While business-to-consumer and business-to-business e-commerce organizations face unique sets of challenges, B2B companies can learn from B2C businesses when it comes to pleasing their customers. From before a customer’s first purchase to long afterward, here are some of the ways your company can apply B2C customer service principles to make customers happy and retain a loyal customer base.
Pre-purchase: Market to the customer on a personal level
A commonly used strategy by B2B e-commerce businesses is to create targeted discounts and promotions in order to cater to desired customers and drive their existing customers to come back again and again. While these incentives provide practical reasons for customers to keep purchasing, you need to give them even more if you want to seal their long-term dedication.
In addition to offering your business customers deals, show them that you genuinely understand their brand and care about its success. The trick is to remember that good customer service isn’t just about answering customer questions after the purchase. Even more, it’s about providing customers with a positive experience beginning with their very first interaction with your own brand.
Good customer service, in other words, should begin with good marketing. Just like B2C companies, your B2B company can improve its retention marketing efforts by focusing on a customer’s emotional investment. From the very beginning, your marketing campaigns should be highly segmented, catering to the unique needs and preferences of each customer type.
Certainly, B2B companies face unique challenges in customer segmentation that B2C companies do not. These challenges include:
- A more complex set of decision makers (the target customer is often a group rather than an individual);
- A tendency for customers to make more rational and less impulsive purchasing decisions;
- Selling more complex products that need to fit into the customer’s business model.
Nonetheless, the segmentation strategy that is such a common practice among B2C marketers provides a good model for their B2B counterparts. While B2B companies can’t use the same criteria as B2C, they can similarly use segmentation and automation tools, such as CaliberMind and Datanyze, to divide their customers into types. Just as B2C segmentation is largely based on demographics, segmentation for B2B companies is largely based on “firmographics”—or such company-specific characteristics as company size, industry, products, annual revenue and location. You should also divide segments based on such customer needs as budget and goals. Using these segments, you can generate marketing campaigns that make each customer feel that their brand is being uniquely addressed and truly understood.
In buying and delivery: Aim for a hassle-free customer experience
If your company is struggling to differentiate itself in a competitive market, remember this: Customers are willing to pay more for a smoother, more helpful customer service experience, even if your prices aren’t that competitive.
It’s not always low prices that draw companies to your brand. Sometimes, customers care more about reducing hassle and making the purchase-and-delivery process as easy and convenient as possible.
Customers face the most hassle when they have to navigate lost shipments, inconvenient delivery times, and convoluted refunds and returns policies. Each of these areas can be improved by implementing an important customer service principle: Shift your focus away from your company and instead toward the customer.
B2C customers shouldn’t be doing any extra work from the time they order the product to the time the package arrives—and the same should go for B2B customers. Adopting a customer-focused approach in each of these areas reduces hassles for B2B customers and, in turn, makes for improved customer service. For example:
- Delivery transparency—Many e-commerce retailers, such as Amazon.com, tell customers exactly where a package is and what time it arrived at, and departed from, each point from the initial shipment location to the customer’s destination. In addition to being more convenient for customers, this lets customers feel that they have some measure of control over when and how they receive their delivery. Even more important, real-time tracking prepares B2B customers for the time and date of delivery so that they can ensure that a representative will be available to receive the order and that there is sufficient space for the delivery vehicle to park and unload.
- Delivery efficiency—Efficiency is just as crucial as transparency in creating a customer-centric distribution and delivery strategy. Even if your delivery fleet is familiar with a particular route, you should equip drivers with navigation apps like Waze that give them options to adapt their route in cases of severe traffic or road closures. Online mapping tools designed specifically for delivery planning, such as MyRouteOnline, also help you plan faster routes by calculating the most efficient way to go between your stops based on a customer’s preferred delivery time and other constraints. While accidents and other obstacles along the route are sometimes unavoidable, taking steps to make your delivery process faster—and your delivery times more predictable—is a good way to prevent customer dissatisfaction.
- Flexible refunds and returns—Sometimes, the main reason for a customer’s hesitation to buy online is their uncertainty about a company’s refund or returns policy. This is just as true for B2B customers concerned about potentially damaged items as it is for B2C customers worried about a possible change of heart. The first step in alleviating this concern is absolute clarity: you should make the returns policy easy to find online as well as written clearly on the packaging, and the language of the returns policy should be clear and user-friendly, rather than read as legalistic jargon. On top of that, your delivery team should be well informed about all company products and policies so that they can address any customer questions in person.
Post-sale: Retain the customer with consistent engagement
After a customer makes their first purchase, you should continue to engage them through a B2B loyalty program. While such programs are most often associated with B2C, B2B companies are uniquely equipped to reward their most valuable customers. Email marketing software provider Litmus, for example, arranges conferences, meetups and other events for their customers. By continually engaging customers while providing them with extra professional value, such programs successfully keep customers loyal.
You can encourage customer loyalty in other ways, too. Have representatives check in with customers periodically, sending them occasional friendly emails with surveys asking how well you’re addressing their needs. Reach out to customers with free helpful resources—such as e-books relevant to their industry—in order to show them that you’re just as dedicated to their brand’s success as they are to your product.
Just as successful B2C companies build customer relationships, B2B companies need to focus on building and nurturing customer relationships.
Good customer service builds strong relationships
Good customer service is more than answering your customer’s questions, addressing their concerns and helping them with technical difficulties. More deeply, improving your customer service involves creating a more personalized, highly targeted marketing strategy; providing opportunities for constant customer engagement and value; and removing any glitches that could lead to customer hassles and inconveniences.
By applying B2C customer service principles in your own business strategy, you’ll be able to build stronger relationships with your customers that will keep them loyal to your brand.
Shachar Shamir is a business and tech blogger and the co-founder and chief operating officer of Ranky, a digital marketing agency. Follow him on Twitter @Shashamir.