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Ensuring business Continuity for B2B commerce: Digital self-service is no longer a luxury
Digital Strategy, Ecommerce, Digital Transformation • 10 min read

Ensuring business Continuity for B2B commerce: Digital self-service is no longer a luxury

Steven Coymans | 16-03-2021

With many traditional offline channels unavailable, or only partially available, due to COVID restrictions, scheduling a face-to-face meeting with a sales rep for product advice is currently not always an option. Your customers will most likely start their quest for information online, which is why it’s of the utmost importance that all your product information is available digitally and easy to find. This ensures the customer, in his or her search for information, will end up with the most relevant details, products or services.

Using self-service to improve the customer experience

Self-service allows businesses to look at the needs of customers in far more detail, and provide them with a self-service environment that’s both customer-friendly and efficient. Customer-specific services also further add value by building loyalty, and can even lead to new business models. Simply put, a properly set up self-service portal greatly increases the overall customer experience. And in turn, providing an excellent customer experience leads to an increase in engagement, brand loyalty, and customer retention.

When determining what features you’re looking for in a self-service portal, always keep your customer's needs in mind. Many B2B buyers simply reorder the same items, while others may need to request quotes or further negotiate the price. Look for self-service options that allow customers to be notified about product restocking, manage their order statuses, and interact with sales professionals if they want to. Leverage all the learnings from your traditional retail channels when designing and setting up your self-service portal. 

Empower your customers with the right digital tools

In addition to the information available online, your entire offline catalogue of information needs to be visible in the self-service portal too. Now more than ever, your product-, stock-, order- and delivery information needs to be accurate and easily accessible. At the same time, many customers also appreciate product recommendations from your entire inventory; these increase average order value and provide lifts that enable you to reach your goals and guarantee growth. This part of e-commerce also provides a great opportunity to leverage artificial intelligence (AI), using it to discover what products or inventory your competition is currently offering outside of your scope. This can be a strong motivating factor to step up your game and expand your selection. 

Of course, all these self-service options have value and cost associated with them. Instead of a sales rep telling your customers what to do, self-service portals guide and empower them by providing the tools and information they need to resolve many common issues themselves. The B2B market has matured over time, and the quality of B2C features have become a baseline for the majority of customers. As a result, the line between B2B and B2C is rapidly fading, and the adoption of self-service platforms is increasing across the board.

Benefit from a rich feature-set

Alongside general information, a self-service portal can offer customers a set of tools that, for instance, includes a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) or an online community section. However, be aware that user-generated content will need to be actively moderated. A ticketing service can also be of added value, not just for your customers but for your entire organization, as the data gathered in the tickets can be used to extend and improve the quality of the FAQ pages. A series of ‘Getting started’ guides can be very helpful for customers who come into contact with your products and services for the first time. Knowledge base articles are like FAQ’s but are characterized by more detailed and in-depth information. These articles are essential for both empowering your customers to solve specific issues independently, and for shortening the time it takes to solve common issues.

To further streamline the self-service experience, a knowledge base can be integrated together with a Live Chat or Chatbot, as these features provide complementing support at the speed that buyers have come to expect in the digital age. Since most customers do their own research nowadays, they don’t want to wait 48 hours for a reply. Furthermore, a knowledge base is the perfect solution for structuring how-to videos, user manuals, and help documentation. It should go without saying that it’s imperative that all this information is easily accessible through an advanced search function. 

A best-in-class customer service experience

To make the customer experience as frictionless as possible, it’s important that processes – such as a request for a quote or price, order creation, reorders, and return flows – are optimized and accessible from anywhere, on any kind of device. In addition to making real-time order information accessible to your customers, a self-service platform also enables customers to make ad-hoc changes to newly created orders, and provides an overview of historic online and offline order information. Self-service web-based invoicing and payment platforms are playing an increasingly important role in delivering a best-in-class customer service experience.  

In addition to basic product information, we see companies offer more and more information and features through self-service. For example, it could be a logical step for a brewery to offer online training sessions that teach people how to pour the perfect draught beer. These services don’t always have to be related to specific products – they are simply built around the products and often provided for free. Their purpose is to engage customers in the most relevant and personal way possible, and increase their loyalty in the long run.  

Embrace self-service, remain human

Self-service portals and tools are more than a way to cope with the current pandemic-induced challenges. They are a quality upgrade to your customer experience and here to stay. But despite the fact that self-service can drastically impact your business and your customers’ overall satisfaction, B2B will never become completely self-serve. Even if you deploy the most innovative self-service tools, features, and systems, your customers still need to be able to give you feedback on whether your digital ecosystem is working properly for them or not. There is always room and need for the human element.

“Carlsberg: SQLI took care of implementation and extended the technical migration, evolving the platform from a classic B2B order portal into an engaging experience. This provided significantly more flexibility to adapt to local market requirements, and allowed us to roll out across multiple brands and countries.”

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Steven Coymans

Head of Commerce

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