Let’s first burst a myth bubble before we dive into the topic.
What kinds of companies come to mind immediately when you hear someone mention good customer service?
The correct answer, it shows a tendency that most of us have to think that good customer service exists only in the realm of business-to-consumer (B2C) companies
People rarely mention a company from the business-to-business (B2B) domain that offers excellent customer service.
(Go ahead and try it. Name three B2B brands that are famous for their customer service. Was it tough?)
Now, if you work in customer service for a B2B company, that makes things a little harder. Your customers are businesses that need to get stuff done. Quickly. They want efficient and competent customer service, and they don’t want those “fun” customer service gimmicks that B2C companies seem to get away with—nay, get heaps of praise for—all the time.
So, can you provide good customer service for your B2B company? We’ll show you. In this post, we will look at:
- The difference between B2C customer service and B2B customer service
- 5 B2B customer service best practices
How customer-obsessed is your business?
Want to provide better customer service?
How is B2B customer service different from B2C customer service?
It’s easier to understand the differences between B2B customer service and B2C customer service if we know the basic distinction between the two.
B2C companies offer products and services that are built for the masses—individuals and households.
If you take a look around your house at retail products like your breakfast cereal, your iPhone 11 Pro, or the concert ticket to see your favorite band—these are all B2C products.
B2C buyers have smaller purchase sizes. They want quality products (who doesn’t?), but their buying decision is heavily influenced by features, pricing, or discounts.
B2C buyers also respond favorably to simple, catchy marketing—like Apples’s “I’m lovin’ it” ads.
B2C companies’ relationships with brands are relatively transactional, short-term, and fickle-unless they have good incentives to be brand loyalists.
The way the B2B world operates is the polar opposite of B2C. B2B buyers’ requirements tend to be more demanding and often, the-only-one-of-its-kind unique.
B2B companies market their products at an account level-that is, to teams or functions, rather than individuals.
For B2B buyers, price is usually secondary. They insist on quality products that they can rely on for the long-term.
Their sales process is complicated too,they often involve legal teams, signing contracts, and negotiating service-level agreements (SLAs).
Finally, the quality of customer service is a huge consideration for B2B companies when they make a purchase decision.
And there are good reasons why B2B brands are so particular about customer service.
Let’s talk about each of them:
How customer-obsessed is your business?
1. B2B brands have more complex issues
As an individual buyer, when you call a B2C brand’s customer service, it’s mostly for common issues such as a refund on a damaged item or checking on the return status of a shipment.
And the process is pretty straightforward: you contact their online customer support team via email, chat, or phone and get your question resolved. You don’t always have to go through the hassles of submitting a support ticket.
But in B2B, the customer service process is… a little more entangled than that.
That’s because most B2B customer service requests tend to be more technical.
For instance, let’s say your business bought Mac desktops for your entire team of 20 people. In this case, you’re more likely to call Apple’s enterprise support team for issues related to software troubleshooting, IT security, or network configuration.
There’s also an inevitable amount of back-and-forth since a B2B customer service team often has to dive deep to resolve a customer issue.
2. Collaboration is the key to B2B customer service
In the B2C domain, a single customer service rep might be able to handle a customer’s request independently because the nature of service relationship is usually one-to-one. The buyer is almost always the person seeking customer service.
But B2B customer service teams often have to work with multiple stakeholders within one client account.
Going back to the example above, while it might have been Martha from your procurement team who placed the order for 20 Macs for your business, it could be Bob from the IT who contacts Apple’s enterprise support to ask for help with device configuration issues.
This is also true on the vendor side. For instance, when your Head of IT calls Apple’s customer service, the latter might have to rope in an IT expert from another team to get your issues resolved.
Here, customer service teamwork is always the antidote to complexity. You should be able to offer a holistic and consistently uniform customer experience when customers contact your business for help.Pro-tip: Use a contact center solution that connects with other important customer service software in your business (like your CRM or sales app). This way, you can funnel customer questions coming from every channel (phone, email, and social media) to one place.
3. Customer relationships are deeper in a B2B setup
How’s this for a paradox? B2B customer service teams deal with multiple stakeholders at different points of time and yet, they tend to develop a uniquely personal connection with their customers over time.
For instance unlike in a B2C domain most of the B2B customer service reps know their customers on a first-name basis.
This is true because B2B service reps work with their clients for a relatively longer time sometimes, repeatedly deepening these customer relationships over time.
To be fair, B2C brands also offer great personalization to their customers in their marketing and product experience.
But most B2C customer service reps don’t get to talk to the same customer twice because the reps-to-customers ratio is usually pretty huge.
4. B2B teams tend to take longer to resolve customer issues
At a cursory level, this sounds like we’re saying B2B customer service teams are unnecessarily long-winded.
But hear us out before you make that call.
The complex nature of B2B customer service typically requires customer service teams to do some research in order to provide the best possible solutions to their clients. It’s not like they can just fire off a two-line reply through their website’s live chat and be done with it.
The time it takes for them to do the homework, follow protocols, run tests, make sure everything’s compliant, and document everything naturally prolongs the service delivery time.
While most of the metrics used to measure the performance of customer service in B2C and B2B are the same, brands in the respective domains look at them differently.
The 5 B2B customer service best practices
If you ever find yourself wondering, “How can I improve online customer service?”… here are five go-to customer service tips for B2B brands.
1. Know your customers inside out
B2B customer service is relationship-driven. You’re playing the long game here. To really master B2B customer service, you have to build a solid rapport with multiple people on your account—while offering them personalized solutions.
Unlike in the B2C space, B2B customer service teams are always dealing with professionals or experts from another industry. Remember that your B2B clients are technically-savvy, data-obsessed, and they have their own customers to cater to.
Build a customer-centric strategy and support culture that positions you as a partner in your customers’ growth and success. Offer them technically superior, contextual, and long-term solutions that’ll help them achieve their own business goals.
2. Build some omni-digital support muscle
Each B2B customer has their unique set of problems to solve.
Sometimes, they might call you for solving housekeeping issues like managing their software’s performance. Other times, they might have more advanced questions related to maybe scaling the product usage.
This naturally demands cross-functional collaboration between multiple experts and teams in your business (as well as in your client’s team).
In these situations, you have to make sure the groundwork for communication and collaboration is in place.
For example, you might want a collaboration tool for your contact center to automatically sync data from your customer relationship management (CRM) software to your helpdesk app. That means all your customer-facing teams such as marketing, sales, and customer support can have easy access to your customers’ data. No more emailing or messaging each other to find out answers to simple questions like “When did this customer last contact us?” or “What product did they purchase from us?”Pro-tip: A good collaboration hub is key to providing a uniform and personalized customer experience to each customer, regardless of where they are in their buyer’s journey.
Other times, you might want a software that lets every team in your business see your customer data in a central dashboard.Pro-tip: Streamline your online customer service support channels to a centralized dashboard so that you can monitor support requests flowing in from different channels such as live chat, phone, email, or social media platforms.
3. Sign SLAs, especially with complex B2B customers
Not all customers are created equal.
Some B2B companies have service requirements that are more complicated than others (for example, government entities that need on-premises solutions for security reasons).
Others might have compliant-related issues (such as healthcare companies that require HIPAA compliance).
But most B2B customer service works on a first-come, first-served model; you can’t let one client jump the support queue before another.
Unless, of course, you have a prioritization system. In the B2B space, this goes by the name of SLAs.
The SLAs are somewhat like prenuptial agreements. It describes a mutual understanding between you and your clients, and the services you offer them (including customer support), their availability, and your responsibilities.
Because it’s signed before you enter into a sales contract, it sets the right expectations about your support capabilities and limitations.
An SLA can help you re-prioritize your support tickets based on your existing support bandwidth, the severity of issues, and their complexities.
4. Create helpful self-service options
Yes, B2B customer issues can often be very demanding and high-touch.
On the flip side, many companies have internal experts who can take care of their problems on their own. After all, they’re business professionals.
All they need might be a little nudge from your side.
Offering them self-service support options is a great way to help them do this. For example, you could build a support page with frequently asked questions (FAQs), product documentation, how-to guides, video tutorials, and knowledge base articles.
Self-service support has multiple advantages, not just for your clients but also for your business. It’s a form of automated customer service that’s always-on and scalable, very important for B2B customer service especially because it can take a huge load off of your team when it comes to technical questions.
Pro-tip: If you have good self-service options, it can help your contact center team run more efficiently and focus on the complicated questions that absolutely need a human to resolve.
5. Make your customer service proactive
When it comes to business success, the future is in the hands of brands that can offer proactive customer service.
Think of any B2B brand that’s successful by objective standards. Now pay attention to what makes them different from their decidedly more average competition. More often than not, it’s a difference in not just their products and service, but also the quality of their customer support.
Proactive customer service is a competitive advantage for any business in today’s hyper-competitive business environment. For most B2B brands, it can lead to higher customer lifetime value and customer retention. Not to mention being proactive also helps you create a direct customer feedback loop so that you can take care of minor problems before they become big ones.
The trend of setting up customer success teams in the B2B space is a testimony to why the focus is shifting from new customer acquisition to increased customer retention.1
Some B2B brands are also making adjustments to their traditional sales practices by setting up farming teams2 or investing in customer marketing teams3 to create more revenue from existing customers. Someone who bought from you once is more likely to buy from you again (if they were happy with the product and service).
Don’t be reactive and wait for your customers to come to you with complaints. By then, they’re already annoyed and probably frustrated. Empower your customer service team to start these interactions off on the right foot by proactively and regularly looking for opportunities for your business to improve the customer experience.
Give B2B customer service its due credit
B2B customer service can sound dry, boring, and unglamorous by B2C company standards. It’s also more difficult to please B2B customers. It often takes more than just a 5-minute chat with customer service to resolve most complex issues, and it’s not like these types of issues are few and far between either.
But if you can do B2B customer service right, you can give your business an advantage that defends you against cutthroat pricing from competitors, minor mistakes, and more.
And of course, you’d be making a huge difference to not only your own bottom line—but also your customers’ businesses as well.
And that’s the single biggest reason why B2B customer service is worth doing well.