How proactive support is done today
Insights · 9 min read

How proactive support is done today

Justin Owings
Posted May 01, 2017

A look at implementing proactive support through culture, organizational structure, tools and metrics.

In our last post — What is Proactive Support?, we defined proactive support and why it’s such an important part of the customer experience.

As a refresher, proactive support starts with awareness that a customer’s default reaction to having a bad product experience is to say or do nothing. This leaves a gap between what’s reported (and measured) and what’s actively managed.

You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there. — Yogi Berra

Proactive support steps in to (try and) bridge that gap — it pushes employees to improve customer experience by finding and fixing when things aren’t working as intended, which is not always easy. Providing proactive support can be slow, investigative, and exploratory. To channel Yogi Berra, you don’t know what what you don’t know; indeed, proactive support is a conscious effort to seek out and solve for blind-spots in customer experience.

In this next post in our series, we examine how companies are implementing proactive support through culture, organizational structure, metrics, and the tools.

Proactive culture — eliminating “not my job.”

There’s a simple organizational philosophy behind the customer service at the legendarily hospitable Ritz-Carlton hotel chain:

There’s no such thing as “not my job.”

Whether it’s an under-heated soup or a disputed bill, any Ritz employee can step-up proactively and make things right. The Ritz even sets aside $2,000 per guest just in case it’s needed to help repair a fraying customer experience. This approach creates a culture where individual employees feel they have the authority and directive to protect and build the Ritz brand.

Proactive support is like that. It begins with a customer experience-focused culture that empowers individual employees with the authority to do what needs to be done — even when it’s “not my job.”

While a CX culture is the foundation upon which proactive support is built, it is just a start. To make it a focus you need to create some sort of ownership and organizational structure. What organizational structure makes sense will depend on your company’s broader culture and strategy.

Consider the following organizational approaches:

1. Direct ownership.

Some organizations use the direct ownership model — they assign a single person or department the task of proactive support and hold them solely accountable for it.

The directly responsible individual (DRI) model is a classic organizational approach made famous by Apple that ensures accountability. The strength of this model is that it’s easy to create accountability and encourage focus — they’re baked in by design.

Incentives are easier to establish, too, as the DRI for proactive support doesn’t require their duties to be balanced with other responsibilities.

PROS: good incentives, focus by design CONS: easier for others without ownership to dismiss proactive support as “not my job.”

2. Yet another departmental task.

Alternatively, proactive support can be kept within your traditional support or success department. Generally, that means either:

  • Your support/success team can set aside a predetermined percentage of time to proactive support efforts each week.

  • Your support/success team can integrate proactive support into the regular, daily workflow.

You will need to make sure that you have the internal incentives and collaboration to drive and facilitate proactive support.

PROS: support/success teams already know something about customer experience. CONS: proactive support isn’t the same as traditional support or customer success. Adding proactive support may be seen as just another departmental task.

3. Cross-company initiative.

In a cross-company initiative, engineering, support, account management, customer success, and sales teams all collaborate to implement proactive support. The advantages are similar to the more common interdisciplinary startup squad — the “Growth team.”

Yet it can be tricky to coordinate work between different people on different teams. “We need Lindsay to fix the bugs in our back-end chatbot, but she’s cramming for the new product release! Ralph can do it, but we’d lose ground on our new CMS…”

If you want people to devote a particular amount of time to proactive support and are fine with their regular work being sidelined, then make that clear with the structure and incentives that you put forward.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” In the context of proactive support, this quote about procrastination feels right — proactive support is stepping in and solving a problem with customer experience for today’s customer and tomorrow’s.

Fix it once. Then, fix it for all.

PROS: Cross-company means the highest probability of discovering opportunities for proactive support. With low-friction cross-company collaboration, when employees discover an opportunity for proactive support, they can kick off fixing it by looping in the right other job functions. CONS: A decentralized structure also means highly diffused focus. Getting employees to act when they discover opportunities may require some clever incentives.

Proactive tools—messaging, chat, and session replay.

As proactive support is only beginning to come into its own, we’re still seeing experiments with what works and what doesn’t — from organizational structure to customer success tools and metrics.

While the “final form” of proactive support tools may not yet exist, using current tools is more than enough to get started in most cases. To that end, consider the following tools being used to manage proactive support.

Email and messaging. The kinds of messaging tools that have been developed to help growth marketers and product people can also be an invaluable tool for proactive support. What’s simpler than proactively reaching out to a customer when some event triggers — e.g. you see a customer’s transaction failed at checkout and you just drop the customer an email to let them know you’re there to help.

Chatbots. If you’ve visited a SaaS company’s home page recently, you’ve run into one of the many implementations of sales chatbots. When executing proactive support, you might want something like that but on the back-end.

Consider the signal: a customer needs help if they are using a chatbot — they’re having a problem. If a single customer is hitting a snag and turning to chat, it’s likely other customers are having the same problem, too. Even as chat might help ameliorate these issues in a pinch, the proactive support approach would take the next step and close the loop by investigating the extent of the problem and whether a fix could be implemented for others.

Passive QA. Your team already writes tests ahead of feature releases. You pour over logs and check for bug reports to make sure you fix anything that’s wrong. Proactive support, on the other hand, requires ongoing QA after the release.

Watch users interact with your product using a tool that has session replay (e.g. FullStory). Instead of needing to write tests for dozens of edge cases, with FullStory you can segment for users however you like. For example, segment for users who have used some feature. From there, you can just sit back and “QA” by clicking through recorded sessions, allowing you to see the ins-and-outs of how people use your tool “in the wild.”

While this isn’t a replacement for tests, it will help you find bugs before they get reported.

Proactive support metrics — how to track your success.

You’re going to want to have metrics that help you keep track of how effective your proactive support efforts are. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Given the variety of cases that may occur in proactive support, there may need to be some creativity around metrics.

Here’s a start around proactive support metrics:

  • Response rate: Be brilliant. Be brief. Be gone. If you’re directly interacting with a customer as part of proactive support, understand the problem, provide a fix that makes the customer happy, and move on — close the loop internally but do that only after closing the loop with the customer. No customer wants to be left in the lurch as you navigate internal issues.

  • Customer Satisfaction Score: One place where the positive effects of proactive support can make themselves known is the CSAT survey — a quality survey that helps determine the way people feel about their support experiences.

  • Net Promoter Survey: NPS is a well-known alternative to CSAT and has been used by many large corporations, including American Express. Deceptively simple, that can provide subtle insight into what your customers think about your product as a whole.

  • Anecdotal wins: Sometimes qualitative anecdotes can give you the strongest indicators that you’re doing the right thing. One thing proactive support teams can do is maintain a Slack channel or HipChat room specifically for sharing customer stories. Sharing proactive support wins can keep the focus on why proactive support is important — that is, improving.

Outside of new metrics to track proactive support, if we assume your proactive support efforts are analogous to classical customer support tickets and cases, any of the following might result:

  • Your # of total cases could go up: reaching out to fix issues proactively is likely to create more tickets overall. Expect this going in but realize that what you’re now capturing are things that previously went under the radar — unreported customer experience problems.

  • There might be a reduction in customer support tickets/cases: as a corollary to the above point, your proactive efforts may result in a drop in the more reactive customer support efforts — that is, the cases/tickets that get created when customers report them.

  • Throughput on other projects may decrease: as resources respond to dealing with proactive support cases and implementing product fixes based on proactive support solutions — other projects may take a hit in productivity. Again, expect this and be ready to quantify the positive outcomes.

Start measuring right away. Measurement brings focus and signals to the organization, “This is important!” Be cognizant that metrics only approximate the underlying reality, so check base assumptions regularly, re-evaluate, and iterate.

Proactive support — then, now, and the future.

In our last post, we looked at the origins of proactive support — an idea driven by increased focus on customer experience that pivots around solving customer experience problems without customers having to wave their hands and shout, “help me!”

While proactive support may still be in its infancy, it’s growing fast, and as interest grows, businesses will build tools that facilitate proactive support possible.

Today, only a handful of tools exist that can help with proactive support. The future of proactive support will require new tools that empower every employee to lean-in on customer experience, adopting the Ritz-mentality that there’s no such thing as “not my job.”

If you’re wondering what might that future look like, we explore this topic in Part 3 of our proactive support series when we imagine the future of proactive support. If you missed it, be sure to read Part 1—What is Proactive Support.

Justin OwingsFormer Director, Content

About the author

Justin Owings was previously the Director of Content Marketing at FullStory.

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