Proactive vs. reactive

The next generation of customer service is going to be proactive. Currently, customer service is reactive. This means that when you have a problem, you tell the company. Then, they work to fix it. Customer service will/should eventually be proactive. This means that the organization will fix problems as they occur and stop even stop problems from occurring.

Proactive customer service is what I believe is Customer Service 2.0. It’ll make a huge difference in how customer service works and an even bigger difference in the customer experience.

For example, can you imagine your computer notices that your hard drive is having a problem and lets Dell know about it. Then, Dell would call you or email you and suggest replacing the hard drive. A bit Big Brother, yes, but also very helpful.

Some companies are already proactive about their customer service. For example, many hosting companies monitor the uptime of their various services (web, databases, email, etc.). When they get a report that a problem is occurring, the company works to fix it. If the company is quick about it, they can fix the issue before customers even notice.

Other things that can be done would be simply paying more attention. For example, if a customer usually sends in a few customer support inquires a week and the company notices a lapse in the inquires, it may be worth sending them an email. That way, the company can find out if something is wrong with the person, if they have switched to a new provider, etc.

Companies can also notice when usage goes way up or way down for a certain service. Following up and trying to be proactive about solutions and customer service in general will greatly improve the customer service experience.

A lot of companies and individual support representatives like to ignore problems. Oftentimes, they won’t fix it because they think it’s more work. However, when the customers complain, it’s even more work.

What can companies do to be proactive? It’s almost a state of mind. It requires a mix of hard work and technology to become a proactive customer service organization. I think, though, that the ones that can pull it off will be the true winners.

4 Responses to “Proactive vs. reactive”

  1. Bill Gammell said:

    Mar 16, 07 at 1:29 pm

    Awesome post. The proactive customer service that you have described sounds great. I can think a few steps that may aid in being proactive:

    1. Simplify your “problem process” (or the steps to resolve the issue) – Give your customer service reps more autonomy or eliminated unnecessary steps. The return policy at Nordstrom is that there is none. There is no time limit or reason needed for the return. A very simply “process”.
    2. Look at your customer data – As you suggest, set up “trip wires” to alert you to changes in customer behavior. If someone has come in to your store to get an oil change religiously every 3 months and it has been 4 months since you last saw him or her, there might be a reason.
    3. Have a plan B – When problems can be anticipated (delays for air travel for example), come up with a plan B to make the best of the situation. I’ve heard of Southwest Airlines employees playing their own version of “Let’s Make a Deal” by giving away a $20 bill to the first person that can show them a picture of their mother and other such activities.

    I think we should not leave out the goal of being proactive in anticipating opportunities in addition to the problems. Proactive problem resolution (I think) will become the excepted level of services and may not get the attention it deserves. Proactive opportunity solutions (as long as they are not to “Big Brother-ish” as you have stated) will get the word of mouth.

  2. Bucktowndusty said:

    Mar 18, 07 at 8:51 am

    I concur. so do the folks at

    For what not to do, I suggest this read on Customer Disservice

    Rock on

  3. Paul Sweeney said:

    Mar 20, 07 at 9:50 am

    Some good points here. One of the keys, as mentioned in a comment above, is to know what the “trigger” is in order that you can be pro-active. A great example is the telco. Most customers get upset not with the amount of a bill, but by its unexpectedness, by the variation in monthly spend. When your bill varies outside a certain tolerance level, you should be pro-actively called by the customer care dept, telling you that your bill is in the post, and that it is more than you are used to paying due to x, y, z. McKinsey show that if a customer calls customer service for whatever reason (good or bad) they are 33% more likely to defect to another provider within the year. However, correctly addressing the issue is an opportunity to upsell and cross sell.

  4. Service Untitled » Be proactive and boost the bottomline. Part 1 of 2 - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Jul 05, 07 at 10:55 am

    […] I would say that one of the best big picture ways to becoming a great customer service organization is to provide customer service that is proactive (as opposed to reactive). It is something I’ve talked about before and believe will get more and more important as time goes on. […]