, which lost the distributor money.
The company was quick to own up to the mistake and informed the distributor about it in person, with a check in hand to cover the loss. The client was grateful, and a potential cause for complaint became a memorable experience of Barefoot’s commitment to serving their customers.
- Reward Customer Loyalty with Discounts and Offers
The lesson airlines learned decades ago can be applied to any business: offering tangible rewards for regular business is a powerful loyalty-building tool. Loyalty programs build goodwill by demonstrating a company’s desire to reward a customer and to thank them for their business.
Proactively reaching out to customers with offers in between purchases provides an additional opportunity for positive interaction with customers to strengthen their relationship with the company. It can also solve problems customers didn’t even know they had by alerting them to something they may be missing out on and offering a way to fix this.
- Look for Opportunities to Surprise and Delight on Social Media
If you’re not paying attention to what customers are saying about you online, you’re missing key opportunities. Reaching out to customers who mention your company, be it in a good or bad context, allows you to preemptively address their needs and increase customer satisfaction.
Consider implementing social listening software that will alert you to any mentions of your brand online. Positive mentions can present opportunities to show your gratitude. Or for complaints, respond with an apology, a description of what the company is doing to correct the issue and a gift certificate or discount to make up for any inconvenience, if you think that would be appropriate.
- Chat Your Site Visitors, See if They Need Help
A recent Forrester survey found that 44 percent of respondents believe the ability to get quick answers from a live chat representative during an online purchase is “one of the most important features a website can offer.” Online chat assures website visitors that someone at the company is there to provide any information needed and saves them the trouble of having to search for an answer or call or email the company.
The feature increases interaction with website visitors, helps customers overcome barriers to contacting the company and enables staff to build better relationships with them.
Proactive customer service doesn’t just help you keep the customers you have happy. By turning your customers into advocates for your brand, it becomes a marketing tool that drives new business. Investing a little extra in a proactive customer service approach now is a valuable strategy that can result in considerable dividends down the line.
Ashley Verrill is a CRM software analyst for Software Advice, as well as the managing editor for the Customer Service Investigator. She has spent the last seven years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Customer Service Investigator writer, Kristen Hicks (@atxcopywriter), contributed to this report.
Thumbnail image by RichardHolt