A woman calls into a car company for help with the car she just purchased because the seats aren’t adjusting properly when installing her childrens’ car seats. Meanwhile, at a supply chain firm, the customer support team gets an urgent question via email from the CEO of a mid-sized business that recently signed on as a customer.
The mum and the CEO are the same person. She has the same expectations of service in the B2B and the B2C situation. And she’ll be comparing them. But she is sure to have two vastly different experiences.
There are some obvious differences between B2C and B2B organisations, of course. One is often the size of the purchase. While consumers may buy something that costs less than $10, a business buyer might regularly place orders worth thousands, even millions. B2B customers also tend to have specific procurement processes they need to work through in order to make a purchase. Consumers, on the other hand, usually only have to pull money or a credit card out of their wallet.
However, the world of B2B has been increasingly disrupted by what some experts have dubbed the ‘consumerisation’ of enterprise IT. In other words, consumers who have become used to the ease of accessing products and services, or interacting via social media, are coming to expect the same kind of experience in their professional lives. This has caused a rethink of marketing, sales and service strategies for B2B customers.
Meanwhile, B2C businesses have had to think carefully about the way they collect, store and manage all the data about consumers at their disposal, offering the kind of transparency and governance that an enterprise customer might expect.
Though these worlds sometimes seem very far apart, customer support operations in either environment can benefit from looking to their counterparts for inspiration and best practices.
We’ve picked the top four service lessons B2B and B2C service organisations can learn from each other.
In an enterprise business, it’s rare that a single individual will be able to sign off purchasing an expensive software application, IT equipment or even a large order of office furniture. Instead, they tend to work with a procurement team or buying committee, weighing in with questions and to articulate what they feel is important about the quality of the product and the kind of service they expect.
Consumers, on the other hand, may look more like solo buyers – but don’t be fooled. Buying something as simple as a television can involve input from multiple family members, for example, and advice or recommendations from friends and even strangers. A big purchase like a house will almost always involve multiple people. Sometimes even extended family members are weighing in behind the scenes, especially if they’re lending money.
This should all be factored into the customer support experience being offered. It means you need to collect as much data upfront about needs, preferences and other details when the purchase is made, and use it to provide the best help possible. If you’re providing service to a younger customer, for instance, what additional information might they need to provide their parent or guardian afterwards? When you consider the ‘buying team’ at home, you’ll have a better chance of getting more business from the customer, just as you would in a B2B context.
When you’re selling to a CIO, CMO or even a CEO, what you’re ultimately selling is career success. In fact, making the wrong B2B purchase can lead to terrible consequences in some jobs. When B2B organisations offer service and support, therefore, they make sure that the customer not only feels satisfied and happy, but that they’re going to look like they have demonstrated solid judgment to their boss and the rest of the organisation.
Consumers aren’t really all that different. No one wants to be told they should have known better before buying the wrong model of a particular product, or that they overlooked obvious steps in setting up a product within their home. They want to look good in front of their family and friends, so everything you do – whether it’s guiding them directly or offering self-service tools to empower them – should reflect that.
Let’s suppose a consumer has just had someone at a company successfully help them troubleshoot their new barbecue. This is when where a smart B2C agent might suggest some complementary items that they might want to buy next, whether it’s a cover to protect the barbecue in bad weather, or even the latest set of grill tongs.
So don’t forget that, much like consumers are occasionally worried about ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, B2B customers want to stay competitive. Use this information in a way that’s truly helpful, rather than exploitative, and you’re more likely to increase the value of each B2B customer account, and turn service from a cost centre to a revenue centre.
When service issues arise, B2B buyers don’t want to be greeted as though they are simply a faceless representative of XYZ Corp. They want to feel the way they do when they’re a consumer taking something back to a store or reaching out in some other way: that they are recognised, appreciated and treated as an individual.
This kind of personalisation shouldn’t just happen when B2B firms contact a vendor by phone. They should have the same options to reach out the way consumers do today - by email, text message or even a social media post.
Fortunately, the means to provide top-notch customer service are largely the same in either a B2C or B2B environment: with well-trained staff, strong use of customer data collection and a responsive, thorough approach to getting them on track with the products and services they’ve bought.
Back to that CEO/mum – the car company would understand that she doesn’t want to go home to tell her partner that she couldn’t work out how to put the kids’ seats into. They’d sort it out.
The supply chain would immediately know who she is, and that she prefers they respond via the channel she used – email. They would resolve her problem quickly, they would use the opportunity and trust built by a positive service experience to cross-sell in a helpful way – and leave her satisfied that they are the supplier for her.
For more valuable service insights from more than 3500 customer service decision-makers and agents worldwide, download the State of Service report.