In today’s fast-paced, digital world, convenience is key for B2B customers. Modern-day shopping is about convenience. The pandemic shifted in-person interactions online, and B2B procurement teams were faced with navigating digital services, often for the first time.
The result? Even in a post-pandemic world, B2B customers expect the same streamlined personalization in person as they’ve been getting from their ecommerce shopping experiences with Amazon and online retailers.
With greater expectations comes greater risk. This means that businesses can no longer afford to take their customers for granted. One mistake, and you could lose a valuable customer for good. Consider this: Customers will tell 9 people about a positive experience, but they’ll tell 16 if they have a negative one. You risk losing the customer and jeopardizing your reputation.
McKinsey identified five “must-dos” if you want strong customer loyalty.
- Offer a performance guarantee.
- Show product availability online.
- Have real-time, always-on customer service.
- Provide the ability to purchase from any channel.
- Offer a consistent experience across channels.
With so many options available to customers, you must go above and beyond to maintain your customer base. If you want to keep your customers happy and your business thriving, now is the time to step up your game. There is a silver lining to these warnings. You have the help and support of technology, like artificial intelligence (AI), to meet—and exceed—customer expectations at every step.
McKinsey’s 5 “Must-Dos”
McKinsey’s five must-dos are the new rules for maintaining and strengthening customer loyalty.
Customers are demanding online, quick and easy experiences. If you can’t provide them, your customers will look for another supplier who can.
Seventy-eight percent of the B2B buyers surveyed said they would actively look for another supplier if theirs didn’t offer performance guarantees, making it the most critical McKinsey “must-do.” Performance guarantees make customers feel safe in their purchasing decisions. They also shorten the sales cycle and differentiate your business from competitors.
While a performance guarantee gets customers in the door, AI can keep them there. AI models tell reps when a customer buys an item for the first time, so they can follow up to make sure the customer is happy with their purchase and suggest complementary products.
With AI-powered support, reps can proactively delight customers and address issues before they become refunds.
Product Availability Shown Online
The second most important “must-do” called out by McKinsey is showing product availability online. Nearly three-quarters of customers said they expect this.
Product availability gives customers the confidence to order quickly, especially if they’re on a shortened timeline. Without a window into your warehouse, customers will have to get a hold of a sales rep to ask if what they’re looking for is in stock, adding unnecessary friction to the buying process. The smoother customer experience you deliver, the higher your conversion rates.
To incorporate real-time product availability into your ecommerce site, your systems must be connected. When all your important data sources are synced, AI can analyze your product, customer and online information to arm customers with substitute product suggestions for out-of-stock items. With AI-generated substitute recommendations, out-of-stock notifications shouldn’t be feared. Shoppers can help themselves by substituting products that meet their needs.
Ability to Purchase from Any Channel
We no longer live in a world where B2B customers browse and buy via two or three channels. McKinsey’s research showed between 2016 and 2021, the number of channels B2B decision-makers used to interact with suppliers rose from 5 to 10.
According to 2021 McKinsey data, almost two-thirds of buyers prefer interacting with suppliers through remote human interactions, such as phone or video conferencing, or digital self-service (ecommerce).
Luckily, many distributors caught onto this trend. Research from Distribution Strategy Group states that adoption rates of ecommerce continue to increase. If your company hasn’t caught on yet, you’re missing out on significant wallet share, finds McKinsey. Customers are more willing to spend more money digitally—most will easily spend $50,000 or more online.
McKinsey’s research shows you have to offer a fully integrated shopping experience across channels, including traditional, in-person methods. Distributors like Grainger, Fastenal and R.S. Hughes have already made significant strides in ecommerce and omnichannel innovation. For example, Grainger’s mobile phone app gives users the ability to search, check account pricing and availability, and more with as much ease as if they were in a branch or online. Fastenal’s digital footprint, including ecommerce, accounts for 50% of revenue.
To catch up, you need to utilize AI. A distribution-specific tool can help unify distributors’ sales channels to create an omnichannel experience, which means customers can easily shop from any channel they want and spend more. R.S. Hughes, for example, uses AI to help sales reps guide customers toward everything they need at every step of the buying journey, including reorders, complementary, and substitute products.
Consistent Experience Across Channels
Buyers expect a fluid experience as they move between channels. If they browse your ecommerce site and then call a sales rep to ask a question about a product, they expect the sales rep to know what they were looking for and provide support.
AI helps reps anticipate customer needs. When your channels are linked, a rep can pull up a customer’s entire history to see critical information: what the customer purchased online, if they interacted with a customer service representative (and what the issue and resolution were), emails sent, bills and refund requests, and other nuggets of useful data. When your customer-facing teams have the same visibility into each customer, they can provide a consistent buying experience.
Real-Time/Always-On Customer Service
Fifty years ago, if someone called your landline and you weren’t in the office, they would leave a message and wait until you returned their call. Now, thanks to smartphones, people expect immediate responses. With AI, companies can automate responses to inquiries to provide always-on customer service, or use chatbots to answer simple questions quickly.
The technology scans emails for keywords, then directs them to the proper department or person, streamlining the process to ensure customers are contacted as soon as possible.
In today’s fast-paced world, customers expect immediate answers to their questions and concerns. This is especially true in the distribution industry, where customers demand personalization, inventory updates and connected channels. If distributors can’t provide these things, they risk losing customers to competitors. However, with the help of AI, distributors can transform their customer experience and drive loyalty and new business. AI allows distributors to provide the personalization, updates and connectivity that customers expect, helping them to retain and attract new customers. With AI, you can effortlessly achieve McKinsey’s “must-dos,” and transform your customer experience to one that drives loyalty and new business.