For most businesses, meeting target sales goals and key revenue metrics are top priorities. While executive teams understand that building positive relationships with customers is important, it isn’t the easiest metric to quantify. For this reason, many companies end up ignoring the work it takes to build relationships with customers, and begin to focus on other, more easily-tracked metrics like deals closed and upsells.
In a business-to-business environment the lack of a strong customer relationship might cause a reduction in customer retention, a low number of upsells with existing customers, and a high overall rate of customer churn. This is important to B2B companies because churn has a direct impact on profit. To avoid losing customers and to help increase customer retention, consider the following three ways companies can build positive relationships with B2B customers.
1. Build Rapport Through a White-Glove Onboarding Experience
Nearly 75 percent of all B2B sales to new customers take a minimum of four months to close, the CSO Insights 2019 report indicates. Before closing a deal, companies provide B2B buyers with VIP treatment in the form of extensive brand awareness efforts, targeted marketing, conversations with multiple stakeholders, and personalized tactics every step of the way.
It’s clear that a lot of effort goes into securing a B2B customer — but all too often, all the effort and personalized attention put into the sales process go away once the deal is closed, leaving new customers to figure things out with no clear path forward from the vendor.
Rather than dropping off customers once they sign on the dotted line, be sure to take the time to onboard the customer properly with your offering, and with all departments who will manage the ongoing customer relationship.
Onboarding provides companies an opportunity to align expectations for the relationship and ensure customers are fully aware of a solution’s capabilities. Beyond training or setting up accounts, the process also sets the tone for what the customer should expect when working with your company on a daily basis.
It gives you the opportunity to understand and cater to the customer’s goals better. By properly onboarding a customer, you will experience a variety of benefits like reduced customer churn, decreased support inquiries and increased internal knowledge.
The benefits of properly onboarding customers do not go unnoticed. In fact, some companies now offer to send an onboarding specialist to the customer’s location at a discounted rate. Through the specialist, customers can get one-on-one assistance to learn the product and set it up to be fully functional for the entire business. This is beneficial not only in building a relationship with the customer, but also in helping you ensure that timelines for getting the product up and running are met.
Apart from the onboarding process, be sure to maintain consistent and kind conversations with the customer on an ongoing basis. Customers shouldn’t hear from you only when something bad has happened, and they shouldn’t feel hesitant to contact the support team in fear of a negative or stressful experience.
Following a hands-on onboarding process, organizations should put additional time and resources into the customer’s post-sale experience. With proper attention, customers are less likely to leave, more interested in purchasing additional services and solutions, and more willing to provide positive reviews and ongoing feedback.
2. Personalize Interactions With Each Individual Customer
With multiple customer touchpoints in a single organization, establishing a unique conversation with each individual and trying to remember information previously discussed can be a major challenge. If it’s not managed properly, it can be harmful to the customer relationship.
Whether you have five, 50 or 500 customer support employees, different team members eventually will help the same customer. Fortunately, there are solutions available that can help teams of all sizes keep track of vital customer data.
Customer support software built specifically for B2B provides teams with one location to store customer information that all customer-facing employees can understand and utilize to build and maintain relationships. With this technology in place, teams can minimize mixups and miscommunications, reducing customer frustration.
It also helps customers feel like they have a one-to-one relationship with a unique employee on your customer support team — one who understands their business.
For example, let’s say a company wants to send a customer an anniversary note or gift. While the sales team has the start date in a CRM tool like Salesforce, if there isn’t an integration between Salesforce and the support software, the support and success teams are left in the dark without to access the info. By creating an integration, customer-facing teams can access this info automatically without needing to ask sales and wait for a response.
In addition to providing personalized gestures for each client or contact, companies must consider how customers want to communicate. If a customer support agent leaves a voicemail with every attempt to contact a customer, and the customer invariably responds with an email, the agent should take note that the customer prefers email communication. Taking the extra step not only to personalize information but also to acknowledge the customer’s preferences will help companies successfully build relationships and gain trust.
3. Listen and Learn From Your Customers
If you have strong relationships, your customers will provide positive and negative feedback on a regular basis. Listen to this feedback to both understand what you’re doing right and where you need to improve.
In addition to accepting and listening to feedback, be sure to have support agents keep an eye out for opportunities to make a handoff to the customer success team. If an agent just worked on a ticket that’s only the customer’s second ticket in the past six months, the agent can alert the success team to reach out and check in on the customer.
While this may seem unnecessary, companies need to keep in mind that a customer who goes silent could quietly be researching competitors.
Another way to listen and learn from customers is through tone of voice. While this is easy to do over the phone or in-person, conversations via email or chat can be read in different ways depending on the usage of words and punctuation.
Having the right customer support software in place can help you better craft your communication strategies with customers. One way this is done is through sentiment analysis. Through artificial intelligence technology, sentiment analysis automatically assigns a sentiment, such as “satisfied” or “frustrated” to each ticket.
In addition to assigning sentiment, it then goes one step further by adding a confidence score to each ticket. In doing so, agents can understand the accuracy of the assigned sentiment. This not only saves the customer support agent time, but also moves the process along faster for the customer.
For example, if a long email reaches a newer agent and the sentiment reads “impolite” and “frustrated” with a high confidence score, the agent can forward it immediately to the supervisor for fast remediation.
Additionally, sentiment analysis can help customer support teams better understand how customers perceive responses. You can do this by examining the sentiment of tickets that come in before and after the initial response from your team. Do you notice a change in the sentiment? Does it improve, or does your customer seem more frustrated or confused than before? How much did it change?
By having this information at hand, you quickly can find areas of opportunity to train agents to improve the tone of their responses and make your customers feel better heard and cared for. For example, instead of using a generic phrase like “Thanks for contacting us,” you can say “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. It’s important to me and I’m investigating it further.” This can shift the overall sentiment and strengthen your relationship with the customer.
Listening to and learning from your customers within your support software will provide you with a lot of data and information. While this is valuable, it can be hard to track and keep it all in one place. Through a customer distress index (CDI), you can aggregate your key data points to create a score that lets your agents know how happy or unhappy the customer truly is.
By utilizing a CDI, businesses can do a better job of crafting their overall strategies for working with customers. For example, if a team notices a customer has a high distress score, a ticket automation rule can be set up so that all tickets from that customer go only to experienced agents.
While building a positive relationship with B2B customers takes time, it does not need to be overly complex. B2B customers want personalized experiences and companies that will listen to (and hopefully anticipate) their needs. Listen to and learn from the feedback they provide. By incorporating these strategies into your day-to-day operations, you will be sure to build positive and loyal B2B customer relationships.