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  • Writer's pictureNouran Smogluk

8 Ways to Implement Proactive Self-Service in Customer Support

proactive customer support

Customer support is traditionally reactive.

Most of the KPIs we use in customer service come from that perspective. The goal is always to optimize our reaction–to reply faster and better.

Self-service is often used as a way to deflect tickets and reduce the demand for support, which also reflects a reactive approach. Since you know customers experience certain problems, it makes sense that they’ll search for solutions before deciding to contact your support team. Therefore, you should make finding those solutions easy.

That’s obviously an essential part of self-service. Creating content based on what your customers are searching for is a major part of leveraging your help center successfully.

But what if your help center — or any other self-service you offer — could do far more?

Why you should use self-service proactively

Proactively supporting your customers requires a different mindset.

Proactive service is about anticipating and addressing customer needs before they arise. It's an approach that forces you to take the initiative to engage with customers, offer relevant information, and provide resources to address their needs or potential challenges.

It’s knowing what your customers need before they tell you.

The moment your customers start looking for a way to contact you, you’ve lost the opportunity to be proactive.

You can still create an excellent reactive support experience, but learning how to use self-service proactively can bring some great benefits for your business, like improved customer loyalty and decreased ticket volume.

Improved customer loyalty

Have you ever added an item to your basket while shopping online, then gotten harassed with multiple “You might have forgotten something!” emails from the seller?

Those experiences are not fun.

Suffering through that might make you think customers don’t like being contacted proactively, but that isn’t always the case. Customers don’t like being harassed, sure, but there are a hundred ways to provide proactive support in a way that customers will appreciate.

In fact, one survey showed that 87% of people are happy to be contacted proactively by companies regarding customer service issues.

Good proactive support is meant to save your customers’ time. It should provide them with help that they actually did need, even if they hadn’t realized it yet.

Lower ticket volume

Getting ahead of customer questions means you can address them before they reach your support team. It’s the same mindset behind most self-service and ticket deflection approaches, and it’s particularly impactful if you target issues that are responsible for high ticket volume.

Fewer tickets takes pressure off your support team, improves their engagement by enabling a greater variety in their tasks, and reduces your customer support costs.

How to find opportunities to be proactive

Being proactive sounds great in theory, but can be hard to implement in practice. The biggest challenge is in identifying exactly where those opportunities are for your business.

As support professionals, we’re so used to being reactive that training ourselves to think about customer issues in a different way can take time.

Here are six sources you can draw from for ideas on how to be more proactive:

  1. Customer feedback. Not all feedback is created equal. You often need to filter out the noise in your customer feedback to find the meaningful signals. But feedback is a great source of potential opportunities. Even if customers don’t give you a direct suggestion that you can implement, they’ll show you where the problems are. Note: Try Help Center Analytics to start collecting customer feedback on your help center articles today.

  2. Support interactions. Understanding what drives support demand is the first step to reducing it. Categorize your tickets and then go through those categories one-by-one, always asking the question: What could we do to prevent this issue from happening? You might need to improve your product or support processes, but there’ll be situations where you could be proactive too. Feature requests are especially valuable for this.

  3. Help center engagement. If you use analytics in your help center, you can see how people interact with it: what they search for, which pages they view when, and how helpful your articles are. There’s a great opportunity here. Where can you take the solutions you present in your help center and move a step or two further back to help proactively solve those issues?

  4. Customer journey mapping. Mapping your typical or ideal customer journey is a fantastic way to identify gaps in your processes because you can see where your customers get stuck. Every time a customer gets stuck or veers off that ideal journey, you can introduce proactive service that guides them back.

  5. User testing. User testing involves watching new or inexperienced users interact with your product. The temptation is to solve all identified problems by improving the UI or design experience. That’s not a bad solution, and it can work in a lot of cases. But sometimes an alternative solution might be found through the lens of support — such as developing an in-app guide to solve that problem.

  6. Community engagement. Another way to get input is to observe how customers talk about your product in social media or other communities. You’ll often get insights into what people might be trying to achieve and why. Those are a great starting point for proactive support.

8 practical examples of proactive self-service

Self-service is a broad term in support, but it’s often used to refer to a help center or chatbot.

Both of those can feel passive and reactive.

A help center is a set of articles that the customer needs to search for, and a chatbot needs someone to interact with it before it can provide an answer.

It’s hard to envision them being used proactively.

But help centers and chatbots can be used differently, and there are alternative ways to implement proactive self-service in your support team:

  1. During the onboarding experience

  2. Using interactive guides

  3. Offering personalized recommendations

  4. Embedding proactive messages in a chatbot

  5. Sending out automated notifications

  6. Providing a solution early

  7. Creating a space for announcements

During the onboarding experience

You can design your entire product onboarding experience from the perspective of self-service. Great onboarding should touch on the major features of your product, guide customers through how to get started, and show them where additional help is available.

Slack has become really well-known for their in-product onboarding because they’ve experimented until they’ve found something that really works. Slack’s in-app onboarding experience guides new users step-by-step through its most valuable features.

Using interactive guides

Some features are easier for customers to grasp than others. Interactive guides are a different way to present the information than a static help article. By their nature, they tend to be more engaging, because customers have to click through them.

This is a good option if you want to introduce complex new features or highlight their added value. Tools like Stonly can be a really easy way to get started.

Embedding proactive messages in a chatbot

Chatbots can be powerful as a proactive self-service option because they make help content more accessible. A less intelligent but still effective option could be a web widget that suggests help articles.

Both of these are most effective if you place them where you expect customers to come across problems, have questions, or spend a lot of time. You can then use them to send a proactive message to engage customers.

If someone’s on your user management page for 30 seconds, proactively engage them with a guide to user management. If they’re hanging out on your pricing page, engage them with a prompt to explain more about your packages.

Offering personalized recommendations

Personalization is often underestimated. 70% of consumers say that how well a company understands their needs impacts loyalty.

One great way to improve your personalization is by using any customer journey mapping you’ve done. Ideally, you would consider which steps or features a customer has already interacted with, and then show them the next step on their journey. For example:

  • If a user has purchased certain items, send them personalized recommendations.

  • When a user hasn’t used certain features, target them with personalized prompts in-app. That could look like one of those timed pop-ups saying, “Hey [name], it seems you haven’t tried [feature] yet. Here’s what to do next.”

Sending out automated notifications

Notifications are one of the most typical self-service options, but they’re still underutilized. They should be sent out to preempt a contact.

The most common examples of proactive notifications are the automatic order status updates you get when you buy something from an ecommerce store. Nowadays, you rarely have to contact support to ask where your order is.

Another proactive approach is to inform customers of known large-scale issues that you know might impact them, then offer them the ability to subscribe for future updates on the issue. This allows them to opt in if they’re interested, while eliminating the need for them to contact you. Tools like Statuspage make this fairly easy to implement.

Providing a solution early

In some situations, you might be able to send out a solution with your notification. That’s a great way to provide that above-and-beyond customer experience we aspire to.

Say you work for an airline and need to inform customers their upcoming flight has been canceled.

Providing the solution proactively would mean sending them alternative options and giving them an easy way to re-book their flight in the same email. Instead of, “We’re sorry, please contact a representative to rebook your flight,” you would say, “We know this isn’t what you were hoping for, but we’ve found three similar flights that we think might work. Please select the one you’d like below or reply back to this email for more options.”

Your customers find out about the problem (bad news) and have a solution delivered to them (good news) at the same time. While issues are never fun, this can be a great way to show you care about their experience.

Creating a space for announcements

Proactive announcements aren’t typically thought of as self-service, but they’re a great way to proactively deflect tickets and help customers.

An example might be software products that experience downtimes. You can create a status page, a Twitter account, or use a page in your help center to inform customers about what’s happening.

You’ll still get some tickets about issues when you have them, but you can always continue to direct your customers to whatever channel you’re using to keep them informed. Customers might still be “self-serving,” but you’re providing the information proactively.

Using your help center as the foundation

A great help center is always the foundation of good self-service, both reactive and proactive.

Everything you learn from investing in your help center helps you improve our customer experience in other ways, too. It’ll show you how your customers interact with self-service, what types of information they’re looking for, and what they need to succeed.

At Swifteq, we specialize in building tools to help customer support teams using Zendesk level up. With our Help Center Manager and Help Center Analytics, it’s easy to build a help center that enables game-changing self-service.


Nouran Smogluk

​​Written by Nouran Smogluk

Nouran is a passionate people manager who believes that work should be a place where people grow, develop, and thrive. She writes for Supported Content and also blogs about a variety of topics, including remote work, leadership, and creating great customer experiences.


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