Hypothetical.

I know it’s kind of a negative start, but let’s just think of a forest fire.

Firefighters from the US Forestry Service react to fires by trying to put them out. Makes sense, right?

But that same Forestry Service created Smokey to bear to remind us that we are the only hope to prevent forest fires.

Forest

Education on disaster preparedness avoids danger and potentially lowers the chances of a fire.

One of these scenarios, first responders react to help in a stressful, dangerous situation. In the other, first responders proactively prepare their residents for likely scenarios.

Providing online customer support shares some striking similarities to both of these scenarios.

This guide aims to show both sides of support — Reactive and Proactive — in a comprehensive way.

The Difference Between Proactive and Reactive Customer Support

In our businesses we can think that “support” helps customers who have problems. They’re just putting out fires.

Really this is only half of the customer success puzzle. It’s what’s known as “Reactive Support”.

What is Reactive Support?

Reactive support is what happens when your customers have an issue that requires them to interact with support materials and/or personnel.

For example, if someone has to:

  • Go to your knowledge base because they can’t figure something out
  • Send an email to your support email address if there’s an issue with your product or services
  • Call your support team (or even you) with issues
  • Use live chat functions on your website to get in touch regarding a problem
  • Even mentioning your brand on Twitter while mentioning an issue

These are all things which will cause you (or your team) to react. And you should!

What is Proactive Support?

Proactive support is a series of planned interactions in which customers (and potential customers) have with your materials and team members before they have an issue.

Think of Smokey the Bear.

There are commercials, pamphlets and even the branding that helps us know that if a campfire has smoke, it’s not fully out.

Some examples of proactive support include:

  • Onboarding either through emails or meetings
  • University material for software products or other complicated products
  • Chatbots and prompts that actually move people through your products and services
  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs) section to answer common struggles

Here’s the Gist: If you’re only using reactive measures to handle support issues it could be hurting your revenue.

Here’s how.

1 Proactive Support = Better Retention

Customers who can’t get success using your products may not complain — They may just leave.

Things like onboarding increase the success of incoming customers while reducing the support burden. Increased success and fewer struggles means improving your overall retention and repeat buyers.

2 Being Proactive Leads to Better Sales

It may seem like support isn’t really a tool to drive sales, but proactive support materials are often available to everyone considering your products or services.

Here’s an example.

a software company with a University that is publicly available.

Once a prospect see the potential of the suite of software tools, they may want to see in-depth tutorials of exactly how it to set up and use everything.

That’s marketing…AND support.

If said prospect buys, it’s (at least partially) due to the University content. Plus, they’re less likely to contact support — since they already have a decent grasp of the product.

A number of proactive support materials could help relieve fears and give prospects the push they need to make the purchase.

The Need for Both Proactive and Reactive Customer Support

A support, or customer success strategy that includes both reactive and proactive measures will reduce the support burden by educating customers before issues arise. And you’ll also be ready for the inevitable issues that will still arise.

There will always be issues that cause customers to need your help quickly. But remember, that’s only one side of the equation.

Both proactive and reactive support can work in tandem to increase the number of customers who have success with your products, oftentimes in a shorter period of time.

The Gist

  • Reactive Support options are the means a company uses to help customers after they have a problem.
  • Proactive Support options are the means a company uses to help customers before they have a problem.
  • Using both together can reduce support burden, improve customer success and increase retention.

Reactive Online Customer Support Options

We’ve defined “Reactive Support” as any way that your brand or website “reacts” to a customer inquiry.

Now, we’ll see a detailed look at seven online customer support channels that you may want to use for your business.

The Quick List

  • Live Chat Support
  • Phone Support
  • Knowledge Base
  • Email Support
  • Social Support (Twitter, Facebook)
  • Chatbots (for after hours)
  • Remote Support (IT)

 

Live Chat Support

Live Chat is a chat function on your website (or in your app), often accomplished by using a software product (like Gist).

This option allows a customer to actually ask you any question online, while you’re there. (Or a potential customer could actually ask you about your product, too.),

You set office hours for yourself or your support team and you are available for your customer when they are on your site right then and there.

Benefits of Live Chat Support

  • Inexpensive: Live Chat is fairly low cost. You can actually get started for free with Gist. Using chat gives a higher-quality feel to your support without a big price tag.
  • Convenience: Most people don’t want to pick up the phone and wait for an answer. And they don’t want to explain their problem. Opening up a chat and quickly typing your issue and expecting someone to get back with them within a few seconds is very convenient for users
  • Fast Problem Resolution: With Live Chat you don’t have to get off the phone and figure out the problem. The support team can handle the issue right then and there — while your customer is minimally bothered.

Potential Problems

  • Not having a dedicated person to handle live chats (but this can be alleviated with a bot)

 

Phone Support

Phone support is typically a dedicated customer service number which clients call if they have any problems.

This solution can range from an answering machine, a third-party service or a dedicated team member/staff to handle incoming calls.

Benefits of Phone Support

  • Personal: Phone support is personal. This is one-to-one, dedicated time where it’s just you and the customer. They’re explaining their problems. You’re understanding them and then helping them out.
  • Focused and Clear: Focused and clear meaning there’s no misunderstanding. Text formats such as chat can lead to misunderstanding problems or misspellings. On the phone, you can hear them, ask them questions and understand their problems— to help them faster.
  • Cleaner Handoff: Sometimes, you need to transfer them to a different department or put them on hold and ask a question to the appropriate person. It’s easy to put someone on hold and send the call to the right person.

Potential Problems

  • Higher costs of the phone lines and either the service or team member to take the calls.

 

Knowledge Base

A knowledge base is a series of articles or videos which help customers with common issues.

This support tool is great for things like setting up your product, using a particular function or to learn more and get more out of your products and services.

Benefits of Knowledgebase

  • No Labor: There’s no labor costs once you create the knowledge base. As long as your product and services don’t change — it’s a one and done solution.
  • DIYer’s and Introverts: There are a lot of people who just want to do it themselves. There are also introverts who don’t want to pick up the phone and talk. Both would rather resolve it themselves.
  • Faster Resolution: A knowledge base can actually be faster for users (and your company). A lot of times clients just need to search and find out how to do a certain thing. Then, they can quickly take care of it themselves.

Potential Problems

  • Service-based businesses may not be able to use a knowledge base (but could benefit from an FAQ).

 

Email Support

Next up we have email support.

Maybe you are already using email marketing, but would like a ticketing system. Or, you want customers to be able to email support at a dedicated address and send it directly to the inbox of the appropriate team member.

Benefits of Email Support

  • Record-Keeping: Emails make it far easier to keep records. You have an document that you can archive, go back to and you can keep track of the conversation. There’s a chain of custody for customer issues. Great for accountability and liability.
  • Lower Labor Costs: Email support for a full day of issues can (often) be done in a couple of hours. Potentially businesses can have fewer dedicated people, because they’re not on the phone all day. Messages can be read faster. Common issues can be quickly resolved or a support article can be sent and help users quickly.
  • Attachments/Surveys: Third is attachments, a lot of times people need to take screenshots or attach documents now this work works both ways incoming and outgoing you can also send surveys really easily through the email right after a support interaction.

Potential Problems

  • There’s a potential balance problem. Emails can come in at all hours. Dealing with issues quickly versus getting work done can become difficult.

 

Social Support

Next up is social support on something like Twitter or Facebook this is where customers reach out to you instantly with problems or issues

Benefits of Social Support

  • Out in the Open: It’s public. Now, this one could be good or bad. But if issues are handled well, this can actually be positive marketing for your company.
  • Highly Convenient: Social support is possibly the most convenient support method for customers. Most people are extensively on social media. If they have a problem, they’re likely already posting about it. Listening for these things can help you curb negative sentiment.
  • Faster Problem Resolution: Notifications are built into social media platforms. So, if you create a Twitter handle that is dedicated to support; your support team will know exactly when a notification happens and can handle it right then in there.

Potential Problems

  • It’s public. Your (support) business could literally be on Facebook.

 

Chatbots

Chatbots may not seem like it’s a support option, but it can actually work great for those after hours where you don’t have a team member handling requests.

Here’s a screenshot of a simple chat bot that can gather the customer’s problem (read from the bottom up).

Benefits of Chatbots

  • 24/7 Agent: Chatbots are there when you’re not. It’s an after-hours voice for your support team and for your website.
  • Can Point to Materials: A more robustly configured bot could point to a knowledgebase article. If you set it up to recognize certain keywords, a helpful article can be shown to the customer. This can even solve the issue before it becomes a full-blown support interaction.
  • Zero Labor Costs: Bots work for free. Once you set up the prompts and scripts to interact with the customers, that’s it.

Potential Problems

  • Chat bots are still fairly easy to spot and could be impersonal, which is why we recommend them for after hours.

 

Remote Support

The last reactive customer support option we’re gonna go over is remote support. This solution is more for computer-based tools, because they allow you or your support team to “take over” the computer of your user.

Benefits of Remote Support

  • Near 100% Resolution: Your trained team does the fix, not the customer. If a rep can access their machine, it’s likely they’ll fix the issue quickly.
  • Highly Convenient (for clients): You take over a client’s computer. You fix it for them and say, “here you go”.
  • Fast Problem Resolution: The majority of your support tickets are going to be handled quickly, because you or your team often know how to fix the issue(s).

Potential Problems

  • Definitely a potential liability issue. Your team is directly affecting a device that is owned by someone else.

Proactive Online Customer Support Options

proactive customer support channel is something that you do before there is an issue or problem with your product or service.

The Quick List

  • Onboarding
  • University or Resources
  • Chat Bots
  • Policies
  • Frequently Asked Questions

 

Onboarding

Onboarding is where you actually have a meeting, phone call or send a series of emails with your new customers to;

  1. Get everything you need from them
  2. Help set client expectations (for what to expect)

Benefits of Onboarding

  • Improves Customer Success: The better your customers know how to use your product or services the better. Or, if they know what’s going to happen; they’re more likely to be happy and successful.
  • Retention: tIf clients are happy and have success with you, that means they’re gonna stay longer (or purchase more from you in the future) which means better retention.
  • Referrals: If you’re yielding the set, expected results, customer success happens. Not only will you retain those clients, but referrals begin to roll in.

Potential Problems

  • Personal onboarding can be time consuming.

 

University or Resources

Essentially this is some type of training that you can provide for your customers (or even potential customers). A series of content to help set your products up or get the most out of them.

Benefits of University or Resources

  • Learning Before Doing: This is very proactive. I know, I know. That’s what we’re talking about here. But by providing resources, clients can go learn all about your products, see them in action and learn before they do.
  • Marketing Tool: Not only does training reduce the support burden of your team, but it actually helps people see the benefit of your product before they purchase and helps make the sale in many cases.
  • Increased Usage: Education materials offer a map of all you have. At Gist, we offer a dozen different tools for the marketing, sales and support categories. It can get complicated, but our university helps break it down into manageable pieces and to see the power of all those tools.

Potential Problems

  • Takes time and effort to create these resources.

Chatbots

Again, you may not think chat bots is a support tool at all, but it can actually be used both for reactive and proactive customer support.

Benefits of Chatbots

  • Gently Guiding: Bots are great for guiding someone through your content (or even your software) to help them get the most out of it. Bots help customers stop when they need to stop, speed up when they need to speed up, and move through at an overall comfortable pace.
  • Increase Installs: Offering free trials is a great way to get email addresses, but getting the user to install after they sign up is difficult. Some think it’s too hard. But having a digital assistant to guide them through should increase conversions.
  • Reduced Support Burden: Well-created chatbots preemptively know where the trouble spots are and, at just the right time, show your new customers those new areas of your product without leaving them scratching their heads.

Potential Problems

  • Bots can be impersonal when customers expect more personal interaction.

 

Policies and Guarantees

No. Not the 30-page fine print policies that you see in most big businesses. Think of this more like your onboarding process written out into a policy. Say everything you need from the client, what they can expect you to fulfill and the results that you can guarantee on your end.

Benefits of Policies and Guarantees

  • Upfront and Clear: This is a set of guidelines, they’re up front and clear for both your team and the customer to know what’s going to happen.
  • Sets the Expectation: When customers know what they can expect from you it really alleviates any misconceptions about your products and services.
  • Reduces Liability: Having it all in writing reduces the liability, because you’ve told them everything (and possibly made them sign/acknowledge it).

Potential Problems

  • Not a whole lot of downside here. You should have policies openly available for your visitors and clients.

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

You ever feel like you’re getting the same emails (from customers) over and over again? If so, you’ll want to get an Frequently Asked Questions section setup sooner rather than later.

Benefits of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Reduces Support Burden: Support teams oftentimes have many different questions that come up but most of them can be boiled down into six or seven different questions or categories. These common themes can be comprehensively answered on your site.
  • Marketing Tool: If the FAQ is on your site, it’s another thing that people can see before they buy. These things could remove fears of prospects making them more eager to buy.
  • Educates Customers: FAQs help customers and/or prospects better know what to expect with your tool.

Potential Problems

  • None. You should have email templates or an FAQ in most cases.

Online Customer Support Plan for Solopreneurs (Just One Person)

Need support options as Solopreneurs (entrepreneurs who work by themselves)? Here are our recommendations.

Examples of Solopreneurs:

  • Freelancers
  • One Person Agencies
  • Consultants
  • Ecommerce

Besides maybe a contractor here and there — you’re on your own.

Providing support for your products and services it doesn’t really have to be difficult and we’re going to go over the options right now.

Onboarding is Critical

The first thing you want to do after closing a sale is to onboard the new client.

This can be a series of emails, but is more likely either a phone call or even a personal meeting where you and your customer go over everything needed to begin.

Things to Cover in Your Onboarding

  • What the customer can expect (results, timeline).
  • How to get the most out of what you’re doing, including how they can help.
  • Collecting all necessary information from the client.

Live Chat Makes You Seem Capable

If you have a website, it’s a great idea to offer a live chat during business hours.

Say you work from 9 to 5 every day. You can let customers know that they can go and chat anytime.

It’s easy for them (and for you) to communicate quickly.

Depending on your line of work, it could stave off unnecessary, long cell phone calls.

Separate Email Domain for Support

For those times that you’re not “on the clock” — you can push support to email.

I (highly) suggest providing a dedicated email address like “support@[domain here]” or something similar.

If for nothing else, it keeps things separate. You can forward it to your primary inbox but this allows you to keep those emails labeled differently — making them easier to archive and search.

Some Sort of Education Resource

A limited knowledge base, a frequently asked questions section or even a short explainer video go a long way to reducing support headaches.

Resources allow customers (and even your prospects) to know what they can expect before (and right after) they become your customer.

Phone Support (Optional)

This one could either be helpful…or unnecessary.

If you’re a Facebook ad expert for local businesses — they likely have your cell number anyway.

But if you have an ecommerce store, have a 1-800 number routed to your cell could give off a sense of professionalism and get people to make repeat purchases.

Online Customer Support Plan for Smaller Small Businesses (5-10 Employees)

If you have fewer than 10-employees, maybe a small office or even a remote crew — support can be tough.

Especially if there’s not someone dedicated to customer success. But you can still provide help to your customers and it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Let’s go over the options

Live Chat

One of the first things you can do is offer live chat during business hours.

It’s simple it’s non-invasive and if somebody’s on your website they can interact with you both as current customers and potential customers for you to answer their questions about your products and services or answer any specific issues they are dealing with at that moment.

Email Support

Next up, you want to offer email support by having a dedicated email address like support@ or help@, which allows those emails to go to a specific account.

And anyone on your team can actually answer those emails as they come in — sharing the support burden.

Chat Bots

Now I know chatbots don’t seem like a support option, but after hours — when there’s nobody answering tickets — a bot is there to handle the chat.

Chat bots can help guide people through potential problems or suggest blog posts knowledgebase articles and FAQs that commonly occur to help reduce that support burden and maybe even solve the problem before it goes to one of your team.

Which brings us to our next point which is a limited knowledge base.

Knowledge Base

If there are certain questions that keep coming up or certain processes that are always difficult for your new customers to get a hold of you should create a knowledge base article or a short video explaining those things to them.

Doing these things can dramatically reduce the support burden, it can increase your customer success and help your overall business

Online Customer Support Plan for Larger Small Businesses (11-200ish Employees)

Your business may not be a fortune 100, but if you have 20 or more employees —there’s likely someone (or even multiple people) dedicated to support.

At this level, you can provide more comprehensive support to your customers.

So, let’s go over the options

Live Chat

Offering live chat during business hours or even 24/7 support could be on the table. if you, say ,hire a remote worker to work the overnight shift.

Live Chat is a great way to interact with your customers right when and where they need help.

Direct interaction is powerful and it’s oftentimes a less expensive option as far as the software that you use.

You can even get started for free using Gist 😉

Email Support

The next option is email having a dedicated support email or a structure that creates tickets is a great way to archive all of those issues.

You can go over the data later to find trends and common problems.

Email support is also a great way to interact with your customers in a way that can send attachments or use surveys to get their opinions.

Social Support

social support this is a fast-growing way to provide support to your customers.

A customer can mention you on Twitter (or you can have a dedicated support twitter handle) and you hear about it instantly.

Your support team you can be notified of issues immediately and handle things very quickly.

If issues are handled well, they could even improve the brand awareness.

Phone Support

Having dedicated hours for phone calls to come in and handle those support issues is going to be a great way for customers to talk with a live person.

Phones can improve customer retention by resolving issues quickly.

On the phone you don’t misunderstand the text you can just handle the business right there with the customer.

A Comprehensive Knowledge Base

Last up we’re gonna have a comprehensive knowledge base something that covers every facet of your products and/or services.

Someplace where you can refer customers if they have a common issue like installing a certain product of yours. If they call or live chat your support team can quickly send them a link or tell them where to go to find a video to help install.

Or say if they have any other issues your support team can direct your customers to your comprehensive knowledge base.

Side Note: You can even have a great onboarding system to where you can run people through these knowledge base articles before they have these problems.

How Does Your Company Offer Customer Support?

Are there any channels you didn’t see on this list? Which support method has most benefited your business and customers?

Let us know in the comments!