Social media and customer service have really grown up together over the past decade. While customers are finally weaning themselves off nasty public spats and warming to directly messaging brands, brands have adopted the platforms where they prefer to communicate such as Twitter and Facebook Messenger. This is the good news. The bad news is that for most businesses, their customer service is still reactive rather than proactive and it’s costing them billions.

Poor customer experiences cost US businesses $41 billion each year according to New Voice Media, primarily because brands reach out only after problems have festered. Those brands that do reach out proactively but do so without a strategy are often seen as invasive.

To message or not to message? What are brands to do? Quite simply, they need to be more human! Holding a conversation with consumers is about both talking and listening. It’s proactive support that’s unobtrusive. Those who do this successfully can increase customer retention rates by 3-5%, which according to Harvard Business Review might be enough to boost overall profits by 25-95%.

With such sizeable benefits, can organizations afford not to try? Here’s how to implement a proactive social service strategy:

7 tactics for proactive customer service that’s not intrusive

1. Pre-empt developing issues

Customers drive the conversation and while they’re engaging more in one-on-one messaging with brands, they’re still complaining publicly. Research by Conversocial shows that while over one third of messages on Twitter are customer service related, only 3% are directed at the brands themselves. This means that cries for help are everywhere, but are difficult to pinpoint. Those using social customer service tools with advanced search capabilities however can tap into these pre-complaints and address them proactively before things worsen.

2. Commit random acts of kindness

Once a good pre-complaint strategy is in place, it’s time to go on the offensive. Whereas reactive organizations only reach out when something is wrong and habituate their customers to expect bad news, proactive organizations engage them in positive conversations to stockpile goodwill. Retail brands, for example, can message customers on holidays, birthdays, and major life events to offer discounts and show that they’re part of customers’ lives and truly care.

3. Reward loyalty with discounts and coupons

Loyal customers are often irked at paying full price while new customers enjoy attractive “new customer” deals. You can flip the script and secure their loyalty by showing appreciation with loyalty discounts and coupons. When trying to justify this cost, remember that research by Bain & Company shows that it can cost 6-7 times more to acquire a new customer on average than to retain one. A negligible discount now can lead to a tremendous ROI later.

4. Implement a unified view of the customer

Part of having a human, one-to-one relationship to customers requires brands to know something about them. The more data they have, the better they’ll be able to engage them authentically. If, for example, agents at a major airline proactively perform a customer check-in and can see into a CRM history of unsatisfactory interactions with other departments on other channels, they can pick up the conversation where it last left off rather than annoy them by starting over.

5. Relevant direct messages, reminders, and alerts

Consumers are facing digital overload these days. They’re short on time and patience and both benefit from relevant messages and are upset by irrelevant ones. There is thus a high incentive for brands to implement automated alerts, but they must do it correctly. This requires brands to carefully architect their customer journey, test programs before rollout, and become highly attuned to feedback. Some of the best feedback in this case can be gleaned from social media which is the first place that most customers go when they’ve been upset or delighted.

6. Alert customers to outages and closures

Customers would much rather be warned than show up to a closed store or discover a service outage on their own. Get out ahead of support calls and implement an automated messaging system that not only warns customers, but connects them to support agents on social channels where tickets can be resolved faster. During Storm Jonas, for example, ConEdison used the Conversocial social customer service platform to alert New Yorkers of outages and managed to convert 50% of negative conversations into positive ones.

7. Educate customers

Customers often don’t want to call into support and one way of being proactive is to educate them on how to use their products and services. AT&T, for example, reduced its inbound call volume by turning its customer bills into interactive educational videos that preemptively answered questions. Others have created interactive FAQs, knowledge bases, and self-service options to achieve the same result.

Brands that can provide this unobtrusive help can learn to lead the conversation, rather than follow it. In a #SocialFirst world, it’s the proactive brands who will win the day.

Want to learn more about how you can serve your social, mobile customers better in 2017? Download our Definitive Guide to Social Care today!