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B2B Customer Service Skills, Best Practices and Training Tips

Customer service is more important than ever. This means embedding next-generation customer service best practices into the way your B2B organization operates will pay valuable dividends in terms of longer, stronger, more fruitful customer relationships.

But transforming your B2B customer service and field service operations is, of course, easier said than done. Read on to learn more about B2B customer service skills, best practices and training tips that can help your business thrive.

Let’s start with one very important pro tip: Customer service is just as important to B2B relationships as it is in the B2C world.

B2B vs. B2C Customer Service

There are many fundamental differences between B2B and B2C customer service, but perhaps one of the most important is that the most successful B2B relationships are forged over time. This makes sense because the B2B buying cycle tends to be much longer — we’re often talking about months instead of moments.

Of course, the huge upside — and a central motivation for investing in B2B customer service excellence and relationship building — is that B2B transactions and follow-up business have a much greater “lifetime customer value.”

Here are some of the most notable differences between B2B and B2C customer service:

  • B2B customer service relationships are longer, more involved and less transactional.
  • B2B firms are typically focused on servicing fewer but larger, higher-value customers.
  • B2C customer service more often deals with one-off issues related to sales, delivery and satisfaction around a product, while B2B customer service tends to be more focused on ongoing product or service maintenance, upgrades, uptime and future business. Therefore, B2B customer service issues are typically more complex.
  • B2B customers are more likely to want to deal with product subject matter experts, rather than general-knowledge customer service reps.
  • Unlike in B2C, most B2B customer service reps know their customers on a first-name basis.

The most important takeaway here: Each B2B customer service interaction creates a unique opportunity to build and strengthen the relationship.

What is B2B Customer Service?

You already know the answer to this question. But it can be helpful to break it down and analyze its key components when exploring ways to do it better. One such definition of B2B customer service comes from Help Scout, a Boston-based help desk software provider:“B2B is short for ‘business-to-business,’ meaning that you are a business and the product or tools that you sell are also designed for companies to use, rather than consumers. Customer service is the act of providing timely and empathetic responses to your customers when they are in need.

B2B customer service teams have extra pressure on response time and first contact resolution because B2B customers often rely on a company’s product for their business’ health. … That makes context and customer knowledge extremely important in the context of B2B customer service. There are also generally more people involved in the buying — and thus the customer service — process.

B2B is short for ‘business-to-business,’ meaning that you are a business and the product or tools that you sell are also designed for companies to use, rather than consumers. Customer service is the act of providing timely and empathetic responses to your customers when they are in need.
B2B customer service teams have extra pressure on response time and first contact resolution because B2B customers often rely on a company’s product for their business’ health. … That makes context and customer knowledge extremely important in the context of B2B customer service. There are also generally more people involved in the buying — and thus the customer service — process.

Part of the reason for prioritizing B2B customer service (even if it means making a cultural shift within your organization) is that optimal B2B customer service is an essential component of delivering optimal customer experience.

And customer experience is much more than some trendy industry buzzword. At Global Partners Training, we’ve been leading the conversation on the vital importance of B2B customer relationships for decades.

We define B2B Customer Experience as:

The overall relationship that a customer has with your organization, built upon the sum of all of your interactions with that customer and including an awareness by the customer that you are committed to understanding their most important business objectives and focused on contributing to their current and future success.

In that same vein, here is our definition of next-level B2B customer service:

The efforts you make to advocate for each customer’s best interest in their discovery, use, optimization and troubleshooting of your products or services; and your ongoing commitment to use each interaction as an opportunity to learn how you can better serve the customer, contribute to their current and future success, and thereby strengthen the relationship.

B2B Customer Service Tips You Can Start Using Today

  • Recognize that your first contact is crucial. With each B2B customer service interaction, understand that your first contact will have a significant impact “downstream.” This means it is important is to match the customer’s sense of urgency regarding the issue right from the outset.
  • Ask the right questions at the outset when handling a B2B customer service request. Remember: Sometimes there may be more to an apparent technical issue than what appears on the surface.
  • Practice “iceberg” troubleshooting. Related to the previous item, B2B customer service and field service personnel frequently address visible technical problems only to discover later that a customer’s real underlying problem has been left unresolved. Working to better understand such “below the water line” issues (at GPT, we use the “iceberg” metaphor) results in better long-term success in solving customer problems.
  • Set clear expectations with the customer. This involves A) agreeing on what the real problem is, B) agreeing on a plan to solve it, C) keeping the customer updated on progress, and D) ideally giving them one point person to deal with.
  • Use open-ended questions and active listening. To best understand the full scope of the issue at hand and better position your team to solve it, engage the customer with questions open-ended questions that go beyond “yes” or “no” responses and challenge the customer to think about the bigger picture rather than just the specific technical details.
  • Empathize with your customers. This involves truly putting yourself in the customer’s shoes to better understand their most important needs and goals. Doing so requires skillful questioning and active listening techniques to draw out information that enables you to help them use your products or services to achieve success.
  • Create reasonable/possible dialogues. This reduces time wasted by your customer service experts spent explaining to a customer that a request is unreasonable or completely impossible (such as providing service not covered in the contract or trying to increase the performance of equipment beyond its capacity). This is time better spent collaborating with the customer to diagnose the full scope of the issue and finding a balanced solution.
  • Communicate your desire to meet and exceed the customer’s expectations. This means during the customer service interaction and after. Once the issue is resolved, don’t just ask “how was the service?” Emphasize that your goal is to give optimal, ongoing service — to keep them happy, help them stay firing on all cylinders AND build the relationship. (“We’re always here to help fix problems and help you succeed, because we want to build a strong and lasting partnership with you.”)
  • Pay attention to the two key dimensions of every B2B customer service call: 
  1. The step-by-step actions needed to handle and resolve the issue
  2. The opportunity to nurture the customer relationship
  • Focus on three organizational shifts. This is a longer-term strategy designed to help you consistently achieve the key objectives discussed above.
  1. Be Proactive – Shift from being mostly reactive in responding to customer requests, issues and problems, to being proactive by anticipating the needs of others and taking action to address them.
  2. Get to Real Needs – Shift from focusing on technical problems clearly visible to the customer and the supplier, to identifying and addressing problems and issues that are not so easily seen yet are often those that prevent people from fixing problems completely and permanently.
  3. Achieve Balanced Outcomes – Shift from doing things for the customer and occasionally giving in to unreasonable demands, to working collaboratively with the customer to reach solutions that balance the interests of all sides.
  4. In addition, here are some other basic B2B best practices:
  • Know your customers inside out.
  • Create helpful self-service options.
  • Make effective use of your data.
  • Focus on getting the right answer rather than the quickest one.
  • Make high-level customer service part of your organization’s culture.

KPIs for B2B Customer Service

It can be challenging to quantify great B2B customer service in terms of numerical key performance indicators (KPIs). However, here are several important ones to focus on:

  • Speed to resolution
  • First-time fix rate
  • Client retention
  • Repeat purchases
  • Additional purchases following a CS interaction
  • CSAT scores

Now, let’s shift gears for a moment from focusing on your company’s KPIs to those of your customers. One of the most significant B2B trends involves placing heightened emphasis on your customers’ most important KPIs (examples may include: equipment uptime, production output, time to market with new products, quality and failure metrics, overall revenue growth, etc.).

The reason for this: Offering B2B customer service that helps your customers achieve their most important KPIs positions you to add far more value over the long haul.

Pathways to B2B Customer Service Excellence

As mentioned at the outset, achieving optimal B2B customer service and field service is easier said than done. Fortunately, we’ve been studying the art and science of B2B customer service, customer experience and relationship building for decades.

Our mission is to work with B2B companies to provide valuable training programs that bring to life the ideas and objectives detailed above. So, if your business instincts suggest that some of the strategies presented here are worth exploring in your organization, we encourage you to contact us today to start a conversation.

 

 

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