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Business class customer service

Business-class customer service – What’s the difference between delivering customer service to business or consumer customers? Josh Mehlman finds out how you can give top-quality service to meet the expectations of the most demanding business customers.


As a consumer, a poor customer service experience can seriously ruin your day. Is there any difference if you’re a business customer? If you’re in the business of providing service to your customers, how do you deliver a business-grade service?

Whether you’re providing service to a consumer or a business customer, many of their expectations are the same.

“You’re still dealing with people in both situations,” says customer service consultant Martin Grunstein. “Either way, you need to give people reasons to justify the expenditure in your product or service.

“People are motivated by many different things. In a business-to-business situation, you might be dealing with more than one person. The things you are selling affect many people who have different needs.

“The CFO might be concerned with security and risk management. The creative person wants a product or service that’s going to turn him or her on. The CEO might be more concerned with the price.

“When you sell to a consumer, you take an offer to the marketplace. At the supermarket, you put all the details on the box and hope they buy it.

“In a B2B situation, your sales tool is a proposal and you might have to give ammunition for a front-line person who has to get the CEO or CFO off their backs.”

Consumers can often be noisier than business customers when it comes to poor service, but business customers have their own set of demands.

“A lot of the time service in Australia comes down to a promise competition rather than a delivery competition – service guarantees are meaningless if there’s no default”

“Business customers have higher demands than consumers, their support needs are more immediate because any downtime has a direct impact on their business,” says Kush Naidu, SMB services business manager for Dell Australia and New Zealand.

“A consumer always asks, ‘How can I reduce my price on this product?’, whereas a business customer wants to know about support capabilities.”

One thing that unites business and consumer customers when it comes to customer service is hatred of blame-shifting.

“The customer doesn’t care whose fault it is, they want the problem fixed,” says Grunstein. “All I know is, I’m being inconvenienced and I don’t get a rebate for the times you let me down.

“Most customers are not that unreasonable, they just want the product or service to work. But dealing with the frustration of blame-shifting is enough to get them switching to your competition.”

Make customers’ lives easier

While the expectations may be similar and the quality of the service should be the same, business-grade service has a different goal, according to Lindsey Marshall, the principal consultant at sales and communication training firm Grand Performance.

“It’s not in the quality of the service but the componentry,” he says. “A B2B interaction is business-grade if, through that interaction, the end customer’s business is made easier.

“It’s more about what you do than what you say.”

“If you’re serious about supplying business-grade service, the first thing you should do is ask your customers what you could do to make their lives easier. It sounds like such as simple thing, but it’s so powerful.

“If only all suppliers went to their end-user clients and asked, ‘Hey, is there anything we could do to make it easier to sell our product?’

“For example, our database tells us you order this much product every month, would it be appropriate for us to set up a standing order? That would just make the end user’s life so much easier.”

Marshall believes it’s vital for companies to start taking service more seriously if they are to succeed in the business-to-business space.

“World’s best practice is just good enough to play,” he says. “Everyone has been trying to get better and better at their service delivery, so if you’re not at that level, you won’t survive.”

However, Grunstein believes that in Australia, the bar is set considerably lower.

“Just keep your promises and maintain credibility and reliability,” he argues.

“If you keep your promises and do a bit of follow-up, that’s enough to keep you ahead of your competition. There are so many unkept promises.

“There are too many companies in Australia that think Fawlty Towers was a documentary.”

Good service is worth something

If you can deliver this higher level of service, though, it’s worth charging extra for it.

“If you can add value in other ways, great,” says Grunstein. “But if you do, you should be charging a higher price than those who don’t. There’s no question people will accept an additional charge for good service.

“I remember a plumber who used to charge twice what everyone else did because he said, ‘If I don’t show up on time, it’s free. People will pay for peace of mind and a kept promise.”

Marshall agrees. “If I have the choice of doing business with an organization that makes me jump through hoops, or with someone who makes things easier so I can focus on doing my business, I will gladly pay extra.

“People don’t have time to muck around with stuff or ponder. Particularly if your customers are also small businesses, where you get people who do their own promotion, marketing, sales, and supplies, anything I can do as a supplier that will make more time for you to do those things, is worth paying a premium for.

“If as a result of paying that premium, I free up three hours a month, that’s a great investment.”

Furthermore, if your company offers better service than its competitors, it’s a mistake to try and match them on price.

“If you do that, you’re training customers that the service is worth nothing,” Grunstein warns.

Don’t promise, deliver

If you want to differentiate your company on offering better service, you must be prepared to put your money where your mouth is.

“A lot of the time, customer service in Australia comes down to a promise competition rather than a delivery competition.

“For example, real estate agents all have service guarantees, but they’re absolutely meaningless if there’s no default.

“I was working with a real estate agent in Perth and they said, ‘If we don’t return your call in three hours, deduct $200 from our fee’.

“You need to reassure customers that you’re going to keep your promise. That can be more important than the price.”

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