The move from customer service to customer care

Martin Newman
March 7, 2023
8 mins
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Understandably, you might think that customer service and customer care are the same thing. But they’re not. There’s a not-so-subtle difference between the two. The former being about serving and the latter about caring. They are driven from a different place culturally, and practically that manifest themselves in the experience the consumer has. Which is very different from one approach to the other. 

One down-side of the service model is that this can also result in people in a customer-facing role doing everything by the rule book when all the customer needs is a little flexibility. On the other hand, the caring approach would mean doing all you can to satisfy the customer. And therefore, stepping outside the rules if it were deemed necessary or beneficial. This said, colleagues in a customer service role need to be empowered to do this in the first place. They need to know that they can use their discretion and their judgement to make the right decision for the customer.

From Home Depot to Timpson, from Patagonia to Alaska Airlines, brands who empower their people who serve to deliver the right outcomes for customers by adopting a customer care approach, are successful year after year.

So, while the word ‘serving’ might conjure up the thought of great service, it doesn’t always manifest itself in a good experience for the customer.

Take the example of how you go about contacting a retailer or brand’s customer service function when you’ve got an issue you need resolving. 

You’ll often find the information about how to contact the brand is hidden. It might take a good 5-10 mins on a website to discover how you can get in touch. And in some cases, even longer if indeed you can find the contact information at all. 

Or when you find it, the contact options are different business by business. Whether they let you call them, email them, engage with a human being on live chat or increasingly none of these options. This is not a great start in the customers attempt at resolving their issue.

Contrast this with brands adopting a customer care approach. Contact details are up front and centre. In fact, you’re positively encouraged to contact the business. You find signposting at various stages in the customer’s journey. Be that online or instore. There is no attempt to hide contact details. These brands are paying it forward with their obvious focus on driving customer retention, reducing churn and building customer lifetime value by letting customers know that they are there for them if something goes wrong and they need help. 

In the next phase of the customer journey when they contact the brand, those brands whose customer service is driven by the cost to serve, often leads to a poor outcome where customers are made to go away dissatisfied with the response they receive. As they often get ‘computer says no.’ They are dealt with by people who are not empowered, nor measured, by the resolution of the customer’s issue.

The way a business measures its customer service team when the focus is on the ‘cost to serve’ is too often about answering as many calls as possible and making customers go away. It is not about resolving customers issues first time. 

The volume of call answered in a day or answered within a certain time-based KPI is not a measure of success. Of course, we don’t want customers hanging on longer than needed. But if we only measure our customer service team on this metric, they will not be focussed on resolving a customer’s issue. Therefore, customer dissatisfaction will increase.

I do find the generic approach to customer service difficult to understand. Particularly given that 33% of consumers will abandon a brand after one bad experience. And especially as every single customer touch point is an opportunity to engage. To build trust in the brand. To be there for customers and to begin to move them from merely transacting to building an emotional connection with your business. That is when you start the process of turning a customer into a fan. And when someone becomes a fan, they become an advocate. They tell others about how good you are. This is the marketer’s nirvana. Having existing customers do new customer acquisition on your behalf! 

Just in case you’re wondering, what gives me the right to talk about customer service in the first place? Well, I can assure you that I’m not paying lip service to this. I’ve walked the talk. I’ve set up multiple contact centres, I’ve insourced, I’ve outsourced service, and I’ve had a hybrid model. And I’ve done this across multiple retail sectors, from fashion to luxury and from sports to optics. In addition, I gather insight and feedback from thousands of consumers on how they rate their experience across different channels and touchpoints, and so I know from them what good looks like.

Synergy Contact Centre

I recently had the privilege to visit South Africa. And there I witnessed first-hand not only what good looks like but what great looks like when it comes to customer service. Sorry, make that customer care. Synergy contact centre is a truly amazing business. 

The vibe, the energy, the desire to do the best for customers and to deliver great experiences is truly on a level I’ve never seen before. 

I know there are some who believe you’ll never get the same experience with customer service when you outsource. But that is simply not true. Synergy’s team are driving up all the customer care KPIs. NPS (net promoter score), CSAT (Customer satisfaction), first time resolution, customer retention. They’re all moving north. That’s driven by a great culture of care that lies within everyone in the business.

So, whether you’re just looking for some additional capacity for customer service to cover peak trading or, you’re thinking of supplementing your inhouse resource for a hybrid model, or indeed, you are looking to dial up from customer service to customer care, I’d urge you to look at South Africa, and at Synergy.