In the business-to-consumer (B2C) world, support typically happens after a company has earned a customer and relates almost exclusively to an individual's relationship with a product.
Another characteristic of B2C customer service that differs from business-to-business (B2B) is that support is often problem-focused.
For example, if a consumer buys a malfunctioning kitchen appliance, he or she will contact customer support for help troubleshooting the issue or even to seek a replacement. In regards to reaching consumers, B2C brands face the challenge of communicating a product's value proposition to shoppers and convincing consumers to make final purchase decisions.
However, B2B customer support is much different. Support is just as much a long-term marketing strategy as it is an integral part of creating a positive client experience.
To be successful in the B2B space, organizations must understand how to bridge marketing and service to promote client retention and satisfaction.
The Three-Legged Stool of Customer Experience
The key to understanding how customer service is ultimately a marketing strategy in the B2B space is to view the customer experience as a three-legged stool: sales, marketing, and customer service.
Let's take a look at each of these components:
- Marketing: Marketing teams use a variety of channels including social media, email, direct mail, and cold calls to identify prospective clients and get them moving through the sales funnel. Throughout the marketing stage of a customer relationship, team members focus on the unique qualities of their product or service.
- Sales: Once a potential customer is captured by the marketing team, sales teams step in and convert those leads to paying customers. Part of this process requires relating a product or service's capabilities to the client's unique needs.
- Customer support: This is the final leg of the customer experience stool. During this stage, client services teams make nurturing the client relationships a top priority, going above and beyond to understand their needs and ensuring the product meets—and exceeds—expectations. The difference with this "leg" is that it is ongoing; customer support is the primary connection between a company and its customers from the point of sale throughout the balance of the relationship.
In creating a positive customer experience, support is the most important component. It ensures the success of the relationship and adds to the validity of both marketing and sales. In fact, a recent report by Forrester revealed customer engagement in the B2B space should span the entire client relationship. That means businesses must continue to nurture their clients long after they've moved through the sales funnel and integrate each component to achieve a multifaceted approach toward customer experience management
Understanding the Whole Customer
Customer support is a marketing strategy because it enables organizations to understand their customers better, spanning from their key pain points to opportunities for improvement and even industry terminology.
In many cases, a particular client's experience with a product or service will give marketing, sales, and development teams valuable insight into how their service can be improved.
Powerful customer service software empowers customer support teams to share important insight with marketing and sales, and vice versa.
Tools that help B2B support teams gain a broad picture of how their client relationships are operating are invaluable. They not only provide a central system to maintain interaction history but can also provide insight into patterns and even spot potential red flags.
The best customer support software will have a customer database accessible to all relevant parties throughout an organization so that sales, marketing, and customer support can work together to improve the customer experience. Those features help companies understand their customers better, which can enhance future marketing efforts and promote longer-lasting relationships.
Collaboration at All Stages
If customer support is a marketing strategy, then the key to its execution is collaboration. For the three-legged stool to balance and create a positive, effective customer experience, each component must work in unison.
Highly effective organizations don't operate in silos. Instead, they understand that without full participation from marketing, sales, and customer service both at the beginning stages and throughout the duration of a client relationship, client retention and satisfaction will be hard to achieve.
Marketing and sales teams need to inform support teams about the unique qualities of a particular client relationship, including pain points discussed during initial sales meetings and particular challenges customers hope to overcome by using an organization's services.
Additionally, customer support teams must be in constant communication with everyone else in an organization, so both lead nurturing and product development efforts can be constantly optimized.
Collaborative customer support software is a key component to this process that empowers an entire organization to constantly focus on the customer experience.
The right tools give everyone in the organization access to a client's history, background, goals, and previous contacts with customer service.
Most importantly, this software creates alignment throughout the company that is essential for long-term marketing success.
Maximizing the Collaborative Relationship
Though the relationship among marketing, sales, and customer service is clear, often organizations don't know how to act on the insights they gather through various client interactions and information shared via B2B customer support software.
One such way is that the three-legged approach to customer experience enables multiple teams to anticipate client needs and reduce churn. Some 82% of companies agree that retention is cheaper than acquisition, according to a recent report.
By its very nature, customer service can save marketing teams valuable resources, allowing them the budget and time they need to succeed with the most highly-desired prospects.
The possibilities don't stop there, however. When customer service is viewed as a crucial component of outreach, support teams are empowered to contribute to marketing strategies.
For example, customer service teams can use client insights to help form accurate buyer personas and assist in the creation of case studies and other materials.
Moreover, when teams are aligned, organizations can ensure they are communicating to potential and existing clients with a consistent, unified message that speaks to their target audience. Of course, those activations and optimizations are nearly impossible without the right tools and processes in place.
Customer support software that enables collaboration and provides insight into the entire customer relationship is essential for companies that hope to realize the benefits of integrating customer service, sales, and marketing.