How to make the most of customer interactions and collect the data to prove it

How to make the most of customer interactions and collect the data to prove it

Whether you run a local sporting goods store or manufacture industrial supplies, establishing a successful business starts by satisfying your customers through efficient, enjoyable interactions with your company. In this case interactions include any and all encounters: phone call, email, online activity, quote request, payment, help desk, ordering, product inquiry, or other ad hoc touches.

When customers have positive experiences, they maintain exclusive relationships with your company, serve as evangelists in the marketplace, and ultimately shape the way outsiders perceive your company's brand and offering.

In the retail consumer market, companies like Amazon have cemented their dominance and essentially have no direct competition. How did they do it?

Amazon differentiated itself by moving first and leveraging technological capabilities to provide ideal shopping experiences, where customers can access their product offering online whenever and however they want. This created a shift in retail consumer behavior — leaving brick-and-mortar stores as an inconvenient way for customers to shop, and forcing companies of all sizes to provide 24/7 online shopping alternatives.

Due to the complex nature of B2B selling, manufacturers and distributors have been slower to adopt these technological capabilities — choosing instead to interact with customers over phone, fax, and email.

The main reason for this is simple: B2B customers don't have access to the account information and tools they need to place complex orders online. This causes them to reach out via outdated channels like phone and fax because these are their only options. The added wait time and increased miscommunication — not to mention errors — are what drive customers to find alternatives. Employees are forced to reciprocate using the same inefficient channels, largely because they also lack access to big-picture customer data and the tools they need to interact with their customers outside limited parameters.

These methods force employees to be at the center of all points of customer contact, and the resulting interaction information is either not collected at all, or locked away in a program accessible to only a select few.

Think about where information regarding customer interactions is stored at your company. Is it in your ERP? A CRM system? Handwritten notes? Email history? Inside someone's brain and therefore only accessible by asking that person what happened or needs to be done?

Without a tightly integrated system of record for all online and offline interactions, this crucial information cannot be easily accessed and utilized by your customers, employees, and apps. If customers cannot view the information they need to make informed decisions and place orders at any time, interacting with your company becomes a chore, not just for the customer, but for the employee who has to be there to facilitate each and every encounter.

Despite many companies being aware of the pain caused by their outdated systems, they are either content to live with the resulting pain and inefficiencies, or they repeatedly spend money on ineffective solutions that only do half the job.

What causes these so-called "solutions" to fail?

CRM and ecommerce platforms alleviate some of the pain, but are designed to be stand-alone products for specific audiences (and at times create even more avenues for interaction data to be scattered or lost due to the lack of integration between applications).

If your CRM software doesn’t contain the most accurate and up-to-date customer data from all sources, is it really helping your employees make informed decisions? Likewise, if your customers can't view their specific data on products, pricing, and account history — and they also can't submit complex orders and quotes when they need to — are you really generating ROI from your online presence? If you're one of the many companies that has wasted thousands of dollars due to failed CRM or ecommerce projects, you already know the answer to these questions.

What does the tool for optimized customer interactions look like?

B2B companies need a single solution that sits in the middle of all customer interactions and aggregates all the resulting data. It must allow customers to self-service when they want, employees to have efficient customer interactions, and managers to effectively track employee performance. It also must integrate seamlessly to all business applications.

As B2B companies begin to follow in the footsteps of B2C retail giants like Amazon, the emergence of new software to meet those needs is inevitable.

A new-to-market software solution with the capabilities and connectivity needed to facilitate online B2B interactions is Customer Interaction Management (CIM). This unique solution provides the tools, integration, and support needed for product-centric B2B companies to optimize their customer interactions without replacing the ERP at all. Essentially, CIM is CRM and ecommerce on a single platform with bidirectional integration to an existing ERP. The resulting interaction data from all three is then accessible for customers and employees to reference and utilize at any time.

What's unique about CIM software is although there is no need for employees to facilitate every interaction, the option to do so when needed remains. Both employees and customers have the same access to transactions and account information, as well as a suite of tools to make collaboration easier than ever before. This allows B2B companies to provide white-glove account service, while simultaneously giving customers the tools to interact on their own terms.

The bottom line is, in a world of convenience, ease, and instant gratification, if your customers don't have access to the options that satisfy them, they will make their purchases elsewhere. As the gap closes between what customers want and what technology is able to deliver, even B2B companies are inching closer to being able to give customers exactly what they want — and if we've learned anything from Amazon, those who bridge that gap early on will be in the best position to reap the benefits. Keep an eye on CIM software, as it is poised to become the leader in helping B2B companies grow by improving their interactions with customers.

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