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 e-commerce technologies have enabled this change in the last decade or so. Now, thanks to advanced B2B e-commerce platforms, business clients can enjoy the same level of convenience as their retail counterparts.
The majority of B2B clients prefer making purchases online and the entire online shopping experience revolves around the self-service model. The recent viral pandemic has further contributed to this trend, making self-service portals a priority for B2B firms in 2021.
Benefits of B2B Online Self-Service Portals
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, FAQs, videos, and other useful information
- 24/7 customer service
- Social media integration, online communities/forums, and personalisation
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. When deployed in such an optimal manner, self-service can have the following benefits.
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
Self-service is faster and more efficient for customers. They also feel empowered by the largely autonomous purchase experience. Besides, most B2B purchase decision-makers are individual retail customers who have become accustomed to the convenience of self-service. Receiving the same experience in the B2B space 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.
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. Anticipate the various issues clients could face and be proactive in keeping solutions readied in advance to counter them. Augment the knowledge base with relevant content designed to answer all queries and troubleshooting requests.
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 who succeed in delivering such complex and refined digital experiences will gain a decisive competitive advantage. Basic e-commerce 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 phases. Transform the way you do B2B-ecommerce and address digital commerce in the context of the full customer journey.
Does Your Company Need a Self-Service Portal?
Self-service is fast becoming a mainstay of the B2B online customer experience. Firms cannot afford to ignore this aspect at a time when more B2B customers are migrating online than ever before but delivering a competent service here is no easy task. Find out more about these signs indicating that your company might need a self-service customer portal.