Ever since we were kids, the impact customer service has had on our lives has been profound. Small children will beg their parents to go the local bakery or butcher shop – not because they have a craving for bread or steaks – but to get their hands on a free cookie or piece of candy that the owner gives them every time they walk in the door.
As we grew up and entered the business world, our perspective on customer service naturally changed. Yet, at the same time, our memories of great service experiences remain the same, regardless of the industry. So, where do we draw the line when it comes to what matters in our B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2B (business-to-business) service interactions?
Recent research by Gartner highlighted some key differentiators, in particular how they emphasize B2B and B2C interactions. Here are a few interesting B2B vs B2C differences in relation to customer service…
Self-service is currently more prominent in B2C – Finding your own answers online has been an emerging trend for many years. As a result, B2C companies have spent a significant amount of money to create and maintain online self-service portals. Simply put, it’s easier for companies to let their numerous customers in this industry figure out their own issues, even if some get frustrated and switch to a competitor. While the latter is unacceptable in business to business relationships, self-service is on the rise in B2B as companies make information more accessible online. However, self-service in the business world is still viewed by some companies as only “nice to have” rather than "must have" and it needs to become more closely integrated with the rest of their offering for optimal success.
B2B customers want service to help guide decisions – In B2B, making the right decision in a timely manner can cost companies thousands or even millions of dollars. As a result, companies place a high value on accurate and knowledgeable customer service professionals that help guide the decisions they make professionally. An informative, responsive agent can be an asset to not only your company but also your customers as a subject matter expert for your business and your entire industry. This type of customer-agent relationship isn’t as common in B2C where decisions are generally less important.
Both B2B and B2C emphasize digital communication – One distinct way B2B and B2C are both similar should surprise no one. Both industries have moved a substantial amount of their conversations to digital channels. While email is still on top, live chat and video chat have caught up in popularity for B2B customers after lagging far behind its B2C counterpart in the past. This change in chat usage has many businesses scrambling as they try to create a similar “tech-savvy” support experience for their customers that matches their personal experiences.
Mobile remains less important in B2B than B2C – Gartner, a global technology research firm, actually recognizes the mobile customer service experience for B2C companies as being twice as important than in B2B. While this may not be true for all industries, it does make sense on a practical level. Many B2B customers are in front of their computer for multiple hours every day, and as a result it's simply more convenient for conducting support interactions than mobile.
Extensive support integrations are far more important in B2B – In a time of interconnectivity – where you can watch TV in one room, move to another and pick up right where you left off – it’s somewhat surprising to see that this isn’t overly important to B2C customer service. In fact, the B2B industry places a much stronger emphasis on service integrations both with internal and external systems, likely because they have a direct impact on the bottom line. Missing a few minutes of a TV show won’t be a big deal, but having an integration between two vendors configured improperly can be catastrophic to a company.
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Crisis management has more value in B2B service – We’ve all had that experience of calling our local telecom provider only to bounce from agent to agent to find out why the internet is down. As a consumer it’s frustrating, but honestly there isn’t much we can do but wait. For companies with complex SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and processes, waiting during an outage is completely unacceptable. Because of this, B2B companies place a high value on crisis management and will sometimes even pay a premium to avoid delays when there’s an emergency. A few thousand spent fixing the outage faster is easily worth it to them when the amount of money they are losing every minute they are offline far exceeds the crisis management fees.
To conclude, there are several key differences between B2B and B2C customer service. B2C pushes self-service and leads the charge in technology, but overall it’s impersonal and focused on helping large groups at a surface level. Customer relationships and satisfaction matter, but not too much in B2C, so churn can be off the charts. B2B customers, on the other hand, want their service experience to be more “white glove” and are often willing to pay up for it. They want to speak to intelligent, knowledgeable agents and don’t want to wait around to have the conversations they need. The line between B2B and B2C customer service can be fuzzy at times, but at the end of the day it’s drawn by the B2B industry placing a higher value on sustaining positive, long-term relationships with their customers.