It’s my first article of the year 2017, and what better time than this to put some provocative statements out there than when everybody is well-rested and relaxed after the holidays?
There’s a notion about customer service and account management that is so often repeated: reactive is bad, proactive is good. We’re told that there are two ways to deal with challenges (in business and in life in general) - proactive and reactive. I bet you heard it, too, and probably thought about which one describes you or your company. Did you feel as if you were not proactive enough? Did you feel like gathering your team and announcing to them that from now on, in order to build better customer relationships, there will be no more reactiveness in your life, you’ll be proactive and only proactive?
My radical (or is it really?) hypothesis is that proactive and reactive approach are not a hard “either - or” dichotomy, but rather an “and” union. Let’s look at how proactive and reactive approach to managing customer accounts go hand in hand, contributing to both company revenue and client satisfaction, and hopefully I’ll convince you, too.
Why we should all strive to be 100% proactive (and why we never will be)
If a proactive approach to account management is so undeniably superior to a reactive one, it kind of makes you wonder why every company doesn't embrace it yet. The answer is simple: proactive account management is a very tough task. It requires thorough analysis, careful planning, team effort and an in-depth understanding of the journey your customer is going through with your company.
Similar to customer journey mapping, proactive account planning is a long-haul thing - a forward-looking exercise that calls for deep understanding of your customers. Some of the elements that make up successful proactive account management include understanding your customer’s pain points, goals, the benefits (or challenges) they get when using your product or service, as well as the competitive landscape they face in their industry.
Analyzing and understanding these factors can help determine new opportunities before the customer even thinks about them, making you a partner that’s looking out for their best interests, not just a vendor. When you look at account planning as a means to help your customer prosper and succeed as opposed to perceiving it as a series of incoming payments, that’s when you set yourself up to become an irreplaceable partner for your customer and put yourself above your competition.
However, the question is: without using a crystal ball (which may or may not give you the most accurate results), how do we know what customers think of our product or service, and whether they will like this new feature we just added and are upselling to them? There is only one way to find out, and it is to ask them and have them try the feature. And then pay attention to what they say, as this data is the key to understanding them.
Reactive approach as the groundwork to become proactive
Obviously, being prepared and eliminating issues before they even arise is a great goal for every organization, and something we all should work hard to achieve. However, oftentimes it is impossible to foresee what issues might arise before you or your customers run into them. Let’s face it, no matter how well thought through and mature your product might be, there will always be questions and use cases that you have not prepared for. That’s when your customer support team steps in to save the day.
Before you know how to deal with customer issues and change your product or your processes so that the problem doesn’t arise again, you need to gather data. Just like Amazon can not recommend you a product when you first log in, but learns more and more about you and your interests and in time learns to surface offers that will most likely catch your attention, you can only navigate the complex realm of customer happiness if you have a holistic view of their history with you, as well as their expectations, goals, pains and competition on the market.
What this means is that you’ll have to make some mistakes - and deal with them gracefully and responsibly - before you gain a better understanding of what your proactive strategy should look like. And as you go through this learning curve and deal with customers’ questions and issues, you will need strong, knowledgeable and caring customer support experts by your side, working their magic and fixing what went wrong. Is this reactive? No doubt. Is this a bad thing? It absolutely isn’t.
If your organization is offering more than one service or adds new features to the product you’ll probably be going through this process with every new release - so instead of freaking out about the lack of proactiveness, look at it as a valuable period of gathering crucial data about customer touch points that need to be tracked and improvements your product needs.
Recast your current problems into proactive goals
Let’s look at how a reactive approach to dealing with customer questions and frustrations can become a powerful driver in improving customer satisfaction and building a thorough and actionable proactive customer growth strategy.
As we learned from the Murphy’s law, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. What we can do is to learn from this and make changes so that this particular “anything” does not go wrong again in the future, for the new or current customers.
Rita Mae Brown (often misattributed to Einstein, which is a trap I almost fell into) said that doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the definition of insanity. If you’ve made the same mistake or run into a similar problem more than a handful of times, this should serve as an indicator that instead of waiting for the same thing to happen again you should put this experience to good use.
That’s where customer support (reactive) and account management (proactive) come together. By gathering and analyzing the information about customer issues and questions (and other things that once went wrong) your team can:
- Look into the best approaches used to solve the issue and create support documentation for most common cases.
- Discover patterns in customer requests and make changes to the product or customer-related processes to make their experience smooth.
- Learn more about specific cases and customer types, and uncover best practices for working with various customer types.
- Collaborate on building and executing on proactive account plans that reflect the specifics of your customers. You can use a tool like Synap to plan for growth, track KPIs and report on the progress of the whole team.
This way a problem you had to solve in the past will turn into an element of the proactive account plan that handles the issue before it arises, and guarantees the customer the best experience possible. From there you’ll be armed with the knowledge and insights to build a proactive account management plan.