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Your ultimate guide to customer care

19 min read
What is customer care? Why is it an essential part of your business? This ultimate guide to customer care will outline the steps you should take to build a successful customer care program, and deliver meaningful experiences for your customers.


Business success is reliant upon your customers, and the experiences they have – good and bad.

Good experiences are promoted, and customers are more likely to return and spend. The bad experiences can be limited, and their impact reduced, with actions across product, brand, and customer success teams that preserve the relationship with the customer, and ultimately mitigate the risks to the business.

85% of consumers say it only takes one bad customer experience for them to stop doing business with a company. And, with more than 70% of customer interactions occurring within the customer care team, the Contact Centre is a hotbed of information that can make an organisation smarter. Support calls, chat, customer emails, social media – all provide deep insight into the customer experience, uncovering experience gaps that can have a detrimental impact on long-term business success.

To understand the benefit that customer care has on the business, first we need to outline what we mean when we use the term “customer care”.

What is customer care?

Customer Care includes all aspects of the customer experience post-sale – including support, help and maintenance. For some organisations, this may include up-sell opportunities too. Some contact centres do undertake aspects of work pre-sale (in addition to up-sell of existing customers) but customer care is not typically seen as sales force automation.

Customer care also includes digital channels (non-human interaction) such as FAQs on the website; a self-service portal (e.g. for account self management) and may include chatbots too. Then moving towards the human aspect of customer care, typical interactions involve live chat with an agent, managing a phone call, or email. It may even include a visit into a branch or store, or an onsite visit from a technician/engineer.

Customer care vs customer experience

Customer experience is seen by many as the last source of sustainable differentiation, and having engaged frontline employees is key to delivering the best experience for customers – this is the premise of customer care.

Customer experience is broader – it is not only the responsibility of your staff, but the experience you have with the product or service being sold is also of huge importance. For example, the experience of ordering your dream car may be a special one, but it’s undone if the car breaks down a two months later

There is one thing that connects the two – the customer, and they are the key to unlocking business success.

Consumers want personalised and consistent customer experience. In fact, 73% of customers will walk away from your brand if they don’t get a consistent experience across all touchpoints

Customer care vs contact centre

You may hear the term “contact centre” used interchangeably when discussing aspects of customer care. But it should be noted that contact centre and customer care are different. This is because ‘Contact Centre’ is the human element of Customer Care – and therefore the contact centre is a subset of customer care.

N.B. Contact centre is also known as the call centre, customer care centre, customer support or the customer service centre.

Contact centres are internal departments or out-sourced businesses to which phone calls, live chats, emails and social media contacts from current and potential customers are directed. They handle inbound and/or outbound contacts.

Given the broad nature of these services, virtually every industry is represented in the contact centre market including utilities, hospitalitytelecommunicationsfinance and retail.

More and more, businesses and consumers who approach contact centres are demanding enhanced, productive and seamless end-to-end customer experiences across multiple channels. They expect the agents to know who they are, what they’ve purchased, and what the issue is without having to explain it numerous times.

With the increase in the use of artificial intelligence and more reliance on customer self-service tools (such as chatbots and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) recordings), it is critical for organisations to better understand and monitor the quality of their contact centre interactions, and to put the infrastructure and tools in place to be able to personalise those experiences. That way businesses can ensure the highest level of performance on the factors that drive excellent customer experiences.

Customer care vs customer service

Customer service is an important part of delivering excellent customer care, and the wider customer experience. Customer interactions are typically judged or referred to by the level of ‘service’ given – “was the service good?”, and this level of service may determine the customer’s entire experience.

Customer service usually covers refunds/refunds and support (e.g. tech or product support). The customer service team also handles complaints. This is sometimes referred to as “customer relations”, and these hold the same meaning but customer relations is an outdated term.


Elements of customer care

As you will have read from the sections above, there are various elements to customer care – and the elements of your customer care centre will vary depending on the industry that your business is in, and what elements are needed to suit your business size/needs.

The elements of customer care are not all equal in terms of cost, and so whilst the outcome of customer care is adding or improving the customer experience, operational costs need to be considered too. As a rule, the best customer care centres deal with simple, every day queries in ways that have minimal cost to the business i.e. through self service, and this allows your most prized resource – your people, agents, staff – to deal with priority issues effectively.

The elements of customer care include:

(From most expensive interactions to least)

Field service / on-site visit: This is where a member of staff will visit a business or home to offer a particular service. This might be to fix your satellite TV, build your new Peloton bike or to fix your car because it has broken down.

In-branch / in-store: When a customer comes to your branch or store to use a particular service. For example, going into a bank branch to discuss renewing their mortgage.

Phone call: Customers are routed through to agents in a contact centre who can resolve their issues. The best customer care teams free up agent time and resources through self-service, so they can focus on the priority issues and make the best use of their time.

Live chat: Rather than calling up, customers are able to solve their problems through a live (text) chat platform. These can have high satisfaction rates, and a transcript will be sent to the customer too. Agents can run 2 to 3 conversations at one time.

Chatbot: An automated self-service feature, chatbots can answer everyday questions so agents don’t have to.

User forums (peer to peer support): A space for users to share problems and solutions with each other.

Self-service portal: Manage your own accounts, without help from an agent. For example, this might be a bank account portal for you to check your bank balance, transfer money or make a payment.

FAQs/Help pages: The first line of defence in your customer care program. These pages can divert traffic away from your contact centre and solve the simple, everyday queries.

 

In most cases, a customer with a simple query (‘how do I return this item?’) is best directed to FAQ pages, or perhaps a self service ‘my account’ portal to check your latest account balance. Organisations should seek to automate many of these interactions as they are typically low value, repetitive and can be solved more quickly this way – and this drives greater customer satisfaction because they won’t have to wait to speak to an agent.

Diverting these queries also helps you to build a resilient contact centre, when you experience surges in demand that weren’t or couldn’t be planned for. Self-service channels are your first line of defence.

Do you know how to handle a surge in customer care needs?

However, for a complex query, a customer may be frustrated by automated responses from a chatbot or from browsing multiple FAQ pages and will be much more satisfied with a human interaction over live chat in an app, on the website or a or a phone call with an agent.

A successful customer care program blends humans with technology, knowing the use for each. Technology helps us adopt new processes, improve resolution times and deliver better experiences for customers – but none of this is possible without the human element at the heart of it.

Not everything can, or should be automated. Certain parts of your customer care program will require staff, and these can be found below:

  • Digital team
  • Social Media Team
  • Contact Centre agents
  • Branch/Store staff
  • Field Service staff

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Benefits of customer care

Moving towards a service-leadership approach and using Experience Data as part of an overall customer experience (CX) strategy is the key to changing how customer care is viewed. It will move customer care away from being seen as an overhead and position it as a key pillar of the customers’ experience – and a critical element of business success.

Benefits include:

Improved customer loyalty / reduced churn – better customer experiences mean customers are more likely to return

Improved brand perception – Meet your customers’ needs and not only will they have a positive perception about your brand, but they’re more likely to tell friends and family too.

Higher revenue / increased LTV – Higher customer loyalty, and more opportunities to up-sell will increase your customer lifetime value and boost your bottom line.

Customer care can provide sources of data and information to help drive business decisions across the organisation – feedback on products, identify problems earlier, and help where to direct investment. The contact centre is an important asset for achieving this because it is a hotbed of information that can make an organisation smarter. Support calls, chat, customer emails and social media, all provide deep insight into the customer experience, lead innovation across the business and help uncover experience gaps that can have a detrimental impact on long-term business success.

Empowering your customer care team

How to deal with complaints

Experiences hinge on the key moments. The moments that matter, the make or break. These key moments have high emotional load, and they mean a lot. When this goes wrong – and as a business you can work to minimise this happening – how you respond is vital. That way you can limit the damage, and even strengthen the relationships you have with your customers.

There are three factors that determine how effectively you deal with complaints. These factors must transcend throughout the organisation, from the customer team to the product team, to brand.

  1. Listening skills – The customer needs to feel heard, and their issues acknowledged. Showing the customer you are on their side can really help to disarm the situation.
  2. Knowledge – Listening to your customers is only effective if your staff have the knowledge to be able to help. The more knowledge your staff can have about the customer’s journey, the product and the context of the situation then the better staff can resolve customer issues and satisfy their needs.
  3. Empowerment – Just as your staff need the knowledge to help, they need the power to help too. By making your staff solutions-focused they can solve customer issues before it’s too late. And just as above, this empowerment needs to transcend throughout the business to make sure customer complaints are dealt with well.

Customer complaints are an important part of customer care because they signify that (and where) something is going wrong in the customer journey, and the overall experience.

These can be broken down into two categories:

Closed loop (Micro) – resolving specific customer issues on 1:1 basis. This is a reactive measure. A customer complains, and the aim is to resolve that specific issue.

Closed loop (Macro) – strategic changes to customer care, e.g. MANY customers hitting the same issue so seek to fix the system rather than keep resolving individual issues. This is more of a longer play, and may be a proactive strategy to get ahead of potential issues.

Setting up your customer care team for success

Your people are your greatest asset. They have the ability to lighten moods, put a smile on someone’s face and make a customer’s experience extra special.

Therefore it is vital you get the best out of them, make them feel rewarded and work towards your business goals as a team. 70% of customer interactions happen in the contact centre, so the risk to the business is high if experience gaps exist. Coaching and effectiveness are important factors in hunting down and fixing those gaps.

Coaching – Use customer feedback to highlight areas that your staff can improve in a constructive way. This is grounded in data, removing any potential for bias. By upskilling staff, you’ll make them more effective.

Effectiveness – this closely relates to coaching because they’re both focused on finding solutions for customer issues. Consider changing the metrics on which you measure success, moving from operational benchmarks such as average call handling time, to metrics that are focused on outcomes – like how satisfied customers were at the end of the call, and how likely they are to come back.

As a result, you’ll have happier, more productive staff. They’ll be willing to go further for the organisation – and less likely to leave too. This has positive effects for the business. It’s more cost-efficient to retain staff than to replace them because there are less recruitment and hiring fees; and if you can keep your best staff, you’ll give customers better experiences and improve your customer retention rates – meaning you’ll spend less on acquiring new ones to fill that gap.


Feedback systems and programs to set up

Feedback programs should be set up to deduce data in three ways – direct, indirect and ambient. This is why the best programs bring together operational and experience data so that organisations can see the whole picture.

Direct feedback

This involves asking for feedback via a survey, through digital, in-app, email, interactive voice recordings (IVR) and chat channels.

You may use this technique to measure how well you are doing through metrics such as customer satisfaction (CSAT) or Net Promoter Score (NPS), which signifies how likely someone is to recommend you.

Indirect feedback

This is feedback you deduce from operational data, as you try to understand customer behaviour. This includes analysing:

  • Bounce rates
  • Time spent on page
  • Abandoned calls
  • Basket size
  • First contact resolution ratio
  • Product returns
  • Renewal rates
  • Internet of things (IoT)

Why do we combine experience and operational data?

Asking a consumer for feedback directly will only reveal a limited amount of information. Insights will be primarily based on emotions, rather than tangible facts, and this makes it difficult to tie survey results back to operational data, such as order value or return rates.

By combining the two, we can see trends and better understand the pain points in the customer journey, and directly see the impact that experience has on business objectives. We can find the “why” behind the “what”, not just knowing what a customer does, but why they do it. This context helps us understand what drives these behaviours and puts organisations in a position to make better decisions that meet their needs. This will result in more positive outcomes for your business too because the experience is tied to financial metrics or transactional data.

IoT is an example of this. If you’re bypassing asking the consumer, asking their unbiased, connected devices is the next logical step, enabling brands to uncover new information that gives customer experiences deeper context.

Example: Disney’s MagicBand

One company doing this well is Disney. Their MagicBand, worn on the wrists of visitors to the Magic Kingdom, features a long-range radio which can be picked up by the company’s ‘queue management’ task force. The team can then work out where customers are, what they are trying to do or see and how long they have been waiting for.

Such insights allow the team to take appropriate action, such as queue entertainment, to manage the experience, maximise the fun for customers and ensure the overwhelming feeling isn’t “all we did is wait in line for 2 rides all day” – all using readily-available and easy to obtain data.

 

Tools you can use to improve customer care

Technology and humans are a powerful combination in customer care, and should not be viewed as a contradiction of one another. Technology is here to facilitate better experiences, and humans play a pivotal role in achieving that. Whether you’re a large enterprise or small business, your customers demand great service. QualtricsXM for Customer Care helps you turn every customer interaction within your contact centre into an opportunity and deliver the levels of service expected by your customers in the field, contact centre, online and in your stores.

By listening to customer feedback and understanding their needs with the help of iQ, our predictive analytics platform, your customer care teams – and the whole business, will benefit from a single system that is built around taking action. Action that quickly solves customer issues, betters their experience and has a direct impact on the business by increasing customer satisfaction and making customers less likely to leave.

Your 7 minute guide to building a resilient contact centre