High expectations to meet
B2B marketers focus too much on their products, internal processes and organizational silos, and too little on the total customer relationship, Forrester concludes in its report B2B Loyalty, the B2C way. Which explains why loyalty in B2B relationships is waning, as McKinsey’s B2B Pulse reports. When customer needs are not recognized and addressed, they quickly lose interest. Eight in ten B2B buyers will actively look for a new supplier if performance guarantees are not offered. Other must-haves for doing B2B e-commerce according to McKinsey are prices and product availability shown online, the ability to purchase from any channel, consistent experience across channels and real-time customer service.
The second tier exists of functionalities that B2B buyers expect, which are outcomes-based pricing, readily available customer reviews and easy-to-place mobile commerce. The tier three wants – the nice-to-haves that distinguish your brand – include free shipping available on all orders, virtual product demos, single login, delivery within two days and a loyalty program. The more needs are met, the easier it becomes for the B2B buyer to keep buying from the same vendor. The B2B Buyer report reveals that 84% of B2B buyers prefer to buy from a supplier that they have a great relationship with.
Improving customer experience pays off
The reality at most B2B companies stands in stark contrast to the customer needs. Many companies often take days to provide a quote, require customers to fill out complex order forms, and leave customers in the dark about the status of their orders. That while investing in an improved customer experience pays off. In a recent study, McKinsey saw 10 to 15% decreases in churn, increases in quote acceptance rates by up to 40%, and reductions in marketing costs by as much as 50%. At the same time, employee satisfaction increases as the customer experience improves, because a better connection with customers provides more meaning to their work. Happy employees are certainly no luxury in the current overstrained labor market.
B2B companies in all sectors face the implicit ultimatum of the customer: make B2B shopping easy, or we'll find someone else to do it. The reason is simple: above all, people want the same convenient shopping experience for B2B as they learned to appreciate from B2C. This means that a data-driven, customer-centric strategy is no longer reserved for the Amazons of this world. B2B companies must step up their game and address customer needs through optimal customer journeys. Getting there, however, takes considerable time. To grease the operational gears in the meantime, B2B companies should focus on offering great customer service. When done right, customer support becomes a competitive advantage.
Self-service, but not always
Modern buyers expect all the information they need to be readily available online. The importance of self-service in B2B e-commerce cannot be overstretched: 70% of B2B prefer to place their orders online rather than via the sales representative, according to Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Study. Self-service lowers your support costs, reduces your customer churn rates and even impacts customer loyalty. Good customer service is essential for brand loyalty, and the everywhere & anytime factor of self-service goes a long way for B2B buyers. The preference for self-service is, however, finite. When computer says no and your client can’t get beyond the limitations of your system, frustration can boil up quickly.
A product number not found, lacking delivery details or simply an unclear product image makes ordering a shot in the dark. Whenever the digital experience is lacking, switching to human contact is desirable. Having a live person to answer questions during the online journey takes away doubts and clarifies information vital to purchasing. According to 99 firms, live chat has an adoption rate of 66% for B2B customers. Forrester’s Building the B2B Omni-Channel Commerce Platform of the Future paper found that 83% of buyers will buy again from the same B2B company after having a great customer service experience.
Best practices to address the customer relationship challenge
Keep it two-way
E-commerce tends to shift doing business from a two-way, relational communication to one-way, transactional communication. This is the key reason why many B2B companies experience a loss in loyalty and churn when going online. They forget to do those important things that keep a relationship alive and going forward: listening and paying attention. Adding this human touch again is easy: make personal phone calls, check in with clients that haven’t purchased in a while and send appropriate thank you notes, for example. Via your digital channels you can use personalized email, live chat, call me now buttons and videoconferencing.
Reducing friction in the customer journey should continuously be the main goal of your customer-facing organization. What can you do to make it easier to find information, compare products and place an order? Asking your customer directly for feedback will not only provide you with interesting points to work on but also triggers the Hawthorne effect: being heard improves customer involvement.
Empower your customer support
Focus on lowering the number of contacts needed to solve a customer issue. Being bounced around from department to department is a horrible experience. By giving your customer support team the means and responsibility to address and solve customer problems you increase both customer and employee satisfaction.