Article

B2B customer service: what it is and how to do it right

Provide world-class B2B customer service to build trust and create long-lasting relationships.

By Cristina Maza, Contributing Writer

Published August 24, 2021
Last updated September 15, 2021

It’s a common myth that B2B companies aren’t as focused on customer service as their B2C counterparts. According to an Accenture report, over 90% of B2B leaders believe that providing a great customer experience is the key to reaching their company’s goals.

Focusing on the customer experience is especially critical for B2B companies. They typically have fewer customers than B2C companies, making it imperative that none of them fall through the cracks. B2Bs also often sell large, complex and pricier products or services, so more is at stake in a B2B customer relationship.

To nurture, develop and maintain these important relationships, B2B companies must consistently provide stellar, hands-on customer service. If you’re not sure where to begin, we’ve got you covered. In this guide to B2B customer service, you’ll learn:

What is B2B customer service?

A B2B (or business-to-business) company sells products or services to other companies. So B2B customer service is the assistance or advice that a B2B provides to another business that’s using its product or services. The goal is to build trust in your company and what it has to offer so clients stick around for the long haul.

B2B customer service often involves communicating directly with client companies – answering their questions, helping them troubleshoot issues or providing them with the resources they need to solve problems. This can be done through a help centre, AI-powered chatbots or customer service representatives, among other options.

When you are a B2B company, the customer service you deliver is considered B2B customer service. It’s that simple.

How are B2B and B2C customer service different?

The process for B2B customer service can differ significantly from B2C customer service. In both cases, you have a customer who is using your products and services. But the nature of the relationship is often more complex in a B2B context.

  • B2B customer service involves more stakeholders

    Instead of communicating with a single person, B2B companies must build and manage relationships with entire teams. And within those teams, turnover is inevitable, so B2Bs can’t rely on a strong relationship with only one person in each business unit.

    B2B providers may also have to keep track of several teams using their product or service within one client company. Customer service agents would need to be equipped to juggle a multitude of relationships and priorities.

    There might even be numerous people making purchasing decisions for one client company, which means B2Bs will likely have to jump through legal hoops or get permission from different stakeholders for contracts to be signed. To provide the best customer service, teams will need to be patient and understand the nuances of each client’s business.

    B2B customer service representatives must be prepared to handle more complicated issues too. While B2C customers usually want assistance with simple issues – like getting a refund or replacing a broken item – B2B clients generally want help with bigger, more complex problems.

    For example, if a customer needs help troubleshooting an app, the customer service call is relatively straightforward. But a company integrating software throughout its operations requires a much higher level of support.

  • B2B customers have more urgent business needs

    B2B customers rely on your company’s services or products to run their own businesses, so any hiccough with your offerings could negatively impact their bottom line.

    Imagine that your company provides an email marketing application to other companies. If the application goes down and your clients can’t send out their marketing emails through the platform, that could set back their ability to do business. That would, in turn, create a ripple effect that could hurt the relationship between your company and your customers, who might lose trust in you.

    This is why it’s essential for your B2B customer service team to have 24-hour technical support. It’s also helpful to offer robust self-service options, especially for simple tasks like billing and account maintenance. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2021, 65% of customers want their online interactions to be quick and easy, so you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure a fast and seamless service experience.

  • B2B relationships last longer

    B2Bs often enter long-term relationships with their clients. So you’ll have many opportunities to forge close ties with client companies and foster loyalty.

    “In my experience, I build the most personal relationships with B2B representatives”, says Sam Chandler, Senior Manager of Customer Success at Zendesk. “Even if I'm a consumer who’s obsessed with a brand, there’s not one person who I always turn to within that company. Maybe I always go to a specific store, but it’s not like ‘Joe’ is my guy – I talk to many different people within that brand.”

    But in the B2B world, representatives from one company are building a relationship with representatives from another company to enable the adoption of a product or service. “In that case, I have more loyalty to the partnership I’ve built with the people within that organisation”, Chandler explains.

    The customer service team isn’t the only department that’ll interface with clients, either. B2B customers also interact with their account managers and customer success team – often more frequently than they do with customer support. It’s also possible that B2B customers will work with an implementation team.

    Given that B2B clients form relationships with various teams, it’s critical for everyone within the organisation to adopt a customer-centric mindset. Excellent B2B customer service is the responsibility of your entire company, not just the customer support team.

  • How 3 industries use B2B customer service effectively

    There are many different types of B2Bs, and companies should tweak their customer service strategy to meet the specific needs of their clients. Here’s how B2B providers from three sectors approach customer service.

    1. Finance

    B2B finance companies operate in a highly regulated industry with strict rules about how their products and services are used and marketed. For that reason, customer service teams need to be very knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the finance world.

    It is also more important for businesses in the financial sector to be trustworthy and ethical because they deal with people’s money. That also means customer service representatives must be up to speed on topics like data privacy and data management.

    “If you’re in a sector like the financial sector, where you’re controlling people’s livelihoods and their ability to live, your success depends on the trust and confidence you can instill at the customer service level”, Chandler says.

    When training a customer service team, you can try an exercise to help them see things from a client’s point of view. For example, instruct them to place their wallets and phones on the table in front of them and put their hands behind their backs. Then, ask the representatives to buy you lunch.

    The exercise can instill the agitation and frustration that potential customers might feel if they couldn’t access their money. It can also put the representatives in the client’s shoes and increase their desire to help them as quickly as possible.

    That sense of urgency informs customer service agents’ work and their approach to their customers. They are more likely to hustle to solve a problem when they have a visceral understanding of the issues their customers face. In other words, empathy is a key component of the customer service strategy.

    2. SaaS

    SaaS stands for software as a service, and it’s one of the most common examples of B2B products. It usually includes the software that companies use to manage their day-to-day activities, such as customer relationship management (CRM), customer communication, team productivity or project management.

    SaaS companies tailor their customer service to their customers’ needs by ensuring their representatives know both the clientele and the product inside out.

    PipelineDeals, a software company that offers CRMs, leveraged RingCentral’s cloud phone solution to answer all its customer calls and train its support team. Using the software, agents were also able to address even the most complex customer question by calling in an expert from another team in real-time. That’s an example of one B2B company using another B2B to provide B2B customer service.

    Chandler argues that SaaS companies have a unique ability to build long-term relationships with a human touch. In fact, she came to work for Zendesk because she witnessed how well the company ran its customer service team when she was a client.

    “It never felt like they were waiting for the next renewal – it was always about what happened in between”, she says. “They won me over through outreach and bringing me into the fold, making me feel like I was part of a special gang. That’s how the relationship grew.”

    Chandler also notes that SaaS companies must do an excellent job of providing long-term customer service and forming connections with their clients. The SaaS businesses that are most successful at B2B customer service are the ones that know how to develop and nurture those relationships, using a human touch and finding common ground with customers.

    SaaS B2B companies may want to consider having a small group of representatives that always works with the same clients, giving them the opportunity to build bonds and gain an intimate understanding of each customer’s needs.

    3. Marketing

    In the marketing sector, there are various ways to offer customer service, including via help centre content and blogs that answer common questions and provide guidance about how to use a product or service.

    Marketing companies oversee and manage relationships with numerous customers, which gives them a unique ability to communicate with large groups of people at once. This is often done by sharing useful, engaging and relevant content.

    Chris Joyce, President of Union Jack Tools, said his company’s content is an extension of its customer service. Using Klaviyo’s marketing automation software, Union Jack Tools improves relationships with customers through communication.

    “Communication is key for customer service, and we feel like Klaviyo is the right platform for that”, Joyce said in an interview. “We’ve gotten more comfortable creating email templates and campaigns, which we didn’t have any experience with coming in. It gives us the confidence to go in there and keep dripping those messages out, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort.”

    Klaviyo, meanwhile, also prides itself on its ability to provide excellent customer service by communicating with clients online.

    “At Klaviyo, being customer-first is one of our core values”, says Kate Walsh, VP of Customer Success and Support at Klaviyo. “This means every team is thinking from the customer’s perspective, understanding the customer’s business, understanding their needs as a user and solving the business problems they are facing.”

    The best tools for B2B customer service

    The tools you employ for customer service should always reflect the unique needs of your customer base. Here are a few top-notch solutions that B2Bs can use to provide stellar customer service.

    • Zendesk

      Our customer service software makes it easier to maintain complex B2B customer service relationships. It allows you to integrate all your customer information and interactions from a wide array of touchpoints, including social media, text, email, live chat and phone calls. Zendesk also has a cloud-based customer relationship management tool (CRM) that your team can access from any location, making it possible to communicate with customers wherever they are. You can even build an integrated help centre and community forum, so customers can resolve issues at their own pace – while reducing resolution times for agents.

    • RingCentral

      RingCentral provides various cloud-based communication tools that companies can use to communicate with their clients. This is an excellent option for larger B2Bs with an extensive customer service team that needs to access video, phone and messaging from anywhere in the world. The RingCentral platform essentially enables you to take your contact centre on the road and integrate it with other tools, too.

    • WhatsApp

      WhatsApp is especially useful for companies with international clients. You can use the uber-popular messaging tool to communicate via chat or phone – without being charged an extra fee to communicate across borders. You can also install it on company phones for free. As one of the best communication apps for delivering great customer service, WhatsApp allows you to connect with your customers anytime, anywhere.

      When considering which tool to use, think about what will work best for managing relationships with your customers. “Your tools should match the way your customers interact with you”, Chandler advises. “You should think about the customer journey and then figure out along the way how you can make that easier.”

    • Build trust with quality B2B customer service

      Excellent B2B customer service creates trust with your clients and increases the likelihood that they’ll stick with you in the long run.

      Also remember: customer success is your success. Consistently providing high-quality customer service will help your clients reach their goals which, in turn, will boost customer loyalty as well as your bottom line.

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