You could argue that the success or failure of any business-to-business (B2B) company scores is completely linked to customer service – far more than business-to-consumer (B2C). The buying process is longer, usually involves more people and the sums of money involved are much higher. There is often a deeper level of contact with prospects and a stronger relationship with customers once they buy.
According to McKinsey, while B2C companies enjoy an average customer service score in the 65 to 85 per cent range, business-to-business B2B company scores average less than 50 per cent. And as B2B customer expectations rise, the gap between the two offerings likely will widen.
So if customer service is key, how can you do it better?
1. Think of them as partners
The first step is to think of your customers and prospects as partners rather than marketing targets. Instead of thinking about how you might sell to them and get them to buy, think of how you might help them and make their life easier.
It’s fairly well known that you shouldn’t think of selling products or services, but solutions. Your product or service should meet a need, but you need to go beyond that and think about what their issues are - what are the areas they struggle with? Then you can educate them - explaining and demonstrating how your solution helps them and removes their pain, and if it doesn’t, develop a solution that will.
That consultancy approach is essential for salespeople – research by IDG showed that B2B buyers see just 20% of sales representatives as valuable. Engagement is five times more likely for sales reps who add value in the prospect’s view.
Another implication of thinking of them as partners is that you should be working with them to address their issues and to help them succeed. Make sure they understand the solution you are offering and offer appropriate levels of help and support to ensure they use your products or services to their benefit.
The aim with your customer service should be to understand your customer’s problems and their headaches so well, that you can resolve any potential trouble before it becomes an issue for them.
2. Understand their customers
There’s a further step you can take here – your B2B customers will have customers too. If you can understand your customer’s customers, then you will be in a better place to help and support your customers.
Develop solutions that make it easy for them to deliver their solution to their customers and produce and supply content and materials that help them to sell and support.
The more you know about their sales process and their market, the more you will be in a strong position to offer solutions they can use and benefit from.
3. Understand your process and touchpoints
If you haven’t mapped out how a sale occurs, start now. Pay particular attention to the touch points – how do prospects engage with your business? Who do they talk to and when?
Once you have mapped out the sales process – and you may need a number of maps for different products and services, different markets, different types of clients and all the variations – you can begin to look at improving, streamlining and enhancing the buying experience for your prospects.
McKinsey’s research shows that by accelerating and simplifying these interactions, companies can boost their win rate by up to 40 per cent and lower associated service costs by up to 50 per cent, all the while reducing customer attrition by up to 15 per cent.
You also need to go beyond the existing process and look at whether there are any additional, valid opportunities to engage with prospects without ‘selling’ to them. Usually, this means being helpful and offering consultancy and advice. Are there any unusual touchpoints you’ve missed?
And don’t forget to go through the same comprehensive exercise for your existing customers, looking at every possible point of contact.
Look at what value they place on support and make a decision as to whether you want to include it as “all part of the service” or whether you want to charge, and if so, how much? Positioned correctly, training and consultancy can pay for itself, or even become a revenue stream. But only if customers are happy with that scenario.
4. It’s not just about customer service
You can have great customer service, great salespeople and great engagement, but if you don’t deliver on time and to budget, then you are still going to end up with an unsatisfied customer.
There’s a high level of honesty required too – you do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it. If something isn’t possible, or a problem develops; you don’t try to hide it, you explain it, say what you are doing to solve it and at all times keep the customer informed, so they can plan around it. The worst possible thing you can do is to lie about what is happening and be found out – they will never trust you again; with anything.
Good communication is the key to avoiding problems and dealing with a crisis.
We live in an age of digital technology, with more and more products and services being delivered digitally. Even if your particular product or service cannot be offered up online, make as many of the processes and information available digitally as you can. Account information, order information, delivery information – all these should be accessible to your clients. But go further than this and offer training, advice, specifications, guides, video and more via an easy to use online customer portal. Whatever you can supply digitally, you should supply digitally. This should all be part of making your processes and systems as easy to use as possible for your prospects and customers.
5. Get your staff on board
Because the nature of the contacts that prospects and customers have with your employees – no matter how brief – is crucial to their experience and feelings towards your company, it’s essential that your employees understand, appreciate and are ready to get the best out of those interactions. This applies from the bottom to the top of the organisation.
All employees should understand that it’s the customers that determine whether the business succeeds or fails, and that customer satisfaction is key.
So, although the initial buying purchase may be based primarily on rational decision making, their feelings about you as a company and their on-going relationship with you are based on their emotions. It’s therefore important to inject some emotion into all points of engagement – from content to personal email. Make sure the company’s culture and customer service ethos are evident throughout.
It’s interesting that McKinsey’s research showed that customer service improvement programmes not only show higher client-satisfaction scores, reductions of 10 to 20 per cent in cost to serve and revenue growth of 10 to 15 per cent - but also an increase in employee satisfaction.