B2B Customer Service: Everything You Need to Know
Nobody. Nobody needs to tell a business owner how important customer service is to survive.
Heck, the need for good customer service goes back far longer than us… or this century. You can trace it back to 1750 BC when a (very) unhappy customer purchased some copper. The customer, Nanni, was pissed about the quality of the product he received, and the rude service. He wrote to the supplier about the poor experience on a clay tablet—and he even demanded a refund.
Now, I'm going to hazard a guess that word spread around ancient Mesopotamia about Nanni's poor experience. And the supplier may have had their work cut out for them to win back the trust of any customers he usually sold copper to. 😬
What's really interesting to me about this story is that a company in 2023 will face the exact same problem. Poor customer service = loss in business and a hit to revenue. It's just that simple.
The good news is a 5-star B2B (business to business) customer service experience doesn't have to take years to perfect or cost millions of $$$ in fancy software. All you need is a solid communication plan to keep customers in the loop and manage their expectations.
In this piece, I'll show you how to do just that. Let's get started. 👇
What is B2B customer service?
B2B customer service is when a company communicates directly with its clients to troubleshoot issues, give updates, and help with any information they need to use its product. It usually happens on a much larger scale than B2C (business to customer) customer service.
Most companies have a strategy in place to deal with the increased communication load. For example, tools like knowledge bases, live chat, and automated emails can give B2B customers direct access to information to diagnose problems or reach out to someone to solve any complex issues.
For B2B companies, good customer service can impact everything from customer experience to revenue. Research by Harvard Business Review found that B2B customers like it when a company offers solutions to a problem, reaches out to see if they need help with any projects, and responds knowledgeably.
At the end of the day, a good experience isn't just a nice to have for B2B-facing companies—it's a must for your bottom line. Over 80% of customers who get value during a service experience will likely stick with your organization instead of going to a competitor, and 89% of companies that offer "significantly above average" customer service beat out competitors financially.
The difference between B2B and B2C customer service
Comparing B2B and B2C customer service is like comparing David and Goliath.
In B2C customer service, it's usually a 1-on-1 approach. Think about a lost delivery parcel or a product being out of stock. It hardly takes a team of people to handle it with a customer. One representative can jump on the phone or reply over email/chat and get it sorted.
But B2B problems can look a little different.
If a software tool goes down, it won't just impact one person—it can hit an entire company and its operations. In this situation, your entire customer service team will need to work together to communicate with affected customers and help them negate the impact of the outage, since it will probably impact their ability to deliver their service too.
So, what does your team need to do to keep B2B customers happy? 🤔
How to improve B2B customer service
Don't sleep on just how important B2B customer service is for not just acquiring customers, but keeping them around.
Here are some expert tips you can use to keep customers around. 👇
1. Cover all customer communication bases
B2B customers don't like to be left hanging.
If they have a problem with your product or need help, there must be an option to get it resolved quickly. Open up your communication channels and give them options on how to talk to a customer support agent. This can include:
- Social media. B2B customers live on platforms like X (Twitter), LinkedIn, and Facebook. An active presence here can reduce the risk of their messages or complaints falling through the cracks
- Live chat. Customers love live chat, but only if you do it right. One benchmark report found over 80% of customers use it, but that number drops quickly if they don't get their questions answered. In fact, 19 out of 20 customers would rather receive slower, personalized expert support over automated chatbot responses.
- Email.For more complex issues or questions around billing/accounts, give customers the option to reach out over email so they have a paper trail.
When SEO software Ahrefs rolled out new usage-based pricing in 2022, some of its main users were… well, not impressed. For some of them, the changes meant a big increase in their monthly bill. So, Ahrefs listened to its customer's feedback and tried to resolve some of the main issues with:
- Transparent pricing. The company hammered home it had not raised prices in years despite adding lots of features. It also explained how it decided to switch up its plans and how it was continuously trying to improve the model through detailed blog posts.
- Constant outreach. The decision required a lot of listening and talking to its main users. CMO Tim Soulo has done everything from Reddit AMAs to constant to-and-fro with users on X to try and find ways to ease customers into the change
hi Andre,— Tim Soulo 🇺🇦 (@timsoulo) November 10, 2023
I'd love to dig into your specific case and understand why you identify us as "overpriced?"
Do you run an agency? Or an in-house SEO team?
How many people are using Ahrefs? How much credits you spend per month?
Most of the conversations like this that I have with…
While you can't please every B2B customer with a massive change like this, showing up and listening like this goes a long way.
2. Extinguish any problems before they spread
Listen, nobody wants to be put in the same customer service basket as Comcast.
The company is constantly bashed for its unfriendly approach to pricing and charging businesses different prices depending on what they are willing to pay. At this point, the multiple stories (ahem, just read this and this) about Comcast's crummy service are essentially a warning of what not to do if you want to make customers happy.
All you need to do is listen to their concerns and let them know if something goes wrong.
Just look at how Asana coped when it was hit by a major outage in 2021.
Its app was down, which means any B2B customers who use Asana to manage their companies were locked out. Asana immediately notified users about the outage over X:
We’re currently experiencing availability issues & our engineers are investigating. Sorry for the trouble - For the latest updates check: https://t.co/XApkNuuSND— Asana (@asana) May 15, 2018
Thanks to its real-time updates and constant communication over X and its forum, users were kept in the loop about when the problem was expected to be fixed.
3. Create a customer-first culture
38% of B2B buyers globally say customer satisfaction is one of the driving factors behind a buying decision.
Take it from me: the best way for B2B companies to boost those satisfaction rates is to adopt a customer-first approach. Before any product release, customer conversation, or marketing campaign—think about what your customer wants. By listening to customers and putting their feedback into action, you can sell products and services they really need.
The strategy then comes full circle: customers are satisfied because you created a product/service that solved their problem.
Pro-tip: I don't want to oversimplify this tip and it's a whole topic on its own. I've written this in-depth blog post about how to build a customer-first strategy. Have a look.
4. Allow customers to solve their own problems
The way B2B customers interact with a product has changed a lot in the last 50 years.
According to Gartner, the average B2B buyer now follows a rather long journey before they decide if your product is a good fit:
The most interesting part about this is B2B buyers don't reach out to a company until they've all but made up their minds about buying a product.
The days of Don Draper crafting sales campaigns over whisky and cigarettes are over. Customers now tell B2B companies what they need and when they are ready to talk to a sales rep—not the other way around.
The same goes for the post-purchase experience. Customers want to own their product experience and expect a self-service approach, whether it's through a detailed knowledge base or educational content.
For example, a knowledge base can equip customers with step-by-step tutorials on how to use a product feature without contacting your service team. It not only empowers the customer to get more out of your product, but it also frees up your customer service rep's time. So, it's a win-win.
5. Invest in a customer service toolkit to improve communication
Last but not least, give your team a toolkit they can use to keep customers happy.
With the right type of customer service software, your team should be able to handle multiple accounts at once. Think outside the box and look at tools like a team inbox so issues are triaged. With Missive's team inbox, you can direct queries to different departments so the customer's message is answered by the right person:
This should also mean your team is actively engaging with customers and keeping tabs on any major concerns or issues. You can also use Missive to chat with customers in real-time to solve issues quickly:
Metrics to measure customer satisfaction
Metrics are one of the only ways to measure whether or not your customer service efforts are paying off.
The right metrics can measure how happy clients are, if issues are being resolved quickly, and if your customers would be likely to refer you to others.
If you are new to customer service, here are some metrics you should start tracking:
- First Contact Resolution (FCR) Rate. The percentage of issues or questions that are resolved after the first contact with a customer
- Net Promoter Score. The likelihood on a scale of 0-10 of whether the customer will recommend your business to others.
- Average Response Time. How long it takes for a customer service rep to reply to an inquiry.
- Average Resolution Rime. The average time it takes to resolve a customer issue or ticket
It's also a good idea to put together some Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for your team to meet.
SLAs are an agreement between your company and your customer that defines the level of service they will receive, like response times or fulfillment goals. They are a great way to build trust with a B2B customer early on in a relationship, as it shows you are willing to put some skin in the game and make solid promises about what you will deliver.
The role of AI in B2B customer service
AI and automation are everywhere. And sooner or later, it's going to change how we deal with customer service.
I mean, it already has in some ways. As customers, we are used to being greeted by an AI chatbot when we land on a webpage. And it's only a matter of time until this tech is refined enough to deal with B2B customers.
Tools like Drift are leading the way here. Its conversational AI chatbot asks open-text questions to customers and finds answers based on predefined parameters. Every answer a customer gives then feeds the chatbot so it learns how to give better, more personalized answers to the next customer.
Although this technology is also spilling over into other forms of customer service, it doesn't really hit the mark for what B2B customers expect. As Missive's CEO Philippe Lehoux told Wired, while AI will improve, thinking it is ready to replace people and give automatic responses is delusional.
What AI can do is help customer service teams tweak responses to work smarter. Here at Missive, we offer an OpenAI integration so teams can use AI to generate emails, replies,translate messages, and craft personalized replies based on canned replies:
Another feature we love is how OpenAI simplifies communication between different languages so your team doesn't have to jump back and forth between Google Translate and their inbox—it does all the work for you.
The early results are promising. The team over at Brilliant Prints say the embed has increased the quality of responses generated by 1000%.
"I've been fine-tuning the responses over the last week and it is essentially at a point where I trust 80-90% of its output (which will be a game-changer for some staff who aren't as comfortable with the written word!)" Dylan says.
Is AI ready to replace a customer service human? Absolutely not.
Can it help a customer service human? Absolutely.
Missive is a team inbox and chat app rolled into one to help your team truly collaborate.
Take it for a test drive here!