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What B2C And B2B Customer Service Reps Can Learn From Each Other

What B2C And B2B Customer Service Reps Can Learn From Each Other

Though these worlds sometimes seem very far apart, it behooves those running customer support operations in either environment to make sure they look for inspiration and best practices from their counterparts.

A woman calls into a car company to complain about the car she purchased because the seats aren’t adjusting properly when installing her childrens’ car seats. At a supply chain firm, meanwhile, 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.

Both the mom and the CEO are, in fact, the same person — but from a customer support standpoint, she has traditionally been approached from either a business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) context.

There are some obvious differences between B2C and B2B firms, of course. One is often the size of the purchase. While consumers may buy something at the mall that costs less than 10 dollars, a B2B firm might place an order 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.

On of the other hand, the world of B2B has been increasingly disrupted by what some experts have dubbed the “consumerization” of enterprise IT. In other words, consumers who have gotten used to the ease of accessing products and services and interacting via social media are coming to expect the same kind of experience in their professional lives. This has caused all kinds of firms to rethink the way they market, sell and of course provide service to B2B customers.

B2C firms, on the other hand, 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, it behooves those running customer support operations in either environment to make sure they look for inspiration and best practices from their counterparts. The following list may help get you started:

B2B lesson: ‘customer’ may include more than one person

When you work in an enterprise, it’s rare that a single individual will be able to sign off on buying an expensive software application, IT equipment or even a large order of office furniture. Instead, they tend to work within a procurement team or buying committee, all of whom will weigh in with questions and 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 TV set can involve input from multiple family members, for example. A 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 to help with a big-ticket item.

This should all be factored into the customer support experience being offered. It means you need to collect as much data up front about needs, preferences and other details when the purchase is made, and use it effectively to provide the best help possible. If you’re providing customer 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.

B2C lesson: the power of ‘customers like you . . .’

Let’s suppose a consumer has just had someone at a company successfully help them troubleshoot their new BBQ. This is a moment where a smart B2C agent might suggest some complimentary items that they might want to buy next, whether it’s a cover to protect the BBQ in bad weather, or even the latest set of grill tongs.

In B2B, upselling and cross-selling may be more likely to happen the next time the sales team gets some face-time with the buyer or purchasing team, but in some cases those meetings can be few and far between.

Don’t forget that, much like consumers are occasionally worried about “keeping up with the Jonses,” B2B customers want to stay competitive with what their peers are doing. 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.

B2B lesson: customers want to feel like smart decision-makers

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 firms 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 organization.

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 in making the purchase, so everything you do — whether it’s guiding them directly or offering self-service tools to empower them — should reflect that.

B2C lesson: every customer wants to feel like a real, unique person

Vendors may sell into other companies, but when service issues arise, they don’t want to be greeted as though they were 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 recognized, appreciated and treated as an individual.

This kind of personalization 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 data and a responsive, thorough approach to getting them back on track with the products and services they’ve bought.

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