There are significant differences between the purchase journeys of B2C and B2B customers. Self-service is an option that has been around in B2C retail circles for quite some time but up until recently, it was not even conceivable for B2B firms to offer such an experience to their clients.
Internet and ecommerce technologies have enabled this change in the last decade or so. Now, thanks to advanced B2B ecommerce platforms, business clients can enjoy the same level of convenience as their B2C retail counterparts.
The majority of B2B clients prefer making purchases online and their online shopping experience has started to revolve around the self-service model. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has further contributed to this trend, making self-service portals a priority for B2B firms in 2021-22.
Importance of the B2B Ecommerce Customer Journey
The B2B sales process has changed. While customers previously preferred personal service via dedicated sales agents, more than 50% of B2B buyers are now willing to spend over $50,000 entirely through an end-to-end digital self-service purchase process, and 75% of B2B buyers actually prefer online sales and remote transactions over in-person interactions, according to research from McKinsey. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the ecommerce push, with B2B companies rushing to join the AU $9 trillion global B2B ecommerce market.
This change in attitude from buyers represents enormous opportunities for B2B sellers, but requires a shift towards B2B ecommerce portals as well as a reconfiguration of sales and operational departments to meet the needs of the modern B2B customer.
The B2B ecommerce journey encompasses the entirety of the buying process - from research to purchase and post-purchase customer service. A customised and seamless online purchasing experience is essential for B2B companies to win over buyers. In fact, the Amazon 2021 B2B E-commerce in Evolution Report showed that providing a positive customer experience is the priority for 62% of B2B sellers who responded to their survey.
For buyers, the top priority in 2021 is increasing efficiency, a useful insight for any company looking at digital transformation and self-service options.
Factors all great B2B commerce businesses have in common revolve around the entire buying journey and a robust B2B ecommerce platform that includes advanced features and functionality, such as Liferay DXP.
What is a Self-Service Portal?
A self-service portal is a highly specialised website that is designed to help customers complete a purchase without external assistance. Apart from the ability to browse catalogues, select products, and make orders, a self-service portal should also provide the following features:
- Guides, user manuals, FAQs, videos, and other useful information
- 24/7 customer service
- Online communities and help forums
- Multiple users and roles
- Customised offers and promotions
- Search functionality
However, it’s important to note that in B2B, self-service portals cannot completely replace the traditional sales/marketing channels that involve live representatives. Ideally, they should be used to augment your existing sales team.
Benefits of B2B Online Self-Service Portals
Industry-leading companies are winning the global fight for market dominance by putting customer centricity at the heart of their B2B strategy.
By investing in the B2B customer journey with digital tools including comprehensive self-service portals, companies can significantly raise customer satisfaction scores, leading to lower churn rates and stronger sales.
Here are five key benefits of online self-service portals in the B2B market.
1. Reduced Costs
With an online portal, all your product catalogues and other promotional content is stored in a digital format. The company no longer has to spend a fortune printing and mailing catalogues to clients. It also reduces manpower and support costs, as fewer teams are required to handle dwindling support tickets.
2. Improved Customer Satisfaction
Today, more than 8 in 10 customers - as a global average - expect a brand or organisation to have an online self-service support portal. That’s because self-service is faster and more efficient, providing a superior B2B experience. Buyers also feel empowered by the largely autonomous purchase experience. In addition, most B2B purchase decision-makers are individual retail customers who have become accustomed to the convenience of self-service. Receiving the same B2B experience will boost customer loyalty and sales.
3. Optimised Staff Utilisation
Sales representatives have lower workloads when a self-service platform is available to clients. The time saved in this manner can be put to good use in nurturing existing clients and generating new leads. Support staff can focus on solving more complex customer issues, leaving the smaller tickets to chatbots and the online knowledge base.
4. Reduced Churn Rate
B2B customers want their relationship with you to be seamless and intuitive. Most customers want to solve product or service issues on their own, without having to pick up the phone. If you can empower them by providing the tools to do so, as well as make it intuitive and easy, they’ll be far more likely to stay with you rather than switching to a competitor.
5. Increased Marketing Opportunities
By using the power of marketing automation with your self-service site, you can collect relevant data about your customers’ product preferences and buying patterns, and then use this to create customised promotional opportunities and anticipate your customers’ needs. This data will also help your sales team tailor the right conversation with buyers.
Tips for Optimising Self Service Portals for Better Customer Service
As any seasoned customer support executive would testify, taking care of client needs is not a simple task. B2B clients can sometimes have very specific demands and require a lot of attention. Delivering a seamless online self-service experience requires a lot of effort and planning.
1. Provide an Abundance of Information
There should be a centralised knowledge base where the client can access answers to any question they may have regarding the products themselves or the entire purchase journey. This should include how-to guides on using products, extensive product catalogues with specifications, video guides, articles, and more.
A detailed FAQ should cover all aspects of the ordering and payment process available online. Having pages that include helpful tips and hints at strategic locations would further simplify the shopping experience. Customer satisfaction levels can plummet if the relevant information is not available at their fingertips so when it comes to self-service portals, providing access to key information is crucial.
2. Provide Users With Administrative Functionality
Too much hand-holding can ruin the B2B online customer experience. Clients should be empowered to manage different aspects such as product customisation, editing/modifying orders, and payments without having to consult the support team. A competent self-service system should be designed to deliver a reasonable level of administrative functionality to registered customers.
3. Focus on Speed and Simplicity
Speed is a major reason why clients prefer self-service, indicating that it’s an important consideration when B2B businesses are planning to offer self-service functionality. Cumbersome and time-consuming processes can alienate online customers in a matter of seconds. With that in mind, customer-facing systems and processes should be simplified and optimised for a faster, more convenient online experience.
4. Leverage Insights From the Sales Team
In a B2B firm, the sales teams often have deep insights into the various pain points faced by the customers and this information can be harnessed to create a seamless online experience. Anticipating the various issues which clients could face ensures you’re able to be proactive and have solutions readied in advance to counter them. Augment the knowledge base with relevant content designed to answer all queries and troubleshooting requests.
B2B ecommerce portal analytics can point to areas of opportunity, producing data to help inform your business strategy. The insights can help to uncover trends around which product categories are trending or experiencing higher than usual levels of interest.
Serve B2B Customers Beyond the Purchase Journey
Self-service is all about the customer experience involving a level of freedom, autonomy, and convenience. Adding a heavy dose of personalisation and crafting a unique purchase experience tailor-made to the requirements of the individual client will take this experience to the next level.
Businesses that succeed in delivering such complex and refined digital experiences will gain a decisive competitive advantage. Basic ecommerce platforms are not powerful enough to provide such enhanced features. This is where a digital experience platform (DXP) comes into the picture.
They are specifically geared towards delivering better customer experiences. In the B2B segment, firms often focus too much on sales and marketing at the expense of post-purchase support. Advanced platforms like Liferay DXP fill this void by providing additional features that focus on the post-purchase phase. Transform the way you do B2B ecommerce and address digital commerce in the context of the full customer journey.
Ultimately, the B2B businesses that will thrive in the post-COVID world will be those that provide a superior digital customer experience at all stages of the buyer journey.
Liferay DXP brings your business together onto a unified digital platform that makes it easy to host multiple systems in order to create cohesive customer experiences. Customers using Liferay DXP experience increased B2B revenue and have improved customer loyalty.
If you’d like to grow your sustainable competitive advantage and capitalise on new revenue opportunities, schedule a live demo with our specialist team to see how our software works with your current technology and organisational structure to meet your unique goals.