Proactive customer service – How to anticipate and solve issues

Think about the people in your life that can tell what you are thinking without you saying a word, or know what you are going to do, even before you do. Those are the people that ‘get’ you. They are the ones you can rely on and turn to, time and time again.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have connections like that with a company? I’m not saying a company is going to start finishing your sentences, but it could start anticipating your needs and taking care of issues with the products or services you are using before you even encounter them. That’s what proactive service enables. And it can change everything for customers, increasing their overall satisfaction, preference, and loyalty.

What does it take to establish proactive customer service? In the webinar: “Top 5 Practices: Proactive Customer Service for Digital Services” John Ragsdale, distinguished VP of technology research for the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), discusses what proactive customer service could mean and look like for a company.

While the vision of anticipating and then delivering on a customer’s needs has always been a goal of companies everywhere, what’s been called proactive customer service for the past couple of decades was really not.

It’s hard to argue companies were being proactive, when it was the customer that typically initiated the interaction and reported a problem to trigger an investigation.  Once started, the speed and effectiveness of the investigation was often limited by the technology customer service agents or field service technicians had at their disposal to try to figure out what was going on. Slow, clunky connections (e.g. Telnet) to a customer’s on-premises equipment was usually all they had to run basic tests; if those tests failed, they would be forced to pull and manually analyze the customer’s log files to look for clues.

When the problem was finally understood and fixed, information on the resolution remained largely in the silo of that customer’s case. If another customer called with the same problem, rather than applying the same fix, the process would start all over again. The reality is companies were being responsive, not proactive.

What’s changed with the digital economy

Now, John notes, the ability of companies to deliver a truly proactive customer experience is finally possible, thanks to the technology advancements that are powering the digital economy.  Today, the promise of truly proactive customer service that can transform customer experiences and outcomes can finally be realized.

Why? Because there is a lot more information easily accessible that can be used to understand the customer’s environment, particularly as more and more organizations move to the cloud. However, more data in and of itself doesn’t make a difference, if there is no way to make sense of it. Advances in new artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies are paving the way for real-time analysis and insights that can help organizations make connections between customer issues and identify and even predict where problems may arise.  

A glimpse at what proactive customer service looks like

According to John, these new technologies have enabled some organizations to get a jump on issues and start to anticipate what customers are going to need. These companies are monitoring customer usage of their products and services, identifying conditions that could cause an error or failure. Once detected, the company is then either auto-scheduling a repair or auto-restarting a system to apply a fix and resolve the issue. All of this is done before a customer even knows they have a problem-that’s proactive!

And the benefits of this level of customer service are easy to understand. If a customer feels the company is making the ongoing operations of their product or service a priority, they are going to be more satisfied. Plus, it’s good for the business too. Uninterrupted service and operations not only keep customers happy, but also reduces unnecessary work in customer service.  Taking preventative steps is generally much more cost effective than having to triage and recover from an actual problem.

What’s slowed the adoption of proactive customer?

Despite all the potential benefits, only 24% of support teams have a proactive support or intelligent diagnostics solution in place, according to the 2019 TSIA Support Services Tech Stack Survey. The 2019 TSIA Support Services Benchmark found that only 3% of new incidents are created automatically using embedded diagnostics.

Why so low? John explains it has been extremely tough to get technologies to enable proactive customer service. Typically, organizations had to piecemeal something together, which required committing resources to build, manage, and maintain a homegrown solution. The few solutions traditionally available on the market tended to stem from technology developed for internal IT use, not remote customer use—so they too required a lot of tuning and customization.

As we know, when organizations have to develop solutions that are not core to their business, they can fall by the wayside or end up not being as robust or effective as they could be.


Adoption and Planned Spending


Times are changing

“Out-of-the-box” capabilities are now readily available in ServiceNow® Customer Service Management to enable organizations to deliver more proactive customer support.

As a result, support services, field services, and managed services are starting to budget and adopt these innovative technologies, as part of their efforts to transform their customer experiences.  

But achieving proactive customer service isn’t as easy as making a purchase and flipping a switch. There are things you need to consider and systems you need to deploy and link to be able to achieve the benefits of proactive customer service. 


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