B2B company culture and customer service
People connect with one another based on shared values and beliefs, from business partnerships to marriage to acts of patriotism. In business, this is referred to as company culture. Although it’s often thought of as an internal state of being, a culture is the company’s “personality” and how it treats employees. It is also defined as the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another, much like a family. Each family is unique and has their own set of habits and expected behavior - similar to how every company has it’s own unique culture. It can be good or bad, but we all know it’s better for everyone (including customers) if it’s good.
If you think about company culture as the business “personality” you realize that it similarly affects every interaction with others. In Business to Business (B2B) customer service in particular, this interaction is critical to success. As a result, B2B company culture and customer service are undeniably intertwined. Whether positive or negative, your company culture will have a direct impact on the customer service you provide and vice versa; your customer service team will convey your company culture to your customers.
Humans tend to mimic the behavior they experience, whether consciously or subconsciously. For example, an innovative company culture means ideas and suggestions flow freely, open and transparent communication is encouraged, and everyone has a voice. This fosters a collaborative culture where employees also see customers as partners, or “part of the family”, and will therefore treat them as such. It’s human nature; if you’re used to dealing with open and approachable people you will be open and approachable yourself. If you’re used to being shut down or ridiculed when you ask for help or offer suggestions you’re more likely to treat customers that way as well.
Here are two ways to maximize the benefit of the connection between customer service and company culture:
1) Let customer service agents think outside the box to solve issues
To encourage better customer service, provide your support team with the autonomy to make decisions based on company culture. For example, an open culture means agents can be more open and transparent with customers whereas a closed culture will promote avoidance and blame when dealing with customer issues. The latter is never a good approach in customer service, especially when blame is shifted to the customer. Agents with the freedom to handle each customer issue as needed, based on the unique situation, are able to build more trusting and positive relationships with B2B customers, and as a result create long-term customer loyalty. In short, empowered agents make happier customers.
Compare this to the opposing situation of scripted customer service. We’ve all spoken to an agent who obviously had no freedom to stray from their company-dictated script. Despite your explanation of the steps you’ve taken to resolve the issue, they continue working through their step-by-step process while seeming to ignore that you’ve already tried each step without success. While frustrating in any situation, in B2B customer service this is a huge waste of your customer’s valuable time and implies that you don’t respect them. Instead, allow agents to address each issue as needed, taking their time and using the tools and knowledge you provide them. Doing so means they can adjust their approach based on the company, contact, and history of the issue at hand so they can resolve it faster and more efficiently.
Another benefit to letting your agents think outside the box to solve customer issues is that it will start to shape your customers’ perception of your company culture as agile, personable, and customer-focused. This can really stand out in B2B, especially if your competition provides a typical robot-like experience. Customers will come to expect a positive experience when they contact you, and share that with their coworkers and peers. This feedback will reach your customer service team, further fueling your internal company culture. Instead of the vicious cycle that typically stems from scripted responses - frustrated customers who in turn snap at your agents, resulting in a negative experience for both parties - you will find that a more positive cause and effect is achieved.
2) Collaboration is the hidden jewel in improving company culture
Customer service should be a company-wide matter, just like culture. If a customer contacts your team about a billing issue, they shouldn’t be directed to contact billing. The agent should be able to transfer the customer, or reach out to billing directly (ideally within their support software) to get the answer immediately. With collaborative help desk software, members of any team can be added to a ticket and address customer issues seamlessly. Remember it’s about making the customer’s life easier, not adding noise and extra steps. Similarly, sales and customer service should have full visibility into each other’s customer interactions and share information freely. If the culture doesn’t support this (unfortunately it’s all too common that sales and support are at arm's length, or worse in a head-to-head battle) then it’s impossible to provide that level of seamless customer service, which is essential in B2B.
To promote a collaborative company culture, you have to get rid of siloes between departments. Siloes in an organization break company culture and are divisive by nature. Individual departments view themselves as separate units, and even build their own unique cultures separate from one another. By focusing on collaboration across departments you can stimulate sharing and open communication, which feed through to your customer interactions. Breaking down siloes improves efficiency and results in better internal communication so issues can be resolved faster, a win for both the company and the customer.
It’s also important to focus on the human aspect of your company culture. Remember that people connect with each other based on shared values and beliefs (culture) and feel associated because of it. Company-wide recognition of professional and personal achievements like work anniversaries, birthdays, marriages, and new children help to foster that connection between employees and the company as a whole. Making an effort to recognize employees who have solved a difficult issue or embodied the positive company culture when working with a tough customer goes even further to foster collaboration and positive customer experiences.
Finally, remember that company culture is like any relationship; you can’t just say “here’s our company culture” and then forget about it. You have to work on it every day, nurture it, and put it first in communications as well as in decisions and discussions.
Company culture is a direct reflection of your business, both internally and externally. Remember that your customer service team will project the company culture to your customers and prospects so it’s important to be mindful of the type of culture you are encouraging. Think of it as a the Golden Rule for business: “Treat your employees as you want your customers to be treated”. And don’t be surprised if you find that your company culture starts to evolve on its own as a result of encouraging customer service innovation.
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Robert C. Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of TeamSupport.com, a cloud-based, B2B software application built to help customer-facing support teams serve clients better through stronger collaboration, superior teamwork, and faster issue resolution. A seasoned executive and entrepreneur who has founded and invested in numerous software and high-...