Robert C. Johnson, CEO, TeamSupport: Tips for B2B helpdesk buyersby
In the latest in our series of articles where IT leaders provide their take on the purchasing process, TeamSupport CEO Robert C. Johnson shares his tips for B2B organisations looking to buy helpdesk solutions.
MyC. What do practitioners from B2B brands need to consider before they start looking for helpdesk software, to determine their requirements?
RCJ. The single most important thing for B2B companies to realise is that supporting business customers is fundamentally different than supporting consumers. Understanding how they are different, and which support technology vendors cater to these unique needs, will help narrow the field of vendors and greatly speed up the search process.
Generally speaking, B2B support has a lower ticket volume, but higher complexity. Business customers have a wealth of knowledge about your product and rarely contact their vendor for simple problems. By the time they contact their vendor, it’s usually a complex issue that needs fast resolution.
Another difference is that companies who sell to and support consumers generally have a much larger client base, but each individual client is worth a lot less to the company. When selling to businesses, the contract values are orders of magnitude and each customer is worth significantly more to a company. If a support interaction goes south with a consumer, you may lose that customer and a small piece of revenue, but the stakes are a lot larger in B2B support interactions. A loss of a major client due to poor customer support can have a material impact on a vendor.
Finally, in the B2B world relationships are key. When a business customer contacts a support department, they expect that the agent knows a great deal about their account. The ideal tool for B2B support will store that information and make it easily available to all agents. Information about what specific products a customer has, recent issues they have had, and even sales information should be available to the agents so that they can have a better understanding of the overall relationship. Systems designed for B2B interactions will have robust customer databases which can store all of this critical data, and will provide a top-level view from the company perspective so the relationship can be managed as a whole customer rather than just a collection of tickets.
MyC. What kinds of questions should they ask themselves?
RCJ. Vendors need to understand how important their customer relationships are. Of course, customer support is important for every company, but it is absolutely mission critical for companies with high value customers. A basic question to ask is “How much would it hurt if we lost a customer?”. If the answer is “A lot!” then there’s no question - there needs to be heavy investment and executive focus on customer support.
Remember to also think about what your customers expect from you - if they only use email that is pretty common, but if you want to offer a customer portal, chat, social, etc. then you need to narrow down your list to those that provide a unified omnichannel support system where all information is centralised and your agents can work in one system rather than having to bounce between different systems.
Another question to consider is how much teamwork and collaboration is needed. For many B2B companies, customer support isn’t just handled by the support department - it is something that almost everyone in the company may be involved with, and the ability to collaborate across departments and functions to address customer needs is a critical factor. This includes the ability to integrate with other systems such as CRM or development software. Support is not a standalone function, you need to have visibility across departments and make use of integrations to reduce duplicate entry.
MyC. How can buyers convince the CFO that investment in this kind of technology is a wise decision? How can you get buy-in?
RCJ. Historically customer support has been seen as purely a cost centre and CFOs and other C-Suite executives have tried to reduce the costs. Today that sentiment is changing and smart companies are realising that customer support is critical to having positive customer relationships.
In companies I have run, I have often used this simple equation: Happy Customers = More Customers. When you are able to change the conversation about support from being a cost centre to a growth centre you will get the attention of the CFO, VP of Sales, and the CEO.
Most importantly investing in a help desk solution that meets the needs of your B2B organisation can actually reduce costs. From improved customer satisfaction (happier customers will buy more and refer you to their colleagues), to improved efficiency and decreased amount of incoming tickets thanks to tools like ticket deflection and customer self-service, there are a lot of ways B2B support software can save you money. We actually wrote a blog on this exact topic, you can find it at https://www.teamsupport.com/blog/3-ways-b2b-customer-support-software-will-save-you-money.
MyC. Are there any particular challenges in the helpdesk market that buyers need to be aware of?
RCJ. Purchasing a help desk / customer support solution is challenging. The market is very crowded and there are many vendors vying for your attention and money. The good news is that most products can be removed from your selection process quickly since they won’t meet your specific use case, but finding the right one can still be quite difficult.
In our experience, the selection process for a customer support solution generally starts with a Google search and then simply clicking on the results to see what vendors are available. Instead, I would suggest coming up with a list of your largest pain points first. What problems, other than “better customer support," are you really trying to solve? Understanding your needs before you start searching for a product in a crowded market will help immensely. You might also want to look at software comparison sites, such as Capterra, G2Crowd, or Software Advice. Each of these provide real user reviews and let you compare options side by side. In some cases they can also help you identify the right solution for your business.
MyC. Once practitioners are at the solution selection stage, what advice can you share to help buyers find the most appropriate vendor for their needs?
RCJ. The most important thing when selecting a vendor is to ensure that the product is actually designed to solve your problems. There are many “help desk” systems on the market, but the vast majority are designed for very simple workflows and for consumer facing companies.
B2B customer support has a unique set of needs, and it’s imperative that you select a vendor who understands those needs and has built a product around them. Trying to cram a product designed for consumer workflows into a complex B2B workflow is a recipe for disaster. It’s always a good idea to sign up for a personalised demo, so you can ask your questions and see how the product will work for you. That will help narrow the potential vendors, and once you have your short list make sure they offer a free trial so you can actually get in and try out your workflows and processes to make sure it is a fit.
The technology that you select for customer support will become a mission critical piece of technology for you and will end up being the primary way you communicate with customers. As such, you need to realise that you are entering into a partnership with your selected vendor. Like any marriage, compatibility is key and you should ensure that you and your vendor can work together over the long term. Can you get access to executives if you need them? Is their support good? Do you get a generally good “feel” from the sales process?
Another way to evaluate vendors is to look at online reviews. Seeing both the volume, the average ratings, and the overall tone of reviews on sites such as G2Crowd and Capterra will help you understand the experiences that other customers with similar needs have had with their vendors and can be an invaluable aid in selecting the right partner.
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.