B2B and B2C If you are working in customer service you probably heard about the H2H (Human to Human) trend lately. While I generally agree with the idea that all transactions take place between people, I don’t think the difference between B2C and B2B customers should be ignored.

We established that whether working for a B2C or B2B company, you will have to deal with human beings. But it doesn’t mean that those human beings operate the same or have the same goals.

There are main differences between B2C and B2B customers that you have to take into consideration in your marketing, sales and customer service strategy.

1) They don’t spend money the same way

B2B customers generally buy more and spend more money.

I remember when I used to work for a small digital agency, they managed to thrive and start new projects because they took care of 2-3 very big and loyal clients. The main thing to understand here is that 1 contract of several hundred thousands dollars often kept the agency going for few months which doesn’t happen in B2C.

For the company it means that there is a lot to win (and a lot to loose) with each interaction they have with the customer.

Quick customer service tip: Don’t hesitate to give more attention to bigger clients. Regularly call and schedule meetings to make sure you are going in the same direction. Try to do some preventive service and find out about potential issues before they come to you complaining.

B2C customers might spend less money but don’t forget that contrary to B2B customers, they spend THEIR OWN money. The result is that they’re less willing to risk loosing that money.

A new laptop for example represents a lot of money for a B2C customer. Chances are they will do more research before making their final buying decision. They might only buy one laptop now but if you meet their expectations they will recommand you to their friends and bring business your way. To capture the true value of a B2C customer you have to think about all his and his friends future purchases.

Quick customer service tip: Don’t look at your client’s problem as “the company”, try putting yourself in their shoes. Someone’s broken computer might not be a big deal for you (as a customer service worker) but what if your personal computer broke down? See now you can relate! You just need to use that empathy to show the customer you are on their side and truly understand what they are goind through. Now that you created a bound between you and the customer, you can go back to your customer service rep uniform and provide him with a solution.

2) More people are involved in the decision making process in B2B

One B2B contract often involves more than one person. You have to take that into account and make sure you know from the beginning who you have to include.

It’s always a good practice to know who’s the decision maker and who’s part of the execution team. This way you will know who to go to with your questions.

Communication in B2B companies can sometimes look like a hot mess often resulting in a lot of unecessary CCed people in emails. Try to understand from the beginning who should and shoudn’t be included in your emails.

Quick customer service tip: Learn to tackle the delicate art of Cc recipients. The best way for you to know that you won’t make any mistake is to ask both your colleagues and your clients who you should Cc on your emails. Once you got those answers, the war is not over! You will then need to make sure everyone in the loop hits the “reply to all” button. If not you’re in for a new nightmare called “Forwarding”. That’s all technical details but it can quickly turn your work day into an emailing nightmare.

In B2C things are a lot easier and 1 on 1 conversation is possible in most cases. Problems often appear on the company’s side when several parties are involved and the customer is being transferred from one agent to the other.

Just keep in mind that your customer is (most of the time) alone in this and he doesn’t really think about the fact that his unique transaction involves a lot of people in your company. Customer service jobs can get a little harder in B2C for that reason but also because communication in the company is often less transparent and customer service reps get very little information about what’s going on in other departments.

Quick customer service tip: I know most problems coming your way were not results of your actions. In other words, it’s not your fault the customer is angry but he still has to come to you for help. Even if it isn’t your fault, always assume part of the responsability. Most importantly, never reject the fault on the customer. Try turning your call into a collaboration process, explain to the customer how you can fix his problem together.

3) They don’t have the same goal in mind

B2B customers are buying your product because it will benefit the company. They might have some personal reasons to choose one product over the other but since the decision usually depends on a group of people the ultimate decision doesn’t heavily rely on personal preferences.

When selling products or services to companies you need to consider that most people you will talk to actually have little to no say in the final decision. When selling an email marketing solution for example you would first have to convince the marketing manager that your product is easy to use and you’ll then need to help him convince his VP that the solution will be profitable.

Quick customer service tip: Always keep in mind that no matter how much the person you’re talking to likes your product, they will have to convince someone else to invest in it. Ask your clients if they need any additional information to give someone else in the company. If needed you can even offer to contact this other person yourself.

B2C customers are mostly looking at product that will benefit them personally. This is a good opportunity for you to get to know your final customer on a deeper level.

Just remember that people rarely buy products because they NEED them anymore. Most purchases are based on emotional reasons.

A woman might come to you saying she needs a dress for her wedding. However that won’t really help you select the perfect dress. For that you need to get personal and gid into her emotions. Ask her what she would like the dress to make her feel like. Does she want to feel like a princess? Does she want the wedding to be more casual? Does she want to stand out and have an original dress?

Quick customer service tip: Don’t stick to purely objective facts and questions. Don’t be afraid to get a little personal and bring up your own experience to trigger some emotional response from your customer. Once you created a personal bound, it will be a lot easier for you to find the perfect product and build a long term relationship with your client.

4) They don’t get angry or frustrated for the same reasons

B2B customers get angry just as much as B2C customers do. The main difference I saw is that they are usually a lot more polite in their anger. This is of course due to the fact that they are contacting you as part of their job, therefore facing consequences if they start insulting you.

That being said, it doesn’t make it more enjoyable to receive a call from an angry B2B customer.

One factor comes into play on both sides: STRESS. Your angry customer is yelling at you for one big reason: because he is stressed and probably has a whole management team blaming him for the problem. And since he’s being yelled at for something he didn’t do, he’s reporting his anger at you to release a bit of the stress.

Of course you also are stressed because it could cost your company money and you would have to face the consequences. It’s always easier to blame the person who “mishandled” the angry customer.

Quick customer service tip: Let the customer vent his anger on you. Carefully listen to what he is saying and try to offer a solution as soon as he is done talking. First apologize, then include your customer in the resolution process. Make him a part of the solution. Make him feel like he played a part in solving the problem. In other words, give him something to be proud about and to tell his managers.

B2C customers can be a little more vocal (and rude) when they encounter a problem.

You have to look at it this way: they probably have a job where they are also put under a lot of stress. Then they come home to relax and probably have to face more stress (paying the bills, taking care of the kids…). Of course that’s when your product decides to break down which adds just another level of stress to their life.

Since this time they don’t risk anything if they yell or are rude to you, they just let it all.

I am not saying that it’s normal for customers to be really rude at you. That’s just called being a jerk and no one should ever have to act this way. However, the only thing you can do is trying to help them the best you can.

Quick customer service tip: Same as for B2B clients, just let your customer talk, listen carefully and trying coming up with a quick solution. Use a calm tone of voice, stay polite and try to get the customer to calm down. Know that you can always call the client out on his language if he crosses the line. It will just remind them that you also are a person and you still have the right to a little dignity.

When I say that B2C and B2B customers should be treated differently I don’t mean that you should treat one better than the other. It just means that you should adapt your communication to their specific needs.

If you are a company catering to both businesses and individuals you should consider having separate customer service processes. Business customers are typically more used to establish personal contact with your company before and after they purchase. You can turn that to your advantage and build deeper relationships with them.

B2C customers might not contact you as often but you shouldn’t forget about them. Try to establish a relationship via a newsletter or special emails. Don’t hesitate to randomly check on them to remind them you care about their business.

B2C and B2B customers might not be the same but lucky for you there still are common customer service rules you can follow with both of them.

Photo Credit: Mike Bailey-Gates via Compfight cc