In the distant past, I once received the book Kloteklanten [Rubbish customers]. The premise of the book is that customers are basically a necessary evil but you can’t avoid having to deal with them. And the better you do this, the more successful you’ll be. Sounds like hard work! And the author does make a good point there. Certainly in B2B, where there’s a lot up for grabs in the customer service domain. We’ve got our work cut out!
B2B is still very much about the product/service (product-centric) and selling this product/service. As a result, historically, too little attention has been paid to customer service. Especially in more traditional B2B companies, the high level of attention paid at the start of the customer relationship soon dwindles once the services or products have been supplied.
That’s when the relationship actually begins though. Certainly if your company puts some effort into this. I’m not talking about incidental after-sales deals here. No, customer service should be an integral part of your commercial process. Why? Because the customer journey doesn’t stop when a product/service is purchased. In fact, it only begins when the product is used or the service is deployed.
From a seller’s to a buyer’s market
In B2B, we’re often dealing with niche markets where – before the internet brought about globalisation and digitalisation – the supplier was generally in control. In a way, they determined what customers could and could not expect. And once on-board, switching costs were so high due to the scarcity of information that the supplier no doubt felt untouchable. After all, customers were coming back for maintenance, repairs and repeat purchases. It was a seller’s market, but as Bob Dylan said: times they are a-changing.
B2B customers want the same service they get as private individuals
Lots of people are delighted with the level of service they receive when choosing products or services in their private lives. Just think of Bol.com, Netflix, Coolblue and many, many others. Click, click, click – done. These organisations are entirely set up to make your customer experience as friction-free as possible, while of course tempting you into repeat purchases and upgrades. This means recommendations and suggestions, newsletters, discounts and updates on when the courier will arrive with your parcel. No worries. And they’re reaping the rewards. In B2B, this process is often less than optimal and there’s much to be gained from investment in customer service tooling.
Servitisation in manufacturing
Servitisation has long featured on many a management team agenda in the manufacturing industry. Servitisation is the process by which service provision takes on an ever greater role in the business model of manufacturing companies. Just like marketing, customer service evolves from a cost factor into an opportunity to serve the customer better and thereby generate additional revenue.
In addition to their core products, manufacturers can also proactively offer repair services, spare parts, training and online instructions. But additional services such as advice, consultancy and logistical support are part of customer service too. Within manufacturing, servitisation is more relevant than ever.
One reason for this is the diminishing added value of production activities. As the product lifecycle becomes shorter, you need to operate with flexibility and speed. Your investments need to be recouped with greater commercial force (in marketing and sales too) in a relatively short period of time. Price often then becomes the only distinguishing factor, although many original equipment manufacturers and suppliers prefer to steer clear of this race to the bottom. Make sure your customer services related to a product or service differentiate your offer and add value. This will strengthen your proposition, generate an additional source of income and increase your customers’ satisfaction and loyalty.
Customer service in the SaaS market
The commercial process in many SaaS companies is under significant pressure, particularly in terms of marketing and sales. This is not overly surprising. Many SaaS players must quickly gain traction in a market that is often new and relatively immature. Significant energy and focus is therefore invested in acquiring new customers. This often means insufficient attention to existing customers, although essentially they should be the ones keeping the SaaS company afloat. In short, after an expeditious start, retaining customers and reducing churn are often critical.
Every SaaS company should be able to manage this effectively in principle, with robust customer service processes and systems such as the service hub. Timely attention from management is certainly due, since getting something through the front door is no guarantee it won’t leave through the back door.