Article | 14 min read

What is customer care? Definition, importance, and best practices

Investing in customer care can build lasting brand loyalty and boost customer satisfaction.

By Peter Alig, Contributing Writer

Last updated September 14, 2023

Imagine ordering a ceramic planter online only to have it arrive in thousands of tiny pieces.

This happened to Sam Chandler, director of startup success at Zendesk. The shattered planter was disappointing enough, but then she dreaded a time-consuming customer service experience. “I thought I was going to have to jump through all of these hoops and explain what happened,” she says.

But the company didn’t even request proof that the planter was broken. The caring representative treated her kindly, showed empathy, and didn’t ask many questions. After the experience, Chandler didn’t think twice about sticking with the business.

Customer care can mean the difference between a one-off purchase and lasting customer loyalty. Learn how to give your buyers the royal treatment so they keep coming back.

What is customer care?

Customer care is when companies treat their customers with respect and kindness and build an emotional connection with them. It’s something that can—and should—be handled by everyone on the team, not just a customer service representative or a customer success manager.

Customer care is more than just delivering the services that consumers expect from the business or providing the right technical support. It’s about meeting their emotional needs and fostering relationships. To do so, you must treat customers how they want to be treated. You need to listen to each individual’s needs and find the best solution.

“Not everyone wants the same cookie-cutter experience,” Chandler explains. “Some may want a high-touch interaction. Some may just want one or two sentences, and then they’re on their way.”

Customer experience vs. customer service vs. customer care

Customer experience, customer service, and customer care are sometimes used interchangeably. Each has the same ultimate goal—increasing satisfaction and retention—but some key differences distinguish them.

Customer support vs. customer care

Customer service (or customer support) is the act of helping customers in their discovery, use, and troubleshooting of a product or service. It also includes the processes that enable a good customer service experience.

Customer care goes one step further by ensuring agents solve customer problems while supporting their emotional needs.

Take Chandler’s broken planter. Even if it was the company standard to send replacements without asking questions, the support agent made Chandler feel like they tailored the solution to her situation.

Customer experience vs. customer care

Customer experience encompasses the entire customer journey with a brand, from pre-purchase to post-purchase. It may or may not include contacting customer service or receiving customer care.

Chandler’s experience with the planter company began with her clicking on an appealing Instagram ad. The ad took her to the product page, which clearly described the planter’s size and shape. The company offered free shipping, and she could use Apple Pay, so she purchased the planter. Her customer journey culminated in the agent’s response to the broken planter. That customer care moment fostered an emotional connection that dramatically improved Chandler’s overall customer experience.

Why customer care is important

It’s imperative to have excellent customer care teams because any customer service interaction can pose a liability for your business. According to the 2020 National Consumer Rage Study, the number of customers who prefer to vent their grievances digitally—including on social media—tripled from 2017 to 2020.

Because unhappy customers are likely to share their woes with others, a single negative customer service experience can damage your reputation—even if your agents mostly deliver positive experiences.

When you make customer care a business priority, you lower the risk of liability, build trust, reduce churn, and boost your bottom line.

Improves brand reputation

Customer care sets you apart from the competition. The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022 found that 54 percent of shoppers feel like customer service is an afterthought for most businesses they interact with.

54% of shoppers feel like customer service is an afterthought for most businesses they interact with.

Customer care feels like the opposite—as though customer service is the sole focus of the company.

While some consumers are eager to leave negative reviews, many are also willing to write positive reviews, which boost your brand’s reputation in the eyes of prospective customers. According to BrightLocal’s 2022 Local Consumer Review Survey, 67 percent of shoppers will consider leaving a review for a good experience.

Strengthens customer trust

Any customer service team can handle the return of a broken product. But the one that lets buyers vent their frustration before patiently guiding them toward a resolution will build trust. People are more likely to believe in brands that treat them like human beings, not action items they need to check off a list.

Customer trust enables brands to further strengthen the customer experience. 88 percent of U.S. consumers say that how much they trust a company determines how much they’re willing to share personal information—companies can use that data to personalize their customer messages.

Reduces churn

Consumers take support interactions seriously. According to our CX Trends Report, 61 percent of customers say they would switch to a company’s competitor after only one bad customer service experience.

While customer support plays a role in making consumers happy, customer care is the factor that makes them stick around. Build meaningful relationships with your buyers—instead of just addressing their tickets—and they’ll be less likely to see a faux pas as a negative, churn-worthy experience.

Who should handle customer care?

Your representatives are responsible for customer care. A qualified customer care representative should possess the following characteristics and skills:

  • A helpful nature
  • Friendliness and empathy
  • Active listening
  • Quick decision-making
  • Problem-solving

Along with these qualities, representatives should also embody your company’s core values.

With these skills and alignment, candidates will be in a good position to provide customer care.

5 customer care examples

Customer care is about going above and beyond for consumers, but what does that look like in practice? These brands are great examples of companies caring for customers.

  1. Zappos: Thank loyal customers with extra benefits

    Customer care doesn’t only take place when a customer has a problem. It can also revolve around showing appreciation to deserving customers. Shoe company Zappos, for instance, sent an existing customer a $50 voucher toward another purchase.

    customer care

    Customer appreciation is particularly important for customer retention. A special discount or personalized thank-you letter can be enough to keep that customer in the fold.

  2. Spotify: Put customers in the driver’s seat

    Spotify’s customer care team is proactive. The company’s support agents anticipate pain points or possible complaints by asking customers what features they want to see on the platform.

    customer care

    When customers click on the link, they’re taken to a community forum where they can submit an idea. Other community members vote on it, and Spotify uses those votes to determine which features to implement.

  3. Glossier: Turn customer mistakes into opportunities

    Online skincare boutique Glossier used customer care to turn an error into a positive experience for all parties involved.

    customer care

    Because the company wasn’t at fault, they could have simply given Courtney an account credit. But in choosing customer care, they flipped the situation into an opportunity for customer retention (Courtney) and acquisition (her friend).

  4. Tesla: Send a response from the founder

    When a CEO responds to a customer problem, consumers get the impression the company is very serious about solving it. Elon Musk didn’t hesitate to send a message when auto software issues created anxiety for Tesla owners.

    customer care

    Company founders and CEOs are busy people. But if an issue affects enough customers, leadership should step in to resolve it and prove they’re taking action.

  5. Virgin Atlantic: Respect customers’ time

    People hate long hold times, especially when they’re traveling. Virgin Atlantic showed customer care by calling back a stressed traveler after they got disconnected.

    customer care

    Virgin Atlantic understands that successful customer care means respecting buyers and practicing empathy. By limiting the traveler’s hold time, the company gave them more time to either plan or enjoy their trip.

Zendesk CX Trends Report

Find out what’s driving success in your region, segment, and industry with our personalized report.

Customer care best practices

Customer care representatives need resources and guidance to provide an exceptional level of assistance. Below are some of the best tools and practices for your team to adopt.

Use a conversational CRM

Customer care works best when agents have a record of buyers’ previous interactions with the company. Are they following up on an issue raised earlier, or are they prospects asking a product question?

Your agents should have quick and easy access to all customer support channels and information. When they’re readily armed with relevant context and able to communicate across channels, agents can deliver fast, personalized care.

Say a customer reports an issue via chat, follows up with an email, then calls to resolve the issue. A customer service agent can demonstrate care by not making the customer repeat all the information they sent in the email and chat. This leads to a positive customer experience and, ultimately, a better bottom line. After all, 92 percent of consumers will spend more with companies that ensure they won’t need to repeat information, according to our CX Trends Report.

A conversational CRM should include a unified workspace that makes it simple for your agents to get the context they need. With a solution like Zendesk, for example, agents can instantly pull up a customer’s information and interaction history—no need to switch between tabs or browsers. They can also maintain relevant, personal conversations on any channel (including phone, email, and social media) within the same dashboard.

Collect data to identify customer pain points

When it comes to customer care, removing obstacles from the customer experience matters just as much as showing kindness and empathy. To locate these roadblocks, you need to make sense of your customer interaction data.

It’s one thing to see a record of conversations at various customer touchpoints, but what larger trends are at play? A customer-centric data analytics software platform can aggregate this information into dashboards that identify pain points before they seriously impact your brand reputation.

Say you decide to add customer self-service options. One month later, your analytics dashboard shows a 10-percent increase in support tickets and a decline in customer satisfaction. You send these customers a survey and learn that the new self-service portal is difficult to navigate. You immediately ask your UX team to redo the portal. In this scenario, your analytics tool helped you connect the dots.

Data also enables your team to tailor each customer’s experience accordingly. You can learn what drives certain individuals and what they want, so you can create a high-quality, personalized relationship where the customer feels like you truly understand them.

While gathering consumer data is a good idea, you need to be transparent about the process. Inform customers how and why their information is being collected and, most importantly, how it will benefit them. Give them a company privacy statement, and reassure them you’ll never sell their data to advertisers or third parties.

Providing a clear, concise explanation of what data you want to capture and how it’ll be leveraged to improve the customer experience will help put skeptical consumers at ease.

Prioritize quality, not just speed

According to our CX Trends Report, 76 percent of customers expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company. Though it’s key to prioritize fast reply times and quick resolutions, strong customer relationships aren’t built on just speed and efficiency—they also depend on white-glove treatment.

Make sure your employees know they can spend extra time with a customer who requires additional support. Managers can empower their teams by giving them the freedom to surprise and delight a customer when they think it’s appropriate.

These parameters will look different for every team. Perhaps you permit agents to offer discounts to five customers each month, or you allow them to spend another 15 minutes with a customer who needs extra hand-holding. Let your reps use their judgment to decide when it’s time to go above and beyond for a customer.

Teach your team to have a human touch

Customer care depends on customer empathy. An empathetic agent steps into the buyer’s shoes and responds accordingly. When consumers feel heard, they’re more comfortable explaining exactly what their needs are, which helps the agent help them.

Empathy in customer service begins by using the right words to establish rapport with the customer.

  • “I hear you.” This phrase validates the customer’s concern.
  • “Thank you for that feedback.” Negative customer feedback can be hard to hear, but if handled graciously, it can make the customer more open to the agent’s solution.
  • “You are 100 percent correct.” Even if a customer is off-base in their criticism of the company or its products, an agent should never get defensive. Whether the customer is right or wrong, acknowledging their feelings makes them feel heard.

It takes time to train agents in empathy, but it’s a worthwhile investment that leads to consistently better customer care.

How to measure customer care

You’ve learned what customer care entails, why it’s important, and how to provide it. But how do you know if your efforts are making an impact?

According to Chandler, you should measure the success of a customer care strategy by answering the following questions:

  • Why are customers buying your product?
  • Why are they staying with you?
  • Will they leave you as soon as somebody else pops up?

She recommends using KPIs that involve asking customers for feedback. This input often reveals specific details about support interactions that help you assess customer care.

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) score

As you may have guessed, customer satisfaction (CSAT) score gauges how happy customers are with a brand’s product, service, or support experience.

To measure CSAT for support interactions, send surveys that ask customers, “On a scale of 1 (very unsatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied), how would you rate your overall satisfaction with the service you received?”

customer care

You should also include an open-ended question like, “How can we improve the customer support experience?” or “What is the reason for your rating?” You can send CSAT surveys via SMS, email, or chat as soon as a customer support interaction ends.

If multiple agents receive low scores because customers say they feel rushed, your team might not have the resources to show proper care. Audit their calls to get closer to the root cause. It could be a lack of customer service training or product knowledge.

Customer Effort Score (CES)

Convenience and customer care go hand in hand, which is why Customer Effort Score (CES) is so important. This metric measures how easy it is for a customer to get what they need, whether that’s finding your customer support phone number or getting connected to the right agent.

To measure CES, send a survey to customers after support interactions. Ask the question, “On a scale of 1 (very difficult) to 5 (very easy), how easy was it for you to resolve your issue?” Include an open-ended follow-up question such as, “What did you find most difficult about your experience?”

To calculate CES, find the average number based on all your survey responses.

customer care

A high CES score indicates that it’s easy for your customers to get what they want and need from your company. If your CES score is on the low side, answers to the open-ended questions will reveal issues with your support experience. Then, you can come up with a solution, whether that’s improving your FAQ page or adding a new support channel.

Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS®)

The ultimate goal of customer care is to foster brand loyalty. Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS®) helps you evaluate your success by measuring the percentage of customers most likely to recommend your business to others. You can send an NPS survey after a single support interaction; you can also send it to customers who’ve contacted you repeatedly.

NPS® asks a single question: “On a scale of 1 (least likely) to 10 (most likely), how likely are you to recommend us to someone based on our customer service?” Loyal customers (or “promoters”) will answer with scores of 9 or 10. Unhappy customers (called “detractors”) will respond with scores between 0 and 6. Indifferent customers (known as “passives”) will leave a rating of 7 or 8; this group isn’t included in the NPS® calculation.

customer care

Your open-ended NPS® survey question can be as simple as, “What is the primary reason for your score?”

Customer care isn’t as easy to measure as the time it takes to close a support ticket. But metrics like NPS®, CSAT, and CES can help you gauge how often and how well your agents move from customer service to customer care.

Customer care means keeping it personal

Customer care is about finding what works for the customer—not just the solution they’re seeking but also the type of interaction and approach that suits them best.

To make each customer feel like one in a million, reps need context for every interaction to provide personalized service. Use a comprehensive support tool like Zendesk to capture customer information and put it at your employees’ fingertips. You’ll soon be on your way to delivering exceptional customer care.

**Net Promoter, NPS, and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks, and Net Promoter Score and Net Promoter System are service marks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

Zendesk CX Trends Report

Find out what’s driving success in your region, segment, and industry with our personalized report.

Zendesk CX Trends Report

Find out what’s driving success in your region, segment, and industry with our personalized report.

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