• December 1, 2021
  • By Patrick McCullough , client strategy director, Hallmark Business Connections

3 Ways to Move From Customer Service to Customer Care

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For years, customer call centers have focused on ramping up efficiency and meeting numbers. Now, many are doing an about-face. Companies recognize that customer service representatives can be key brand ambassadors for their customers, so they’re beginning to emphasize quality over quantity.

What’s the difference between customer service and customer care? Think of it using a medical analogy: Service fixes the underlying problem—such as a broken arm—in the most practical, affordable, and speedy way. Yet service without care is like a doctor without a soothing bedside manner. Yes, the patient receives the necessary treatment, but the success of the treatment is devalued by the frustration of the interaction.

The same principle holds true for customer service representatives who are encouraged to move rapidly through calls. Their job? Hit the numbers and resolve concerns in as few minutes and steps as possible.

On paper, their statistics can look impressive, and quite frankly, they solve problems as required. But their customers might be left feeling unsatisfied because of a lack of true care.

The Challenges of Customer Care

To be fair, it can be tough for corporate customer service leaders to justify allowing their representatives to focus on “caring” and take on the role of brand ambassadors. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, contact centers are reporting tremendous increases in call volumes (to the tune of a 74 percent increase, according to CGS). Accordingly, agents are facing an influx of increasingly frustrated, angry, and sometimes irrational customers. Even organizations that have invested in omnichannel resources such as CRM systems enhanced with artificial intelligence are having trouble keeping up with demand.

Is it any surprise, then, that companies are finding it tougher to recruit and retain customer support staff? And those who are working remotely often encounter additional struggles, ranging from glitchy home internet connectivity to a lack of peer and managerial interactions. Consequently, although customer service jobs are available, people aren’t biting. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 42 percent of smaller organizations can’t fill roles, including customer-facing ones.

Despite these obstacles—or perhaps as a means to overcome them—companies need to find fresh ways to connect with customers and meet their “care” expectations. After all, two-way loyalty pays off, and right down to the penny. Recent Harvard Business Review research shows that when businesses reimagine their customer funnel touchpoints, they can improve growth by more than sixfold over 12 months.

Customer Care Strategies

How can your team develop a customer care practice that transcends all the road blocks you’re facing? Try adopting one or more of these principles as a starting point:

1. Source and empower exceptional customer experience advocates.

The people you put on the front line matter. Find the most understanding, empathetic service professionals, and do everything you can to bring them on board (including increasing baseline pay as necessary). Then, train everyone on ways to carry your brand promise forward authentically. This could include a class on listening to customers even if a customer’s problems have nothing to do with the company, or following up with phone calls “just because” as a courtesy check-in. Most importantly, make sure to monitor, retrain (if needed), and hold your representatives accountable. If we are going to invest in hiring and training them to be next-level care experts, we need to ensure strong follow-through on these expectations.

2. Give your customer care team the tools and support needed to go the extra mile.

In the busy world of customer care teams, representatives need to keep their operations simple and streamlined—even if they want to reach customers on a personal level. Make it as easy as possible for care representatives to implement customer care into their process. This could be as straightforward as pulling up a greeting card online, adding a personal message, and sending the card as soon as possible. You might be surprised at how often your customer representatives will go above and beyond if you enable them, and they’ll meet goals all the while.

3. Make it easy for customers to chat or speak with a live agent.

Too often, companies allow chatbots, AI software, and automatic systems to become a wall between them and customers. Although you should keep these investments in place, be sure to create pathways for customers to speak with specialists when needed. Remember: You really don’t want to get left behind. A research roundup by 99firms suggests that by next year, 85 percent of your competitors will probably offer chat support. The key here is balance: Build and provide the technology to allow customers to solve their own inquires efficiently. But when human outreach is desired or needed, you need to be able to provide it quickly and empathetically.

Consumers’ needs changed during the pandemic, and those needs likely manifest in your customer service department every day. Instead of adopting a “return-to-normal” mentality, lean into the idea of moving from a customer service to a customer care ideology. Your customers will appreciate the change, and your representatives will feel more purpose and empowerment in their work.

Patrick McCullough is the client strategy director at Hallmark Business Connections, a subsidiary of Hallmark that helps businesses build and strengthen relationships with their customers and employees. He is passionate about helping businesses transform and has worked with companies of all sizes as they look to evolve their strategies in order to match the demands of the customer in the 21st century.

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