Customer experience matters in the B2C industry, but not in the same way that it matters for B2B businesses. When you’re selling to myriad people who might as well be anonymous, the expectations are fairly low — if your website is functional and easy to use, and your support service is responsive and informative, then you’re going to meet most people’s needs.
In that context, though, the value of any one customer is fairly minimal. Push someone away (or just lose them to an ambitious competitor) and the essential viability of your business will remain unchanged. Bring in a steady stream of new customers, and you’ll have more than enough to keep going. Not so in the B2B world. There, an individual customer can be massively significant to a company’s bottom line, and leave major damage in their wake if they leave.
With CX so essential for B2B, then, you need to pull out all the stops to keep customers happy — but that drive runs up against a fundamental issue of online business, which is that it can place an enormous amount of stress on customer support services. You can’t go the extra mile for every customer and respond promptly to every query… or can you?
Well, this is where AI can enter the equation. Today’s chatbots are incredibly powerful, and if you deploy one in a smart way, you can achieve a great middle-ground: engaging customer experiences that don’t place undue demands on your support team. Here’s how:
Treat your bot as an efficient receptionist
The first thing you need to consider (before you actually implement anything) is that your bot won’t be rendering your support staff redundant — at least, it shouldn’t be, because it mustn’t be. Assistance from real people who are aware of their needs and concerns is an integral part of the ideal experience for a B2B client. Feeling understood by them can lead a business to choose a particular vendor over alternatives that may be better on paper.
Instead of taking over, then, your B2B chatbot should be serving as a hyper-efficient receptionist. When someone arrives at your website, it should rapidly assess their needs. If it can solve the problem or answer the query, it should do so immediately. If it determines that it can’t help because the issue is complicated, it should smoothly escalate the issue by passing it to a human support assistant or specific client representative (as appropriate).
HubSpot notably both uses and markets its HubBot chatbot, using it as an effective greeting tool by using answer prompts instead of requiring visitors to type. If someone arriving at the page immediately notes that they want to talk more about the service, they’ll rapidly be passed to a live sales assistant better equipped to lead them towards conversion.
Used in that way, a chatbot isn’t frustrating — it’s a time-saver, allowing basic tasks to be handled rapidly without detracting from the ease of getting personal assistance, and will simply move aside when it isn’t in a position to achieve anything.
Have comprehensive records and functions ready
To fulfil a wide range of basic requests without causing frustrating delays or requiring redundant data entry, your chatbot will need to be set up with access to comprehensive records (client histories, support tickets, preferences, etc.) and functions (booking events, updating schedules, ordering parts, etc.). This will call for widespread integrations, allowing it to hook into all your other software systems when needed.
In short, you’ll want your chatbot to connect as thoroughly as possible to everything around it. This will depend significantly on your platform. For instance, enterprise CMS provider Shopify makes B2B ecommerce a focus of its Plus service, advancing an API that readily integrates with ERPs and CRMs (as well as many apps). While you can get decent results through cobbling a framework together using something like Zapier, you’ll get the best results by using platforms and software suites that can communicate natively.
You’re ultimately looking to embrace the core ethos of the unified communications field, allowing every customer interaction (automated or otherwise) to feed into the same system. Arm your chatbot with rich data, and it will prove far more capable — and the more it can do, the more of a positive impression it will leave.
Work hard on polishing the copy
Whether a B2B client uses your chatbot very briefly (to request an update on a project, for instance) or engages with it for several minutes to run through multiple issues, they’re going to form an impression of the quality of the copy. Any sign of glaring typos or grammatical errors will make your company look distinctly sloppy and unprofessional.
Remember that one of the core strengths of automated services is that they’re far more reliable than human performers. When the copy of your chatbot is going to be served time and time again, there’s no room for errors that will undermine the rich functionality on offer. Using your chatbot may be a limited experience, but it should be a flawless one.
What you should be aiming for stylistically is a delicate middle ground between replicating the tone of your person-to-person interactions and reflecting the obvious artificiality of the chatbot. It’s much like skirting the uncanny valley with CGI models: your chatbot should come across as friendly, but never give the impression that you’re seriously trying to feign humanity.
Allow clients to skirt your bot if needed
B2B relationships are sufficiently valuable that you need to take major direction from clients with regard to how you approach them. If you make your chatbot an unavoidable part of your support process (for instance, requiring every support ticket to be logged through it), you’ll run the risk of alienating those clients that simply don’t want to use live chat services, bot-led or otherwise.
The best thing to do, then, is ensure that clients (high-value ones, at least) are able to reach you directly if needed. Provide a direct email address, phone line, or instant messaging chat to be used in emergency cases. You’ll likely need to set boundaries — for instance, asking clients to only contact you directly when it’s about something extremely important and pressing — but there’s a lot of push and pull to the process of handling a long-term client, so that’s just another matter to be steadily negotiated.
This will make your B2B customer experiences more engaging regardless of how you’re approached. Someone using your chatbot will know that they could avoid it if needed, making it optional and thus not forced upon them, and if you clearly establish the importance of your bot service, then getting assistance from you directly will feel more special.
Chatbots aren’t ready-made replacements for support assistants, but they are immensely powerful additions that can save time, money and effort while providing incredible levels of convenience for clients. Follow these steps, and you’ll be able to make your CX more engaging across the board.