In the digital era, customer service is evolving rapidly and expanding from face-to-face encounters to different platforms online with a human, a program or AI as a customer service agent. A recent study has unearthed a critical factor for this evolution: the art of caring in chat-based customer interactions. This is not about transactional service; it’s about meaningful connections that leave lasting customer impressions. Not only the role of the service agent but the customer is essential in these encounters. Hence, the service agent must give room for customers – an aspect that concerns humans as well as “machines”.

Author: Johanna Heinonen

From empathy to caring: The heart of service

Empathy in customer service is not just about understanding problems; it is about connecting on a human level. When service agents genuinely empathise with customers, they are not just solving a problem but acknowledging the customer’s feelings and perspective. This approach creates a supportive and understanding environment, transforming a typical customer service encounter into a deeply personal interaction. (Gorry & Westbrook 2011.)

Empathy is the starting point for a transformative customer service journey. It’s about recognising and validating the customer’s feelings, which fosters a deeper, more meaningful connection. This empathetic approach shifts the focus from transactional interactions to emotional engagements. As this empathetic connection deepens, it evolves into caring. Caring in customer service is about consistently providing support, demonstrating a willingness to go above and beyond, and creating a lasting positive impact on the customer’s experience. This transition from empathy to caring truly defines the heart of exceptional customer service, transforming standard service encounters into memorable, personal interactions that build loyalty and trust.

Commitment: Beyond problem-solving

Based on Roslan et al. (2023) true commitment has taken a significant leap forward in the evolving customer service landscape, integrating empathy and proactive problem-solving. This approach involves addressing current issues and foreseeing and pre-emptively solving potential future challenges. It represents a shift from merely reactive to predictive and empathetic customer service.

True commitment is further enhanced through the continuous nurturing of customer relationships. This means engaging in regular follow-ups, seeking feedback, and maintaining personalised communication, all of which make customers feel valued over time. This sustained engagement demonstrates that a company’s interest in customer well-being goes beyond the immediate transaction, building trust and reliability. (Ibid.)

At the heart of this approach is empathy – and caring. Starting with understanding and acknowledging the customer’s feelings and perspectives, a true commitment to customer service then extends into proactive problem-solving. This combination of empathetic understanding with committed action ensures immediate customer satisfaction and fosters long-term trust and reliability. It shows that the company is deeply invested in the customer’s overall experience, both in the present and the future. This holistic approach to customer service sets apart exceptional service experiences, leading to lasting customer loyalty.

The ripple effect of caring

Caring in customer service, especially in online environments, is a multi-dimensional concept. It extends beyond basic courtesy to include genuine empathy and proactive engagement. Service agents can create a more personalised and empathetic interaction by understanding and anticipating customer needs. This level of care is crucial because it builds a deeper emotional connection with customers, which is often lacking in digital communication. (Weiner & Auster 2007.)

The importance of caring in customer service lies in its ability to transform customer perception and loyalty. When customers feel genuinely cared for, they are satisfied and emotionally connected to the brand. This emotional connection increases customer loyalty, as satisfied customers are likelier to become brand advocates. They share their positive experiences through word-of-mouth, a powerful marketing tool. This enhances the company’s reputation and attracts new customers who value and seek out this level of care and attention. (e.g., Honora et al. 2023; Sheth et al. 2023.)

The difference caring makes in customer service is profound. Unlike standard service interactions focusing only on resolving issues, caring involves understanding the customer’s emotional needs and addressing them effectively (e.g. Jimenez et al. 2020). It’s about joint co-creation of an experience (Sheth 2019), not just a transaction.

Service-agent driven co-created caring

The article (Heinonen & Sthapit 2023) explored how caring elements in chat-based customer service can contribute to co-creating value with customers. It specifically focused on understanding how service agents can make customers feel cared for and the types of value this caring creates. The study analyzed 123 chat conversations using deductive content analysis, focusing on how service agents interacted with customers and the elements of caring and co-creation in these interactions.

Key findings revealed that elements of caring, such as empathy, personalised responses, and commitment, significantly influence customer-value co-creation. Caring led to affective and emotional benefits, including cognitive, integrative, and recognition benefits for customers. When customers felt that service agents genuinely cared, they were more engaged, strengthening their relationship with the company and enhancing their overall experience. (Ibid.)

Thus, the study highlights the importance of integrating caring into customer service strategies, emphasising that caring goes beyond solving problems – it involves building a connection with the customer, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty. Caring in chat-based customer service contributes to co-creating value for customers. When customers feel cared for, they’re more likely to have a positive view of the service and the company, leading to stronger customer-company relationships.

These findings signify a paradigm shift in how businesses perceive and deliver customer service. It’s about investing in training programs emphasising emotional intelligence, empathy, and active listening. Companies need to empower their service agents to be more than problem solvers – caregivers who understand and value the customers’ emotions and experiences.


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Johanna Heinonen is a Senior Lecturer and RDI Specialist at LAB University of Applied Sciences. She is particularly passionate about studying how digital tools and applications could be used more efficiently. She is writing her PhD in about co-creational elements of caring in chat-based customer service encounters.

Illustration: (Pexels Licence)

Published 17.1.2024

Reference to this article

Heinonen, J. 2024. From empathy to caring: The heart of service. LAB Pro. Cited and the date of citation. Available at