The goal of most customer-centric companies is to help individuals solve their most pressing problems and alleviate their biggest pain points.
While this is certainly a noble approach to business, there’s a major problem with this mindset:
Once you solve your customer’s current problem, they might not have any reason to continue doing business with you. Or, similarly, they might not realize how much more they’re able to accomplish after overcoming their initial obstacle (and they don’t know that you’re able to help them with future issues, either).
In such cases, even though you’ve satisfied your customer’s needs, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be “one and done” with your company.
Extrapolate this scenario throughout your customer base, and this means you’ll be spending a ton acquiring new customers – much more than you’d typically spend if your retention rate were higher.
To keep your customers on the hook, you need to always anticipate the next pain point they’ll face in their ventures.
We’ll discuss the benefits of providing anticipatory service to your customers both during their initial experience with your brand and beyond. We’ll also look at the information you need to keep in mind in order to provide such predictive services.
But before we dive in, we need to clarify the difference between proactive service and anticipatory service.
Proactive Service, Anticipatory Service…or Both?
Let’s get this out of the way:
Providing proactive service to your customers is important. So is providing anticipatory service.
But they are not synonymous.
Proactive service is providing a service to a customer before they ask for it – but at a point where it was fairly obvious such service was needed.
Anticipatory service, on the other hand, is service provided before the need arises – and well before the customer even realizes they’ll need it.
To borrow an illustration of this difference from customer experience guru Shep Hyken:
Proactive service is noticing a restaurant patron’s coffee cup is empty, and pouring them a fresh cup before they ask for a refill.
Anticipatory service is leaving a tumbler full of coffee on the patron’s table, knowing they’ll eventually need a refill before they’ve finished their meal.
While proactive service is definitely preferable to reactive service, anticipatory service trumps both for a number of reasons – which we’ll get into in the next section.
One thing to make clear before moving on is that anticipatory service can come in one of two forms.
As in the coffee tumbler example, you can provide anticipatory service that supplements a customer’s overall experience with your company. In this case, the goal is to make the initial experience as positive as possible for your customers – strengthening your USP and making customers more likely to return in the future.
On the other hand, you can also anticipate your customer’s future needs, and provide a subsequent offer once the brand meets their original needs. In this case, you’re actively focusing on keeping customers “on the hook” by offering something new once they’ve used your initial product or service to its fullest potential.
In either case, your main goal is to retain customers by knowing exactly what they need and providing it right when they need it.
Key Benefits of Providing Anticipatory Service
We’ve alluded to some of the major benefits anticipatory customer service can have on your business, but let’s make sure we’re on the same page before moving forward.
Decreased Customer Effort Means Increased Satisfaction
One of the main reasons consumers exchange their hard-earned cash for a specific good or service is because they want to overcome a pain point via the path of least resistance.
In other words, the less effort a customer has to put into getting what they need, the happier they’ll be.
Consider the previous example regarding coffee refills. Since the patron has a tumbler full of coffee at the ready, they won’t need to flag down their server, wait for them to become available, notify them of their need for more coffee, and then wait once again for the server to return with a refill.
You all but ensure a perfectly streamlined experience with your company by anticipating your customers’ needs and delivering the service before they need it.
Improved Resource Allocation
Going back to our diner example, because the server provided a full tumbler of coffee to each of their patrons preemptively, they have one less thing to worry about when making their rounds – and have more time to deal with other issues that may arise during their shift.
But let’s think on a much larger scale for a moment. If your company solves your customers’ problems before they even come to you with problems, you won’t need to spend nearly as much time taking in and assessing customer statements and analyzing the best course of action – you can focus solely on completing the task at hand.
Increased Awareness Among Your Customers
When we say “customer awareness,” we’re actually talking about two things.
Your customers might not even realize they have a new problem – and hence wouldn’t even think to return to you for help. As we said earlier, you risk losing such customers if you sit back and wait for them to realize they need you.
For another, even if your customers do recognize they’re facing a new obstacle (after you’ve helped solve their initial problem), they might not be aware that you also provide services to help them navigate this newer issue.
The responsibility is often on you to make your customers aware of the services you provide.
Improve Your Overall Offering and USP
Although the modern consumer already expects anticipatory service, it’s not exactly the norm for companies yet.
If you’re able to anticipate your customers’ needs, you’ll stand out among your competition.
Strengthening your unique selling proposition will not only make your satisfied customers more likely to return, but it could also spur them to recommend your brand to others in their network with similar needs.
3 Ways to Anticipate Your Customer’s Next Pain Point
In this section, we’ll discuss how you can anticipate your customer’s needs by assessing:
- The customer journey map and service blueprint
- Common pitfalls your customers face
- Thinking past your customer’s initial goal
Let’s start by discussing a “typical” customer’s journey with your product or service.
Assessing Your Customer’s Journey Map and Service Blueprint
Customer journey maps and service blueprints are distinct documents that illustrate the relationship between customer and service provider from each side, respectively.
Customer Journey Maps
A customer journey map is a visualization of everything a customer does, thinks, and feels from the moment they engage with your brand to the moment they reach their goals.
Customer journey maps compile “an aggregate of experiences from customer research and the knowledge of subject-matter experts in your organization”. To put it more simply, you take what you’ve learned about your past customers from observing their experiences, and use this data to anticipate the needs of your future clientele.
According to TandemSeven, customer journey maps must:
- Be created from the customer’s perspective
- Capture your customers’ perceptions as related to their overall goals and expectations
- Illustrate the journey across multiple touchpoints
- Incorporate KPIs
- Presented in a way that optimizes comprehension and elicits buy-in from stakeholders.
Customer journey maps can help companies anticipate the needs of their customers at any given moment…
…and service blueprints ensure you actually do something with this information.
Whereas customer journey maps are created from the perspective of the customer, service blueprints explain what you need to do in order to streamline your customer’s journey.
A typical service blueprint documents:
- The action taken by the customer
- Backstage actions of personnel
- Customer-facing actions of personnel
- Responsibilities of all personnel involved
- Allocation of resources
Businesses should create multiple service blueprints for the various touchpoints customers encounter throughout the customer journey, and prepare the company as a whole to meet the needs of their customers as they arise.
There will certainly be moments along your customer’s journey to success that cause them to stumble.
To anticipate these obstacles, you can look at two pieces of data:
- Past customer experiences
- Individual onboarding notes
Consider your customers’ past experiences when engaging with your products or services. More specifically, consider customers from similar backgrounds (i.e., of similar personas) whose goals align with your current customers. This will give you a good idea of how a specific customer intends to use your service, which, in turn, allows you to provide helpful hints that will help them get the most use out of it.
You can also solicit input from individual customers clarify unique potential pitfalls
along their journey. In these cases, you might choose to develop a service blueprint that provides intense support during specific areas along the customer’s journey. Such individualized service allows a specific customer to overcome their biggest hurdle with relative ease – and make them more likely to continue on their journey.
By simultaneously thinking of your customers as individuals and as members of a larger cohort, you’ll become more aware of where they’re most likely to encounter difficulties, and will be able to preemptively provide help as needed.
Taking Further Steps
As we talked about earlier, once a customer has reached their current goal, a whole new set of goals will present itself.
Sometimes your customer is aware of this – but sometimes they’re not. Again, it’s your job to shine a light on additional tasks they’re capable of accomplishing and relay that you can help them accomplish these new goals.
Say you offer an e-course to help freelance writers improve their copywriting skills. Once students complete your course, you know they’ll be ready to pitch their services to new clients – something they may or may not have thought of. By offering a follow-up course to those who have completed your initial course (perhaps at a discounted rate), you make them aware that the next step to becoming a successful freelance copywriter is the ability to pitch topics – and you also let them know that you can help them succeed in doing so.
Of course, your hope is that your customers were so satisfied with your initial product or service that they jump at the opportunity to check out what else you have to offer. It’s important to note, though: if you don’t proactively showcase these subsequent offers, you’re leaving additional purchases up to chance.
(Side note: While looking forward to your customer’s next journey will help you understand their upcoming needs, you might not necessarily be able to provide for these needs at the current time. If this is the case, you can use the information you’ve gleaned about your customers to help you expand the services you offer – knowing full well you’ll have a number of customers ready to make a purchase the moment you make your new services public.)
The Main Points
If you’re able to give your customers what they need when they need it (or even before they need it), your message will be loud and clear:
You want your customers to succeed, and you’ll do whatever you can to help them.
In doing so, you forge a relationship built on trust and camaraderie that, hopefully, will lead your customers to become loyal followers of your brand. In turn, you’ll be able to spend less time acquiring new customers, and more time focused on providing top-notch service to those already in your charge.