In the everyday cut and thrust of business life, it can be easy to forget that the people you deal with in B2B interactions are consumers as well. As consumers, we are all familiar enough with the notion of customer experience and its impact on our perceptions of a brand, so it makes sense that this understanding, along with the expectations that accompany it, should carry over into the B2B environment.
To put the matter into simpler terms, customer experience is key in the B2B environment, which is why web portal developers should place the utmost importance on the CX aspect in their B2B projects.
After all, although it may be true that B2B customers are less able to “shop around” for experience in the same way as B2C consumers, incorporating first-rate CX into your B2B web portal design is still an important path to competitive advantage, and here is why.
Deliver Straightforward Information
When properly designed, a web portal makes it easier for B2B customers to engage with your enterprise. In fact, it’s the only way to practice personalization in an environment where there is little time for people to interact socially.
That is not to say your customer portal should purely be a social tool. It’s more to emphasize the fact that even the straightforward delivery of information can be turned into a competitive advantage when it’s done in a way that
- Makes customers feel that the information is provided exclusively for their benefit
- Provides customers with direct access to the information that is most relevant to them
- Lets customers find what they are looking for—quickly and without fuss
If it helps you to understand the importance of these aspects further, you might consider the following fact drawn from the findings of the study by the Technology Services Industry Association:
If you provide a web portal, your business customers are seven times more likely to use it for support or information than to contact your company by phone. Of the study participants, 55% expressed self-service portals as their preferred support channel, compared with just 8% who preferred speaking with an agent on the phone.
It’s reasonable to draw a conclusion that B2B professionals expect web portals to provide useful information more quickly, and in a way that meets their needs more fully than a phone conversation with an agent. Therefore, your portal should be designed with CX in mind if it is to live up to those expectations and be a source of competitive advantage for your business.
Make It Easier on Order Management
B2B commerce is complex, so each step you take to simplify things for your customers adds to your competitive advantage. This is especially true of order management processes, where unlike B2C commerce, your customers need access to their contractually agreed prices, discounts, purchase schedules, and order histories, along with the ability to reserve and reorder items, replenish consumables, and initiate returns.
This complexity is what makes B2B ecommerce challenging, so to give you the jump on your competitors, your portal should offer user-friendly, intuitive order management tools that make it pleasing and not painful for customers to do business with your brand.
Balance the Digital with the Physical
To provide the best customer experience possible, your web portal should strike a balance between automated self-service and person-to-person channels for customer-vendor interaction. For example, while business customers may have an overwhelming preference for portals over phone conversations, there will always be times when they will wish to speak to a human assistant from your company.
A well-designed portal will enable customers to initiate any form of contact that suits their preferences. Digital technology can enable this, so why would you force customers to switch from your portal to phone conversation in order to receive the human touch?
A Portal to People as well as Data
Portal design with CX in mind includes the integration of multiple communication tools, including live text chat at least, and preferably a voice communication facility with co-browsing and screen-sharing capabilities.
Live chat should not be limited to technical support or customer service. It should also enable customers to connect with the sales personnel. This can have a direct impact on profits while enhancing customer experience at the same time, according to the research by the American Marketing Association.
The AMA says that B2B customers who initiate a live chat on a vendor portal are three times more likely to make a purchase. It also states that the propensity to buy is stimulated by the immediacy, directness, and personalized nature of text-based chat and voice communication.
Become a Community’s Focal Point
Every business professional appreciates the benefits of belonging to a community, and of course, the best communities are those in which members share a common set of interests, goals, and challenges. There can be no better focal point for such a community than your business and its web portal. After all, by virtue of the fact that they do business with your enterprise, all your customers have similar interests.
As a central point of professional social networking, your portal can enhance customer experience by allowing your served businesses to quickly find answers and advice from both your internal resources and their peers.
Include the Tools for “Community” Relationship Management
Aside from being a valuable source of insight, built-in social and community tools encourage customers to spend greater amounts of time inside your portal, and thus strengthen their bond with your brand. This community element can be even more useful—to both your customers and your business—when your portal and its analytic tools are integrated with your CRM solution.
By gathering and analyzing data from community discussions, along with all the structured transactional data from other integrated applications, you can learn more about your customers, apply these insights to your personalization efforts, and ensure that through your integrated CRM solution, your marketers, sales teams, and technical support professionals all have access to the same customer data.
This, in turn, enables a cohesive knowledge base for your staff, which, when used right, will creates a unified, consistent feel for your customers, regardless of who they contact in your business and the nature of their interactions.
Customer Experience: Your Portal’s Competitive Advantage
To summarize, a B2B web portal designed to provide a great customer experience can also drive your competitiveness at least over other businesses that haven’t received this memo. To secure that advantage though, your portal should
- Provide a straightforward access to relevant, personalized information for your customers
- Make it easy for buyers to find what they need, manage their orders and pay for their purchases
- Combine automated self-service with access to human customer assistants
- Create a sense of community among your customers and facilitate professional social networking
- Help you to capture customer data and use it to enhance customer experience
The key takeaway here is not to limit yourself to half-measures when building a B2B customer portal. If you’re going to provide a portal, make it look and feel like a first thought, not an afterthought, and make sure your development partner knows how to design it with CX in mind.
Maria Marinina is Digital Marketing Manager at Itransition with over ten years in Marketing. Maria has a proven track record in marketing technologies, website management, analytics, and multi-channel demand generation campaigns. Currently, she is responsible for designing, managing and implementing marketing strategy. She is an experienced communicator, who excels at managing multiple projects and adjusting them based on results data.