How to Build Positive Relationships with B2B Customers

Too often, businesses don’t place enough value on building positive relationships with their customers. The term itself, “positive relationship”, is a bit generic and isn’t exactly easy to quantify. This means it’s often a factor many businesses ignore and takes on a lower priority over time.

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Bridging the Gap in B2B Service Expectations

As B2B support professionals, many of us are very familiar with the differences between our world and the B2C world. In this post I would like to touch on some challenges to customer satisfaction unique to the B2B world, as were analyzed by Roland Böttcher and Marco Gardini in a paper called “Outsourcing Services to other Firms: A Framework for the Analysis of Consumer Satisfaction”. The paper is very well written and well worth reading in its entirety.

In the authors’ opinion, one of the main differences between B2B and B2C is that in B2C customers’ service levels expectations are implied and driven by the firm’s reputation and previous experiences, while in B2B they are frequently published by the vendor or negotiated as part of the agreement with the customer. 

bridge.jpgBased on this observation, the paper identifies three potential gaps for service levels in B2B that do not exist in B2C. These gaps tend to expand and become more visible with the complexity of the product sold, the implementation cycle and the number of departments and users affected by it:

  • Gap between what the customer needs and what they buy – called in the paper “definition gap” – where the buyer, or decision making executive, will purchase the minimal service level offered by the vendor despite the need for higher service levels or deeper engagement
  • Gap between the vendor’s promised level of service and their ability to deliver – “design gap” – where the vendor over-promises service or product related features despite their inability to deliver in the time or level promised
  • Gap between the agreed service level and the vendor’s execution – “delivery gap” – where the vendor can’t execute consistently on committed service levels that are within their capability due to various organizational or technology problems

Each of these has the potential to generate repeated escalations, create dissatisfaction and ultimately become a costly event for both the customer and the vendor. There are, however, a few steps we can take to reduce their number or even eliminate them altogether:

  1. Ensure your service offerings match the criticality of your customers’ application, and bring the voice of the users into the discussion with the buyers and decision makers. Have examples on hand for what other companies in the customer’s industry have purchased and how it served them during crisis. Most importantly, separate the commercial and discounting discussion from the service level discussion
  2. Train your sales organization on your organization’s abilities and limitations. Do not be tempted to make concessions to help close deals, thinking that you’ll have time and budget to build the missing capabilities. You will usually have neither, and the need to deliver will arrive at your door much sooner than you expect
  3. Focus on execution, consistency and repeatability of process. Use metrics wisely and fix what’s broken. But, we all do this daily, right?

*Haim Toeg is a technology executive and consultant specializing in B2B Customer Success and Support. He blogs regularly at http://haimtoeg.com and is available for short or long-term projects. He can be reached at ht@haimtoeg.com

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