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Proactive customer support

Moving from reactive to proactive customer support

Main illustration: Emily Eldridge

Today, customer expectations are at an all-time high. Simultaneously, support teams are struggling with spikes in conversation volumes. A proactive customer support approach is the key to regaining control.

The typical support “strategy” is to let common issues roll in for support reps to address. But this approach not only overwhelms your team, it also means customers frequently have to wait hours or even days to get the help they need.

Proactive customer support is the antidote to long wait times and ticket deflection. It empowers your team to pre-emptively address known questions and issues before they arise. With the right approach and proactive support tools – think Outbound Messages, Product Tours, and Mobile Carousels – you can provide every customer with the fast, personal help they need at the exact moment they need it.

At Intercom, our Support Ops and Product Education teams work hand-in-hand to deliver proactive support to our customers. We’ve seen great success, including an improved rate of automated resolution, high customer satisfaction, and increased retention. Below, we share our tips for delivering effective proactive support to your customers at any scale.

What is proactive customer support?

With proactive support, you can pre-emptively address known questions before they ever arise and become issues. For example, you can send Outbound Messages to alert customers to known problems, like bugs in your product or delivery delays, and provide help upfront. You can also onboard and educate new customers, so they’re set up for success with your product from day one and have all of the information they need to overcome common hurdles. 

Proactive support is at the top of the Conversational Support Funnel for a reason – it’s your first line of defense. With the Conversational Support Funnel, you can combine proactive, self-serve, and human support capabilities to get ahead of known problems before they arise, automatically answer repetitive queries, and quickly resolve complex issues.

“78% of support leaders want to move to a more proactive support approach, but only 26% are sure they have the knowledge and tools to do so”

Armed with the right proactive support strategy and tools, you can drastically reduce the number of conversations that reach your support team, all while keeping customers happy. Not only will you take pressure off your team but you can also demonstrate how support is impacting your bottom line with positive customer loyalty and retention figures. With all of these powerful benefits, it’s no surprise that a recent survey we ran with over 600 support leaders revealed that 78% of support leaders want to move to a more proactive support approach. However, only 26% are sure they have the knowledge and tools to do so.

“By freeing your team up to do more of the work they love you’ll boost job satisfaction and team morale”

When most of your customers’ questions are absorbed proactively it frees up your support team to focus on your most important, complex and VIP support queries. Most support reps don’t enjoy answering the same simple questions over and over – instead they get a kick out of the kind of work that requires flexing their deep problem-solving skills. By freeing them up to do more of the work they love, you’ll also boost job satisfaction and team morale.

3 ways to provide proactive customer support

At Intercom, we’ve worked with thousands of customers who have successfully scaled their conversational support by adopting a more proactive support approach. Here are three tactics that have proven effective time and time again:

Onboard and educate customers with Product Tours

While new customers are learning the ropes of how to use your product or service they can require quite a bit of hand holding. Their questions are often directed at your busy support team, which can regularly clog up your support queue. But, it doesn’t have to be that way – with proactive tools such as Product Tours and Mobile Carousels you can automatically onboard and educate customers in the hundreds and thousands.

You can even reach out to customers and guide them through your product based on who they are and the actions they have or haven’t taken. Not only will you be empowered to provide the right customers with the right help at the right time, you’ll also significantly reduce your conversation volume throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

“We make sure to address customers’ exact issues at pivotal moments in our onboarding”

Looking for inspiration? At Intercom, we use Product Tours and Outbound Messages to automatically walk new customers through the set-up and configuration of our product, how to get value upfront, and navigate known pain points. For example, our Product Education team works with our Support Ops team to identify the top 10 problems people have on key pages of our product. Then we make sure to address those exact issues at pivotal moments in our onboarding.

Help customers navigate known issues with Outbound Messages

Let’s face it: product outages, website downtime, bugs, and delays with delivery all suck the lifeblood out of your team. These mission critical issues not only frustrate your customers, they can also wipe out your team’s entire day.

Instead of waiting for a flood of issues to come rushing in for your team to address, you can proactively address the issue and provide help upfront by sending an outbound message.

“If you’ve recently experienced a vulnerability with your Premium product you could message your Premium customers who logged in the last 10 days to get ahead of their questions”

You can (and should) segment your customer base and message specific groups of customers based on who they are and the actions they’ve taken in your product. For example, if you’ve recently experienced a vulnerability with your Premium product you could message your Premium customers who logged in the last 10 days to get ahead of their questions.

Proactively answer FAQs with Outbound Messages and Messenger apps

According to a recent Gartner study, 70% of customers use self-serve on the path to resolution. Many support teams set up a knowledge base to provide customers with the answers they need, so they’re empowered to help themselves. While this is an effective tactic, with a proactive support approach you can take this one step further and automatically deliver help content in context. For example, if a customer is browsing your FAQ page for a few minutes, you can send an automated, outbound message sharing your top FAQs.

“Provide customers with the exact answers they need at the precise moment they need them”

For a truly personal touch, you can even surface tailored content to relevant groups of customers – like those who speak a specific language, who have amassed a certain level of knowledge in your product, or who are on a certain plan. It’s the perfect way to provide customers with the exact answers they need at the precise moment they need them.

At Intercom, we add the Content Showcase app to our Messenger home, so customers can proactively browse our top FAQs and get the help they need.

Best practices for proactive customer support

By now, the benefits of proactive support are probably loud and clear. But when your team is head down in reactive conversations, how do you carve out the time and space to make proactive support a reality? We recommend these five steps:

1. Partner cross-functionally for maximum impact

First up, no support team should ever be an island. Providing a great proactive customer experience is everyone’s responsibility in your company and that makes collaboration critical to success. At Intercom, our Support and Marketing teams partner closely to deliver strategic and personal proactive support to our customers. For example, our Support team frequently shares the top topics customers have questions about, then our Product Education team addresses these topics in our Outbound Messages, Product Tours, and more.  We also work closely with Product and Sales to ensure a cohesive customer experience throughout.

“Your support team should have a clear voice in every room – from product, to marketing, to sales meetings”

Whether you decide to collaborate with another team or take core ownership over proactive support, your support team should have a strong, clear voice in every room – from product, to marketing, to sales meetings.

After all, your team is closest to your customers and is intimately familiar with their deepest issues, common questions, and feature requests. You’ll have an abundance of eye-opening insights to share that will help proactively improve your product, customer onboarding, webinars, customer success training, and any other customer-facing materials. By solving and addressing customers’ issues upfront, you’ll drastically reduce the number of conversations that reach your support team.

2. Define and co-own bottom-line metrics

One of the best ways to partner with and get buy-in from other teams is to co-own support efficiency and bottom-line metrics. Having a clear collective goal and measurable metrics to work towards will inspire you to band together and help each other succeed. Even better if you can draw a direct correlation to your business’ bottom line. Here are some key metrics we measure:

  • ROAR (Rate of Automated Resolution). By adopting a proactive approach at Intercom we’re currently hovering at around a 4.5% resolution rate, which means 4.5% of all customer issues are resolved without a human being involved. This translates to about $400,000 saved per year.
  • Conversations closed by articles. If someone reads one of our help center articles they’ll be prompted to let us know whether it answered their question. If they indicate the question is resolved by giving it a thumbs up we’ll track that as part of our “conversations closed by articles” rate.
  • Customer retention. Retention is one of the most important bottom-line metrics for any SaaS or subscription-based business to measure. At Intercom, this is the Holy Grail metric we use to measure the impact of our customer training, webinars, and more, which are all a key part of our proactive support strategy.
  • Product engagement metrics. Our Product Education team measures the activation rate for important features we know are more likely to retain customers. If we send an outbound message encouraging customers to use a feature for the first time, for example, we can track whether they’ve taken that action or not.

3. Identify known customer pain points and FAQs

We get it – your support team is incredibly busy managing day-to-day reactive conversations. You may be wondering how you’ll have time to identify common customer questions and pain points, so you can begin solving them proactively. There are a few ways you can gather valuable customer insights, fast:

  • Identify where customers are struggling most. Tag customer conversations to identify known customer pain points and feature requests. Then, pull this data into a spreadsheet to create a customer voice report and share it with key teams you’re working with. For example, you can use these insights to create your next proactive outbound message or work with product to solve a messy UI (User Interface).
  • Pinpoint common questions and search queries. If you’re an Intercom customer you can use Articles and Resolution Bot insights to spot trends in what topics customers are searching for most, but can’t find. This can help you identify the most helpful knowledge base articles, Outbound Messages, and Product Tours to create next.

4. Create relevant content to provide help at key moments

One of the best ways to increase your team’s efficiency is to create relevant, engaging help content that addresses your customers’ most pressing pain points and frequent questions. This becomes even more powerful when you help customers discover this content, at key moments – exactly when they need it. Here’s how:

  • Deliver help content in context. For example, you can add articles to your targeted Outbound Messages to expand on important instructions.
  • Create tailored content and deliver it to specific customers based on their needs, such as their language, plan type, or company size.

“With proactive support leading the charge, your team will have more time and headspace to help top tier customers solve their thorny problems in a truly personal way”

5. Consider offering tiered support

To keep your support super efficient and cost effective, you may want to put a structure in place that lets your self-serve customers access the top layers of your Conversational Support Funnel first.

That way, proactive and self-serve support should absorb most simple, frequent questions from these types of customers. Just make sure to provide an “exit” strategy from any chatbots you set up that allows customers who have a complex or emotionally-charged issue to chat to your team.

This kind of structure will also free your team up to provide top tier customers with the white-glove, human support they desire. Often top tier customers have more complex needs and use cases that may require a back and forth with your team. With proactive support leading the charge, your team will have more time and headspace to help these customers solve their thorny problems in a truly personal way.

Get the full framework for delivering fast, personal support

Proactive support is incredibly powerful, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle for delivering fast, personal support to your customers at the scale your business needs. Download the Conversational Support Funnel Starter Kit to learn how to combine proactive, self-serve and human support to create the ultimate modern support strategy. You’ll also get an interactive worksheet that helps you plan your own funnel with speed and ease.

Better customer relationships and a more efficient, cost-effective support machine awaits👇