Proactive vs Reactive Customer Service and How to Use Both

Online shopping is designed to be easy and convenient, but it doesn’t always work that way. Even seemingly simple purchases can leave customers with more questions than answers: 

Is this the right size? How much is shipping? Where is my order? 

The list goes on and on. And if you don’t have an effective way to quickly provide personalized answers, shoppers will likely take their business elsewhere.

How can support teams help with these diverse issues? The trick is providing a combination of proactive and reactive customer service. When used together, brands unlock the ability to deliver exceptional customer support every time, regardless of a customer’s specific need(s).

Before you can start constructing your award-winning plan, it’s important to first understand the differences between proactive and reactive customer support—along with the benefits and limitations of each. Doing so will allow you to create a thorough customer service strategy that truly intertwines these two complementary types of support.

What is proactive customer service?

Proactive customer service occurs when you’re able to anticipate your customers’ issues and reach out with a solution. Customers don’t start proactive customer service interactions—support teams do. They can step in, give guidance, and preempt major headaches from occurring without having to wait for customers to ask questions first.

Because proactive customer service is preventative, many issues can be avoided altogether. By stepping in, you’re removing potential roadblocks along the customer journey and improving the overall experience. 

Examples of proactive customer service

While it might sound daunting, offering proactive support doesn’t need to be complex. Here are some common examples of proactive customer service in practice:

1. Reaching out via automated chat

AI platforms can proactively contact customers over chat by detecting if shoppers are struggling at key points of the customer journey in real-time. 

For example, if a customer is viewing several similar products, automation tools can instantly put them in touch with a product expert to help them decide which is best. Or if a customer has been stuck on your payment page for some time, you can open up a chat window and offer relevant info on everything from orders and payment to shipping.

2. Personalizing interactions

Proactive service lets you anticipate exactly what customers are looking for. By tracking a shopper’s history, automation tools can recommend products, provide shipping updates, and send out alerts on any issues that may impact customers or their orders. 

Service teams can give customers the VIP treatment without them having to ask for it. Send out exclusive deals, gifts, or discounts to deepen your relationship with them. Reward your loyal customers on their birthdays or other special occasions so they know they’re appreciated. A simple order status update goes a long way.     

3. Requesting customer feedback

While many customers will seek out help when they have an urgent issue, most shoppers won’t contact companies just to leave feedback. But brands that ask for customer suggestions can reap tangible benefits. Around 77% of customers have a more favorable impression of a brand that actually seeks out and applies feedback. 

And feedback is the lifeblood of any service team that wants to improve its customer experience. To find out what shoppers are thinking, sending a brief follow-up message is an excellent way to learn things like customer expectations and track metrics like customer satisfaction scores.   

Benefits of proactive customer service

1. Increased sales

Proactively assisting customers can yield sizable financial gains. In 2022, shopping cart abandonment rates hit 70%. This means ecommerce businesses are losing out on scores of customers right before they’re ready to make a purchase. If agents proactively jump in to facilitate the buying process, they can have a massive impact.

2. Improved customer and agent experiences 

Proactive customer care has the ability to remove barriers that would otherwise frustrate customers as they shop. It helps customers quickly find what they’re looking for, as there’s no need to fumble around a website for an email address or phone number.

Likewise, agents are better prepared to handle any cases that get escalated to them. Proactive chats provide them with key customer data that enables them to offer a personalized experience every time. Not only that, but agents won’t be bogged down by ticket backlogs as more customers will find solutions without agent intervention.   

3. More loyal customers

Offering new customers proactive customer support boosts their chances of becoming return customers. Three out of four shoppers say they’re more likely to do repeat business with a brand that supplies personalized rewards.

With fewer severe service issues and substantial time savings, shoppers will enjoy a smoother customer experience and give you their loyalty in return. 

And customer loyalty has a major impact on several metrics. Happy customers will help you bring about higher customer retention and lower churn. 

What is reactive customer service?

While proactive customer service is providing support before it’s needed, reactive customer service is responding to an issue after a customer has already reached out. In proactive service, your team makes the first move and contacts a customer. With reactive service, the customer initiates contact.

By its very nature, reactive support isn’t preventative, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Reactive customer service is an essential part of any customer support infrastructure. Teams can’t rely solely on proactive support. You still need agents to provide on-demand assistance when a problem can’t be avoided. 

This service can still be personable, available 24/7, and effective, but you’ll need some help from automation tools to get there. For example, leading AI-based chatbots are always on and can store customer data such as name, location, and buying history to deliver faster, personalized responses. 

Examples of reactive customer service

Below are the two most common examples of reactive customer service: 

1. Answering questions over phone or chat

This occurs when a customer calls a support line or enters a request into a chat box. The customer first explains their issue and then waits for an agent to find the information they need or a solution to their problem. 

2. Responding to emails and written requests

Customers can also make use of reactive support by reaching out to a company’s customer support via email or an online contact form. Unlike phone or live chat, these channels are always available, but response times tend to be much slower, often taking over 1 day.

Is it better to be proactive or reactive?

In a nutshell, good customer service should be both proactive and reactive. The best teams don’t try to offer just one but instead use them together in harmony to give the best of both worlds to their customer base.

Reaching out to customers at frequent pain points is valuable, but having competent agents on call to handle urgent cases as they emerge is just as vital.

Above all else, customer support teams need a clear plan. Everyone should be on the same page concerning when it’s best to step in and offer help and when it’s more appropriate for customers to take the first step. Once these guidelines are established, you can effectively incorporate proactive and reactive services into a customer-centric, data-driven support strategy.