Growth Insights for CEOs

Is Instant Messaging the New B2B?

Posted by Gary Fassak


Do you talk to your customers every day? As frequently as you instant-message your friends? 

I was talking with a CEO recently, and I asked him how good his company’s communication is with his customers. He said it was great, and always had been great. The customer places an order, they ship the order, and then they send an invoice. Job completed. Everything works. Reliable, and on time.

In fact, the company had forged a reputation for great customer service. That’s the way they’ve done it for years, he explained. In fact, they have always been a market leader as a result of this reputation. Communication is certainly not one of the things he needs to worry about, he proudly crowed. 

But, with the paradigm shifting around us, executing communications in a manner that used to be fine may now, in fact, be a great way to lose a customer. The same communication revolution, which keeps all of us in touch instantly on our cell phones, has spread to the way businesses of all types interact with their consumers. Recognizing this change, and embracing it, can be a great way to demonstrate an enlightened sense of customer loyalty. Failing to see the oncoming wave could spell trouble – particularly since customer service that misses the mark, in our hyper-connected times, costs U.S. companies an estimated $41 billion each year.

As an example, let’s look at two competitors in the same industry – in this case, online purchasers of used textbooks. As textbook prices have increased into the many hundreds of dollars, getting back $40, $50 or $60 per book can be attractive to the customer, and a good business for the repurchase websites. 

One does it the “old” way, delivering reliable, never-fail service. The other does it the new way, delivering reliable, never fail service -- but talking to the customer at every step of the process.

In the first example, the customer goes on the web site, get prices for the books they want to sell, and the site provides a downloadable label. The consumer brings the package to the U.S. Post Office (the only shipper offered), and then waits. And waits. And waits -- sometimes for weeks. Then one day, in the mail, a check arrives. Reliable, never-fail service every time, right? 

In the second example, the business model is similar, but with one key distinction – they provide a constant stream of communication to the consumer. Same web quote, same label -- but this time, constant status updates via text or e-mail. Examples of communications include: 

  • “The shipper has received your package, with estimated receipt by us of _______.”
  • “Your package has arrived -- it will take us two days to process it.”
  • “We have processed your package and issued your check, it should arrive in two days.”
  • “Do you have any other books we may be able to help you with?”
  • “We also offer PayPal or Instant Credit Card credits.”
  • “We offer multiple shippers for your convenience.”
  • “Please tell us how we did with your book return.”
  • “If you are satisfied with our service, please let your friends know, and they can receive a discount on their first order.”

Same business, same reliable service -- but which one do you think you would use?

Today’s B2B and B2C consumer is conditioned to receive this type of instant, and ongoing, communication. They are accustomed to this in their personal lives, and within their organization, so it becomes an expectation that extends to how they wish to interact with commercial enterprises. 

In our examples above, the second company understands this, and uses constant communication to build satisfaction and loyalty. The first – a quality, dedicated organization that has perfected its book operations – may get passed by, because they don’t understand that getting the check out on time isn’t enough – they need to communicate frequently to build their brand, create affinity with their customers, and bring in new business because existing customers recommend them to others.

The second enterprise has also used customer insights to improve its offering. As a result, they offer use of any shipper the customer chooses; and they offer alternative payment forms, including PayPal, to speed the money to the customer. They are taking advantage of what is called a “virtuous circle” – they more they communicate, the more they learn, the better their offering. 

Back to the CEO I was talking with about their service. It was great, by the old standard – but nowhere near adequate given the expectations of today’s technologically aware consumer. It’s high time that you should review your own service standards. Does it measure up to the speed of IM? If it does, it will be a great source of competitive advantage. If it doesn’t, well, maybe you’ll be having a lot of one-sided conversations. 


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Topics: B2B Marketing, Customer Feedback, Customer Value Alignment, Strategic Insights

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