[Interview] Stephanie Edwards – the challenges of B2B online customer service

Stephanie Edwards is director at Customer 1st International Ltd and is a subject matter expert for customer service in the UK. Stephanie held the role of International Business Adviser for the Institute in Customer Service and also developed their two very successful training programmes « First Impressions» and «Service Management».
Stephanie has written Best Practice Guides for Customer Service Professionals and Customer Service Managers and she frequently develops material for The Accenture Supply Chain Academy. She is at the leading edge for online, accredited, awards in customer service. Stephanie has also focused on the shortcomings of customer service encountered by B2B customers and how to rectify them. 

What is the key success factor for customer service with B2B clients?

The single most important element in managing a contract with a B2B client is staying close to your customer. This demands constant, accurate measurement of your service delivery standards – not just as an overall measure, but in detail across the various functions, teams and channels everywhere your organisation interacts with the customer. By truly understanding and, where possible, anticipating the client’s needs and expectations, you can build and maintain a strong, lasting relationship. Consider conducting a whole-organisation assessment of customer service standards such as the International Service Quality Standard.

Old-fashioned processes that ask the customer’s point of contact to give a satisfaction rating should be consigned to the shredder – they just don’t provide enough detail. What any excellent serious service provider needs is an effective system that measures customer experiences and rapidly flags up to teams and managers where things are going well and where they need to be improved. It’s the only realistic way to ensure that the customer’s needs and expectations are met.

How should businesses implement a multichannel strategy with B2B clients?

Customers want great service – in terms of responsiveness, flexibilty and simplicity – within all channels. Very quickly over the past few years, customers have increasingly expected more than one or two service channels to be available to them. Quite rightly, they demand the ability to switch, preferably seamlessly, from one channel to another. However, while many providers do offer a range of channels – such as web, phone, live chat and email – there is a real danger of turning customers away if all the channels don’t integrate with one another.

Some channels may be quite newly available, such as live chat; it is important to invest sufficiently in technology to make every service channel freely available and easy to use. It is all too easy to mess up your entire customer relationship by introducing new technology before you are ready. I remember trying to contact a supplier through an online chat button on their website which looked as if it would elicit an immediate friendly response from the supplier. Instead, I had to complete a form with my own email address and other details and I would be contacted when they were ready. What a disappointment that was!

B2B clients

What advice would you give a customer service manager in the B2B world?

The key points to focus on when looking to provide service excellence for a B2B client are:

  • Deliver what was promised, and maybe a little more.
  • Add some emotional content to your (team‘s) service delivery.
  • Resolve problems effectively and learn from them.
  • Maintain a close customer relationship and build detailed customer insight in order to optimise your customer’s experiences.

Working with B2B clients is often complex, especially where there are multiple points of contact between you as the supplier and the client‘s organisation. It can be challenging to manage a team of people at different levels, with diverse functions and via distinct service channels in a way that provides a consistent approach. What is essential is to have a totally organised approach to managing the customer’s experience. You will need to routinely collect accurate, timely information about how well relationships and processes are working across all the teams and individuals who interact with the customer. Analyse all the key interactions that make up your customer’s journey, remembering that they will all have both physical outcomes (for example, did the customer receive their delivery on time?) and emotional outcomes (for example, was the driver friendly and helpful?).

Let‘s face it, things will sometimes go wrong, and how you deal with problems will largely determine what your customer thinks of you. B2B customers, like all customers, want to do their business with you in a straightforward way. They don’t want problems but most will accept that issues do occur from time to time; however, they are driven by an expectation that, if anything does go wrong, you and your organisation will put it right in a positive, proactive manner, and learn the lessons.

What will the key trends be in 2015 for B2B online customer service?

2015 will, in my opinion, be characterised by two key developments in B2B:

1. As economies continue their recoveries, there will be a significant shake-out of organisations that are service under-performers. The successful companies will be those that truly understand how to become customer centric. The ones that fall by the wayside will be those that want to achieve service excellence, but don’t invest sufficiently in the people, technology and processes that will actually make the desire a reality.

2. Technology-driven improvements in service for B2B clients will be a key feature this year. Businesses will find that it’s the projects that are customer-centric from the start that will give the biggest returns.

 

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