The 6 Levels Of Proactive Support

I’ve noticed a lot of discussion lately around proactive support. A host of technologies (analytics, alerts, mobile, etc.) are creating new ways for companies to better help customers with their problems. But the discussions often talk about “proactive support” as if it’s one thing.

Proactivity is not a single attribute; it’s actually on a spectrum. To make that clear, I’ve identified six different levels of proactive support.

Here’s an example of different levels of support, from the least to the most proactive, for a customer who’s flight was cancelled:

  1. Ignore: Customer gets to airport and finds that flight is canceled and can’t seem to find anyone who can help.
  2. React: At airport, someone successfully helps her get a new flight; consistent with Temkin Group’s C.A.R.E.S. model.
  3. Alert: Airline sends message to customer letting her know right away when the flight is cancelled; so she can make plans before going to airport.
  4. Self-heal: Airline sends message to customer letting her know right away when the flight is cancelled; and provides simple options for her to quickly find an alternative itinerary.
  5. Pre-empt: Airline sends message to customer letting her know right away when the flight is cancelled; and rebooks her on a couple of flights that make sense given her itinerary and her travel profile. If it requires an unexpected overnight stay, the airline also books a hotel room.
  6. Avoid: Airline finds way not to keep from canceling the flight.

Leading-edge companies should be aiming for the top three: avoid, pre-empt, and self-heal.

The bottom line: Simple proactive support is not good enough

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

10 Responses to The 6 Levels Of Proactive Support

  1. PaulSweeney says:

    Agree, agree, agree. It’s amazing how much of this stuff is so inside-out and not from a customer experience point of view. I don’t normally point to my own blog posts in comment sections (is it me, or is that kind of rude? ) but I wrote about two experience that drove me mental with how far customer service has to come. One of them is the ashcloud problem http://bit.ly/VSashcloud and the other was a car rental breakdown experience http://bit.ly/VSCarRental .

  2. Couple of days ago on my way to Pitt, United cancelled my flight. They automatically rebooked me on a flight later that night. I eventually got a text about the event but it wasn’t early enough and I was already at the airport. Kudos for the rebook, not so great on the late text.

    • PaulSweaeney says:

      Joseph, many people confuse Short Messaging Service with Instant Messaging service ;) Although Kudos to the airline for their pro-active booking (which was genuinely great), they could easily have used an outbound voice messaging platform to send a message that would have delivered immediately, be traceable (did I get it or not?) and action enabled (did you want to accept this rebooking or speak to a customer service agent?).

  3. Nancy Porte says:

    Kudos for elevating a term (proactive support) from a lonely bullet point on a Power Point slide to a real concept! I’m interested in your choice of a pyramid for the levels – which indicates you need to achieve one level before going on to the next. In my experience, support departments can achieve the “react” or “alert” stages relatively easily. At the same time they can be working with Development on the “avoid” level. It’s the “self-heal” and “pre-empt” levels that require the greatest effort and build upon all the other levels. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  4. Marc Sokol says:

    Years back I worked at Bell Laboratories with engineers on human factors in new product design. We used to talk about mistakes in design as having an exponential impact…10 hours in design could avoid 100 hours of rework but if that was missed you could be looking at 10,000 hours of recall and corrective communication. Perhaps there is a similar scale to your levels of proactive support.

  5. Dominic Miller says:

    I’m not sure if ‘Ignore’, ‘React’, and even ‘Alert’ count as ‘proactive support’ (ie neither proactive or supportive) – but I do like the breakdown of the different categories. Depressingly, in my experience, about 95% of companies stilk operate at the ‘Ignore’ level…

  6. shree says:

    Very nice points. Avoid and Pre-empt gives same level of satisfaction for customers.

  7. Bruce Temkin says:

    Hi everyone: Thanks for getting this discussion going!

    Dominic, I really do think that “ignore,” “react” and “alert” belong on the list. I tried to draw the distinction between thinking of proactive support as a single thing versus looking at it as a spectrum where the items you mention just fall very, very low on the proactive support spectrum.

  8. Hi, I took the liberty to refer to this page … bit.ly/zFm4SP
    Regards, Peter

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