We have all encountered this headache at least once. The product you just bought fails in a critical way. So, you fill out a customer support form. The hours tick by and no response. Next, you send an email. Next, you decide to call the support line. A pre-recorded message thanks you for your call. Well, you can fill in the rest.

Would you remain a customer for much longer after that experience? Probably not. In fact, 66 percent of consumers who switched brands did so because of poor service.

If you want to hold onto customers for the long haul, you need to stop avoiding human contact and encourage immediate customer support. The most successful leaders do this with two proven tactics: intercept and engage. Let me explain.

It means going out of your way to create human interactions -- to intercept customers at the point of their greatest need and engage them in a meaningful way that fulfills that need.

It is about technology and people working together. I detail this approach to building products and companies that people love in my new book Lovability. And I share the story of Aha! -- of how responsiveness has been the engine behind our phenomenal growth.

Here is how to make our proven intercept-and-engage strategy work for you:

Intercept

Start by looking for a pattern. When do your customers typically need help or encouragement but are maybe too shy to ask for it? Identify these critical interception points. Then use technology to automate the intercept process. For example, let's say a customer has set up a free trial with your product but has not spent much time with it. This is when you could use technology (e.g. an automated email) to reach out to them and suggest a live support session.

Engage

Now, insert real people into the conversation. Once the connection is made, make sure your customer engages as soon as possible with a real person who can offer real support. This support should be quick, honest, and clear. And it should come from someone who is an expert in the customer's problem.

At Aha!, our customers are primarily product managers, so our support team is made up of former product managers. By sharing their expert knowledge, our team has a better chance of helping the customer immediately, avoiding costly and time-consuming support escalation.

You cannot build a great product or business by dodging customers -- at least not for long. Interacting with customers must be a priority in a world where customers have tons of alternatives. That is our world.

Of course, I am not trying to devalue support technology. I know how useful an instructional video or support forum can be. But the point is that technology should make our lives easier -- not harder. It must bring us together.

When you intercept and engage, you show customers that you care about helping them. It sends the message, "You are important to me, and I care about your success." With support like this, why would they turn away?

How do you intercept and engage with your customers?

Published on: Apr 26, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.