Why high-quality customer service is key to B2B success
When it comes to customer service, there’s a tendency to focus on consumers and how contact centres can best meet their needs. However, this neglects a huge part of the sector – business-to-business (B2B) customer service. Companies that provide support to other organisations using their products or services.
At one end of the B2B spectrum this could be a small business buying stationery or supplies, which can be handled through an experience and mass-market approach similar to consumer customer service. At the other it could be an industrial company supplying solutions or technology that are vital to a business operating successfully. This requires a very different approach.
It is important to stress that B2B customers expect the same high level of service as they’d get from a consumer brand. No wonder that over 90% of B2B leaders surveyed by Accenture said that providing a great customer experience was central to achieving company objectives.
The 7 differences between B2C and B2B customer service
When delivering B2B customer service, you need to consider seven key factors:
1. Fewer, but more important customers
Generally, B2B companies have a smaller number of customers than B2C businesses. While that means there are fewer interactions to handle, everyone is higher value. Each customer makes up a larger percentage of overall revenues, meaning it is vital to keep them satisfied.
2. More complex products and services
The nature of queries will also be different. As B2B companies sell more complex products and services, interactions will be more involved and require more time and knowledge to handle.
3. More stakeholders involved
In B2C customer service, companies are dealing with an individual consumer. When it comes to B2B, there will be multiple people involved on the customer side. Companies need to build and nurture relationships with wider teams within a client.
4. Greater urgency to solve issues
While consumer problems are important to the individual, they don’t normally have the same urgency as B2B issues. Failures in a piece of equipment could stop production or a software issue could prevent the organisation from operating at all. Clients have a greater reliance on B2B products, and a corresponding need to solve issues more rapidly. This need is often backed up by Service Level Agreements (SLAs) which include acceptable levels of downtime or speed of response when answering a query.
5. Longer term relationships
From the consumer point of view B2C relationships can sometimes be purely transactional such as buying a product to meet an immediate, short term need. In contrast, B2B relationships are longer term and more involved. Companies need to deliver a consistent experience across the course of a contract to ensure satisfaction and renewals.
6. A need for greater collaboration
B2B contracts don’t just involve multiple stakeholders on the customer side, but also require multiple people at the supplier to work together. For example, there is likely to be a designated account manager and a customer success manager as well as customer support, all interacting with the client. This requires collaboration and a customer-centric culture across the organisation.
7. Relationships can be global
Bigger B2B contracts span different countries and time zones. Customer service must match these needs, providing multilanguage support that is available around the clock. This adds further complexity. You need to have agents and resources available with the right language skills, at the right times.
How to deliver B2B customer service success
Given the unique challenges of the B2B environment, organisations should focus on these six areas when providing customer service:
1. Personalise the experience
In B2B relationships customers expect a high level of personalisation. They want agents to know who they are, what products and services they have bought, and be completely up-to-date with their history. This requires close integration between contact centre software and CRM to empower agents with all the customer information they need. For voice calls use caller line identification (CLI) so that agents can further personalise the experience by greeting customers by name.
2. Deliver omnichannel service
While traditional B2B customer service may have focused on the voice and email channels, clients are increasingly demanding an omnichannel approach. They want to be able to use digital tools, such as self-service, to solve more basic problems or find information, backed up by escalation to agents as required. Companies also need to invest in chat, which combines the ability to have a real-time conversation with a written record. This makes it the ideal channel to share information, such as product codes, which can be difficult to provide easily over the phone.
3. Focus on skilled people, armed with knowledge
B2B customers expect to speak to skilled agents who understand their problem in-depth and have the knowledge to solve it effectively. This requires different abilities, and deeper understanding and training than in the B2C world. It must be backed up by systems, such as a unified desktop. These allow agents to focus on building a strong rapport with the customer, rather than continually switching between multiple systems. Speech analytics that can prompt agents to cover certain terms and conditions is key for meeting standards. Finally, an up-to-date knowledge base, available internally and externally is also vital, covering all products, services, and potential issues.
4. Collaborate across the organisation
Solving B2B queries may require a greater degree of collaboration between teams than in the B2C world. Businesses need to be able to seamlessly collaborate across the organisation, bringing together different departments using solutions such as Microsoft Teams. Solutions should even be able to forward calls onto engineers on client sites if required. It is vital to track queries and record calls for complete visibility of interactions.
5. Aim to continuously learn and improve
B2B customer interactions provide detailed data that needs to be used effectively. Voice of the Customer programmes can provide insight into what clients are interested in and give early warning of wider issues. On the agent side, client feedback can be used to improve performance through training and coaching. This will help ensure that standards and SLAs are always being met.
6. Focus on simplicity and transparency
B2B products and services might be complex, but the support journey should be simple. Ensure that you have a clear process for clients to get in touch, across different channels. This will encourage people to make contact directly with the contact centre, rather than calling other people in the organisation, hoping they can help. Bring all your interactions into a single queue, particularly if you are operating globally, to better manage resources and effectiveness. Be transparent with customers, such as if there are issues. Proactively flagging if there are problems and that they are being fixed is much better than letting them find out for themselves.
B2B customer service may not be as high-profile as its B2C counterpart, but it is equally vital to corporate success. Companies must therefore ensure that they have the systems, processes, and people in place if they want to retain clients for the long term.