Have you ever seen a frozen pond break apart into dozens of floating ice sheets? It goes from a solid ice floor to a dangerous gauntlet of too-thin icebergs bobbing in the freezing water.
I used to watch this happen when I visited my grandparents in Massachusetts for the holidays. As I walked across the ice of the pond across the street from their house, I would occasionally step on a patch of ice that was less sturdy that the path I had been following.
The pressure from my footstep would cause a single small crack. Alone, that step would not cause the ice to break apart, but if I took another step and another, all of those tiny cracks in the ice would eventually lead to the surface ice giving way and a large portion of the pond breaking apart.
When you, your company, or your products frustrate your customers, small crack appears in the relationship. If you don't learn to avoid activities that frustrate your customers, the relationship may eventually break apart and leave you scrambling to recoup the lost revenue.
While you'll never be able to keep all of your customers from experiencing moments of frustration from time to time, you can institute systematic behavioral changes to minimize the number of tiny cracks in the relationship. To keep off of thin ice with your customers, here are six habits that frustrate business-to-business customers and how to break them.
The little time wasters that frustrate B2B customers probably aren't what you think. Going overboard when building rapport with extended small talk, checking in unexpectedly and expecting them to drop everything to chat with you, and going overtime in meetings and training sessions are included on the list.
Many of these little time wasters are positive when you do them right. You should build rapport by discussing common interests to create a strong relationship, for example, but going overboard ruins this. If you spend your entire support conversation talking about a shared love of mountain biking instead of solving your customer's problem, then for all your rapport, you're still wasting time. Your customer now has to carve out availability for another support call, taking time away from other priorities. One too many instances like this will ruin your relationship.
Checking in unannounced is similar. Your customers are busy, and may be working on important, time-sensitive projects when you call them. Scheduling time with your customers and incorporating value, such as tips on how to use new product updates, however, allows your customers to plan ahead and makes checking in useful for everyone involved.
Both checking in and building rapport are positive when done correctly, but going overtime in your meetings or training sessions usually does more harm than good. When you go overtime, it shows that you're more focused on your product, at the expense of your customer and their time.
To avoid wasting time, stick to your scheduled meeting period and make sure you provide value for customers in every interaction.
As a B2B company, you should already have a relationship and basic understanding of your customers, their organizations, and their goals. This means that surface level questions are often not appropriate.
You should already know what that acronym in your customer's business name stands for and how they're using your product. These and any other questions that you can answer through background research in public spaces online in your CRM database can be perceived as wasting your customers' time.
How Do You Avoid Wasting Your Customers' Time?
To avoid this bad habit, ensure that your support or sales teams have access to all the information they need before talking to your client. Use customer activity data from your customer portal platform and resources such as the company's website to learn about your customer's mission, employees, and their top business goals. If customers call unexpectedly, make sure they're connected to a team member who is familiar with the account or can quickly pull up specific information and reports.
Most of the time, doing due diligence and ensuring your support representatives are fully prepared to support your customers and their initiatives is all it takes to avoid this irritating habit.
You need to be able to answer questions about your products and services, regardless of the question level. You won't be able to do that if you're ill-informed about your customers' organizations or your own products and services.
Be prepared for general questions, but also keep in mind that B2B customers are often very knowledgeable, and may have more in-depth questions. For example, they could ask how your solutions apply to their specific business situation or request guidance on how to better use their current products to get the best results. If your sales and support teams can't answer these types of questions, or can't personalize your company's solutions for your customers' situations, then why are they talking to you?
How Do You Avoid Wasting Your Customers' Time?
You must be knowledgeable about your solution and have enough in-depth information on your product and your customer to tailor your responses. Use what you know about your customer from their comments in your online community, social networking activity, or their public webpage to research and prepare for these questions.
It is important to remember that businesses don't actually care about your products, they only care about how your products help them. That means you need to clearly explain how you supply that value and how customers can use your products to get that value.
You've probably hammered out a clear value proposition for your business and touted it throughout the sales process. However, after the ink is dry on a new contract is not the time to let your messaging about the problems you can solve for customers fall by the wayside. It is time to double-down and bake those messages into your ongoing communication.
When a customer has been with you for six months and their senior management asks why they are paying for your product or service, help your customer have an answer at the ready.
Throughout the entire process, try to focus on business results such as saving time or making money, as those are two key goals many businesses have. When your customers continually see value and understand how your products or services are benefiting their business goals, they're more likely to stick with you and advocate for you inside their organization.
You can be misleading about your product uses, quality, price, or even simply by not noting drawbacks and limitations. When you mislead your customers in any way you make it more difficult for them to use your product, and to justify its costs to their company.
Every product and service has its limitations, and explaining them, especially when asked, can have positive impacts. With clear limitations, you give your customers the opportunity to plan ahead. Maybe they don't need your product for that application, so the limitation is a non-issue. Or perhaps they could attend additional training sessions to learn how to use your solutions properly.
Be clear about what you're providing for your customers so they can use your solutions efficiently and effectively. Ultimately, that will make the buyer team look better to their company, and when the buyer looks better, they'll be more likely to return for repeat purchases or extend their contract.
Questions, comments, and concerns can come up at any time, and B2B customers don't always want to jump on the phone to talk to you about it. They want to find the answers themselves.
If you don't have helpful, self-service content or material available on your website, in your online community, or built into emails, then you're doing your customers a disservice. Every time they're forced to contact you for a resolution, they'll become more frustrated.
You should provide content on best practices, common solutions to problems, and must-know information that's easy to access. Creating and implementing a content management strategy for your online customer portal is one way to do this, with the added benefit of allowing 24/7 access. You can also update content on your website, or send it through email.
It's essential for B2B businesses to create positive, lasting relationships with customers, and part of that is reducing frustration. Break these bad habits by being honest, respecting customers' time, and focusing on their needs. Use your products and services as a means to an end for your client, and focus on how they will solve a problem and continually improve business performance.
Through every interaction you have with customers, be sure to provide value. Even if you're just calling to check in, be considerate enough to schedule the time, and give your customers something they can use. The more value you provide, the stronger your business relationships will become.