Social media, automated processes, and e-commerce have driven business productivity and efficiencies to new heights. How many times have you received a firstname.lastname@example.org automated email? In fact, Amazon, one of the largest companies in the world, has driven this efficiency gain to new heights, dominating an entire e-commerce sector based on an extreme reduction in the amount of time actual humans need to interact with customers.
In the world of B-to-B, human interaction may be more critical than ever. For a variety of reasons, social media and 'do-not-reply' automation used for consumer communications, often cannot take root. For example, an employee posting a complaint about a supplier onto social media could create a 'political' issue within the purchasing company based on differing opinions surrounding the cause of the issue. Posting about a supplier onto social media may create a competitive issue, making the purchaser's competition aware that the complaining company is using said supplier. A 'do not reply' automated answer could be woefully and embarrassingly inappropriate in B-to-B because it implies a one-sided, transactional relationship rather than collaborative partnership.
We've found that the B-to-B customer experience may thrive by doing the exact opposite of successful e-commerce consumer-facing companies. Here are five ways B-to-B companies may be able to improve their Customer's Experiences:
- Respond to all inquiries within one business day
Make sure that every single inquiry into your business receives a response within one business day, by a human. Creating an automated 'we've received your question' type automated response is one area where some limited automation may make perfect sense. In fact, a reply stating 'we have received your request and will reply to you within one day' creates a pseudo-contact with the prospect or customer that a real human will reply to your question.
- Provide current and potential customers with an easy direct way to interact with your organization
Customers do not want to fill out forms, wade through automated email responses, or even work through a phone system automated menu. Time is money, make sure your customers can quickly and directly communicate with your team and achieve resolution be it a question resolved, order placed, or complaint registered.
- Make it easy for them to spend money with you
Simplify the order and fulfillment process to minimize the amount of internal paperwork, mandated templates, and legal requirements necessary to engage. The reality is, every step, every form, and every single piece of paper put in front of the customer creates one more possibility for the purchaser to say 'I need to get this front of the committee/my boss/senior management, for approval.' Every document is potentially a roadblock to getting to the sale.Look to create a purchase process requiring one single signature on behalf of the purchaser. That's it. One signature. If it's difficult to engage and do business from the start customers will likely explore alternative options and you may ultimately lose the opportunity to service their needs.
- Understand needs to create the optimal customer experience
Customers want to work with companies that understand their vertical, the history of their offerings, and the challenges they are facing. In order to best understand how you can support your customer consider regularly reaching out with a survey to get a grasp on what current challenges and gaps exist in industry offerings.
Today, millennials are often stepping into roles previously held by retiring boomers with 30-40 years of industry expertise. This new workforce is expected to get up to speed quickly and to understand industry nuances in order to succeed. Thus today's workforce is heavily reliant on gaining knowledge through Google searches, instructional YouTube videos, knowledgeable salespeople, and sharing of experiences with industry colleagues. A focus on sharing of product information and industry experiences with purchasers can prevent inexperienced missteps, strengthen your relationship with your customer, and ultimately set your brand up for long term success.
- Be honest and transparent
The best B-to-B customer experiences often come from a consultative sell. Having the wherewithal to act in a prospect's best interest, even when it goes against the possibility of a sale, earns very high ratings for customer experience. Asking the right questions, based on the experience of common pitfalls and risks of past customers, can help yield a better relationship and more positive customer experience. Amazon, eBay, and any other e-commerce company you can think of generally rely on past customer reviews to guide consumers to the best product purchase. Helping educate your potential customer on your offering relative to competitive solutions, will likely aid in the customer making the best decision for their specific needs. There is nothing worse than dealing with the fallout of having a customer engage with your product/service when it isn't the most appropriate solution for their needs. When customers have a solid understanding of your offering and can envision how it will yield success for their organization, everyone wins. When everyone wins, repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals come easy and businesses prosper.
In today's hyper-connected world let's not forget that while inbound questions and concerns can and will come in digitally, behind that digital inquiry is a human who is looking for a personalized, human experience that assists with decision making. Give your company the ability to consistently put your best forward by regularly conducting and/or purchasing industry focused research to understand the issues prospects and customers are facing. This knowledge will help your organization proactively offer guidance and solutions to customers in a way to beneficially position your company and set everyone up for success.