Business-to-business customer service expectations have undergone major changes over the past two years. First to digital-first is all that matters to stay competitive
B2B (business-to-business) customer service organisations are noticing a major paradigm shift in the way business is conducted – customer service is gaining much more centrality than it ever did in the past.
According to recent research from the Harvard Business Review and technology giant SAP, almost 94% of respondents in a May 2022 Survey by the HBR Analytic Services concurred that customer service is the central aspect of raising brand value whilst 78% agreed that customer expectations have changed moderately or significantly over the past two years. Only about three-fifths of the firms (58%) thought their customer service was of the level they wanted to provide.
“Traditionally, great B2B customer service was about meeting service-level agreements, but that isn’t enough to create delighted customers,” says Maureen Burns, a senior partner at global consulting firm Bain & Co. “There’s more competition, and a lot of B2B companies’ path to growth is about getting more value out of existing customers. You can’t do that when they’re having a poor client experience.”
Given this, B2B firms today are looking at a major pivot. Not only are organisations looking to boost customer service to push upwards their brand value and revenues, customers themselves are also becoming much more discerning about their demands, especially following the global supply chain crisis and the emergence of more intelligent service and product offerings. This shift is only compounded by a plethora of other factors – “the influx of digital-native customers and employees into the workforce, greater numbers of customer service agents working remotely, the rapid shift to digital-first experiences in the past two years, more intelligent B2B offerings that are sold as a service, and businesses everywhere expecting – and needing – fast resolutions to often urgent issues.”
With customer expectations on the rise – and rapidly changing – business customers, HBR reports, “accustomed to the fast action and seamless experience of their consumer apps and smartphones are increasingly critical of delays and clunky experiences in their business encounters and transactions. And just as customer expectations are growing for a more digitally oriented B2B sales experience, the same is true for B2B customer service.”
In fact, what businesses today consider central to the pivot – cross-department collaboration and easy access to contextual consumer data – are the very gaps that they are trying to fill now. Crucial in this regard is keeping up with the digital transformation facing their industry today. Instead of the traditional buying-selling-only posture, whenever service is treated as a subscription, customers will be dealing far more with the digital than earlier.
Moving forward into a more strategic role centred around driving brand value and revenue (and to meet the evolving needs of the customer and service agents), B2B customer service organisations will first have to move past legacy mindsets of focusing only on the cost of services, and focus more on strategic endeavours and creating unified data silos.
Investments in process-change and technology are already underway in several B2B and B2C organisations already. An example of the latter is Philips Domestic Appliances. With the fast shift to e-commerce through the pandemic, the role of consumer carte at Philips has become much more focused on engagement throughout the consumer life cycle – and in adding value there. Customer service representatives today have, ideally, a much greater understanding of the consumer, from their stratified purchase historiesto demographics to their social media interactions. The HBR quotes TandoganAkbıyıkoğulları, global director of consumer engagement at Philips Domestic Appliances:
“The key challenge for every company is to engage with consumers throughout the consumer journey in a meaningful way. As a digital-first company, we rely on technology to recognise, select, and capture relevant information, to the extent approved by our consumers, which we then use to provide better and more personal support across our touchpoints.”
Hence, by collecting relevant data and linking it to existing business segments such as logistics and e-commerce, consumer service representatives are not only aiding the customer, but also optimising digital solutions for the organisation as well. Additionally, “digital-native agents have also come to expect easy-to-use tools that empower them with knowledge, especially those who work remotely – such as AI-driven virtual assistants – that pore through interaction data to recommend next-best actions.”
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