Customer care vs. customer service: What’s the difference?

Customer care goes beyond customer service and provides the connection needed to build lasting brand loyalty and satisfaction.

By Cristina Maza, Contributing Writer

Published March 10, 2021
Last updated October 14, 2021

Sam Chandler ordered a ceramic planter online but was disappointed to find it had shattered into tiny pieces by the time it arrived at her door. Fortunately, the company she ordered it from made it easy to replace the item—she didn’t even have to provide proof that the planter was broken or answer a lot of questions. Most importantly, the representative treated her with kindness and respect.

“I thought I was going to have to jump through all of these hoops and explain what happened,” says Chandler, senior manager of customer success at Zendesk. “But then I saw that we were not in opposition to one another.”

It was clear to Chandler that the company truly cared about customer satisfaction, so it was easy for her to fall in love with the business and become a loyal customer.

This is one example that shows customer care can mean the difference between a one-off purchase and lasting brand loyalty.

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.

What is an example of customer care?

Customer care is more than just delivering the services that customers expect from the business or providing the right technical support. An example includes going above and beyond to treat your customers with compassion. It’s about meeting their emotional needs and fostering connections at every stage of the customer journey.

Chandler says that customer care entails building a partnership with your customers. “Are you giving the customer an emotional, visceral reason to stay with you?” she asks. “Are you giving them that connection to your brand?”

Difference between customer care and customer service

Customer service is typically defined as the act of supporting customers in their discovery, use, optimization, and troubleshooting of a product or service. Customer care goes one step beyond the baseline service to ensure that each customer is actively listened to, cared for, and provided with the right solution.

“Customer care is really the process of cultivating a relationship where customers truly feel supported and ensuring that they have a low-effort experience when interacting with your brand,” says Hannah Ranum, a customer success consultant at Zendesk.

Chandler agrees. She describes customer service as “the nuts and bolts of taking care of your customers’ questions” and giving them technical support. Caring for customers, however, means treating them the way they want to be treated.

“Not everyone wants the exact same cookie-cutter experience,” she explains. “Some may really want a high-touch interaction. Some may just want one or two sentences, and then they’re on their way. Customer care is about being mindful of that and having the ability to listen to the customer’s needs and find the best solution.”

Every business should aspire to offer this level of care. But getting there takes some dedication. To deliver this quality, you need to build a dedicated customer care team and empower them to provide personalized, empathetic service and carefully consider customer feedback.

Difference between customer care and customer experience

Customer experience encompasses all the components that affect a customer's perception of a business. Similar to customer care, customer experience relates to the relationship between the customer and the business. However, while customer care refers to the process of building meaningful customer relations, customer experience refers to the result of how a person feels after going through all the stages of the customer journey. Customer experience is essentially the sum of all customer interactions.

Considering customer care elicits an emotional response and customer experience is a type of general emotional overview, care is a critical step in creating an overall positive customer experience. In order to exceed customer expectations and maintain more loyal customers, you have to go beyond providing good service and emphasize the care aspect of the entire experience.

Why customer care is important

Why go to great lengths to provide such a high level of care? Because any customer service interaction can pose a liability for your business.

Ranum notes that customer service interactions are four times more likely to inspire customer disloyalty than customer loyalty. This shocking stat came from a Gartner study showing that 45 percent of people who had positive interactions told fewer than three other people, while 48 percent of people with negative experiences shared their stories with more than 10 other people.

customer care statistics

So, your team could provide great customer service most of the time yet still develop a bad reputation, as customer service “horror stories” easily overshadow all the good ones.

“If someone has a poor experience, they’re way more likely to go blast it on social media or tell everybody they know for the next three weeks,” says Ranum.

5 reasons why customer care is important:

  • Builds brand loyalty
  • Reduces churn
  • Improves customer experience
  • Boosts brand reputation
  • Strengthens trust between the customer and the brand

Customer care is as much about mitigating customer complaints and bad word of mouth as it is about creating rave-worthy experiences. When your customers feel respected and supported, your business is more likely to gain popularity and acclaim. Treat your customers well enough, and they’ll sing your praises instead.

What is the role of customer care?

The role of customer care is taken on by your team of representatives. Because of this, the success of the role comes down to how you hire, train, and empower your representatives.

“The customer care representative’s role is really to be empathetic, understanding, and able to provide an experience where customers feel heard,” says Ranum. “Their job is to build a connection with the customer and understand what drives them in order to provide that personal experience and solve the customer’s needs more efficiently.”

A qualified customer care representative should possess:

  • A helpful nature
  • Friendliness and empathy
  • Good active listening skills
  • Comprehension skills (to understand and address customer problems)
  • Quick decision-making skills
  • The ability to de-escalate tense customer interactions

In addition to having these standard qualifications, the employees you hire should also be able to embody your company’s core values.

“Customer care representatives really are the face of the company,” says Ranum. “Your company’s values have to carry through in every single interaction they have so that customers enjoy working with your brand.”

To instill those values and build team members’ skills, invest significant time and resources into training. Use phone recordings and simulations to teach your representatives how to actively listen, handle heated interactions, and provide speedy yet thorough resolutions. It also helps if your seasoned reps model positive behaviors for fresh recruits.

“Something that works really well is having a buddy or mentoring program for new agents that come in,” Ranum says. “Have customer care representatives that really embody the values or experience you want customers to have training others and making them comfortable with processes as they get started.”

When your representatives express these valuable qualities, they are fulfilling the role of customer care.

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.

  • Support your team with customer service software

    Your reps 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, reps can deliver fast, personalized care.

    A software solution like Zendesk displays all that key customer data in one unified workspace, making it simple for your reps to get the context they need. Reps 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, social media, and live chat) within the same dashboard.

    With Zendesk, customer care reps even have the freedom to collaborate with colleagues over Slack or email. Being able to quickly ask another employee for information—without having to leave their workspace or transfer the customer—empowers reps to provide a seamless customer experience.

  • Collect data to provide personalized experiences

    The more you know about your customers, the better you can care for them. Analytics software like Zendesk can help you identify the most critical reasons your customers contact your business and can provide insights into their preferred communication channels, their satisfaction levels, and more. This data enables your team to tailor each customer’s experience accordingly.

    “Really learn about your customers—what drives them, the type of experience they would like to have when interacting with your brand,” recommends Ranum. “That allows you to create that high-quality, personalized relationship where the customer feels like you truly understand them.”

    Collecting personal data is a good idea, but 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 that you’ll never sell their data to advertisers or third parties.

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

  • Prioritize quality, not just speed

    Customer service teams are often laser-focused on convenience. Companies target fast reply times, quick resolutions, and omnichannel support to make life easier for their customers.

    While those are all admirable goals, it’s important to remember that speed isn’t everything. Sometimes, customers will choose white-glove treatment over simple convenience.

    Ranum says that in her previous customer care role, she always felt like she could give each customer the attention they deserved.

    “I had a ton of customers assigned to me, but at certain points, I’d encounter a customer that really needed some hand-holding,” she explains. “And I was always empowered to do that. I never needed to get approval to spend more time with a customer.”

    Make sure your employees know that they can spend extra time with a customer who requires additional support. Strong relationships aren’t built on just speed and efficiency. 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 give agents permission to offer discounts to five customers each month, or you can allow them to spend an additional 15 minutes with a customer who needs extra hand-holding.

    Designing these systems will empower your team to use their judgement to decide when it’s time to go above and beyond for a customer.

  • Teach your team to have a human touch

    “Leading with authenticity is super important when working with customers,” Ranum says. “It’s going to make them feel very connected with you.”

    When customers are at ease, they’re more comfortable explaining exactly what their needs are. Developing a natural rapport helps you help them. Plus, if a customer feels like they’re talking to a kind, empathetic person, they’re apt to be more patient and understanding.

    “They’ll give you more grace if something isn’t exactly going to plan,” explains Ranum. “So, if customer care representatives are allowed to be very upfront and open with customers, I think that goes a long way.”

How to measure customer care

customer care

You’ve learned why customer care is so important and how to provide it. Now you may be wondering: How do I know if my customer care efforts are making an impact?

Chandler says she trains her team of customer success managers to ask questions that measure the impact of their customer care strategy:

  • Why are they buying your product?
  • Why are they staying with you? Is it a marriage of convenience?
  • Is it that you’re the only game in town?
  • Will they leave you as soon as somebody else pops up?

These are the questions that good companies—strategic companies—understand the answer to.

The priorities for each company will be different. Maybe you want your customers to feel pampered, or perhaps you want them to get quick service. No matter your goal, you can use these questions about intent to create metrics for measuring success.

While there are various customer success metrics, a customer satisfaction score (CSAT) is a good place to start. CSAT is a qualitative metric, so you’ll want to measure it through customer satisfaction surveys, which you can create using third-party apps like Survey or Simplesat. You simply pose a single question, such as: “How would you rate the support you received?” Customers can select a “Good, I’m satisfied” or a “Bad, I’m dissatisfied” option. Regardless of what you ask, ensure you’re consistent with the questioning so you account more accurate results.

Once you have the CSAT figured out, you can also calculate the Net Promoter Score (NPS) or the customer effort score (CES). The NPS asks customers one straightforward but highly telling question—whether or not they would recommend your business to a friend—while the CES asks customers to rate the ease of their service experience or interaction. Both scores are indicators of customer loyalty and satisfaction, giving you the insights you need to evaluate your customer care.

Keep it personal

Customer care is all about finding what works for the customer—not just the solution they’re seeking, but 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.

CX Maturity among SMBs of North America

To help CX leaders at small- and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) identify where they stand and build a roadmap for the future, Zendesk partnered with ESG Research to build a framework around CX maturity and CX success.