The problem with B2B customer service and what needs to be done about it

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Managing client problems is increasingly a high-priority responsibility, and B2B companies are worse at it on average than B2C companies, according to a new Gallup Research study.

Customer engagement and retention must be handled on a case-by-case basis in the B2B space, but it is still entirely possible to have a high problem-resolution rate if the right systems are put in place.

The study found that B2B firms had a problem incidence rate of 20 percent, and a resolution rate of 50 percent, whereas B2C companies scored 18 and 40 percent in those categories respectively. Even still, there were some world class B2B organizations that had incidence rates of just 6 percent, and some top performers had rates near zero percent.

“This clearly demonstrated that despite all challenges, this can be fixed. B2B firms can and should proactively manage service failure and recovery, which can lead to serious competitive advantage,” the Gallup study authors Daniela Yu and Julie Lamski wrote to B2Bnn in an email.

‘Treat customers like business partners’

The report offers a series of recommendations on what B2B firms can implement to create a better customer engagement strategy. The suggestions include focusing on what matters with each client because in B2B each one is unique and must be treated as such.

B2B firms should also treat their customers as business partners, and focus on customer engagement across all company functions. Getting senior leaders involved is also important. Senior staff should be held accountable and involved in the customer retention process to put a human face on the company.

The customer relationship and problem resolution is more complex in B2B that it is in B2C, and firms stand more to lose if a customer leaves. In B2B a single customer can be a multi-million dollar account, so if just one account walks away it can be a devastating blow to the company.

According to Yu and Lamski, B2B customers often have higher expectations for individualized service. In some cases it’s hard to pin down when, exactly, a problem has been solved. Not only that, but problem resolution in B2B means balancing the needs of everyone in the buying center so this means breaking down the silos that exist between different departments.

Rallying for retainment

Getting to know your customers needs is essential to retaining them over the long term. That’s something that Hana Mandapat, director of product marketing at desk.com can tell us about. Desk.com is Salesforce’s online all-in-one solution center for customer service and strategy for fast growing businesses.

“We run the gamut of B2B companies, but for these types of companies what we’re seeing is that retention is key, and because they’re small businesses and startups that’s even more critical,” says Mandapat. “It costs them more money to gain a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer on board.”

She adds, “With B2B companies that cycle of interacting with a customer becomes a bit longer. It’s more of a relationship. You need to form those relationships with your customers because of the retention aspect. You’re keeping them in the long haul and also driving that customer loyalty that will grow the business.”

B2B firms need to have a retention strategy in place from day one, and that involves having systems that allow customers to reach you across all media: phone, email, and social media. Mandapat notes that a lot of customers today want to be able to find the answers themselves, and when they can’t do so that’s when they email or call the company even though they might not want to. It’s important to set up an online help center or FAQ since those tools can be a very effective answer to problem resolution and customer retention.

The Gallup study indicated that B2B companies who do an excellent job at identifying customer concerns and addressing them can gain a leg up on the competition. Doing so in a B2B setting means handling customer problems on a case-by-case basis and giving them the personalized service that many B2B clients have come to expect.

“It takes commitment, time and resources to fully understand the unique business problem of their clients,” Yu and Lamski write. “Although challenging, this is the accumulated competitive advantage that competitors cannot copy quickly. B2B companies need to seek all opportunities to have relational conversation with different roles of the buying center in client organization, not just the decision maker, and beyond basic transaction.”

Image created via Imgflip.com

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Chris Riddell

Chris Riddell

Chris Riddell is a freelance journalist, copywriter and poet from Mississauga who now lives in Montreal. His byline has appeared in many newspapers and websites such as The National Post, The Globe and Mail, The Montreal Gazette, and Torontoist. He's an expert profiler and has interviewed many notable personalities such as KISSmetrics founder Neil Patel, Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray, and Hollywood actor Michael Rooker. If you want to find out more about him, visit his website and follow him on Twitter @riddellwriter.