Customer Experience News & Trends

How COVID-19 changed customer service – and what you should do now

B2B customers’ buying habits and interaction expectations changed quickly in the face of COVID-19. Here’s what they expect now – and how customer experience professionals will want to respond. 

Bottom line: B2B customers want to feel like they’re having a B2C experience.

“Buyers no longer are willing to accept less from their professional experience as B2B purchasers than they are accustomed to getting from their personal experience as consumers,” say researchers at McKinsey, which recently released a study on customer experience shifts in the wake of the coronavirus.

Where’s the difference now? McKinsey noted these three major changes:

  • Spend. Not every B2B has cut spending, according to researchers. About half will cut spending up to 25% in the short-term. But more than a quarter will increase spending by 25%.
  • Technology. B2B companies think digital interactions – from sales to service to support – will be two times more important than they’ve been in the past.
  • Location. More customers will not be in their offices. As many as 90% of B2B sales have become virtual through online meetings, phone calls or IM. The best part: Many customers and their sales and service professionals think the virtual experience is just as good as – if not better than – the in-person experience!

Help, regardless of ability to spend

Customers won’t spend as much – if at all – in the foreseeable future. But they’ll still want help and attention. Answer their questions and fix their problems as always.

“Transparency and compassion from brands is key in our current environment and moving forward,” says Ryan Maund, Chief Product & Innovation Officer at Sitel Group.

To add value to the experience, which will be appreciated, remembered and rewarded when business gets back to the new norm, aim to:

  • Help customers maximize the products or services they have. Pass along tips – via your social media channels, email, snail mail or on YouTube videos you promote in social – on how customers can get more or different uses from their current products and services.
  • Commiserate. Don’t complain about the hard times and how it’s affecting you. Instead, help customers process their emotions around the situation and move them toward a realistic outlook. Talk about things you’ve seen work for other customers in similar situations and how they might try those, too.
  • Thank customers for their loyalty and pledge to help them through tough times. Give them information that’s important to them financially, professionally and personally. Send links to great content for managing those issues. Maybe you can set them up with free online conferences. Try to connect customers who can create partnerships for space or resource-sharing that will help them survive through the crisis.
  • Show extra compassion. “Customers resonate with brands that show they care about consumers and those on the front lines. Showcasing a commitment to consumers and the essential workers who are out there risking their safety every day will go a long way in retaining consumers when they start spending again,” Maund says. “For example, Mattel created the Mattel Playroom, to provide free activities to help kids keep playing through this crisis and help keep them occupied while their parents have to work.”

Make it easier to research and buy with self-service

Customers will research products, services, solutions and the practicality of a purchase digitally more than ever. And B2B buyers will likely do it remotely more often than not.

Your customer experience needs to meet the demand and expectations of the new digital age. If your site isn’t already optimized for smartphones, that’s the first essential step for website and content designers.

Also focus on making the digital experience better in these areas:

  • Make it an app. Customers say mobile apps are twice as important for researching solutions than they used to be. Can you get customer service, support and sales streamlined for an app? That’s the ideal. When you have it streamlined, spread the word through social media and email to existing customers.
  • Build online communities. They’ve shown a dramatic increase in sign-ups and use since 2019, researchers found. It’s probably because customers feel more isolated and want to connect with like-minded people.
  • Increase self-service. The preference for self-service has doubled in importance for B2B customers in the past year. Consider every touch point on the entire customer experience, and find ways to create self-service options for each. Important: Self-service needs to be one of a few options, not the only option. Some customers prefer human interaction.
  • Mine your data. “Brands can look into the most frequently asked questions on customer service calls, which don’t necessarily warrant speaking to a human being,” Maund says. “Work to enhance digital agents (e.g. chatbots) to answer those questions, or build out self-service help pages to include some of the less obvious FAQs, but still popular questions. Technology is now at a point where AI and data can drive personalized customer experience and satisfaction rates that can even exceed human interactions on certain transactions. Data is key to figuring out which of those transactions are best suited for technology, and now is the time to utilize this treasure trove of information most companies already have at their disposal.”

Get ready to meet anywhere

Since the coronavirus, B2B organizations say the importance of virtual meetings for sales, service and the overall customer experience has doubled.

Equip sales, service, technical – anyone involved in the customer experience – to meet virtually with customers. Zoom is popular, but you’ll want to be available on a few platforms – such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, GoToMeeting or even FaceTime calls. You want to be where customers are.

“Many businesses are suffering in one way or another right now. One of the best ways for customer service pros to create a better B2B experience is to step back and understand the entire customer journey and look for ways to remove friction,” Maund says. “B2B brands look for ways to meet them in the channel of their choice, whether that is over the phone, in chat, or online. This may also mean working together with business partners to help your customers, and their employees and customers. For example, Sitel has worked with a partner in the tourism industry to help place workers who were laid off or furloughed into customer support roles.”

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