Comparing the differences in customer service for business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) means understanding the scope of each method. Both approaches are designed to accommodate a large and varied customer base, but the behaviors of those customers are what really distinguishes them.
For B2C in particular, helping out everyday consumers is quite different than targeting and customizing support for business-related needs. B2C companies need to invest in features that account for their consumers’ behaviors; notably the “when”, “how”, and “why” they shop for your products and services. Lest a B2C business wants to see just how frustrated their customers can become (and in very large quantities), they’ll need to be proactive about how to best help them.
5 must-haves for B2C customer support
- Case management
- Self-service/Knowledge management
- Digital engagement channels
- Mobile support
1. Case management
The foundation of all effective customer service is case management: a system that can distinguish and optimize customer support on a case-by-case basis.
For B2C, a case management system must be capable of:
- Accommodating a large and diverse array of tickets: Marketing and selling products to everyday consumers means that customers will have different backgrounds, educations, and familiarity with your products. This will be reflective in their tickets, meaning similar questions will be asked in different ways.
- Including a client information database: Having easy access to client information builds rapport with customers. It also keeps agents informed if returning customers come back with new or unresolved issues.
- Providing consumer-oriented problem resolution: Multiple points of contact and streamlined workflows generate the fast resolutions needed for B2C support. Business-oriented case management can be too complex and time consuming to effectively help consumers.
- Supporting workflows for various touch points and communication channels: Consumers will reach out on whatever channel is most convenient for them: email, SMS, social media, etc. Bringing those into an omnichannel solution ensures that every customer can be heard.
- Assigning, routing, and escalating cases based on the client and complexity: You'll need ticket management and internal routing that can adapt to your team as it grows, unless you want to find a new system down the line. Plan for a system that's dynamic enough to scale with the growth you hope to achieve.
2. Self-service/Knowledge Management
Consumer-oriented issues are often more indiscriminate and less specialized than what’s seen in B2B. They usually result in first contact resolution and are generally far less technical.
But that doesn’t mean B2C support is easier. Ticket backlogs may suddenly be overwhelmed if an alarming issue occurs, like if a major e-commerce site was suddenly unable to process orders.
To mitigate how many tickets reach an agent, B2C companies must invest in self-service portal and knowledge management. Consumers should be able to help themselves as frequently as possible. Here's how:
- Custom-branded help portals: Here's where customers can figure out how to best help themselves. Portals provide a collection of contact points (your Help Center, support addresses, social media channels, etc.). that's true to your brand and customer-facing identity. Companies with numerous products benefit from multiple distinctively-branded portals. Zendesk calls this Multibrand, and has been used by customers like Aurora Fashions, Cotton On Group, and Big Fish Games.
- Help guides or knowledge bases: A help guide, or often referred to as a knowledge base, is a collection of articles providing educational information for self-service. This includes how-to’s, step-by-step processes, and other clear-cut details about a product or service.
- Community forums: Want to offer a space to host customer conversations? Community forums are where consumers can help each other without contacting support. Additionally, they can highlight what's working, what isn't, and what can be difficult with your product(s). That feedback can be useful for optimizing self-service efforts.
Issues resolved through self-service are usually "how-to’s" like password resets, changing account details, and basic settings options. Peloton and Evernote are great examples of companies that have found self-service success.
Additionally, how your help information is structured is equally important. Your knowledge management must be centralized and formatted with an information architecture that makes sense to your consumers (i.e. everyone). Understanding how your customers seek self-help might involve some user experience (UX) research and testing.
3. Digital engagement channels
The customer experience is interwoven through various engagement channels. For customer service, that includes your support provided over the phone, through email, and interactions via social media.
B2C support is designed to be more generalized for a wider audience while still being capable of personalization for uncommon inquiries. The engagement channels that B2C companies should focus on are:
- Live chat: an agent-operated interaction or discussion is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to resolve a consumer issue. Chat sessions are able to get to the heart of the matter by offering complimentary interactions like collaborative browsing, screen sharing, or help with completing forms.
- Email management w/ automated answers: Email support is still the most common form of customer service, but when it comes to consumer needs, the fastest email support will use automated answers. This allows B2C businesses to provide instantaneous responses and maintain a competitive advantage while they invest in other communication channels.
- Virtual customer assistants: Virtual customer assistants (VCA) simulate human conversations to deliver information or perform transactions on behalf of the customer. Many are powered by AI-algorithms like machine learning and deep learning, making them increasingly capable of assisting a wide range of customers. Dollar Shave Club, for example, utilizes Answer Bot, our own AI-powered VCA designed for ticket deflection.
4. Mobile support
Mobile support isn’t only expected of B2C businesses; it’s imperative for long-term success. A lacking mobile experience can lead to customers unwilling to resolve their issues, which is doubly concerning when 90% of consumers have reported a poor customer experience while seeking mobile support.
Extra care must be taken to ensure that a support strategy translates to a mobile experience. For B2C, this can be accomplished by investing in mobile engagement channels, like SMS or Facebook Messenger. If your business offers a mobile app, it may be worthwhile to embed your customer support within the app (to discourage customers from switching from mobile to a PC browser) as Le Tote did.
B2C mobile support is more widespread in industries with high customer expectations (like hospitality, air travel, banking, and telecommunications), but it’s increasingly necessary for all B2C companies as consumers become more well-versed with their smartphones and tablets.
Your case management system might not be a perfect fit in your organization right away. Luckily, integrations can fill in the gaps.
The right system will offer integrations that will streamline B2C workflows and enhance customer engagement. For a B2C organization, that generally pertains to better self-service and mobile support. Rovio and Swiftkey accomplished both by using Zendesk's Mobile SDK.
Integrations are often tailored to meet the needs of specific industries, like a Shopify app that displays customer and order details in tickets for eCommerce companies. But there are many industry-agnostic integrations that can help with time-tracking, analytical insights, and even employee training.
The most capable solutions include an API for a variety of third-party integrations or, should a company feel bold enough, an internally-created integration designed to handle a company’s specific B2C needs. Gaming studio Riot Games is a great example: they created their own AI-powered virtual customer assistant to swiftly answer their customers’ inquiries.
You can learn more about the critical capabilities needed for customer engagement in Gartner’s “Critical Capabilities” report.