Business buyers are increasingly turning to digital channels: 38% buy online exclusively, while 98% go online before committing to a purchase. Companies have to serve their customers not only in “real” shops, but on every sales channel, including online. The modern customer is in touch with the shop on many different channels (both offline and online) and so companies have to somehow manage to convey a consistent same brand experience across all of them. This is sometimes called omnichannel, the grown-up variant of multichannel. The focus is shifted from sales on different channels to an experience that is honed and fine-tuned for each and every customer or prospect.
Process inertia, the proliferation of technologies and the complexity of big data means that many businesses are ill prepared for the omnichannel approach. Too often, they concentrate on individual channels (multichannel) instead of the total picture. Business systems communicate inadequately, putting a roadblock in the way of personalization and effective customer interaction.
Clearly, the e-commerce challenges facing B2B are considerable. To satisfy the raised expectations, business service providers have to improve the digital experience. An integrated omnichannel approach, simplicity and self-service, interaction and experience are the core issues here.
Omnichannel also means that products are sold not only on the company’s own webshop, but also on external platforms such as digital market places and social media. As well as the traditional channels (telephone, mail and email), businesses now offer WhatsApp and chat, self-service and 24-hour availability. All these physical and digital channels need to be optimally inter-connected to give the customer a seamless brand experience.
Booking.com has automated the travel booking process so that customers can make changes to their own trips
A simple and efficient ordering process is a must for every webshop. Users have to be able to place orders rapidly, with a minimum of fuss. The fact that the customer can log on to the platform himself and place his own orders creates many benefits and efficiencies, such as 24-hour availability, lower costs and a rich seam of interaction data that can be recorded. And all this leaves more time for top-tier customers. Many businesses, especially in the travel and financial sectors, have already invested in self- service. For example, booking.com has automated the entire travel reservation process. Customers can change their own journeys. In an emergency, there is customer support. And De Rabobank allows customers to create their customer dossier to apply for credit.
Business customers want to be appreciated and recognized, and expect flexibility. Personal contact is essential. Ironically, this requires the use of technologies such as chat, social media as well as email and content marketing. A great example of an effective chat approach is Barclays video banking, where customer can make video contact 24/7 with a relationship manager. Or ING, where small to medium-sized businesses are assigned a contact person reachable by telephone or video conference.
Many B2B webshops lag behind the design and user friendliness of their B2C counterparts, but they are catching up. The creation of mood, experience, inspiration – all are becoming increasingly decisive in the success of a webshop. B2B shops too are now crammed with inspiration pages, meaningful content and mood pictures.
There is still some way to go, but bit by bit, the business e-commerce market is edging closer to an omnichannel environment. Are you looking for a B2B e-commerce platform that will give your visitors a B2C experience? Then do get in touch.