Providing the Best B2B Customer Support - What happens after you’ve closed the deal?
While most businesses acknowledge the importance of stellar customer service in B2C markets, the pivotal role of customer support in B2B can often be overlooked. But it probably shouldn’t be because the stakes here are so much higher. Issues aren't just about a single transaction (or even a few if you have repeat customers) but often about long-term contracts, large orders, or partnership agreements. The impact of a single unresolved complaint can be seismic, its ripples felt throughout the organization.
In this guide, we'll shine a spotlight on the nuances of B2B customer service best practices so your team can provide the best customer support possible. We’ll look at the importance of excellent customer service and the challenges of providing it, and then give you a blueprint to help you delight and deliver.
What is B2B customer service?
B2B (Business-to-Business) customer service revolves around the support and services a business provides to other businesses using its products or services. These could include assistance with technical issues, onboarding or creating accounts for new employees, upgrading tools as needed, or even handling returns or exchanges of damaged products.
Unlike the more transactional nature of B2C (Business-to-Consumer) interactions, B2B relationships often span longer periods, involve complex contracts, and demand a deeper level of engagement. Here, it's not just about resolving a one-off issue or making another sale—it's about nurturing and sustaining a partnership.
The key characteristics of B2B customer service include:
- Building Long-term relationships
- Higher stakes for ensuring satisfaction
- More complex issues that need resolving
- Providing customized solutions
- Having multiple touchpoints
- Addressing unique needs and challenges
Good B2B customer service is not a department; it's an ethos. A commitment to showing you are fully invested in all of your customer’s success by helping them maximize the potential of your product or service in their organization.
B2B vs. B2C customer service: The key differences
While the core principle of customer service remains consistent across sectors—delivering exceptional support and fostering positive relationships—the intricacies of B2B and B2C interactions can be very different. Here is what sets them apart:
1. The nature of the relationship:
B2B: In a B2B customer service relationship, the focus is on building and maintaining long-term relationships and customer retention. Interactions are proactive, consistent, and often scheduled. This might look like regular check-ins as a customer is onboarding, monthly check-ins, or quarterly business reviews and annual meetings. These interactions may be virtual or in person.
B2C: While repeat business is always desired, B2C interactions tend to be more transactional, with customers engaging as needs arise. Some B2C customer service interactions are limited to phone, chat, or email inquiries.
2. Depth of Engagement:
B2B: Discussions are typically detailed and involve multiple layers of communication, often requiring coordination between various teams—from sales reps and technical support to upper management.
B2C: Interactions are usually more straightforward, addressing specific issues, pain points, or queries about a product or service. The customer service representatives may even provide some light technical support.
3. Complexity of Issues:
B2B: Challenges with B2B clients are generally more complex. They may be related to new features and functionality, integration issues, or contractual terms requiring specialized knowledge.
B2C: Queries are typically centered around general product or service concerns, usage instructions, or transaction-related questions.
4. Sales cycle and decision-making:
B2B: After an initial deal is completed, the service experience provided could be a big factor in an organization’s decision to renew or expand a business relationship. For the sales team, the customer data collected throughout these service interactions can provide vital insight into the health of the client relationship and what needs to be addressed in the renewal or expansion process. As we know all too well, the B2B business sales cycle is longer, with multiple stages of discussions, negotiations, and approvals. Decisions often involve several stakeholders. This is why it is important for the sales and service teams to have regular discussions about client health and the business development process.
B2C: Since most customer service conversations happen post-purchase, they are less tied to the renewal or expansion of a relationship, but this isn’t always the case. Take an appliance purchase, for example. Let’s say you’ve purchased a washer and dryer from a large, well-known company (and there are several big players in this space). Your dryer isn’t functioning as you expected, and you have a difficult time getting service. It finally gets repaired, but your perception of this company is tarnished. Next time you need a big appliance or a new dryer, you know you will opt to use another company with better customer service.
5. Customization expectation:
B2B: B2B customers often expect tailored solutions to fit their specific business needs, infrastructure, or operations. This means that sharing generic documentation won’t suffice. For an enterprise SaaS product, when a customer is having trouble, the user might expect to have a dedicated customer support person walk them through the solution or have the ability to schedule a call and do a screen share until the issue is able to be resolved. For issues that can’t be resolved in a phone call (a bug or a needed feature), the user might expect to be provided with a timeline and periodic updates until the issue is able to be cleared. Documentation or filling in a ticket won’t suffice in this type of situation.
B2C: When B2C customers contact support with an issue, they may have limited options for customization. They may be offered some support troubleshooting or be able to submit a ticket to be handled within a designated time frame (anywhere from 24 hours to a few business days). Unless this is for an expensive type of software or big-ticket item, the customization options are generally limited to standard scripts, documentation, or responses.
6. Value and volume:
B2B: Transactions often involve larger sums of money, bulk orders, or extensive service agreements. This is a key factor in the need for more proactive customer support. A B2B customer might sign a full-year (or multi-year) agreement with a service provider. Many of these contracts come with a cancellation clause if the customer is dissatisfied for any reason. So, understanding their support needs and asking for regular feedback through surveys or net promoter scores (nps) is critical.
B2C: Purchases are typically smaller in value but larger in volume, catering to the broad consumer market. B2C customer service teams may have a larger volume of callers with smaller transaction values. The support they provide may be more generic with fewer custom responses needed.
While both B2B and B2C customer service aim to provide exemplary support, each realm's approaches, complexities, and expectations are distinct. Recognizing and adapting to these differences is crucial for businesses to thrive in their respective domains.
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Why is customer support so important for B2B sales?
Customer support should stand as one of the most important aspects of any company. Whether the focus is business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B), customer support is your company’s direct connection to consumers and clients. Your company can enhance its reputation and cultivate a loyal customer base with a successful customer support team.
In a B2B sales context, customer support can be a complex and challenging, nonetheless highly rewarding task. If your business provides a technical solution to a client, it is imperative that they see the return on their investment. The client’s users need to be happy with the tools and the level of service provided. That is why customer support plays a key role in whether the client continues using your tools or opts to churn.
B2B relationships offer high returns, with the impact of an effective B2B customer support strategy making its presence felt on the bottom line.
The stakes are larger in B2B, where one sale has the potential to significantly impact your revenue, depending on the size of the customer. When a customer purchases your services, your company has the chance to impress beyond its tools.
By providing dependable and pleasant customer support, it is easier for you to satisfy and retain customers over extended periods of time. This leads to potential up-selling, increased customer advocacy and loyalty, as well as an improved lifetime value of the customer account. All key drivers of revenue.
Better company reputation
Consider the amount of resources that go towards advertising and brand management. Building that positive reputation and standing out in today’s highly competitive markets is a challenge.
You could have the best enterprise network security products on the market. You can create and disseminate a number of quality proposals to generate potential customers. Yet, when there is a following of happy customers who advocate on your behalf, it is far easier for prospects to see your brand.
Your company's work in providing a positive customer journey results in testimonies, reviews, and conversations among perceived trusted sources. Research has shown that word of mouth and customer references are the two most important factors when a business software purchase is to be made. Customer support and customer satisfaction are crucial to gaining this type of promotion and brand loyalty.
How to Improve B2B Customer Support
By emphasizing customer-centricity, your customer support teams can be more proactive in addressing customer issues. This type of strategy is part of a wider business model driven by customer experience (CX). After a sale, this approach to continued customer support can build a closer relationship between your business and your customer. By using customer feedback you can build your knowledge base and be better placed to respond to customer needs as they arise.
For that reason, it is increasingly common to see customer success teams after the point of sale. This approach to support means your departments can streamline queries by customers. It gives your company a competitive edge in terms of CX by showcasing your productivity. In fact, B2B companies that excel at CX can see an increase of up to 20% in customer satisfaction- translating to a 10% increase in growth. The kind of numbers that make you sit up and notice!
Customize the support
In order to provide high-quality support to a customer, it is important that you know them well. Recognize their needs, characteristics, and behaviors so that you can provide a tailored service. A B2B buyer may have multiple stakeholders, varying contact points, and different user demographics. By knowing your customers and providing customized support, you will show how much you value them.
Considering that customers communicate in multiple ways, it is important to have a consistent omnichannel support system in place. Your company will need to provide consistent interactions across multiple touchpoints like your website and social media accounts, etc. In doing so, you lower your company response times and build trust with the customer.
As touched on earlier, B2B customer issues can require the input of multiple teams. Depending on the scale of a problem, it can be a challenge to efficiently fix an issue as different departments are required. Through cloud tools, your workforce can be mobile. Even with remote teams using team collaboration tools, your support teams can lower the time taken to address support tickets and boost productivity.
Communication is a key aspect of efficient collaboration when fixing B2B customer issues. It is increasingly common to find customer support team members working remotely. Though there are challenges to having a partially remote workforce, there are software solutions that keep lines of communication clear and shorten response times, e.g. report design and VoIP tools.
Invest in automated customer support tools
By incorporating great customer support tools, your business will see increased customer satisfaction. For example, you may need an automated live chat (‘chatbots’) on product landing pages. These self-service options aid customers wanting to research and with troubleshooting simpler FAQs in real time.
When you find the technology you need, you will see greater potential in the quality of support your company can provide. A smaller business may find it easier to provide good customer support by automating processes to improve operations- for example, a live chat tool, makes it easier to request a customer’s contact information or collect other data on them.
With the automation of live chat, it is possible for staff to offer a more personalized experience at the right time. With the information gathered, closing sales deals or driving certain actions with specific interactive content engagements can also be easier. With the use of automated ticketing, you can save the support team’s time by having dedicated account managers receiving tickets for specific accounts.
Integrate customer relationship management
In the realms of B2B sales and customer support, it is better for the agents to have the most up-to-date customer information possible. Using the information, support agents will be able to send consistently useful engagements to your customers at the most appropriate time. A blog titled “Is VoIP good for small business” to new small business prospects, for example.
With CRM and customer support tools usually separate, there can be a slight time lag when finding customer information. By integrating CRM and customer support tools, your agents can find all the necessary customer information in the same location and avoid sending conflicting messages to the wrong offices.
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B2B customer support is no longer a luxury or value add, it’s an imperative
The modern B2B customer is not solely focused on the quality of the product at hand. Spoilt for choice in a world where the next option is just a mouse click away, customer experience is now not just a competitive advantage but a necessity.
We hope this article has given you some food for thought and ideas on how you can improve yours. If you do, you’ll reap the rewards- not just with a bolstered brand reputation and increased customer loyalty, but with a healthier bottom line.
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About the author
Marissa Taffer|Founder & President of M. Taffer Consulting
Marissa Taffer is the Founder & President of M. Taffer Consulting. She brings over 15 years of sales and marketing experience across various industries to a broad range of clients.
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