The importance of high-quality customer service and support is critically important in web hosting and other business-to-business sales and relationships. How important is customer experience, particularly for B2B contexts? What steps can you take to improve your service and build a more satisfied base?
The commoditization of business-to-business services has created an environment in which it is more critical than ever to consider the needs of individual business customers. In order to break free of the commodity trap and get stronger loyalty and retention, it is helpful to understand the scope of both rational and emotional reasons that go into buying decisions. For example, someone might make a purchasing decision based on aspects that are often more associated with consumer purchasing, such as the desire to curb anxiety or bolster credibility.
A 2018 study featured in Harvard Business Review looked at dozens of different “elements of value” that are used by B2B buyers to compare options. The elements are organized as a pyramid. Example elements are divided into 10 categories within 5 value types: purpose elements within inspirational value; career and personal elements within individual value; productivity, access, relationship, operational, and strategic elements within ease of doing business value; and economic and performance elements within functional value; all based upon core table stakes (e.g. regulatory compliance).
The focus of this article is the quality of customer service and support, so that falls under the relationship category of business ease. Factors of relationship in the model include cultural fit, stability, commitment, expertise, and responsiveness; the last three of those are all demonstrated by and carried out by high-quality customer service.
Since the customer service quality is so key to determining whether purchases are made and relationships are maintained, it would make sense that B2C firms would invest heavily in this concern – and they do. However, a McKinsey analysis reveals this aspect of the B2B approach is lagging in comparison to B2C: while the latter get typical customer-experience ratings of 65 to 85%, the former get an average rating below 50%. In essence, the B2B experience gets a negative approval rating!
Why service issues can be more problematic in B2B
Part of the reason that the quality of customer service may not be as central as it should be within B2B generally is that this aspect of the purchasing process is typically conveyed in mainstream discussion via B2C examples from hospitality and retail. Those examples are easier to make and use because they are immediately relatable, noted customer service author Micah Solomon. Solomon pointed out how significant a mistake that is by explaining how customer service issues are amplified within B2B specifically, in these three ways:
- The value of a relationship is usually higher than with consumers;
- Each individual sale is typically larger than B2C; and
- A “multiplier effect” is at play in B2B relationships due to their complexity. Each piece of the puzzle influences the overall experience. For instance, the level of service quality provided by a subcontractor can either improve or pollute wholesale supplier relationships.
6 ways to bolster customer service & experience
Key ways that you can optimize your customer service and deliver an improved experience for B2B customers are as follows:
1.) Deliver seamless simplicity.
You want the relationship to be easy of course, so thinking in terms of simplicity of the customer experience is pivotal. When customers are polled for their satisfaction, a typical aspect that is evaluated is the simplicity, as is sometimes indicated by a “customer effort score” or similar metric – which will reveal when there are issues with the simplicity of the system. One key concern for customers is time – a concern that providers do not needlessly waste their time but rapidly help them resolve their issue and move on with their day. “[R]educing customer effort is pivotal to delivering a more seamless and therefore more superior customer experience,” noted Julia Cupman.
2.) Understand what your customers want.
You of course want to give businesses what they want in order to feel comfortable buying. For example, nearly 3 in 5 people (59%) said in one industry poll that they would rather make purchases themselves through online information-gathering rather than talking with a salesperson.
People who are buying for a business from another business are highly focused on optimizing revenue and efficiency. Anxiety is common with these purchases since ultimately opinion will influence what is chosen. A strong customer experience helps alleviate these emotional responses.
3.) Be proactive in solving customer problems.
You do not want the B2B customer to feel any pain, and the best way to target possible painful incidents is preventively. If you focus on finding pain points and forecasting possible customer needs, you will win long-term clients.
Being proactive is not just about letting the customer know about other services and products you offer. It is also about changing the way you communicate, as found in a study released by Osram Sylvania, a lighting firm. The company’s research determined that negative words such as don’t, won’t, and can’t typically led customers to feel dissatisfied. Simply by changing language, the B2B company helped bolster customer mood and experience.
4.) Personalize the buying process.
We all like to make choices about what we get when we shop for ourselves, whether we’re buying technology, food, or anything else – and the same is true of people buying for businesses. You can improve the value of what you offer through a personalized experience, with customized solutions. Otherwise, as indicated above, the commodity trap may keep your organization from differentiating itself.
A customer that wants to deliver an extraordinary customer experience will adapt as the environment changes. An organization that is trying to offer customer service that continues to impress must make improvements over time – especially as newer technologies become available that can better meet business needs. Cupman noted that design thinking can be used to better optimize the customer experience in B2B, allowing you to tweak what you offer through reconsidered engineering. Taking this step can have a hugely positive impact on your bottom line. ING is a good example of success in this area, said Cupman, increasing its share price by 15% and its profits by 23% when it applied omnichannel automatic integration to its customer data during a broad system upgrade. Through these improvements, the bank was able to form an environment in which both corporate and retail customers can generate tailored reports and access real-time account overview data.
6.) Be a consultant.
Business-to-business buyers often cite an overly aggressive sales perspective as a troubling aspect of current or potential vendors. It is important to understand that B2B firms are considered too pushy. To free yourself from that stereotype, try going out of your way to inform and advise your clients. Doing so pays dividends, with business buyers five times – that’s 400% – likelier than consumers to treat providers preferentially when they give them new knowledge and insights.
The simple path to figuring out what your customers need is to listen. Ask your customers what they want and need. Then focus your educational, consultative approach on those areas.
Excellent people for excellent customer service
Are you looking for excellent customer service in your B2B relationships? The expert team at Total Server Solutions is made up of individuals with the highest levels of integrity and professionalism. Our people make all the difference.