After the match is before the match. What is true in sports (hopefully) holds true for buyers in B2B, too. In order to realize that a high service orientation has long since become the new paradigm in B2B. More and more B2B companies are recognizing the potential of digital after-sales services and are working on the implementation of suitable strategies. We talk to Mauro Boffardi about the new possibilities offered by such an extended web shop.
Mauro, do business customers really expect the same as consumers in retail?
MB: Well, with regard to the usability of a web store definitely so. Functions such as an intelligent search, good product descriptions and a smooth order process are elements that are applied from the private shopping experience to the professional one. We call this Liquid Expectations. The B2B market is all about building a long-term customer relationship - and here the relationship does not refer to just one customer, as in B2C, but to a whole group of people. And these people bring their individual expectations to the table. Above all, here the question of steering the purchase as efficiently as possible amongst the people is important. Because compared to private shopping, business purchasing is part of the job – and therefore must run as efficiently and smoothly as possible.
What differentiates B2B customers from others?
MB: Besides their need to be supported in their very specific buying processes, they need to interact with the offered products in a multitude of contexts: from offices, but also while being on travel, or at a construction site. They must be able to access the same data and functions through different touchpoints: laptops, mobile devices, embedded screens, by voice, and many others.
What can a B2B shop provider do to meet this demand in the future? What are the trends?
MB: Customer loyalty and customer satisfaction are more than just buzzwords. Especially for such demanding scenarios as those found in the context of business customers - specific prices, individual products and services, approval processes or budgets - it is essential to approach customers with first-class service over their entire life cycle. That doesn't mean once set up and done! On the contrary. Digitization is the focus of all companies today, and topics such as Industry 4.0, AI or IoT call on companies to constantly reach for new heights. Especially in B2B, modern technology enables many things that sounded like science fiction a few years ago: shelves that automatically reorder or machines that predict their own wear and tear. The trick is to take B2B customers with you on all those new adventures – and to offer them a place where all digital service offerings are centrally bundled - with an outstanding customer experience. That's exactly what we at Intershop want to achieve with our digital customer portal.
What do you mean by customer portal?
MB: We are looking at a "MyAccount 4.0". The digitized customer relationship that represents the "heartbeat of the business" at a glance. This can be the order history, the complete budget management or individual reports and evaluations. Even IoT data, which are continuously updated. But it will also be possible to have an overview of maintenance schedules, e-learning offers based on your digital fleet of machines or the latest promotions - anticipatory and personalized to individual needs. The possibilities are endless. The keywords are data and artificial intelligence. To achieve this goal, we set up an AI team, which works closely together with UX designers and the Microsoft AI team to solve these issues for our customers.
Where do you see the advantages of such a solution?
MB: First and foremost, in customer loyalty - because the customer portal is the interface between a customer and the company. This is where all the pieces come together. This is where the customer must be able to solve all issues centrally. Often, the efficiency can be found in the fact that the customer doesn’t have to contact the company to receive a copy of the invoice or call customer support to get an answer to a specific question. Many processes change in the way a customer interacts with a company: routine tasks can finally be done by customers themselves. Or even better: they become fully or partially automated. Sales and support finally get the flexibility to serve customers more individually. Starting with customer acquisition, to the actual sales process, to product usage and value-adding after-sales services. This optimizes process costs and avoids recurring tasks or inconsistencies due to a change of touch points. The goal of a digital customer portal is to simplify everyday work for customers on a daily basis.
The digital customer portal is the next level of evolution of the B2B online shop: It maps the procurement process of a B2B customer, digitizes sales processes and supports companies with after-sales activities and the provision of digital services.
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