Customer service has become an essential tool for business differentiation in today's commoditized markets. To get beyond "me too" customer service, companies need to look beyond their own sectors to find ideas for service innovation. For instance, B2B companies can harvest ideas from B2C businesses and vice versa. This article provides six B2C innovations that B2B businesses could leverage to offer unique and memorable customer service experiences.
1. Exploit consumer-centric interaction channels
Consumer-centric interaction channels such as chat, Web collaboration, and SMS are becoming increasingly relevant to the B2B sector as business clients (i.e. buyers and decision makers of B2B products and services) bring their rich media habits to the workplace. Forward-looking B2B companies are taking advantage of these channels to extend their service reach, provide superior customer service, and increase sales. For instance, a leading U.S. bank uses chat and Web collaboration to answer questions from B2B clients and a premier asset management company uses concurrent phone interaction and Web collaboration to train customers on how to use Web self-service.
2. Add a human touch to Web self-service
Human touch remains an important component in any customer service experience, and luckily, it can be simulated even in online interactions. Emotionally intelligent chat bots with natural language interfaces are a good example of how automated services with a human touch can deliver cost savings, online conversions, unique customer experiences, and brand loyalty for B2C businesses. For example, another leading U.S. bank uses chat bot technology to help more than 4,000 corporate clients use the company's cash management applications. The chat bot has reduced incoming phone calls by 30 percent, while providing a unique customer experience.
3. Leverage guided interactions to maximize value and enforce compliance
In-process interaction guidance, where contact center agents (or even end-customers) are guided through a human-like interaction by technologies such as reasoning engines, is used in B2C sectors for problem diagnostics as well as contextual upsell/cross-sell. B2B companies can use interaction guidance not only for diagnostic and advisory customer service, but also to enforce organizational and regulatory compliance in customer interactions. A premier European bank uses this technology to help small businesses open new accounts, while cross-selling and upselling related offers. The technology also helps enforce compliance in bank-to-customer interactions and adherence to service levels in customer problem resolution and follow-up service fulfillment.
4. Generate revenue through point-of-service captive marketing
Do-not-call regulations, unlisted phone numbers, and overzealous spam filters have made it difficult for businesses to reach their target markets. However, communications related to customer service are highly likely to be read or heard by customers, making it a natural tool to market related offers. Savvy B2B businesses are already leveraging this traditional B2C approach to advertise offerings, make a new sale, cross-sell, and upsell to generate more revenue. Technologies such as reasoning engines can generate marketing offers in the context of customer service interactions based on sophisticated rules.
A leading online prescription services company, for example, advertises cost savings through its email-based service alerts regarding the shipment of medicines based on the member's physical address and size of purchase. The company also suggests generic alternatives for brand-name drugs prescribed for long-term or life-time use.
5. Maximize customer service RAS (reliability, availability, and scalability)
While RAS is a best practice and, perhaps, not an innovation, B2C companies pay more attention to their customer service systems being up and running 24/7 than B2B does. This is because B2C businesses, especially high-profile retail companies, are far more visible to the public than B2B and so are issues with their systems. Horror stories about top retail websites being down during the holiday season predictably come out every year. So are stories of utilities' customer service systems being down when consumers look for life-critical information during natural disasters. Burned by bad publicity, B2C companies have historically paid more attention to customer service RAS. Many B2C financial services firms reinforce RAS by eliminating single points of failure in their customer service systems-a practice that B2B companies may very well adopt to deliver always-on customer service-a big differentiator.
6. Harvest social knowledge about your offerings
With the increasing popularity of social networks, online forums about consumer products and services have mushroomed, whether businesses like it or not. Forward-looking B2C businesses have taken advantage of social networks to not only provide customer support and boost brand loyalty, but also to leverage such networks to improve customer service from their own websites and contact centers. For instance, a leading multinational telecom company in the U.K. is harvesting "social knowledge" from the best "customer experts" and deploying it on its own website with appropriate approval workflows to ensure content quality. The social knowledge has been deployed to both consumers and B2B clients.
About the Author: Anand Subramaniam is the Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for eGain, a provider of customer service and knowledge management software.