Start Preventing Fires: How to Implement Proactive Customer Support

By Jess Byrne

You are reading: Chapter 11 of 12

If we are to understand how we can provide better support for customers, we must first agree on a definition of customer support. In my view, customer support is the customer experience during normal interactions with a business, not only when problems arise. It’s about viewing the experience through their eyes, serving up solutions and interactions that WOW customers. This approach is known as proactive support.

Many businesses, unfortunately, define customer service as their response to problems as they arise, which is called reactive support. Though that method might satisfy your customer in the short term, it doesn’t optimize their overall experience with your brand.

Fire Prevention is Better than Firefighting

In customer support, you’re often faced with unpredictable issues. Being chronically reactive to those issues creates stress and anxiety for you and your team. Overtime, it lowers morale and starts to have an impact on your company culture. Putting your team’s focus on shipping new features instead of fixing bugs and improving support tools is a recipe for disaster.

When you are spending all of your time trying to respond to angry customers, you become a firefighter, so to speak. Firefighting can be essential during a rush, or as part of a short period of change. However, if it becomes common practice for your support team, it can have serious implications. Support teams need to move away from the notion of firefighting as the norm and start thinking of themselves as guardians of the customer experience.

Firefighters

To provide an excellent customer experience, a business must practice proactive support and stand behind its principals. The goal of proactive support is exactly the opposite of reactive support. Proactive support requires identifying and resolving issues before they become problems and involves identifying ways the customer experience can be enhanced without the customer having to ask for it.

The process of proactive support is made up of essentially six different levels of proactivity, as explained by Bruce Temkin on the Customer Experience Matters website.

Unfortunately, some companies are at the very bottom, where they’ll find themselves in the “react stage”—taking action after a problem occurs. From that stage, the level of proactiveness increases. Using this pyramid as a guide will help you identify the level of proactivity where your company falls, enabling you to take the steps needed to improve.

Proactive support can also help a company’s bottom line. If you solve problems before customers reach out to you, or if you address issues before customers are aware of them, it’ll likely reduce help desk costs and contribute to building customer loyalty and increased revenue.

How to Implement Proactive Support

Small Steps

Social Media

Offer support through social media. Customers complain and (most of the time) they aren’t complaining directly to you, but they will turn to social media to share their thoughts with the world. Because of that, monitoring what people are saying about your company through social channels and actively responding is an important step.

There are also going to be situations where customers aren’t complaining, but rather they might be confused or looking for more information. That’s why it’s critical to monitor these channels and listen to what customers are saying so you can reach out to them to provide help before they add another ticket to your support queue or worse, before you lose them as a customer.

Here’s a tweet that Buffer, a social media sharing tool, picked up on, even though it wasn't directed at them.

To which they responded:

Honest Communication

Customers know or will find out if/when you’re lying or hiding something, so don’t do it. Always be transparent with them and don’t be afraid to let them know you’re having a problem. Hearing about a security breach or a bug directly from the company will always be better than a customer realizing the issues themselves or from another source. This type of transparency isn’t just beneficial to provide great customer service though, it can be a business practice, as well. With open and honest communication, customers feel appreciated, respected, in the loop, and are less likely to get angry towards a business.


Hudl, a sports tech company, refers to its honesty policy as being “respectfully blunt”.

On Software Advice's Customer Service Investigator blog, Kristen Hicks recommends the following honest communication tips if something goes wrong.

  • Alert customers to the issue and offer an apology
  • Offer a discount on a future purchase, or provide a refund if the action you take to fix the problem doesn’t satisfy their needs
  • Tell them what you’re doing to figure out a solution and ensure the problem doesn’t happen again
  • Make sure they know who to contact if they have further questions or feedback

Traditional Communication

When you notice a customer is slipping away, check in with them personally through an email, phone, or even a handwritten note and ask how they’re doing, even if it’s an automated email based on certain customer criteria (I’ll get to that in a bit when I talk about usage metrics). You can also check out Chase Clemons' “4 Easy Ways to Say Thanks”.


Stride, a CRM app, sends customers thank you notes that say: "If you ever need anything, give us a holler."

Self-Help

Having a support center or knowledgebase with product articles and tutorials so customers can get the answers they need right when they need them offers a high level of convenience and reduce tickets into your helpdesk.


Zendesk's support center directs a customer to appropriate resources while offering an abundance of information and timely updates without making the user feel overwhelmed.

Support Driven Development

When only one person on your team is aware of an issue, the urgency to fix it is reduced. Having all team members take part in customer support and having your developers focus on providing better support tools, allows the support team to handle tasks more conveniently and provide faster solutions for customers. All-hands support isn’t just about engineering a better product and improving internal tools, it’s about “engineering your organization to improve customer insight,” says Ben Congleton, CEO of live chat software Olark.

Here are some tips Congleton shares in his talk at UserConf 2012 as a result of implementing an all-hands support approach:

  • Your entire team will have a much better understanding of your customers and your product.
  • Engineering becomes motivated to engineer, to reduce support and to build better internal tools.
  • Whenever you put the product team in front of support, you’ll find the product will improve because there will be more knowledge throughout the entire organization about what the problem that you’re really solving is.
  • A strong culture of customer service is built across the entire team.

He also provides a few tips on how to provide simple opportunities for the entire team to spend time supporting customers. Here are some examples he uses from companies like WePay, Wistia, and New Relic:

  • Add developers to a support rotation
  • Allow others to listen in and view support conversations
  • Use support as a tool for new hires to learn the product
  • Reduce new hire costs by having more team members do support

Practicing an all-hands support approach aligns the goals of all employees and gives everyone a better understanding of the customer and the ways in which they view your product.

Big Steps:

Taking these next steps means measuring customer activity and paying attention to how they’re experiencing and using your services.

Start Tracking Customer Actions

You can’t base everything on number of logins. You need to know how your customers are using your product. You need to track usage metrics, segment your customers using those metrics, and create autoresponders based on those segments. Those metrics should influence how often your customer support team is proactively reaching out to customers.


Intercom allows you to proactively engage with customers inside your app.

Use an analytics tool like Intercom or MixPanel. These apps act as a CRM, marketing tool, and support tool based around the premise of proactive customer support. They let you segment customers, track their activity, and enable you to connect with them based on certain criteria you define. This allows you to do a few cool things:

  • Identify high-usage customers and thank them for their loyalty
  • Identify low-usage users and reach out to help keep them on board
  • Identify users who are slipping and catch them before they fall and it becomes too late to win them back as a customers

Identify Trends

When you start tracking and analyzing certain metrics, you’ll find you may discover trends such as areas of success where things are working really well and other areas where your customers are running into trouble. Customer types and usage patterns start to emerge, which allows you to make better decisions on how to better support your customers. Implementing an analytics platform will help you put processes in place to alert you of minor issues before they become big problems and allow you to automate and implement appropriate re-engagement attempts.

Proactive Support is Support Done Right

Customer support influences just about every aspect of your business. Moving to a more proactive approach can benefit all areas of your company and open a plethora of opportunities for improving your product or service, increasing revenue, and offering an exceptional level of service to each and every customer.


You've done it! You've learned how to provide great customer support, found an app that'll help you do support better, and learned tricks to minimize the number of support tickets you'll need to answer. Now, all that's left is to start putting what you've learned into practice, and improve your company's customer support.

First, though, we have some extra resources for you, to help you offer the very best customer support possible.

Find extra resources to help you provide better customer support!

Written by Zapier People Ops Lead Jess Byrne.

Image Credits: Smokey the Bear photo courtesy Chuck Grimmet. Firefighter photo courtesy Ken Mistl. "Respectfully blunt" photo courtesy Jordan Hofker of Hudl.

Previous Chapter

How to Collect Customer Feedback That’s Actually Valuable

Next Chapter

More Resources from Zapier

Build workflows with your apps.

Try Zapier Free

Connect apps. Automate tasks. Get more done.

Try Zapier Free

“Zapier is amazing. Took us 30 seconds to setup an integration that saves us 2 hours of work every day.”

Bryan Harris, founder of Videofruit

Try Zapier Today
Workflow

Take the Work out of Workflow

Zapier is the easiest way to automate powerful workflows with more than 750 apps.