How to benefit from proactive customer support

Levi • 6 minute read • 18/04/2019
Online customer service
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Today consumers use a variety of channels to communicate about brands, products and services. Still many companies only respond to messages directed to their own (social media) accounts. In a world where competition is fierce, products and services are increasingly similar and consumer expectations are high companies are missing out on a real chance here. By helping consumers already before they reach out to the service department, companies can prove that they are going the extra mile and put the customer first. But what is the best approach to proactive customer service? What are the prerequisites and what should you pay attention to?

Know when to be proactive with your service

In today’s digital world a ton of messages are circulating around online at any moment. An important choice for companies is what to do with these messages. Do you react to every message that concerns your business or leave some unanswered?
Research from Van Noort & Willemsen demonstrates that a proactive customer service approach could lead to a less positive brand evaluation. However this strongly depends on the type of platform and the communication style. The study shows that proactive customer care is accepted on company-owned platforms where consumers expect the organisation to read along. On a ‘customer-owned’ platform this is not desired. Additional research by Charlotte van Hooijdonk and Christine Liebrecht on proactive customer service on Twitter however shows a different picture: proactive customer was perceived as positive by consumers. Due to the public nature of Twitter it doesn’t feel like an intrusion for users when they receive a reaction from a company. We can conclude that proactive service on company-owned platforms as well as platforms that have a public character is accepted.

The effects of proactive customer service

The added value from responding proactively lies inside the offering of information or a helping hand at the moment that customers need this, without having to contact you first. By that, organisations indent fast in a problem before it escalates and can therefore change a negative sentiment into a positive experience.

A positive experience with customer service can create a stronger connection with the brand on the long run. As you can see in this infographic, the way customers perceive the service of a company plays an important role both in purchasing decisions and customer retention.

Through a proactive approach companies can also get in contact with new customers. A positive and unusual experience with a brand is quickly shared with others and can reach a large group of potential customers through the viral nature of social media. Platforms like The Best of Social Media have grown with the curation of remarkable and funny interactions between companies and customers.

In the example below, the delivery service Lieferando takes the opportunity to react on a tweet of someone who is getting excited about the television show Germany’s next top model. They offer a 25 € voucher for comfort food so that she can calm down.

Practical tips for proactive web care

1. Be personally relevant, but not a detective

By using information that the consumer has in his or her public profile, you receive as a customer service employee a better picture of this person. From there you can find valuable information to pick up such as language use, interests but also events that recently took place, such as a visited event or an amusement park day. A link from the social media profile and the customer profile in your CRM system, can offer a larger source of information. Next, it appears from experience that a proactive response from that is more often appreciated. To maximise the positive effect of your service, it is recommended to use a conversational human voice. Conversational human voice can be described as a way of communicating warm, open, sincere and natural.

2. Take different channels into consideration

An important factor is the channel on which the conversation takes place. A reaction on a public tweet is for instance experienced different from a reaction under an Instagram photo from a personal profile. This applies in particular for channels as fora and review sites. These platforms are namely the domain of users, where you as an organisation can be an uninvited guest. Seeking proactive contact on a public form as Tweakers is only successful when you know for sure that the receiver is open for that, but the estimation of it appears to be practically difficult to make. With reviews and ratings on platforms as it is self-evident that you as an organisation get into questions and complaints.

3. Determine the desirability of a reaction

Aside from context and relevance it is crucial to survey the information need. The receiver is not always waiting for a reaction and it can in some cases feel like a violation of privacy. Every message becomes shared from a specific need, in which wishing for a good handling of a complaint or question is an example (Willemsen, 2013). Therefore try to determine which information need the receiver has. Listen online and engage in the conversation at the right moment, preferably with the right information, a solid solution or another valuable addition to the conversation.

In the below tweet, a passenger shows some concern about safety at Schiphol – a serious issue that could quickly run out of hand if left unanswered. Schiphol reacts immediately even though the message was not addressed directly to Schiphol’s account. The social media team reassures the passenger and he is happy about the fast and competent response.

4. Full overview through online monitoring

Have you ever tried to mingle in a conversation, without knowing what it is about? That only delivers more uncertainties. What you need is an overview, preferably as complete as possible. Thus, listening starts with signalling of messages about your organisations and all that happens around it. Therefore try not to stare yourself blindly at your brand name, but also search for messages about events, board members, product slogans, unique services, names of office buildings and advertisement campaigns. For example in the dashboard below it is visible where, what, and when there are conversations taking place around the topic ‘vacation’. This offers insights in the market, competition and perhaps even (new) leads.



  • Van Noort, G., & Willemsen, L.M. (2012). ‘Online damage control: The effects of proactive versus reactive web care interventions in consumer-generated and brand-generated platforms’. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 26(3), 131-140.
  • Van Hooijdonk, C. & Liebrecht, C.C. (2015). ‘Kijk, de consument praat terug! Strategie en toonzetting in webcaredialogen op Twitter’. Tekstblad 05/06.
  • Willemsen, L. M., Neijens, P. C., & Bronner, F. A. (2013). Webcare as customer relationship and reputation management? Motives for negative electronic word of mouth and their effect on webcare receptiveness. In S. Rosengren, M. Dahlen, & S. Okazaki (Eds.), The Changing Roles of Advertising. Advances in Advertising Research IV, pp. 55-73. 2 Wiesbaden: Springer.
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Levi Witbaard
I love to educate and inspire about marketing, customer engagement and chatbots. Always from different angles, which pretty much translates to "making cool people and organizations successful with the latest tools, techniques and tactics."

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