B2B Firms Failing at Customer Service

Companies in the B2B market are missing basic customer service capabilities that can drastically improve online customer relationships and build trust, according to research by Jupiter Media Metrix.

The research found that only 41 percent of B2B companies respond to customer email inquiries within six hours — and of those that do, only half offer an accurate resolution. Data from Jupiter Customer Service WebTrack Survey show that only 2 percent of B2B companies have Web sites that feature an easy-to-search knowledge base for customers to use on their own.

“A recent Jupiter survey found that 45 percent of B2B buyers do not go online because they do not trust suppliers. Slow and nonresponsive companies are further eroding the opportunity to build trust in online relationships and are therefore missing valuable prospecting opportunities and disenfranchising their existing clients,” said David Daniels, Jupiter analyst. “The low level of accuracy in b-to-b companies’ responses will eventually drive customers to other, more costly communication channels and will lower confidence in email as a customer service channel. Collaborative support networks can facilitate customer confidence by providing a repository of knowledge for customers to access.”

Almost all (96 percent) of B2B companies offer email customer support, and only 67 percent post a toll-free customer support line on their Web site. Moreover, just 4 percent of the sites tracked offer text chat with collaboration. Though text chat can be a costly service channel, Jupiter’s analysts say that B2B companies can meet the expectations for real-time interaction by combining voice conversations with the collaboration aspects that text chat tools provide.

B2B companies are also not making effective use of email as a customer service tool. According to Jupiter’s data, 65 percent of B2B companies responded to email inquiries within 24 hours, but 29 percent did not respond to basic customer service inquiries at all. Jupiter analysts say that businesses must realize that email responsiveness forms perceptions of how committed a business is to customer service, which can be the distinguishing characteristic of how a buyer selects a supplier.

Less than two-thirds (65 percent) of B2B companies offer online self-service, but 2 percent are nothing more than stagnant Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages. According to Jupiter analysts, this type of self-service offers no value to a complex B2B site because the pages are often long lists of text, which the customer must scan to find their appropriate answer. Instead, they recommend companies leverage online service networks because they act as persistent collaborative knowledge repositories that can be queried by customers and service staffers alike.

“Previous Jupiter research has found that 70 percent of experienced Web users will leave a site if they can’t find the information they need. B2B buyers will follow the same trend,” Daniels said. “A highly collaborative customer-to-customer Meta-Service Network can capture the highly skilled knowledge of a company’s clients and take the burden off their costly support engineers. Some companies leveraging similar systems have been able to identify a dozen customer enthusiasts that regularly answer customer support questions.”

Customer service problems among B2B firms could become an even larger issue as more firms move their supply chains online. According to the “B2B E-Commerce Readiness Study” conducted by Clark, Martire & Bartolomeo for the American Arbitration Association, more than 70 percent of the 100 senior executives and corporate counsels of Fortune 1000 firms surveyed said they have already moved part of their supply chain online. Almost 70 percent expect their B2B e-commerce supply chain to be completed within the next two years.

More than three-quarters (78 percent) of the respondents said they were familiar with online exchanges, with 60 percent saying that B2B e-commerce in their industry will move in that direction. Fifty-eight percent of respondents are also currently involved in online exchanges and almost half of them helped create an exchange.

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