If you are in a relationship, the one word that should never be acceptable in describing that relationship is "fine." We question it when our children say they are fine, and if your spouse says everything is fine, you know what that statement really means.
We should have that very same visceral reaction when our customers say the relationship is fine. If you are a B2B customer support organization and a customer rates you as fine, that really means "I don't hate you, but if a better offer comes along, you are history."
"Fine is the most dangerous four-letter word in B2B, indicating indifference, complacency, and even possible client defection," according to salesEQUITY CEO Tom Cates.
Complacency is the most common way for B2Bs to destroy relationships with customers. And losing customer in the B2B space can be a very expensive proposition. Doing so can possibly cause the folding of a company.
On the other hand, keeping customers happy can increase both retention and long-term profits.
So, what can we do to make sure our customer support keeps customers happy and satisfied? Here are a few lessons from successful companies in the B2C space.
1. Focus on what matters
The first step to avoiding complacency is to focus relentlessly on your customers. If you take customers (even long-term ones) for granted, you are guilty of being complacent. You risk losing them.
As well-known customer-focused retail giant Amazon knows, the customer really does come first, no matter how big you get. "We have a lead in this space [ecommerce], and we don't take that for granted and want to serve customers better each year," said Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky in an analyst call earlier this year.
The translation to customer support is that it's better to focus on your customers than to only look at the tickets and their resolutions. When you focus on the overall happiness of your customers, they will be much less likely to move away from your product. You distinguish yourself from competitors and gain an edge.
2. Empowerment is crucial
One of the many examples of excellent customer service from Zappos happened during a call in which the representative listened to the customer who was requesting to return a pair of shoes due to having a medical procedure. Without any hesitation, the rep accepted the return of the shoes—and sent a bouquet of flowers to the customer.
Empowering your customer support personnel to make sure your customers are not just happy but also wowed is what will set you apart from your competition. That is the exact opposite of complacency.
Empowerment enables all your employees to do their best work. Support agents should be empowered to provide certain information and resolution without requiring additional authorizations from superiors. That increases your customers' satisfaction regarding the support they receive.
3. Customer service is king
The third lesson all B2B customer support organizations need to realize is that "Customer" is usually a part of their title. It is not called "Ticket" Support. Taking an approach that ensures the customer is always extremely satisfied is what will lead to customer loyalty.
Neiman Marcus established policies from the very beginning to accept all returns, even those not purchased at a Neiman Marcus store. That overarching attitude toward the customers' whole experience is what has made the company legendary in its space.
Sometimes, the company even accepts returns on things it doesn't sell. Neiman Marcus is a luxury department store and sells clothing, gifts and accessories. It does not sell tires. However, it opened a store in Alaska in a spot previously been occupied by an automotive store. When a customer brought back the tires purchased at that location from the prior business, the customer support representative took back the set of tires.
That is an example of extreme customer support, but it shows how far some companies are willing to go to make customers happy.
4. Buck the trend
Southwest Airlines has grown to be the seventh largest airline in the world and is the only airline to be consistently profitable despite offering low fares. That amazing growth is because of its commitment to domestic flights and of a revenue strategy that does not depend on baggage fees.
The company believed baggage fees would undermine its ability to appeal to consumers, and it was one of the first to reject them. (This is now a common industry practice.) Its strategy paid off, helping the company build a large and loyal customer base.
Let's translate that into B2B customer support excellence... Understanding your customers and their pet peeves or needs is extremely important to the overall experience. You have to remember that what makes the most sense for your customer should always drive the way you approach each customer support interaction.
Pay constant attention to what your customers are telling you in support conversations, what they're asking for, and what their pain points are, then address those needs proactively. Doing so will show your customers that you appreciate them and will go a long way towards fostering long-term customer loyalty.
5. Do the right thing
When Larry J. Merlo, CEO of CVS, made the decision to stop selling tobacco products in CVS stores, he stated, "Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS Pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health. Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose."
That decision was controversial, but it still showed the principle of doing the right thing. CVS chose to stop a practice that, though profitable, was not in the best interest of its customers. Such a bold and selfless act is not usually attributable to large corporations.
Remember that important principle in the world of customer support. Doing the wrong thing usually means taking the easy way out, but creating a support culture that rewards doing the right thing benefits your employees—and your customers.
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Are your customer support team members engaging with each of your customers in the same manner that they would like to be treated if the situation was reversed? If the answer is anything but a solid "yes," you probably have an issue with complacency.
The emphasis on not being complacent has to be interwoven into the culture of the company as a whole, starting from hiring and training. A strong B2B customer support team must know that every customer experience drives the overall satisfaction of the customer.
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