Although customer service is often focused on in B2C companies, it’s just as important—if not more so—in B2B companies. In fact, up to 80% of B2B purchase decisions are impacted by a buyer’s experience with the B2B customer service, so it’s an essential quality of your brand or company to consider.
However, B2B customer service is a bit more complex than other types of customer service. B2B customers have large contracts—and large expectations. They have complicated questions and are often navigating purchase decisions that will impact groups of employees or customers, so they have many conflicting needs and goals.
Not only does this make the sales and purchase process difficult, but it makes customer service more complicated—and more essential. So how can you create a winning B2B customer service strategy? And what brands can you learn from who are already making their mark in the B2B customer service space? We’ll discuss practical tips and examples of each in this article.
What is B2B Customer Service?
B2B—or Business-to-Business—customer service refers to selling and customer service that happens between two businesses. While B2B sales are commonly talked about, B2B customer service is often overlooked, even though customer service is just as essential for B2B sales as B2C (Business-to-Consumer) sales.
B2B sales and customer service are common in all kinds of industries, from healthcare to marketing, technology to finance and more. Wherever businesses need to purchase software, products, services or technology, B2B customer service is essential.
B2B customer service typically involves talking to representatives on behalf of a company, rather than individual purchasers themselves. In many cases, though, the types of service or support needed are similar: asking questions about a specific product, needing technical support, providing payment or billing support, or giving general information.
To understand how to do B2B customer service well, we need to first understand the similarities and differences to B2C customer service, so we can understand the implications of each.
B2B Customer Service vs B2C Customer Service
While B2B customer service does have a lot in common with B2C customer service, there’s also many differences—many of which make the stakes even higher.
For example, in B2B, there’s often much higher purchase points and more people involved in the decision. A single individual might purchase a $50 makeup palette and feel disappointed if it is delayed in shipping, but be satisfied with a discount off her next purchase. However, in business, the items purchased usually run in the four to six figures—or more—meaning the service that accompanies them is expected to be just as valuable.
In addition, the goods or services purchased are not for entertainment or pleasure—they’re essential to business operations and growth. All of this means that customer service needs to be even more valuable, relational and customer-oriented: even if the customer is a business.
Ultimately, B2B and B2C customer service have much in common because, at their core, they’re both about people. Designing human-first interactions for your customers—whether they’re looking for a new jacket for themselves or a new software tool to be used by a thousand company employees—is essential in developing brand loyalty, ensuring adequate support and driving revenue.
In addition, the obvious customer service staples: friendly representatives, quick and knowledgeable service, and consistent support are essential, regardless of whether you’re selling to corporations or individual consumers.
What other similarities should you keep in mind to enhance your B2B customer service?
Both B2C & B2B Customers Expect Personalized Experiences
According to research from Gartner, 86% of B2B customers expect companies to be “well-informed about their personal information during service interactions.”
Personalization is a growing trend in the B2C customer service world, but B2B companies should take note that customers expect personalization in both their personal and professional purchases. Ultimately, companies should take the time to research, learn and understand their audience’s needs, wants, goals, desires and preferences.
Both B2C & B2B Customers Want Self-Service Support
While it’s well-known that B2C consumers increasingly desire self-service and instantaneous support, the trend is infiltrating the B2B world as well. In fact, according to research from TrustRadius, almost 100% of B2B buyers want some kind of self-service options available during the buying or support process.
These include things like chatbots and knowledge bases alongside other offerings like transparent pricing, free trials or free demos of the product and online reviews or testimonials. Although transparent pricing and online reviews are common in B2C, they’ve not yet become mainstream in B2B. However, B2B companies looking to improve customer service and experiences would do well to take a cue in this area from the B2C world.
Although B2B and B2C customer service have many things in common at the foundation, the details have some stark differences.
|Sales||long lead cycles and (typically) longer contracts||short lead cycles and one-off impulse purchases|
|Pricing||price point is generally less of a concern||price point is a major concern for most|
|closed deals are usually large, four to six figures or more||most consumer purchases are small|
|Loyalty||business customers generally are more brand loyal||consumers regularly purchase from different brands and are willing to switch brands easily|
|Purchasing||many individuals are involved, may involve contracts and other legal concerns||usually 1-2 people are decision makers and the purchase can be made quickly|
|Service||expect ongoing support to ensure their business is running smoothly||expects great service, but with lower stakes if it’s not received|
How do these differences impact your customer service?
B2B Involves More Buyers
With B2B, the buyers are typically a team or an organization, so instead of having one, or maybe two customers attached to an account, you might have a whole team or company. As a result, your customer service may have to field questions from distinct team members across a variety of departments who all have different relationships to the tool or service (for example, the decision makers may not be the ones actually using the tool day-to-day.)
In short, you’ll have more relationships to manage, and decisions on purchasing typically take much longer. The lead cycle is longer, but the contract or usage cycle is also typically longer as well. As a result, there is more time—and more value—for building relationships through your customer support teams.
In addition, since these purchases are business decisions, there’s often contracts, SLAs or other legal contracts involved in purchases. These call for a higher level of customer service as well, as B2B customer representatives need to be familiar with these types of agreements and able provide support as companies work through their process.
B2B Customer Service is Higher Stakes
A consumer who doesn’t get their needs resolved with their latest purchase probably will be quite frustrated, and may switch brands in the future, but it likely won’t negatively impact their whole life (although some customers may beg to differ).
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However, businesses make purchases that will ultimately affect the functioning and maintenance of their business, so their expectations with customer service are much higher. When a business customer needs something, they’re likely to be a bit more demanding, and to have higher expectations of how the problem will be resolved.
After all, they’re likely paying tens of thousands of dollars for their contract—so they expect to be treated as a priority. Many B2B customers expect to have a dedicated service rep to ensure ongoing support and feel confident that they’ll be able to keep all aspects of their business running smoothly. B2B customer service needs to be personal, direct, efficient and collaborative. Businesses want to know that you are there for them when a problem occurs, so they can limit disruption to your business. If you aren’t, keeping clients on for the long haul will be difficult.
B2B Customer Service is More Complex
Ultimately, B2B customer service is just more complex. For example:
- It encompasses more of the buyer process and often extends further beyond the purchase date.
- It involves more buyers and more complicated and collaborative buying decisions.
- The purchases made are more important, and more expensive, necessitating better service.
- The contract periods and relationships last longer, and take more effort to build.
- Price point is less of a concern, so service and support play a larger role in loyalty.
In order to navigate these complexities, B2B customer service representatives need to be experts who are collaborative, creative problem-solvers, empathetic and relational.
3 Companies Who Do B2B Customer Service Well
Despite not getting as much attention as B2C customer service, there’s already a lot of B2B companies nailing the customer service game. Take notes from these three companies as you develop your B2B customer service strategy.
Hubspot is a major player in the B2B world, with a robust CRM platform supporting small, local brands alongside major global corporations. They’ve set themselves apart not only as thought leaders in their industry, but also as leaders in customer support and experience.
One of Hubspot’s key B2B customer support features? Proactiveness. Whether you’re a longtime user of their product, casually browsing their website for content or searching for a product solution, they have ready support available at almost every touchpoint, tailored to your stage of the buyer or user journey.
Not only that, but they’ve made their proactive customer support engaging—setting themselves apart with genuinely useful content, engaging social media accounts for business, and online self-service training and product certifications.
Slack has obviously grown massively since the rise of remote work has made asynchronous communication more prevalent and necessary. One of the key customer service features that sets them apart as a brand is their reliance on customer feedback to develop and iterate on their product.
While customer service is often seen as answering questions and fielding support communications, using customer communications and feedback for service improvements is a great way to distinguish your support and your brand. After all, if many customers are asking for or complaining about the same problem, it’s much better support—for all of your customers, present and future—to fix the problem overall in your product rather than provide a temporary fix for the employees who reach out.
This is exactly what Slack has done, in both big and small ways. With everything from emojis to integrations, Slack has consistently responded to and iterated on customer feedback to continue serving customers.
IBM is a B2B giant, but they didn’t get there for no reason. They’re well-known for having exceptional customer service and experiences. One of the ways they ensure this is by focusing on relational, ongoing customer support.
For example, when new clients sign on, IBM assigns them a team of specialists dedicated to helping them integrate and migrate their tech stack, training them on best practices, and ensuring they fully understand and know how to use the product for their business goals. Once this onboarding is complete, IBM consistently solicits feedback from clients, using it to improve the product and services.
Since they’ve created exceptional support for all stages of the customer journey, customers feel supported and valuable, staying loyal to the brand and ultimately driving increased revenue for IBM.
B2B Customer Service Best Practices
So, how do you follow in the footsteps of leaders like IBM and Hubspot and create your own winning B2B customer service strategy? Follow these best practices:
- Know your customers
- Make your customer service proactive and personalized
- Know the metrics that matter
- Design for collaboration
- Keep it human
Know your customers
This is just as important for B2B as it is for B2C customers! And it applies on both a personal and a company level. That is, when providing B2B customer service, your reps should know both the individual they’re speaking to—and their preferences, concerns and goals—as well as the larger organization they represent. Organizational concerns will differ from an individual’s concerns, but it’s essential to know and cater to them both when working with B2B customers.
Make your customer service proactive & personalized
One thing that B2B customers consistently want is proactive and personalized customer service. Of course, if you know your customers and target audience well (see above), this is much easier. However, it’s still important to find ways to build this into your B2B service strategy.
For example, don’t be afraid to reach out first! In B2C, customer service is usually reserved for inbound communication—the customer reaches out when they have a problem, otherwise, it’s assumed that all is well. However, for B2B, this won’t work. Business clients need to be reassured that you are aware of and understand their needs and are ready to support them with your goals. One of the best ways to do that is proactively provide support at various stages of the customer journey.
In addition, keep in mind that B2B customers are usually high-touch, and generally need more support than B2C customers. Provide customer service that meets them wherever and whenever they need it, with either live or self-service support options that are personalized to their contracts, solutions and goals.
Know the metrics that matter
When it comes to B2B customer service, it’s important to understand early on which metrics truly matter. Due to the long sales cycles, long-term contracts and large business deals, B2B companies need their customer service to focus more on satisfaction and loyalty than issues like speed and automation.
Of course, these are all important, but B2B customer service issues are usually more complex—and have higher stakes—than B2C customer service issues. As a result, customer service within B2B should prioritize accurate, personalized answers over fast ones.
By focusing on long-term loyalty and satisfaction, you’ll be able to ensure that customers stick with you even as you develop and grow, which will yield significant dividends as a B2B company. Data from customer service interactions can also provide valuable insights into how to grow and develop your product or services. In addition to core satisfaction and loyalty metrics, you can also get feedback on services from your customers directly and develop metrics from that feedback that will allow you to improve your offerings.
Design for collaboration
B2B customer support is necessarily more collaborative since teams and organizations are typically using the product together. As such, B2B customer service calls for additional communication and collaborative efforts.
As a B2B company, you need to make it easy for different members of the team to access your support and service—and for them to access it either individually or in tandem with your team. Additionally, you should ensure that the types of service different team members would likely need is easily accessible based on their team function.
Finally, keep in mind that customer service questions for B2B companies can vary greatly in scope—while some may be simple housekeeping issues, others may be complex questions about structuring or scaling product usage across an entire company. For these types of questions, it’s helpful to have collaborative communication processes in place, so that multiple members and experts in your team (and your customer’s team) can work together to find optimal solutions.
To make this easier, B2B companies should offer omnichannel support solutions and a seamless customer experience. Doing so will enable your customers to feel supported and save time by connecting all the pieces of their support journeys. It will also enable your agents to provide better customer support, since they’ll be able to access and understand the problems encountered and solutions tested up to the current point.
Keep it human
In short: keep your customer service interactions people-focused and human-centered, even when you’re dealing with large enterprises and corporations. At the end of the day, you are always dealing with people, even if they’re speaking on behalf of an organization.
And by providing a personalized, human touch in your customer service, you can ensure they feel supported and valued, thus creating loyal customers for life.
If you’re looking to improve your B2B customer service or create a winning customer service strategy, reach out to an expert from Global Response. Our team of customer-obsessed experts know how to create and deliver exceptional customer experiences across a variety of industries. We’re here to empower your brand and make B2B easy.