Why B2B should take B2C CX lessons: Or why B2B customers are people, too

As technology continues to advance at a rapid rate, we often long for the days when life was simple.
 
The days when we weren’t faced with 24-hour-a-day email or the ubiquitous smartphone that seems to devour hours of our lives giving little in return or friendly customer service. While the first two seem here to stay, the latter is something many businesses are making a concerted effort to resurrect using the same technologies that follow us from work to home and back again. And, importantly, the human touch remains a large part of good customer service.
 
When talking to a colleague recently about the topic for this article: B2B customer service, we discussed how or if there is (or should be) a difference between B2B customer service and B2C customer service. I would argue that there shouldn’t be a difference.
 
In today’s B2C customer service experience, we often, thankfully, talk to people who are empowered to take returns without question (Costco, for example) or refund money when the after-the-purchase price goes down (Macy’s, in this case). I see no reason B2B customer service should be any different. In fact, in many cases, a B2B sale is hundreds of thousands, if not tens of millions of dollars; customer service here should be exponentially better.
 
Today, however, customer service in the B2B space appears to be inefficient: “Many B2B companies don’t focus on customer experience, and B2B customers have come to expect the same mediocre experience every time,” according to Blake Morgan writing in Forbes.
 
Ironically, a poor B2B customer service experience exists while the B2B community says a good customer service experience is necessary for growth. “Consider this: 90 percent of B2B executives surveyed believe CX is crucial to their companies’ strategic priorities,” according to an Accenture survey of more than 1,350 executives
 
Not to mention that B2B companies that do use customer service to their advantage “generate 2X return on their CX investments compared to all other B2B companies,” according to Accenture.
 
To make exceptionally good B2B customer service a reality, we must make an organization-wide commitment. “Ability is what you're capable of doing,” explains former football coach Lou Holtz. “Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”
 
We have the people in place to create a personable customer service experience in the B2B space when we bring together our ability, motivation and attitude.
 
3 Tips to Improve B2B Customer service
 
Invest in the people, the process and the place. Each is key to providing exceptional customer service when the customer needs and expects it. The focus on customer service must be in every part of the business. From side to side and top to bottom. Customer service starts months or years before the customer actually needs help.
 
“CX (customer experience) covers a range of activities, from voice of the customer (VoC) to customer journey mapping and user experience,” explains Gartner.
 
People
 
Customer service starts at the very beginning when selecting the right people for the job. Here, I’m not talking about education or job experience, but a belief and passion in what the company sells and services.
 
Many times we just fill the job. Do a little training and set the employee loose. But the person may not have the customer service gene that makes them exceptional. This applies to every level of the organization, not just entry-level where I think we often put too much focus.
 
We must, of course, hire for a specific skill set, but without an inherent sense of “customer service,” even the employee most qualified in other ways may fail. If they're not oriented correctly in what they build and design, for example, then you’re not going to be distinguished in service and delivery.
 
QuikTrip, a chain of convenience stores in the Midwest, South and Southeast U.S., has made this transition with seemingly little effort. The stores are super clean, employees smile and never make you wait or stand in line. Employee badges often show tenure of 8 or more years. This is evidence of a substantial culture that exists throughout the company: everyone believes in what they’re delivering.
 
To be exceptional at customer service, employees--from the president and CEO to frontline workers--must take these ideals to heart and really believe them. Otherwise, customer service will be mediocre, at best. That will cost you customers.
 
Process
 
The customer service experience should use technologies employed by your employees. Neither should be separated from the other.
 
“There’s a fundamental misconception that AI is a solution in and of itself,” explains a Digitally Cognizant article. “While AI does analyze customer data at speeds and magnitude unthinkable in the past, the most enlightened brands use it to better predict customer needs so they can enable staff to do what humans do best. In the age of the machine, leading with empathy is a brand differentiator.”
 
The process design should be in place to give people the power to take care of issues in real-time without checking with a supervisor. The process, while complex behind-the-scenes, should be seamless for every customer. It should be so simple and effective the customer doesn’t even realize it’s happening.
 
The customer service process should support the organization’s common purpose. That common purpose is different for every company. For some it could be efficiency, for others effectiveness. No matter what, the organization must design a system or a process that supports that purpose.
 
The process is fundamental to creating an internal culture of customer care, which leads to success in launching the initiative externally with actual customers. The process enables exceptional customer service throughout the entire chain of events that make up the customer journey from discovery to purchase to retention.
 
Place
 
The place is wherever customer service is delivered and employees work. Customer service work happens on a website, via email, chat, by phone or in a physical location, like a bricks-and-mortar store. No matter where customer service takes place, it must be consistent and follow the processes put in place. Over the past few years, of course, online customer service has become the new standard. Ensuring your business’ online presence is top-notch must be high on the list of improvements because many customers’ first experience happens on a website via a form or chat. Chatbots, too, have become ubiquitous; they must be programmed to understand written conversations. “AI, in the form of machine learning and natural language processing,” according to Digitally Cognizant, “is also driving the conversational interface revolution, in which brands will have to quickly learn to design for and differentiate in a world without visual interfaces.”
 
At some point in the customer service journey, a human-to-human “conversation” occurs, whether it happens in a live chat, phone call or email response. Employees must have the tools to ensure they can make the decisions that support the customer and the company. Propagating a common corporate purpose, a customer service road map and, importantly, an appreciation and understanding of both is necessary for success.
 
The Customer Service Asset
 
Customer costs must be viewed as an asset versus a liability. While there is expense for an online chat, that service intersection may turn into more revenue in the future. Exemplary customer service can lead to retention, referrals and repeat business. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to quantify the value of customer service. Even with this uncertainty, business is taking notice of the importance of customer service. “More organizations are declaring their commitment to CX by hiring leaders to drive it. Only around 10% of organizations have no CXO or CCO (or equivalent) today, compared to 39% two years ago. Seventy-four percent of organizations expect increases in their CX budgets in 2020,” according to Gartner.
 
Ultimately, the way we interact with a customer should be their choice. Some will prefer chatbots, others like email, still others would rather have a phone call. One size fits all isn’t the answer. But the answer certainly fits that one person.
 
 
Tom Galle is Vice President of Customer Support at TriZetto Provider Solutions.
 
 
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