When it comes to running a successful business-to-business (B2B) customer support operation, many organizations make the mistake of hiring people – and applying processes and technologies – pulled from the world of business-to-consumer (B2C). While there may be some similarities in the operations, there are too many differences to assume that a B2C program will translate well to a B2B campaign.
For starters, the reasons why customers seek help in B2B is often different. In the B2C process, customers may engage with the company for a variety of reasons. To ask questions before a purchase, to comparison shop, to get the most out of their purchase, to shop collaboratively with a friend and more. In the B2B arena, the customer support call is nearly always from an existing customer, and usually because the customer needs help troubleshooting a problem. The value of each call is bound to be higher than in B2C, and the amount of expertise the customer expects from the support rep is also higher.
In a recent article for the Web site B2B Forum, Robert Johnson, CEO of TeamSupport, writes that B2B customer support has significantly more cross-over with sales and marketing than in the B2C world. Essentially, it’s like a three-legged stool.
“The key to understanding how customer service is ultimately a marketing strategy in the B2B space is to view the customer experience as a three-legged stool: sales, marketing, and customer service,” he wrote.
It’s marketing, of course, that employs a variety of interwoven channels (“omnichannel”) to reach customers where they spend the most time in an effort to attract their attention and help them begin thinking how to match their needs to the company’s products or services. Once this is done, it is sales that steps in and personalizes the relationship further to convert leads to paying customers. Finally, these customers are put into the hands of the customer support team.
“During this stage, client services teams make nurturing the client relationships a top priority, going above and beyond to understand their needs and ensuring the product meets—and exceeds—expectations,” wrote Johnson. “The difference with this ‘leg’ is that it is ongoing; customer support is the primary connection between a company and its customers from the point of sale throughout the balance of the relationship.”
Most of the time, B2C goes to the company rather than the company going to the customer. In B2B, it’s an expensive mistake to wait until the customer comes to you. By then, that customer organization already has a problem. When support organizations take the time to understand their customers and their needs, they can proactively anticipate the best times to reach out and ensure that everything is working smoothly. The three legs of the stool also need to continue balancing together for the most effective customer experience, wrote Johnson.
“Highly effective organizations don't operate in silos,” he wrote. “Instead, they understand that without full participation from marketing, sales, and customer service both at the beginning stages and throughout the duration of a client relationship, client retention and satisfaction will be hard to achieve.
Each department has the power to help solve one another’s “pain points.” If customer support is being overwhelmed by contacts that relate to a single problem, it’s the job of the sales team to do a better job educating customers before, during and after a purchase. If the sales team is finding too many of their leads unqualified, it’s marketing’s job to retarget the message. If marketing is to understand how real people are using their products and services, it is customer support’s job to relay real-world customer scenarios and complaints. Only by working together, can these three functions form a sturdy foundation for the growth and prosperity of the sales organization.
Edited by Maurice Nagle