“By 2017, two-thirds of all customer service interactions will no longer require the support of a human intermediary. Current research shows that, in 2014, this was 55% of the interactions.”
That is a prediction1 by analysts at Gartner, Inc. supported by statistical evidence of this trend. So, given that more than 50% of customer service interactions already do not require human support, organizations have to really think outside the box to strike a balance—personalization alongside customer self service.
B2C companies that have integrated self-service across multiple channels are finding a good measure of success with ensuring consistent and high quality customer experience. For B2B marketers, this problem is particularly complex and challenging. The buyer journey is more than 60% complete before there is even a desire to connect with a possible vendor. The actual sale itself goes through a fine filter of several decision makers with their own, hard-nosed wish lists of what they want the purchased product or service to deliver. Once the customer is on board, you have not one, or even a small group of individuals to serve, but an entire enterprise that you want to retain and gain referral business from. Forrester had an insightful report on B2B Loyalty, the B2C Way—you can download it here. Building customer loyalty is anything but an easy task.
Here are 7 essential steps you can take as a B2B marketer to optimize your customer self-service strategy.
- Make it easy to provide feedback. Even if you deploy the most innovative self-service tools and systems, your customers need to be able to give you feedback on whether your system is working for them or not. Or rather, you need to get this feedback; both good and bad! A feedback mechanism is a critical component of customer self-service and it needs to be built into the system from the outset; not developed as you go when holes start to emerge.
- Differentiate with strong branding. Why simply call your 24/7 operations support a Help Desk? You have the opportunity to brand it in a way that resonates with your customers and makes them feel like it is truly their first point of contact and source of help when they need it. Do the same with your online portal, FAQ, online or offline kiosks, tutorial videos, mobile channels, demos and any other tool you use to support customers.
- Simplify and speed up. On average, the customer who needs a lot of vendor support and frequently, is the one that is closer to the point of frustration. It may not always be the case, but to a large extent, it’s true. The last thing you want to do then is to make things difficult for this confused, running-out-of-patience, and soon to become dissatisfied customer. Test your systems and processes, online, offline and on mobile channels, to ensure that whatever your customers need to do in order to use your self-service tools, it is simple, straight-forward and quick. Time is of the essence and so is simplicity. The problems your customers face are already complex; the solutions shouldn’t be.
- Think ahead. Walk in your customers’ shoes—everyday. Your sales people can prove to be an invaluable resource when it comes to understanding customer pain points. By predicting issues your customers may face, you can plan for positive outcomes and make answers available before the questions come to you. From your FAQs online to your automated phone help system to help videos, tutorials, printed manuals, and more, you can put it all out there for customers to use as and when they need it.
- Train your teams to handle complaints in addition to questions. This is a good lesson to learn from B2C. We have all been stuck in a phone tree at some point when trying to get a complaint resolved as a consumer. The customer service representative at the other end of the line is great with asking all the questions and even answering questions we may have. However, when it comes to thoroughly understanding a complaint and being responsible for addressing that complaint, we are often dissatisfied. Don’t let that happen in your B2B organization. Your customer support staff must have at least a certain threshold level of authority to be able to take care of customer complaints without passing the baton to a supervisor or manager.
- Be easy to reach. That’s the first rule of personalization. No matter how much and what you automate, know that when your customer needs a human interaction, nothing else will do. Yes, you can use efficient web technologies and incorporate live chat online or live phone support. Don’t make the mistake however, to keep these systems up and running in the absence of a real person to operate them. Nothing puts your customer off more than clicking a live chat button on your website to find that it’s only automated software that neither has the intelligence to answer their questions properly, nor the capability to resolve an issue. If you cannot support a 24/7 live chat or telephone help system, it’s okay to turn it off and commit to certain business hours when you can provide this service.
- Make friends with your customers. You did everything you could to win the trust and confidence of that qualified lead. Let that nurturing spirit and friendly manner continue after the lead becomes a customer. A happy customer is your ticket to long-term profitability and growth. A neglected, ignored or badly treated customer is a sitting duck for your competition and a serious threat to your customer retention and B2B lead generation efforts.
Gartner recommends: “Focus on relevance and consistency of information across all self-service engagements. Make knowledge management your primary module to drive self-service initiatives and fuel the chosen channel of engagement.”
How will your B2B organization achieve this? Join this exclusive, B2B LinkedIn Group to exchange notes with thought leaders in the industry.
- Why You Need to Rethink Your Customer Self-Service Strategy—Brian Manusama, Analyst, Gartner, Inc., March 2015
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