B2B customer service needs an intervention.
The B2B customer experience is undergoing its first and fundamental shift towards consumerization — but it’s not leading it’s own transformation. B2C is.
On some level, it makes sense that its more charming B2C counterpart is the first to innovate. The bar has been set low for B2B businesses, which have always primarily competed around budgets, features, the sway of senior management and system compatibility — and not specifically customer service.
But that’s changing quickly. Between the subcription SaaS model and the ease of switching to new vendors, B2B is newly subject to the risk and impulsiveness that drive B2C businesses to differentiate themselves through improved customer experiences.
The lines that once separated business buyers from consumers are blurring. Customers are setting higher expectations for the businesses they’re doing business with across all categories. The way B2B and B2C businesses reach their customers is essentially converging onto the same set of channels.
Even so, not even half of B2B executives today can rate their customer experience as good. Held against B2C, B2B customer service standards remain slow-moving and reactive.
So what’s holding back B2B customer service?
Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners has a theory about B2B marketing, which falls on the other side of the coin as B2B customer service: B2B is driven by a fear of failure.
Of course, no one ever openly comes out and says “We’re afraid to fail,” but they say other things, like:
“Things are fine the way they are.”
Complacency. Some businesses are still living on the old B2B model, which depended on big software decisions that involved more people, took longer to make and therefore stickier.
“Why fix something that isn’t broken?”
Fear of change. There’s the idea that change could mean the risk of losing customers, even if there are solid ways to test small changes (e.g. beta testing new features, conducting customer interviews, writing about them first).
“The numbers don’t lie.”
Flattering (but incorrect) metrics. Many businesses depend on scorecards, surveys, and response time stats to tell them how they’re doing. Those customer satisfaction measurements can lie by omission and they aren’t useful in uncovering specific pain points.
“You’ll have to get that approved first.”
Red tape. By default, B2B customer service follows procedures, scripts and rules at the expense of flexibility and agent empowerment. Conversely, really great new ideas and approaches get lost in a maze of managers or committees.
“But business is booming!”
Narcissism. Companies often get caught up talking about their features and releases rather than the benefits and LTV they’re providing their customers. How are their customers doing? How about their customers’ customers?
It’s never a done deal.
Nearly 3 out of 4 B2B companies recognize that their customers have higher expectations for a consumer-like experience, but fear of failure is getting in the way of catching up with B2C businesses.
B2B businesses might think they’re competing against one another as they differentiate themselves, but the challenge is much bigger than that— customers are measuring them up against B2C companies which have been improving faster, better and for a lot longer.