What is the difference between customer care and customer service?

An overview of customer care the role it plays in the overall customer experience.


Sara Staffaroni

May 19, 2021

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At its core, your business exists to take care of your customers. Whether you do that by providing a solution to their problems or a way of fulfilling their needs, your relationship with your customers is at the heart of your business. But there are many ways to build, maintain, and strengthen these relationships. One of the most powerful is customer care

Customer care goes beyond other elements of the customer experience, such as customer service and customer relations. It’s a more intimate, expansive way of thinking and caring about your customers’ needs and wants. And if you’re able to provide an excellent customer care experience, your customers will be happy, loyal, and profitable for years to come. 

But what exactly is customer care all about? How does it stand out from the rest of your customer experience? And how can you create an exemplary customer care program? All that and more follows in our complete customer care guide.

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What is customer care? 

Customer care is a facet of your overall customer experience program. It is how people are treated when they interact with your company and brand—and it includes every experience they have, from the pre-purchase steps to buying products to after they become a customer and beyond. Customer care fosters an emotional connection between your customers and your company and deepens and strengthens your relationship over the long term.

You can feel the difference when a company invests heavily in customer care—when you have an interaction with them, you feel as though your needs are being considered, your issues are being truly heard, and you receive a solution that really works for you. You know that you’re being cared for as a person, not just treated like an interchangeable part of the customer mix. It’s a highly personal approach to building customer relationships.

What customer care can look like

There are many ways of providing customer care, but they all come back to creating the same feeling in your customers—that your company is looking out for them and has their back. 

For example, if you accidentally leave your debit card in an ATM while on vacation in a small city overseas, a typical bank will respond by simply mailing you a new card and asking you to activate it once you get it. But a bank that is truly committed to customer care will expedite the shipping of your card once you explain that you’re in a place with an all-cash economy, and so you’re really in trouble without it. And then they’ll call to follow up and ensure you got your card and that everything is working as well. That’s providing real, authentic care for your customers when they’re in a situation where they need your help, even if it’s not convenient or profitable for your business at the moment. 

Measuring customer care 

Since customer care is more about personalized customer interactions than any other part of your customer experience, it’s also much harder to measure than things like customer loyalty or customer success. Most customer care interactions are unique and happen on a 1:1 basis so capturing trends across a broad customer base isn’t possible. 

Loyalty and success happen as a byproduct of caring for your customers, and it’s not possible to pursue them as goals on their own. You need to create experiences and a customer journey that delights and satisfies customers, and loyalty and success will come from those efforts.

How to do customer care the right way

Since customer care is a deeply personal experience, you can’t just create a checklist of what your employees should do to provide it. It’s not just another box to check on the road to creating a great customer journey. And it’s difficult to standardize since the needs of each customer vary so much. 

You need to train your employees in the most important customer care skills. Examples include active listening, empathy, independent judgment, and creative problem-solving. It’s not about providing them with a list of steps to take but instead giving them the skills to take care of these unique customer care experiences when they arise. 

But your management also has a large role to play in the customer care department. Employees can’t provide these tailored solutions to problems if they’re forced to stick to a series of steps or a specific script 100% of the time. You need to empower your employees to provide those out-of-the-box solutions that are required in some customer interactions, like expedited shipping of a debit card overseas, so they can care for customers in any situation.  

Customer care vs. customer service 

Customer care and customer service might just seem like different terms to describe the same thing—taking care of customers when they need you. But they’re actually quite separate concepts, though they do work together to create your overall customer experience

What is the difference between customer care and customer service?

In customer care, you’re building a personal and emotional connection with the people who interact with your business. But in customer service, you’re providing assistance or advice to customers who need help. Customer care isn’t as easy to quantify as customer service, and it’s more personalized. 

While they are different, both customer care and customer service increase customer satisfaction. They just do it in different ways. Customer service works by providing support and answering questions. And customer care is about supporting the emotional needs of your customers and actively listening to their problems. Both provide important support for your customers when they need help with something. And both increase customer loyalty when they’re done well. 

Customer service 

Customer service is an important part of your customer experience strategy—just because it’s not the same as customer care doesn’t mean it’s not vital. It’s how your customers get support with their most basic needs and issues, like instructions for setting up their new software or replacing a broken part in a product. It’s about customer convenience—can your business resolve simple issues quickly and effectively for the vast majority of your customers?

And it’s quantifiable as well, since you can find ways to measure how well you’re serving your customers with metrics like Customer Effort Score (CES), Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), and transactional Net Promoter Score (tNPS) for customer service interactions. 

Customer care

But customer care is about more than just a moment in time when a customer needs a little help and a quick response back to a question. It’s forming an emotional connection with your customers and helping them for the sake of helping them, not to improve your metrics or increase loyalty. It’s about going above and beyond for a customer when they really need it, even if it’s not related to your business goals. 

When you do customer care like this right, your company builds a mutually beneficial relationship with your customers and you become a trusted authority, not simply another retailer. Customer care can build really strong loyalty with the customers your team touches, but since it’s such a personal experience it’s not going to affect metrics across the board most of the time.

Your customer experience 

Customer care and customer service do work together, though they’re different from each other. As part of your overall customer experience strategy, most of your customers who experience a problem or issue will need the help of your customer service team. They will have small issues that are easily solved, like resetting their password on your website, tracking an order, or ordering a replacement part. Their needs are simple, and they want to have their problem resolved fast and effectively. You can plan for these common events in your customer journey map most of the time. 

But as part of your customer experience, you’ll also encounter a few customers along the way who need a different kind of help. Your customer service journey map can’t take all of these unique and complex problems into account—you’ll need to get off the map and go off the script to help these customers. Your customer strategy also needs to take these experiences into account, not to create a script but to train and empower your employees to take the actions needed to care for these customers. 
Your customer experience strategy should account for both customer service and customer care to be maximally effective. They work together to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, but they do so in different and complementary ways. 

Customer care best practices 

Since customer care is such a personalized and custom experience, it can be hard to understand exactly what great customer care looks like through broad explanations alone. That’s why examples of how companies are providing excellent customer care in a variety of ways can be helpful when thinking about your own customer care program. 

Businesses invest in their customer care programs because caring for your customers isn’t just a pleasant idea—it’s also good business sense. Research by Bain has found that a customer is four times more likely to switch to a competitor if the problem they're having is service-based. And McKinsey notes that 70% of the customer's journey is based on how the customer feels they are being treated. The way you care for your customers impacts their likelihood of purchasing from your business again or switching to a competitor when they have the chance.

Every company’s customer care program will be unique. Even within the same industry, different businesses will have different ways they stand out from the competition and go above and beyond for their customers. They’re basing their programs directly on customer needs, not simply on their business goals. Here are a few of our favorite examples of customer care from across the business world. 

Customer convenience

Owning a car offers you plenty of freedom, but it also comes with regular hassles. When it comes time for regular service or maintenance, these additional trips to the dealer and time spent waiting can add stress to your already busy day. But some car dealerships have discovered a way to make these trips nearly painless for you and provide you with exceptional care—they’ll pick your car up for you and take it into the dealership for service. 

By taking on the small task of picking up your car, they save you a round-trip and the waiting time in the dealership. And for that convenience, which is a significant savings of time for you, you will probably feel very cared for and grateful. Plus, you’ll wonder how you can ever go back to the old way of driving in and waiting around again—and that keeps you loyal to this dealership for years or even a lifetime. 

Personalized customer interactions

One of the core tenets of customer care is that people don’t like to be treated like interchangeable parts in your customer service machine—they expect personalized, customized service where it’s possible. That’s why many dentist offices have begun sending out individual messages to their patients to wish them a happy birthday or a merry holiday season. 

This customer care move is simple to accomplish with email automation software, but it can make a big impact on patient satisfaction. Patients feel as though their dentist and their team care for them as a person, not just a paying customer because they receive a personalized email with their name on their birthday. And that helps build a relationship based on connection and mutual benefit and keeps patients returning year after year for their routine cleanings. 

Unique customer care

Ever turn on your tv and scroll endlessly through the options on all the streaming services out there, and struggle to make a decision on what to watch that night? With more content than ever available online, this is a common modern dilemma. 

Netflix knows that this is a problem, and they provide unique care for their customers by creating their own algorithm that predicts what each individual customer would like to watch and suggesting those titles to them. It sounds small, but it is quite revolutionary—it is a highly effective way of solving the problem of what to watch tonight. 

In other streaming services, you can browse titles forever, but Netflix will surface things that you might like to watch with a high degree of accuracy and take the stress out of a rainy Saturday on the couch or a regular movie night. It’s not solving the problem of world peace, but that’s not the business Netflix is in—they’re here to make watching films and shows enjoyable, easy, and seamless. And that’s the secret to their huge growth and success over the last decade. 

Key takeaways 

Improving and refining the way you care for your customers when they have an urgent or out-of-the-box need can be challenging - but it also can have a huge impact on the loyalty and satisfaction of those customers. But you won’t know how to delight and care for your customers, or what they truly need unless you ask them directly. That’s where customer feedback tools are vital to the success of your customer experience strategy. 

If you’re looking for data-backed and effective ways to explore and improve your customer care practices, try out GetFeedback. Our customer experience platform allows you to quickly and efficiently gather and act on the feedback you receive from customers, so you can go above and beyond when a customer needs you. And learn more about customer support, service, and care and how they work together to get you started on the journey to an exceptional customer experience.

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