Customer Service

21 min read

Conversational Guide to Customer Support

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Welcome to our conversational guide to customer support. You're about to learn the most effective ways to combine reactive and proactive customer support to help customers purchase and consume your products or services effortlessly. We'll start from the basic definitions and move towards more advanced concepts. Feel free to read the contents of this guide in order or jump straight to the section that sparks your interest. Here's a list of the most important topics covered in this guide:

  1. The Definition of Customer Support
  2. Types of Customer Support
  3. Common Problems of Reactive Support
  4. Pros and Cons of Reactive vs Proactive Customer Support
  5. Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support
  6. Ways to Evaluate the Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support
  7. Ways to Satisfy Supporting Customer Needs
  8. Conclusion

What’s Customer Support?

Customer support consists of services spanning a wide range of interactions between consumers and product or service providers. It starts when a customer knows what needs to be done and either wants to do it or wants to learn how it can be done. It's about solving technical problems successfully and effortlessly no matter what channel, device, or modality each client decides to use.

What Are the Types of Customer Support?

Customer support is often classified based on whether consumer needs have been anticipated and solved in advance. This way of thinking results in two distinct categories of customer support:

  1. Reactive Customer Support
  2. Proactive Customer Support

What’s Reactive Customer Support?

Reactive customer support focuses on solving issues as soon as they arise. Companies used to rely solely on this type of support and have been waiting for customers to contact them with a problem or an enquiry, which a customer support agent handled after some time. This type of support yields the best results in situations that require complex judgement or reasoning abilities.

What’s Proactive Customer Support?

In contrast to reactive customer support, proactive support is centred around anticipating customer needs and preparing systematic solutions that will result in the best possible outcomes ahead of time. It's ideally suited for common types of interactions that frequently repeat among customers in your niche, enabling you to deliver quicker, more consistent, and more valuable responses over time.

What Are the Most Common Problems of Reactive Support?

Reactive customer support can be just fine if you’ve just started your business or try to gain traction in the marketplace. However, with the increased demand for your products or services, the following problems can begin to appear more frequently:

  1. Constant overload
  2. Incomplete solutions
  3. Problem recurrence
  4. Fire fighting
  5. Problem escalation
  6. Drops in performance

Why Is Constant Overload a Common Problem of Reactive Support?

This situation happens when the support team is giving their best and working as hard as they can, but they still can't meet the demands of your customers, not because they don't have the necessary skills, but because they don't have enough time.

Why Are Incomplete Solutions a Common Problem of Reactive Support?

When there are more problems that your support reps can handle effectively, it often leads to a situation where many issues are just patched and not solved. You can think of it as treating the symptom instead of the underlying cause.

Why Is Problem Reocurrence a Common Problem of Reactive Support?

Solving problems reactively usually leads to the reappearance of the same problem, often causing other issues to emerge. It can sometimes feel like a combination of whac-a-mole with an additional domino effect.

Why Is Fire Fighting a Common Problem of Reactive Support?

Fire fighting happens when support reps can't focus on systematic progress because they get distracted by common customer problems. When urgency trumps importance, support teams put activities that matter most on hold because they have to extinguish fires first.

Why Is Problem Escalation a Common Problem of Reactive Support?

When minor problems aren't solved appropriately, they accumulate over time because it's challenging to keep track of them manually. They smoulder until they flare up, often right before the deadline and require almost heroic efforts to solve.

Why Are Performance Drops a Common Problem of Reactive Support?

Constantly reacting to repeatable customer requests can quickly drain support reps from their mental power. Being mired in drudgery and inefficiency prevents them from focusing on activities that can lead to better outcomes and causes their performance to drop.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Reactive vs Proactive Customer Support?

Today businesses can anticipate many supporting needs customers have in advance. It makes proactive customer support an excellent solution with many advantages, including availability, response time and staff well-being. However, there will always be cases requiring human attention, making reactive support indispensable. Let’s compare proactive and reactive customer support to better understand the differences and situations when one approach has benefits over the other.

Pros and Cons of Reactive vs. Proactive Customer Support.
Reactive Customer SupportProactive Customer Support
AvailabilityWhile it’s possible to leverage conversation metrics to adjust customer support shifts to reflect customer needs, it’s essential to understand that reactive customer support is only going to be available during staffed hours.Proactive support leverages technology, which means no need to take any time off. This advantage results in 24/7 availability to customers, delivering tailored, engaging and helpful responses on time, every time.
Response TimeSince human agents need more time to understand each request, collect necessary information, and prepare a tailored response, a reactive approach to customer support takes more time, causing customers to have to wait longer before they get a reply. Human agents’ performance also varies throughout the day.One of the superpowers of technology is its ability to process information at incredible speed. In many situations, an AI-powered bot can comprehend customer requests, respond with relevant answers to common questions, and perform simple tasks in a fraction of the time needed for a human even to understand the query.
Error RatesStaff well-being impacts their ability to solve problems effectively, which causes the accuracy of reactive support to be unstable. It’s therefore paramount that support reps handle a manageable load of incoming customer requests to prevent cognitive overload that leads to increased error rates.Proactive support creates ideal responses ahead of time and delivers them at the right moments. Bots are very effective in retrieving information and responding to customers, and it results in error rates reduction and brings an excellent opportunity for systematic improvements over time.
ProductivityThe very nature of reactive support means prioritising immediate requests over essential tasks. Frequent distractions and the constant need to switch attention between different activities come at the cost of declined productivity.Proactive support means fewer distractions because bots automatically handle the most repeatable customer requests and enables support reps to focus more time and energy on things that matter most, resulting in substantial productivity gains.
Staff Well-beingThe necessity to constantly react to similar customer requests can quickly become monotonous and lead to serious adverse effects on your staff’s well-being, including unhappiness, job dissatisfaction and even burnout.Automating repeatable activities can take many mundane tasks away. Reduced workloads free up support reps’ time, letting them focus on higher-level activities that can lead to fulfilment, improved well-being, and job satisfaction.
ScalabilityHuman agents can't process many conversations simultaneously without sacrificing the quality and feeling overwhelmed, which often causes problems during peak times when some customers visit your establishment while others reach out via digital channels.Proactive customer support leverages automation and artificial intelligence advancements that offer virtually unlimited scalability and allow handling multiple simultaneous conversations to the same standard, resulting in reduced wait time for customers.
ConsistencyResponses from support agents will vary across them. It isn't necessarily bad, as long as all the essential aspects are covered, but this can be especially difficult for new hires who must learn the best ways to respond to customer queries.One of the unquestionable advantages of technology is responding to customer queries with consistency. Chatbots can store efficiently large amounts of data, retrieve it efficiently, and form a response that follows a predefined format.
Business ContinuityReactive support is a reflection of the current state of your staff. It's fantastic when you have a highly motivated and knowledgeable team, but there's always a risk of losing your best employees, making things much more challenging to handle.With proactive customer support, you can leverage the expertise of your best employees and make sure that it stays with your company even when they decide to move. It will help you mitigate risks and sustain the quality of customer support.
Complex JudgementSometimes, there's no substitute for subject matter expertise or uniquely human ability to perform complex judgments when facing conflicting needs or to handle edge cases. It will always remain a valid use case for reactive customer support.Some situations are almost impossible to prepare for ahead of time. While bots are great at answering common questions or performing simple tasks, they have their limitations and won't be able to make complex decisions on your behalf.

What Are the Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support?

Anticipating all the supporting needs and preparing ahead of time might initially sound challenging, but the outcomes can be well worth the effort. Proactive customer support can bring many benefits to your business, including:

  1. Increase in Sales Revenue
  2. Cost Reduction
  3. Operational Efficiency

How Does Proactive Support Help to Increase Sales Revenue?

Proactive customer support enables faster, round the clock access to information to help customers make educated buying decisions. Anticipating supporting needs allows you to provide optimal experiences to your clients, let them complete their purchases, and take the delivery of products or services with minimal effort. These capabilities help to ensure that no client slips away during peak times or off-hours and improve the likelihood of positive word-of-mouth marketing, enhancing customer acquisition and retention efforts.

How Does Proactive Support Help to Reduce Costs?

Anticipating supporting needs and delegating some of them to automated assistants streamlines the process of buying, co-creating, and transferring the value acquired by consumers from your company and helps lower costs by reducing overheads and avoiding unnecessary expenses.

How Does Proactive Support Help to Improve Operational Efficiency?

Proactive customer support can significantly reduce workloads. Anticipating and delegating an increasing number of customers' supporting needs to automated assistants helps reduce the resolution time or even resolve problems before they arise. Support reps can use saved time and energy on higher-level activities to improve their productivity and well-being further and give your company a competitive edge in the marketplace.

How to Evaluate the Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support?

The benefits of transitioning from reactive to proactive customer support depend on the demand for your products or services and the capacity of your support team. Whether you have collected data to back up your decision-making process, you can use one or both methods:

  1. Observation-Driven Approach
  2. Data-Driven Approach

How to Evaluate the Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support Based on Observation?

You can evaluate the benefits of transitioning to proactive support by observing your customer support team during regular business hours and looking for warning signs that manifest in common problems of reactive support. Each of the described situations indicates severe issues for your customers, support agents, and business. The more these problems you observe, the more benefits you will get from transitioning to proactive support.

How to Evaluate the Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support Based on Data?

Several conversation metrics can be beneficial in evaluating the benefits of transitioning to proactive support:

  1. Agent Utilisation
  2. Customer Wait Time
  3. Dropout Rates

How to Leverage Agent Utilisation to Evaluate the Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support?

There are three primary ranges of agent utilisation that are worth considering to evaluate the benefits of transitioning to proactive customer support:

  1. Underutilisation
  2. Maximum Capacity
  3. Overload
How to Evaluate the Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support When Support Agents Are Underutilised?

When the demand for your product or services isn’t high, support reps might be just fine reacting to customer requests since they aren’t that frequent and your agents are underutilised. The most significant benefit of preparing the transition to proactive customer support at this point is to future-proof your operations ahead of the upcoming growth of demand and prevent the common problems of reactive support.

How to Evaluate the Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support When Support Agents Work at Their Maximum Capacity?

When customer support agents work at their maximum capacity, everything should be fine from the customers' perspective, but they can feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied in the long run. Common questions and simple tasks take their time and energy that can be invested in other activities to yield better results.

How to Evaluate the Benefits of Proactive Customer Support When Support Agents Are Overloaded?

A real warning sign comes when your team is working flat out and struggling to meet the expectations. Constant overload can have disastrous effects on customer satisfaction and your support team's productivity and well-being. Instead of waiting for this situation, it's better to take proactive steps to prepare in advance and prevent common problems of reactive support from happening. Your customers and employees will thank you for that.

How to Leverage Customer Wait Time to Evaluate the Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support?

The longer customers have to wait for a response from your business, the slimmer your chances of pleasing them or closing a deal. When the customer wait time goes beyond acceptable levels, your clients will lose patience, causing them to drop off the conversation more often. Preparing proactively and responding in time will improve their engagement and overall satisfaction.

How to Leverage Dropout Rates to Evaluate the Benefits of Transitioning to Proactive Customer Support?

An increase in dropout rates signals that clients slip through the cracks, and your business loses money and reputation. It’s an ultimate warning sign to take immediate action and start the transition to proactive support to anticipate their needs and respond promptly to make them feel valued and appreciated.

How to Combine Reactive and Proactive Support to Satisfy Supporting Needs?

Consumers have many supporting needs when buying, co-creating, and disposing of goods or services, and both proactive and reactive approaches to customer support have their strengths and weaknesses. Luckily they complement well each other, so it's best to use each type of support in a suitable scenario to leverage its strengths and avoid deficiencies. Let's look at how to do that by looking at these subcategories that arise from three different roles:

  1. Satisfying the Needs of “Buyer of Value”
  2. Satisfying the Needs of “Co-creator of Value”
  3. Satisfying the Needs of “Transferrer of Value”

How to Satisfy the Needs of “Buyer of Value”?

There are three essential aspects you need to take care of when satisfying the “buyer of value” needs:

  1. Help Consumers Make Educated Purchase Decisions
  2. Help Consumers Complete Their Purchases
  3. Help Consumers Take the Delivery of Goods or Services

How to Help Consumers Make Educated Purchase Decisions?

Nobody wants to buy a lemon, but people often try to avoid spending the time and effort to do the necessary research. That's why it's so important to help consumers and make this process as seamless as possible. You can achieve this goal by focusing on these three areas:

  1. Help Consumers Access Relevant Information
  2. Help Consumers Contact the Right Business Representative
  3. Help Consumers Check Product or Service Availability
How Does Enabling Access to Relevant Information Help Consumers Make Educated Purchase Decisions?

Before making purchase decisions, people often ask about pricing, risks, comparisons, reviews, and your best options. Preparing answers to these questions in advance and enabling easy access during a natural conversation, especially using self-service tools like knowledge base, can make a significant difference for clients looking to make well-informed purchase decisions.

How Does Enabling Consumers Contact the Right Support Representative Help Them to Make Educated Purchase Decisions?

While enabling easy access to information can make a difference for consumers, it's impossible to anticipate every question. Some of them are so rare and uncommon that publishing the answers won't bring many benefits to other potential customers. Instead of doing that, it's better to transfer the conversation to the most appropriate business agent and let them help customers make educated purchase decisions.

How Does Enabling Consumers to Check Product or Service Availability Help Them Make Educated Purchase Decisions?

Some customers prefer to order goods or book service appointments in advance, while others might need immediate delivery. By providing easy access to product or service availability, potential customers know exactly how long the delivery will take, which helps them make a well-informed purchase decision and decide if the lead time meets their needs.

How to Help Consumers to Complete Their Purchases?

Finalising a purchase is the last step consumer takes before becoming your customer. They accomplished their research, evaluated options and chose your offer among others available on the market. It's crucial to make this step as effortless as possible not to lose a client just before the finish line. Depending on your business niche, you might need to take care of some or all the following aspects to achieve this goal:

  1. Help Consumers to Customise Your Products or Services
  2. Help Consumers Book an Appointment or Delivery
  3. Help Consumers Pay Online
How Does Product or Service Customisation Help Consumers to Complete Their Purchases?

Consumers often want to customise or combine several products and services in meaningful ways. That's why it's vital to enable them to interact with and tailor your value propositions to suit their needs better. Automated offer customisation can go one step further and simplify the whole process making it entirely self-service, freeing up your time and increasing the number of satisfied customers that complete a purchase.

How Does Appointment or Delivery Scheduling Help Consumers to Complete Their Purchases?

Scheduling an appointment or delivery of a product is another common step in the customer journey. In many cases, consumers engage in these activities after work, implying the necessity for off-hours support to help them achieve this goal. You can analyse when customers interact with your business to adjust support shifts or use an automated assistant to help customers book deliveries and complete their purchases.

How Do Recurring Appointments Help Consumers to Complete Their Purchases?

Some products and services reoccur periodically. It might be beneficial for consumers to receive a notification or even book them in advance, so they don't need to remember doing that manually every time. When it's combined with automatic online payments, customers can use your services continually without the need to resubscribe.

How Do Online Payments Help Consumers Complete Their Purchases?

Online payments have already become the standard in e-commerce. Many payment providers are available on the market, but the key lies in integrating payments seamlessly into the buying process to make it feel like one cohesive experience. Not giving your customers an option to pay securely online can be a significant disadvantage that might prevent them from completing a purchase.

How to Help Customers Take the Delivery of Products or Services?

Simplifying the process of taking the delivery of a product or service is an essential part of the overall customer service experience. Luckily these interactions follow a well-worn path that can be optimised and anticipated. Here's a list of three aspects you have to prepare for in advance to satisfy these needs:

  1. Help Customers to Arrive on Time
  2. Help Customers to Arrive at the Right Place
  3. Help Customers to Reschedule Appointments or Delivery Dates
How Reminders Help Customers Arrive on Time and Take the Delivery of Products or Services?

Some individuals are better at planning their daily schedules than others. However, minimising late arrivals and no-show rates is essential to achieve operational efficiency in your business. Sending reminders before upcoming appointments and deliveries is crucial to help customers arrive on time and take the delivery of a product or service. While support reps can send them, it's challenging to keep track of them manually, so automating reminders can yield much better results.

How Directions Help Customers Arrive at the Right Place and Take the Delivery of Products or Services?

People visit many places every day, so even if your business has just one location, it's still beneficial to free your clients from having to recall it from memory by sending it to them ahead of an upcoming appointment. They can enter it into the navigation app of their choice and simplify the journey. It will help them take the delivery of the product or service and increase the odds of timely arrival.

How Does Rescheduling Appointments or Delivery Dates Help Customers Take the Delivery of Products or Services?

Not everything goes according to plan, and sometimes customers need to reschedule appointments or delivery dates. Any additional inconvenience might overwhelm them and cause unnecessary frustration. It's essential to make this process as quick and effortless as possible to ease their stress and help them solve another unforeseeable problem that they have to prioritise.

How to Satisfy the Needs of “Co-creator of Value”?

Customers want to participate in value creation by adapting it to their tastes and unique circumstances and sharing their opinions with your company and others. When satisfying the "co-creator of value” needs, you need to take care of four essential aspects:

  1. Enable Customers to Share Their Unique Requirements
  2. Enable Customers to Share Their Feedback
  3. Enable Customers to Post Reviews
  4. Enable Customers to Refer Your Business

How Does Enabling Customers to Share Their Unique Requirements Help Them Co-create Value?

Enabling customers to share their unique requirements will help you deliver services better suited to their unique tastes, preferences, or individual conditions and improve the operational efficiency by decreasing the completion time. Sending a preliminary survey and asking all the essential questions can be a great way to help customers co-create value and adapt it to their specific needs.

How Does Enabling Customers to Share Their Feedback Help Them Co-create Value?

Customer feedback is one of the best qualitative data sources that enable consumers to participate in co-creating value with your business and adapting it to their needs. Customer expectations vary, so it's impossible to know everything based solely on an internal perspective. If many customers express similar thoughts and feelings about your offerings in feedback surveys, it's time to steer the evolution of your company to suit their needs better.

How Does Enabling Customers to Post Reviews Help Them Co-create Value?

Allowing customers to post reviews about their experiences with your company is an excellent way to enable them to amplify the value of your products or services in the marketplace. It can be a perfect source of social proof that’s important in building a reputable brand and helping others make well-educated purchase decisions.

How Does Enabling Customers to Refer Your Business Helps Them to Co-create Value?

Referrals bring value to both buyers and sellers alike. When a company exceeds customer expectations, clients often want to share their experiences with their social circles and offer referrals to help friends and relatives make better-informed purchase decisions. It also brings tremendous value for the business by increasing its brand recognition, shortening sales cycles and improving closing rates.

How to Satisfy the Needs of “Transferrer of Value”?

Sometimes customers want to dispose of or resell goods acquired from your company, and there are two main aspects you need to consider to satisfy the “transferrer of value” needs:

  1. Help Customers to Acquire Intellectual Property Rights
  2. Help Customers to Cancel Their Orders or Appointments

How Does Acquiring Intellectual Property Rights Help Customers Use and Transfer the Value?

It's vital to include necessary terms and conditions, ensuring that customers become holders of appropriate intellectual property rights allowing them to use acquired goods as intended after completing a purchase and enable transfer or resale in the future.

How Do Orders and Appointment Cancellations Help Customers to Dispose of the Value?

Customers might change their minds at any time and for any reason, and it's crucial to make cancelling orders or appointments as easy as possible. Last-minute cancellations might incur some charges, but you should streamline the process of disposing value, to reduce the time necessary to perform these activities and process refunds to increase the chances that they'll come back in the future.

Conclusion

Many companies still find themselves constantly reacting to issues when they arise. While this can work for some time, the long-term success of your business relies heavily on your ability to identify most of the supporting needs ahead of time and take the necessary steps to satisfy them proactively to prevent them from becoming problems.

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