Everyone agrees that providing world-class customer support is critical to a company’s success. As an IT professional, you have a leading role to play since you are often involved in selecting and implementing the customer support software. That decision will require you to consider many factors, but here’s one that should be at the top of your list: Does your company primarily serve consumers or business customers?
At first glance, that may not seem like such an important question — customers are customers, right? And it’s true that many issues overlap. But there are significant differences between companies that sell primarily to consumers, also known as business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, and companies that sell to other businesses, i.e., business-to-business (B2B) companies.
To make the right decision on customer support technology, it’s crucial to understand the differences between B2C and B2B companies and to know how support delivery strategies differ by industry. Only by better understanding the competitive playing field can IT professionals procure the support technology that will give their company an edge.
So, how do B2B companies differ from their counterparts in the B2C world? B2B companies typically serve smaller marketplaces and have a narrower customer base. They usually count their customers in the hundreds or thousands, not hundreds of thousands or millions. This means service issues can loom large since losing a customer can severely impact a quarter or even a year’s profitability.
Industry consolidation is also a factor for B2B companies that B2C businesses don’t typically face. Excellent customer service can help a B2B vendor keep a contract when customers merge. B2B relationships tend to be longer, which can be an advantage, but it can also be problematic. A long-term relationship inspires loyalty, but it can also create complacency, which B2B vendors and support agents must guard against.
In addition to understanding the differences in the competitive landscapes where B2B and B2C companies operate, it’s also crucial to know how those differences translate into actionable customer support delivery tactics. Here are four key differences and their implications for service delivery:
1. B2B support involves more complex issues
In B2C support, the first call resolution (i.e. fixing the customer’s problem on the first contact) is typically the gold standard. That makes sense because B2C issues are usually straightforward, and the fix is often as simple as returning or exchanging a product. B2B customers, particularly in the software sector, are more tech savvy. By the time they contact a vendor, they usually have a more complicated issue to resolve.
Solving B2B customer support problems often requires extensive research and testing. That means first call resolution isn’t necessarily the metric you should focus on, and it suggests that your agents will need a platform that supports the resolution of complex issues. This platform should feature a collaborative structure and functions such as screen sharing and recording features that allow them to walk customers through complicated steps.
2. B2B companies create deeper, longer-term relationships with larger entities
Most B2C companies have a one-off relationship with individual customers who purchase a product, and if they experience an issue, it is resolved in a single ticket. B2B businesses tend to form in-depth relationships with entire companies rather than individuals. The product lifecycle is usually longer, and issues with products may affect multiple users within a single organization.
To accommodate these unique B2B service delivery challenges, you should look for support technology that provides agents with a big-picture view of clients, including their service history. Support agents should be able to access a company-level view and see how their colleagues have handled issues in the past from other contacts within that company. This can help agents resolve issues more quickly and prevent emerging problems from affecting other users.
3. B2B issues can require an “all hands on deck” approach
Since B2B issues tend to be more complicated, resolving them requires teamwork. Some business leaders envision a linear progression of the customer relationship — marketing to sales to support. But in many cases, especially with complex software products, it’s necessary for account executives, product developers, and others to get involved in solving problems to preserve the overall relationship.
The cyclical nature of the B2B customer experience makes a centralized support platform essential. Business customer-facing software should give everyone on the team instant access to customer support history at the company and contact level. In addition, look for support software with robust reporting and dashboard tools to allow colleagues inside and outside of the support unit to view trends.
4. Support is a key part of marketing in the B2B world.
In the B2C world, marketing builds awareness, and support agents typically focus on fixing one-off issues, such as replacing or repairing products. Companies that serve other businesses must cultivate relationships over a longer period to retain customers — and to generate referrals that can be used to secure new customers.
Great customer support is a critical B2B differentiator. If you choose support software that allows your company to pinpoint and proactively resolve potential problems — before they become widespread service issues — you’ll make it easier for the support team to keep customers on board. You can also transform them into references that enable your B2B company to bring in new clients.
As an IT professional handling technology for a B2B business, you’ll need to be involved in selecting support software that enables your organization to successfully compete on service quality. Your company’s narrower scope of target customers will be looking for products that make their jobs easier, and that means they’ll look for a vendor that consistently offers excellent support.
With this in mind, the support platform IT deploys must take into account the complexity of the product issues business clients face. The platform should be designed to accommodate the longer-term relationships between B2B companies and their customers as well as the heightened need for collaboration. The support software you choose should also help agents consistently provide high-quality support so that the customer service team can fulfill its role as a marketing asset.
IT professionals who find a support platform that meets these requirements can give their customer service team — and their B2B company — a significant marketplace advantage. Make sure you understand the stakes before making a decision, and you can give your company a huge competitive differentiator with a tailor-made customer support platform.
Robert C. Johnson, CEO and Co-Founder of TeamSupport
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