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Customer Care

Companies today are modernizing customer care, using advanced AI to ensure a positive customer experience starting from the first interaction and throughout the buyer's journey.

What is customer care?

Customer care is more than just providing great customer service. It’s a proactive approach to providing information, tools, and services to customers at each point they interact with a brand.

The value of customer care

When done well, customer care boosts the overall customer experience by providing answers to common questions through the website, social media, chatbots, or with customer support agents.

Companies benefit from investing in customer care for multiple reasons:

  • Customers get the insights they need to make an informed purchase.
  • Customer satisfaction can increase and customer loyalty can improve.
  • Customer service agents spend less time on routine tasks and answering commonly asked questions, enabling agents to do more meaningful tasks.
  • Using AI to optimize customer care can increase the bottom line and provide a positive return on investment.

Customer care vs. customer service

Customer care and customer service together help create a positive customer experience, or the overall impression a person has when interacting with your company. Both are vital, but there are subtle differences in how they are implemented.

High-quality customer care is proactive. The needs of customers throughout the buyer’s journey are anticipated, making customers feel supported. That, in turn, helps create an emotional connection between the customer and the company.

Customer service is reactive. Here, the focus is on helping customers solve problems or answer questions before purchase, either in a self-serve fashion or via the customer support team.

If a company neglects customer care, it can negatively impact the customer service experience. For example, when a website chatbot can’t provide key information about a product, customers are more likely to get frustrated and reach out to a customer service agent for help. This places a greater burden on the support team to quickly address the issue and mitigate any effects of the negative experience.

To achieve the best customer service, your customer service team should address customer needs quickly and with as few customer interactions as possible. According to McKinsey (link resides outside IBM), executives for too long focused on improving specific touchpoints, overlooking the needs of the entire customer. McKinsey notes that as customer expectations evolve, companies must consider the customer experience from the first website visit to troubleshooting issues with a purchase.

According to Forrester (link resides outside IBM), customer service is the most impactful driver category for the overall customer experience in B2B companies, eclipsing categories like products and prices. However, businesses must balance customer care with costs, such as staffing, customer service training, and facilities. For example, Humana found that of the more than 1 million calls it receives each month, most providers were immediately choosing to bypass the interactive voice response (IVR) system even though more than 60% of these calls were related to routine, pre-service questions with well-defined answers. By switching to an AI virtual agent, Humana handled inquiries at about a third of the cost of the previous system.

Customer service skills beyond the call center

Call centers were once the go-to option for customers seeking help with a product or service, but customers today want great customer service on the channels most convenient to them.

Call centers and service desks provide direct interaction with a customer support agent trained to respond and address customer questions and complaints. The quality of customer care leading up to this interaction can greatly influence how much time it takes to resolve each case, and in turn impact your customer satisfaction score. For example, if the call center keeps getting the same question about a product, companies can opt to answer the question on the website or via a self-serve option, like a chatbot.

These self-serve options are increasingly popular, with 86% of B2B executives saying they prefer using self-service tools for reordering, over talking to a sales representative, according to McKinsey (link resides outside IBM). Part of this popularity is rooted in convenience. Self-serve tools are available 24-7 and are easily accessible on mobile devices, so customers have the ability to ask questions at their fingertips, any time.  

Analytics and customer service metrics

To properly manage customer care, companies must understand how they are succeeding and what needs improvement. This requires establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) for customer service and creating a system of gathering metrics across channels.

According to Forrester’s Q2 2020 State Of VoC And CX Measurement Programs Survey, (link resides outside IBM) 89% of voice-of-the-customer or customer measurement programs capture feedback from email surveys, while just 30% leverage contact center recordings. This leaves a gap in the understanding of customer concerns; it also makes  the company susceptible to a lower CSAT score, which measures customer satisfaction.

Using tools like machine learning (ML) and speech-to-text, companies can more quickly identify common problems and pain points for the customer through call centers. Internal KPIs, such as conversion rates, channel escalation, and churn rate, can also provide insights into what is causing a breakdown in customer retention.

The challenges of customer care

Consumer expectations are extremely high, putting increased pressure on companies to improve their customer relationships. According to Forrester (link resides outside IBM), only 18% of customers said they would continue doing business with a brand that has disappointed them.

In addition, poor customer care is costly. That same Forrester report showed that ecommerce retailers suffer, on average, USD 22 million in unnecessary service costs due to channel escalation. Adding to this pressure is the number of customer service channels today. Social media, email, call centers, chatbots, and text add numerous touchpoints and complexity to customer service operations.

This can lead to lost information when the same person reaches out via multiple channels. When a customer service agent doesn’t know the whole story and the customer has to repeatedly share the problem, it leaves both people frustrated.

Call centers and direct customer service agent interactions are still vital to any customer service department, but they are costly to run and can have a high rate of employee turnover. Chatbots, social media messaging, and other self-serve options have drawbacks as well, despite their convenience, including slow response time and inaccurate, irrelevant answers that require the customer to escalate the conversation to another channel.

Improving customer care with IBM Watson

Watson Assistant is a breakthrough in optimizing customer care. This AI-powered virtual agent provides customers with fast, consistent, and accurate answers across any messaging platform, application, device, or channel. Watson Assistant’s natural learning process analyzes customer conversations, improving its ability to resolve issues the first time.

The results are compelling. At Bradesco, one of Brazil’s largest banks, Watson Assistant was trained on 62 products and answers 283,000 questions a month with a 95% accuracy rate. Just 5% require calls for further assistance. In some cases, response times have been reduced from 10 minutes to just seconds.

An AI technology-first approach to customer care improves containment and customer satisfaction. Watson Assistant takes the basic and repetitive tasks customer support agents perform, freeing them up to do more meaningful tasks like closing the customer feedback loop. Companies can realize a two-fold benefit:

  • More efficient use of workforce.
  • Improving customer experience metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and customer satisfaction (CSAT).

Businesses saw significant customer care improvement, delivering a 337% ROI, according to a Forrester TEI report.

Building a comprehensive knowledge base is another means for providing a higher-level of customer care. It makes call center response times faster and empowers customers to find the answers on their own. IBM Watson Discovery is an award-winning AI-powered intelligent search and text-analytics platform that uses the data the company already has to improve customer experience efficiently. With innovative, market-leading natural language processing, it can quickly uncover meaningful business insights from documents, webpages, and big data, cutting research time by more than 75%.

These AI and ML-powered solutions are designed to not only answer customer questions, but to do so in a more human way, creating the emotional connections so important to customer care and customer loyalty.

To get started with IBM Cloud service and improving customer care, sign up for an IBMid and create your IBM Cloud account.